Gerald R. Ford was the most accidental of American presidents, but when he unexpectedly appeared at the crossroads of history, he seemed to have been placed there by a deliberate act of providence.
In one important respect, Ford was different from most of his predecessors and all of his successors: He did not seek the presidency. He was a product of a small Midwest city and the House of Representatives. His political ambition--seemingly hopeless in a time of Democratic domination of Congress--was to become the first Republican speaker in a generation.
Ford became the 38th president because of the shortcomings of others and because he had earned the trust of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. When the corrupt Spiro T. Agnew was forced to resign as vice president, it was Ford's congressional colleagues who virtually forced President Richard M. Nixon to accept him as Agnew's successor.
And when the embattled Nixon was finally engulfed by the Watergate scandal and forced to resign himself, it was the unimposing "gentleman from Michigan" who inherited the leadership of a deeply troubled nation.
"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 word," wrote James Cannon, a White House aide to Ford, in an essay recalling that tumultuous time.
In many ways, Ford seemed ill equipped to be president. He had never held an executive position in government, he had limited experience in foreign policy and national security affairs, and he was an uninspiring, sometimes awkward public speaker.
But offsetting those weaknesses was Ford's one great strength: He was not Nixon.
He was, in fact, the anti-Nixon, so different from his darkly brooding predecessor that the country seemed to heave a collective sigh of relief when he took office. It was news that, on the first full day of his presidency, the new chief executive toasted English muffins in the kitchen of his Alexandria home.
Nothing better exemplified the change in tone that Ford brought to the White House and the country as a whole than the relationship that developed between him and the White House press corps. The Nixon White House had been at war with the press for months, even years, and the constant sniping had already begun to sour national politics.
Ford was different. Behind his back, the reporters made fun of him for his sometimes fractured language and the occasional slip while descending the stairs from Air Force One. But especially during the grueling 1976 presidential campaign, when Ford closed a 30-point gap in the polls and almost overtook his Democratic challenger, Jimmy Carter, they developed an abiding respect and affection for the man.
One day late in that campaign, Ford appeared at a rally in San Diego. Among those in the audience was a young man who was just starting out in a role that would make him semi-famous as "the San Diego chicken," the unofficial mascot for that city's professional sports team.
Ford spotted the man dressed as a chicken and had a typically human response. "And the chicken," he bellowed in a voice grown hoarse from the campaign, "I love it."
“. . . The ultimate test of leadership is not the polls you take, but the risks you take. In the short run, some risks prove overwhelming. Political courage can be self-defeating. But the greatest defeat of all would be to live without courage, for that would hardly be living at all.”--Remarks by President Ford upon receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award--May 21, 2001
"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald R. Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, has passed away at 93 years of age. His was a life filled with love of God, his family, and his country."--Betty Ford's statement of December 26, 2006
President Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
38th President of the United States
Gerald Rudolph"Jerry" Ford- (July 14, 1913-December 26, 2006)
Gerald R. Ford, Jr. was the 38th President of the United States, and holds the distinction of being the only president who was never actually elected through a national election or by the electoral college. Vice-President Ford became president on August 9, 1974 when Richard Nixon became the only president to resign his office. Ford had become Vice-President only ten months earlier when Nixon appointed him to that office upon the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew.
Ford was born in 1913, the son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner. Upon his birth, he was named Leslie Lynch King, Jr. Two months after his birth, King and Gardner divorced. Two years later, she remarried, and the future president was renamed for his stepfather, and became Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. Growing up in East Rapids, Michigan, it was natural for the athletic Ford to attend the University of Michigan, where he played football for the Wolverines. He studied political science and economics while at Michigan, and later entered Yale Law School after deciding not to sign contracts to play professional football for NFL teams who sought his football skills.
During World War Two, Ford served in the U.S. Navy from April, 1942 to February, 1946. In 1948, Ford was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Republican. He represented the 5th District of Michigan from 1949 until chosen as Vice-President in 1973. It should be noted that Ford, like many politically-minded veterans of World War Two, successfully won office in the elections held in the years right after the war. Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy also entered the House of Representatives in this time period.
Ford's influence in Congress grew when fellow Republicans selected him as their leader in 1965. Since the Democrats controlled the House by holding a majority of the seats, the Republicans were called the "minority party."As the leader of the Republicans in Congress, Ford's new position titled "House Minority Leader."
When Vice-President Spiro Agnew resigned due to criminal allegations against him, President Nixon chose Ford as the new Vice-President. After the House and Senate confirmed the choice, Ford became the first unelected (by voters) Vice-President of the U.S.
Ford's selection as the Vice-President became critically important when Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. Ford then became the first unelected (by voters) President of the U.S. President Ford's first important decision was to grant Nixon a full presidential pardon, which prevented any legal action against the former president for crimes he may have committed while he was president.
President Ford's major domestic issues involved the economy, which was slowed by relatively high inflation and a recession, or slowing down of the economy.
His foreign policy issues were significant, as the long Vietnam War came to a close. With the ending of this war, Communist forces gained control of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The Communists in Cambodia called themselves the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians,or Khmer). On May 12, 1975, thirteen days after the fall of Saigon brought the Vietnam War to a close, Khmer Rouge forces seized an American ship, the SS Mayaguez. Ford decided to use military force to rescue the ship's crew, and ordered several hundred U.S. Marines to attack Kho Tang Island, off the coast of Cambodia. Over 40 American Marines died 23 U.S. airmen died in a related crash, the crew was released, and America's long involvement in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) ended with the Mayaguez Incident. Ford also met with Soviet leaders in a summit in Vladivostok, USSR in 1975.
Also in 1975, Ford survived two assassination attempts. On September 5, 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme pulled the trigger of a gun pointed at President Ford's stomach as he greeted and shook hands in a crowd in Sacramento, California. The bullet in the gun jammed, and Ford was uninjured. Over two weeks later, on September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore tried to shoot Ford, but a bystander in the crowd forced the gun away from her. Despite successfully firing a shot from her gun, Moore failed to injure the President. Moore served time in prison, winning parole on Dec. 31, 2007 (see One of Ford’s Would-Be Assassins Is Paroled from the New York Times, Jan. 1, 2008). Ford's other failed assassin, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, won parole in August, 2009. (see Ford Would-Be Assassin to Be Paroled from the New York Times, Aug. 5, 2009)