40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: Congressional Testimony
President Ford’s sudden announcement of his decision to pardon Richard Nixon raised many questions. People felt that the pardon circumvented justice, continuing the Watergate coverup by preventing the possible indictment of the former President that could have provided answers to lingering questions. Among the overwhelming negative responses from the public was the idea that the pardon was part of a “secret deal” between Ford and Nixon.
Several Representatives requested answers to specific questions regarding the pardon and the circumstances surrounding it. On October 17, 1974, President Ford appeared on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, becoming the first sitting President to give sworn congressional testimony. He delivered an opening statement and answered questions posed by the committee members regarding when and with whom he had discussed the pardon, and why he decided to grant it.
"I hope…that I have at least cleared the air so that most Americans will understand what was done and why it was done," he said at the end of the two hour session. "And again I trust that all of us can get back to the job of trying to solve our problems both at home and abroad."
Gerald and Betty Ford on Their Wedding Day at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 10/15/1948.
Gerald Ford was introduced to Elizabeth (Betty) Bloomer Warren by mutual friends in August 1947. He proposed in February 1948, but the wedding had to wait until the fall because Ford was planning his first congressional campaign. They were married at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids on October 15, 1948, just a few weeks before the general election.
The bride wore a sapphire blue satin dress and a matching hat with a piece of lace from a parasol belonging to the groom’s grandmother. The groom, who had been out campaigning before the ceremony, had mud on his shoes. “My mother was furious,” he recalled, “but Betty pretended not to notice.”
This letter from then-House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to President Richard Nixon lists Ford’s recommendations to fill the Vice Presidential vacancy following Spiro Agnew’s resignation on October 10, 1973. President Nixon ultimately nominated Congressman Ford to be Vice President, and less than one year later Ford would find himself serving as President following Nixon’s resignation.
"I know now that what is most sustaining and healing in the immediate days and weeks following breast surgery is the love and understanding that come in such abundance from one’s husband and children. In addition, to have the good wishes and encouragement of so many other people is to feel especially blessed.” —Betty Ford
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer just a few weeks after moving into the White House. She underwent a mastectomy on September 28, 1974, at Bethesda Naval Hospital. President Ford tried to visit her twice a day until she was released on October 11. In addition to the support of her family the First Lady also received thousands of get well messages from the public, including those who lives had also been affected by breast cancer.
Image: President Gerald Ford, Carrying a Football, and First Lady Betty Ford returning to the President’s Suite at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, following the First Lady’s Breast Cancer Surgery, 10/04/1974 [digitally colored].
Sometimes Laughter Is the Best Medicine
Photograph of President Gerald Ford and Comedian Bob Hope Visiting First Lady Betty Ford in the President’s Suite at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, Following the First Lady’s Breast Cancer Surgery, 10/05/1974
Looking for a formal yet patriotic #NationalCoffeeDay? Try this Founding Fathers-themed coffee service:
In honor of National Coffee Day, here’s a coffee service given to President Ford by Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik of Denmark on May 10, 1976.
This Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Colonial Coffee-service includes a coffee pot with lid, a creamer, a sugar bowl with lid, four coffee cups, four coffee saucers, and a serving tray. Each item features the silhouette of an American Patriot such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. Additionally, each piece has a tortoise shell glaze and a gold band around the bottom, with a gold grapevine inlay around the top.
With the exception of the added silhouettes, this coffee set is an exact replica of one designed and produced by the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Factory in 1782. The Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Factory designed the Colonial Coffee-service in commemoration of the American Bicentennial and the factory’s bicentennial.
50th Anniversary of the Warren Commission Report
Chief Justice Earl Warren and the other members of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy presented their final report to President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 24, 1964.
President Johnson established the Commission on November 29, 1963, a week after President Kennedy’s assassination. He appointed Chief Justice Warren as its chairman and named Representative Gerald R. Ford as one of the Commission’s members.
Ford attended executive sessions and received sworn testimony from Lee Harvey Oswald’s widow, his mother, and dozens of other witnesses. He also traveled to Dallas to interview Jack Ruby and view the spot in the Texas School Book Depository from which Oswald had shot. “Kennedy had been my friend. The thought that we were reconstructing his assassination sent a chill down my spine,” Ford recalled.
The Warren Commission’s final report concluded that Oswald was responsible for the shooting and that the Commission “found no evidence that either Lee Harvey Oswald or Jack Ruby was part of any conspiracy, domestic or foreign, to assassinate President Kennedy.” The report did not end the controversy surrounding the assassination, however; its findings have continued to be debated and challenged by later studies.
Ford supported the final report’s conclusions throughout his life, particularly as he had the distinction of becoming the last surviving member of the Warren Commission.
Image: The members of the Warren Commission present their report to President Johnson on September 24, 1964. From left to right, John McCloy, J. Lee Rankin (General Counsel), Senator Richard Russell, Representative Gerald Ford, Chief Justice Earl Warren, President Johnson, Allen Dulles, Senator John Sherman Cooper, and Representative Hale Boggs.
40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: The 1976 Election
As the country prepared for the next Presidential election in 1976 Watergate and President Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon in 1974 was still on people’s minds.
Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter repeatedly said he would not make the pardon a campaign issue. “The American people know who pardoned Richard Nixon,” he stated. “They don’t need to have it raised by a candidate.” His running mate didn’t share that view. Vice Presidential nominee Walter Mondale mentioned it in his speech at the Democratic National Convention and continued to bring it up during the campaign.
The Harris Survey confirmed that it was still an issue. In August 1976 poll results showed a 59 to 33 percent majority of voters believed President Ford “was wrong to pardon Richard Nixon.” At the same time, a 52 to 34 percent majority felt that he had acted in the country’s best interests. Based on the data Louis Harris concluded “that any change in public attitudes towards the Nixon pardon could have an immediate impact on the race for the White House.”
Ford’s campaign advisers included a briefing sheet on the pardon in the President’s debate preparation materials. In the first campaign debate he was asked to address why former President Nixon received a full pardon while amnesty for Vietnam draft resisters had been conditional. He stood by both decisions, stating that “the need and necessity for me to concentrate on the problems of the country fully justified the action that I took” in pardoning Nixon.
On November 2, 1976, Jimmy Carter won the election by a slim margin, receiving 50% of the popular vote to President Ford’s 48%. Many believed that the pardon had contributed to President Ford’s defeat, including Betty Ford. “Many people who definitely were for Jerry could not bring themselves to vote for him because he pardoned Nixon,” she later said. One post election analysis of the factors motivating voters’ decisions reported that “seven points of the anti-Ford vote stemmed from Watergate.”
Image: President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter Meet at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia to Debate Domestic Policy during the First of the Three Ford-Carter Debates, 09/23/1976.
Ahoy, mateys! ‘Tis Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Here be President Gerald “Arrr” Ford talkin’ wit’ Al Oliver, a Pirate from t’ three rivers o’ Pittsburgh, before t’ Major League All-Starrr Game on July 13, 1976.
Be ye lookin fer pirates of a different stripe?
"They should be allowed the opportunity to earn return to their country, their communities, and their families, upon their agreement to a period of alternate service in the national interest, together with an acknowledgement of their allegiance to the country and its Constitution."Presidential Proclamation 4313 of September 16, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford announcing a program for the return of Vietnam era draft evaders and deserters., 09/16/1974
(Not the first controversial pardon issued by President Ford in September 1974.)
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.