Curious about Presidential History? Ask a Curator!
Do you have questions about Presidential history and artifacts? Tomorrow, the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives will be answering questions live for #AskaCurator Day on Twitter.
Over 600 museums from 40 countries will be participating, including our very own experts on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. You can also ask curators at the National Archives Exhibits in Washington, D.C.
Museum Objects from the Presidential Libraries:
Rocking Chair used by John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office; RCA Radio Microphone used by FDR to deliver some of his Fireside Chats from the White House; HMS Resolute Desk replica at the JFK Library; Portrait by Octavio Ocampo presented to President Carter on the occasion of a state dinner honoring José López Portillo, President of Mexico, February 1979; 1957 Inaugural gown of Mamie Eisenhower; WWII POW Diary at the Truman Library;1952 Eisenhower campaign hat.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel arrived in Washington, D.C., on September 10, 1974. The state dinner in his honor was held on September 12.
Maria Downs, Mrs. Ford’s Social Secretary, provides a description of the welcoming ceremony for visiting heads of state:
This official greeting by the President and the First Lady was a very impressive occasion which included the herald trumpet greeting, honors to the President, Ruffles and Flourishes, both national anthems, a 21 gun salute, reviewing of the troops, the welcoming remarks of our President and the honored guest’s response….In their homeland, millions of our guest’s countrymen would be scrutinizing the manner in which their leader is received – the respect shown – the guests present – all these details and many others are looked upon as significant symbols.
"Dear President Ford,
I think you are half Right and half wrong.”
This letter, from third grader Anthony Ferreira, encapsulated the country’s deep division over Ford’s controversial decision, stating simply: ”I think you are half Right and half wrong.”
40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: The Reaction
During his Vice Presidential confirmation hearings in November 1973 Gerald Ford had been asked about the possibility of a President preventing criminal prosecution of his predecessor if the former President had resigned from office. “I do not think the public would stand for it,” he answered. After pardoning Richard Nixon on September 8, 1974, he discovered how right he had been.
The most immediate repercussion was the resignation of White House Press Secretary Jerald terHorst shortly before the announcement was made. The President had told him of the decision only the day before and terHorst felt he could not support it. “As your spokesperson I do not know how I could credibly defend that action,” he wrote in his resignation letter, given that absolute pardon was not being extended to those who evaded military service in Vietnam or the others involved in the Watergate situation.
The White House received thousands of letters, telegrams, and messages in the days following the pardon announcement. Reactions ran the gamut from outrage to support. Government officials, celebrities, and citizens from around the country all weighed in with their opinions.
By February 1975 the White House tallied 250,000 pieces of mail regarding the pardon. Opinion ran two to one against it.
40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: A President, a Pen, a Pardon
On Sunday, September 8, 1974, President Ford attended services at St. John’s Episcopal Church to pray for guidance and understanding before making his announcement to the nation.
In his remarks just before signing the document, he noted that the pardon reflected both his Presidential responsibilities and his personal beliefs:
As President, my primary concern must always be the greatest good of all the people of the United States whose servant I am. As a man, my first consideration is to be true to my own convictions and my own conscience.
My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as President, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquility, but to use every means that I have to insure it.
Shortly after the announcement was made former President Nixon released a statement accepting the pardon. Although such a statement wasn’t required President Ford felt it was very significant. According to the precedent set by Burdick v. United States, a pardon “carries an imputation of guilt, acceptance, a confession of it.” By resigning and accepting the pardon Nixon was publicly acknowledging his guilt in the Watergate cover up.
"It was an unbelievable lifting of a burden from my shoulders," President Ford wrote about announcing the pardon. "I felt certain that I had made the right decision, and I was confident that I could now proceed without being harassed by Nixon or his problems any more. I thought I could concentrate 100 percent of my time on the overwhelming problems that faced both me and the country."
The public’s reaction to the announcement, however, quickly proved that the pardon had not settled matters as President Ford had intended.
40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: The Announcement
Ladies and gentlemen, I have come to a decision which I felt I should tell you and all of my fellow American citizens, as soon as I was certain in my own mind and in my own conscience that it is the right thing to do.
At 11:05 a.m. on September 8, 1974, President Ford addressed the nation from the Oval Office to announce his decision to “grant a full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed.”
Listen to President Ford’s remarks from the White House Communications Agency Audio Recordings of President Gerald R. Ford’s Speeches, Remarks and News Conferences. A transcript is available here.
Image: White House photograph A0627-09.
40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: The Background
Concerned by the number of questions regarding Richard Nixon that came up during his first press conference on August 28, President Ford asked his White House Counsel Phil Buchen to quietly look into legal precedents for Presidential pardons. Benton Becker, a lawyer who had been involved in preparing for Ford’s Vice Presidential confirmation, assisted with the research.
