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GERALD R. FORD


Excerpted from an essay by James Cannon:

Gerald R. Ford became President not because he was popular with the American public, not because he campaigned for the job, but because of his character.

More than any other president of this century, Ford was chosen for his integrity and trustworthiness; his peers in Congress put him in the White House because he told the truth and kept his Spiro Agnewword. He was nominated for Vice President after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign to avoid indictment for accepting bribes. Ford was confirmed by a House and Senate that expected him to replace a President who was also facing indictment for crimes......

Ford personified what Nixon was not. Ford was honest. He could be trusted. Throughout twenty-five years in the House of Representatives, Ford had proved himself to be a man of integrity. It was for that integrity that the highest powers of Congress, Democratic and Republican, chose Ford to be Vice President, knowing that Nixon's presidency was doomed......

Surely character begins at home, and in Ford's case we know for certain that it began with his mother.

Dorothy Gardner Ford was a strong and resourceful woman whose own character was tested at the age of twenty. She grew up in a warm, loving family in a small town in northern Illinois where her father prospered as a businessman and served as town mayor.

In college Dorothy met the brother of her roommate, and fell in love with him. Leslie King was the blond, blue-eyed, charming son of a wealthy Omaha banker who also owned a stage-coach line and a wool business.

On their honeymoon she discovered that she had made a tragic mistake. Her new husband struck her, not once but repeatedly. When they reached Omaha, where they were to live with his family, she found out that King was not only brutal, but a liar and a drunk. His outward charm concealed a vicious temper...

She decided to leave King, but discovered she was pregnant. With the encouragement of King's mother and father, she decided to have the baby in Omaha, and did.

On July 14, 1913, the thirty-eighth President of the United States was born in the mansion of his paternal grandfather, and named Leslie King, Jr. Unaccountably, a few days later, King came into his wife's room with a butcher knife and threatened to kill mother, child and nurse. Police were called to restrain him...

Divorce was rare in 1913, but an Omaha court found King guilty Gerald Ford, Jr. of extreme cruelty, granted custody of the child to the mother, and ordered King to pay alimony and child support. King refused to pay anything...

By good fortune, in her son's first year, Dorothy Gardner King met a man whose character matched and complemented her own. He was a tall, dark-haired, and amiable bachelor named Gerald R. Ford. By trade, Ford was a paint salesman; in the community he was respected as honest and hardworking, kind and considerate, a man of integrity and character--everything Dorothy's first husband was not.

The next year she married Jerry Ford and her two-year-old son grew up as Jerry Ford, Jr., believing his stepfather was his true father.

By Jerry Ford, Sr., Dorothy had three more sons, and the Fords provided a strong combination of love and discipline. Ford house rule number one was: "Tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time."

Mother was a strict disciplinarian. She resolved that her oldest son must learn to control the hot temper he had inherited from King. When the boy raged in anger, she would try to reason with him, or send him to his room to cool off. During one episode, she had young Jerry memorize Kipling's poem "If." After that, she would have him recite it every time he lost his temper.

On the afternoon of Agnew's resignation, Nixon invited the two Gerald Ford, Jr. Democratic leaders, Speaker Carl Albert and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, to the White House to get their advice about the best nominee to replace Agnew.

Albert suggested Jerry Ford. He would be easily and quickly confirmed, Albert said. Nixon turned to Mansfield. He agreed that Ford would be a good choice.....

Speaker Albert said later: "We gave Nixon no choice but Ford. Congress made Jerry Ford President."

In choosing Ford, both Albert and Mansfield believed they were selecting the next president, and that Ford had the experience, the qualities of leadership, and the character to serve as President.......

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that Nixon must give up the White House tapes. Nixon knew he was trapped. His lawyers told him that refusing the Court order would bring impeachment. Only Nixon knew, at that point, that disclosing the tapes of his crime would also be cause for impeachment, and probably prosecution.

In desperation, Nixon telephoned John Mitchell, his senior lawyer and trusted friend, for advice, in the hope of avoiding prison.

Mitchell's reply was characteristically brief and blunt: Dick, he said, make the best deal you can and resign.

al haig and fordNixon made his decision: he would send General Haig, his chief of staff, to see Vice President Ford and suggest that he would resign as President if Ford would agree in advance to pardon him.

Nixon's attempt at a deal turned out to be an extraordinary test of Ford's character......

For twenty-four hours Ford pondered Haig's proposal. He listened to his wife and three other advisers. All pleaded with him to reject the deal. Still he debated: What was best for the country?

On the afternoon after Haig had proposed the deal, Ford brought in Bryce Harlow, a close friend who had counseled every president since Eisenhower. Harlow listened to Ford's account of what Haig proposed, and with quiet eloquence brought Ford to see that any deal was tainted, and that the national interest would not be served by replacing one flawed presidency with another. So Ford called Haig and told him no deal. . . .

On Sunday, September 8--just one month after he became President--President Ford granted a pardon to Richard Nixon for all the crimes he committed while he was President. The reaction across America was outrage. Instead of ending the Watergate tragedy, the pardon seemed to reopen the wound.

Ford was shocked. He expected the pardon of Nixon to be unpopular, but he was stunned by the vehemence of the public reaction. Forgiveness was so great a part of Ford's nature that he thought the American people would be forgiving, that they would accept Nixon's resignation as punishment enough......

ford announces pardon The pardon, coming only one month after Nixon's resignation and Ford's inaugural, also provoked a new suspicion to imperil Ford's fledgling presidency: Was there a deal between Nixon and Ford?

Responsible voices in Congress raised the question... To make a truthful response, Ford knew that he would have to disclose that Al Haig, Nixon's chief of staff, had proposed a pardon as a condition for Nixon to resign. With his usual directness, Ford decided the best way to handle the problem was for him to go up to the House, testify, and spell it out...

Ford did testify before Congress, as no president had ever done before. Before the House Judiciary Committee, Ford gave his account of what happened in his meeting with Haig. Was there a deal? one representative asked.

Ford's reply was blunt: "There was no deal. Period. Under no circumstances." .....

By pardoning Nixon, Ford hoped to close Watergate. In that he failed. But it was his judgment then, and it remained his judgment, that a two-year public trial of former President Nixon in the courts and by the press would be far more damaging to the progress and well-being of the country than a pardon. Ford blamed himself for not doing a better job of justifying his decision, but he never doubted that he acted in the national interest.

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