Buchen and Becker consulted numerous sources, including The Federalist and court cases such as Burdick v. United States and Ex parte Garland. In their research they found that a President could issue a pardon before the recipient was formally charged and that the pardon did not have to name a specific crime.
Buchen also sought the opinion of Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski regarding how long it be before prosecution of former President Nixon could occur as well as how long it might last. In his response written on September 4, Jaworski outlined the “unprecedented” circumstances surrounding the case. He estimated that the situation would “require a delay before selection of a jury is begun of a period from nine months to a year, and perhaps even longer.”
President Ford also talked about the possibility of a pardon with several key aides: Chief of staff Alexander Haig, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Counsellors Robert Hartmann and Jack Marsh. Due to the sensitivity of the topic the discussions were a closely held secret. After considering all of the research and opinions gathered, on September 7 he made the decision to pardon the former President.
Proclamation 4311, Granting Pardon to Richard Nixon, was typed up and placed in this envelope for President Ford to sign during a special announcement on Sunday, September 8, 1974.
The 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act
Today in 1964, LBJ signed the Wilderness Act, protecting more than 9 million acres of land.
In his signing speech the President praised the bipartisan work in getting the bill passed:
"I think it is significant that these steps have broad support not just from the Democratic Party, but the Republican Party, both parties in the Congress. For example, the wilderness bill has been before the Congress since 1957, but it passed this year 73 to 12 in the Senate, and 373 to 1 in the House. So it seems to me that this reflects a new and a strong national consensus to look ahead, and, more than that, to plan ahead; better still, to move ahead.”
Attendees at the ceremony included some of those Congressional leaders, and many leaders of nonprofit groups who had worked alongside them. LBJ signed the bill outdoors, in the Rose Garden—naturally!
On this day, September 2, 1944, Navy pilot George Bush is shot down into enemy waters during World War II.
George Bush joined the Navy on June 12, 1942, on his 18th birthday. He received his commission on June 9, 1943, becoming the youngest naval aviator of the time. During World War II, Bush flew torpedo bombers, completing 58 missions.
On a run over Chichi Jima in 1944, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Bush bailed out and was rescued by a Navy submarine, but tragically, his two crew members were killed. For his service during WWII, Bush was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals.
Photos: Downed pilot George Bush is rescued by the Navy submarine, USS Finback. 9/2/44; Navy Pilot portrait, WWII; USS Finback.
Press Conference No. 1 of the President of the United States
President Ford held the first press conference of his administration on August 28, 1974. Both he and Mrs. Ford had scheduled press conferences for that day, but in his opening remarks the President explained their compromise: “She will postpone her press conference until next week, and until then, I will be making my own breakfast, my own lunch and my own dinner.”
Over the course of half an hour the press corps asked President Ford about a wide range of topics, including the economy, his first 19 days in office, and the selection of Nelson Rockefeller as Vice President. They also touched on foreign relation issues such as oil prices, U.S. policy towards Cuba, and the continuation of SALT talks with the Soviet Union.
Several of the questions, including the first one, showed a recurring theme: Richard Nixon and the continuing issues surrounding Watergate. President Ford told reporters “until any legal process has been undertaken, I think it is unwise and untimely for me to make any commitment,” but did not rule out the possibility of granting a pardon to former President Nixon. “It is an option and a proper option for any President,” he said.
Little League Baseball celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
President Ford welcomed the final eight teams from the 1974 Little League World Series to the White House on August 26, 1974. The teams represented Red Bluff, California; New Haven, Connecticut; Tallmadge, Ohio; Jackson, Tennessee; Victoria, British Colombia, Canada; Maracaibo, Venezuela; the Republic of China (Taiwan); and Athens, Greece, which included the children of American military and Embassy staff in Europe.
Image: President Ford with the Little League baseball team from Red Bluff, California (White House photograph A0364-23)
From the series: Gerald R. Ford White House Photographs, 08/09/1974 - 01/20/1977
President Gerald Ford in the family kitchen of the White House, only 11 days after assuming the Presidency following Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974.
Here President and Mrs. Ford ride in the Presidential limousine during a trip to Chicago on August 19, 1974.
President Ford logged over 270,000 miles of travel while in office, and Mrs. Ford regularly accompanied him on trips. They attended public events together and made state visits to several foreign countries. “I had fun, I was privileged to travel in style and to see many wonders,” she reflected on their Presidential trips in her memoirs, “and these will stay in my memory.”-from the Ford Library
For two years, public revelations of wrongdoing inside the White House had convulsed the nation. The Watergate affair was a national trauma—a constitutional crisis that tested and affirmed the rule of law. On the evening of August 8, 1974, President Nixon announced his intention to resign.
Nixon’s Resignation Letter and Gerald Ford’s subsequent Presidential Pardon are on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building from August 8 through August 11, 2014.