38th President, 1974-1977
Early Life and Pre-presidency
- Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska.
- Parents: Leslie Lynch King, Sr. and Dorothy Ayer Gardner. Siblings: Half-siblings (mother): Thomas Gardner, Richard Addison, and James Francis; Half-siblings (biological father): Marjorie, Leslie Henry, and Patricia Jane.
- His mother divorced his father soon after Ford was born and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan where she married Gerald Rudolff Ford in February 1916. Ford then adopted his stepfather’s name.
- Attended Grand Rapids South High School and graduated in 1931.
- Entered University of Michigan where he was a star football player and graduated in 1935. The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers both offered him a contract, but he elected to enter law school instead.
- Worked as an assistant football coach and boxing coach at Yale University before entering Yale Law School in 1938, graduating in 1941.
- Opened his law practice in Grand Rapids after being admitted to the bar in 1941.
- Enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He received his call of duty in April 1942 and served until he was released from active duty in February 1946, obtaining the rank of lieutenant commander. He resigned from the Naval Reserve in June.
- Returned to Grand Rapids to continue practising law and became involved in Republican politics.
- Married Elizabeth “Betty” Bloomer Warren (1918–2011) on October 15, 1948. Children: Michael Gerald (1950– ), John Gardner (1952– ), Steven Meigs (1956– ), and Susan Elizabeth (1957– ).
- Ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1948 elections and won. He served from 1949 to 1973.
- Appointed to the Warren Commission in November 1963 to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
- Elected House Minority Leader in 1964 and served from 1965 to 1973.
- When Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, President Nixon nominated Ford to fill the vacancy. The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination and he was sworn in on November 27.
- On August 8, 1974, President Nixon announced on television that he would resign as President the next day at noon. Gerald Ford would assume the Presidency upon Nixon’s resignation.
- Took his oath of office on August 9, 1974, in the East Room of the White House.
- He is the only President to become a Vice President, then President without being elected into office.
- Nominated Nelson A. Rockefeller as his Vice President. Rockefeller’s nomination was approved by both houses of Congress.
- On September 8, 1974, he granted a full pardon to former President Richard Nixon through Proclamation 4311, causing a small decline in his approval rating.
- On November 17, 1974, Ford became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Japan.
- To counter the rising inflation, Ford announced a campaign called WIN (Whip Inflation Now) in November 1974.
- Ford vetoed the Freedom of Information Act, but Congress overrode his veto on November 21, 1974.
- Signed the Privacy Act in January 1974. The law ensured American citizens their right to individual privacy.
- In March 1975, Ford ordered the evacuation of all remaining American troops in South Vietnam when the capital Saigon fell to North Vietnam.
- Signed the Tax Reduction Act of 1975 in March, which cut taxes by $22.8 billion, even though he is opposed to it.
- Travelled to Europe in July 1975 to sign the Helsinki Accords. The accords were a declaration of improving relations between the West and the Communist bloc of countries.
- There were two assassination attempts on Ford during his term: on September 5, 1975, by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, and on September 22, 1975, by Sara Jane Moore.
- Ford vetoed 46 bills during his term, the most by any President. The President would also have the highest percentage of overturned vetoes by Congress at 94%.
- During Ford’s term, inflation rose to a high of 12.2% in 1974 but fell to 4.8% towards the end of 1976. Unemployment rose to a high of 9.2% in 1975 but dropped to 7.8% in early 1976.
- Ford is nominated as the Republican Party’s Presidential candidate in the 1976 election. He lost to Democrat James Carter.
- Retired to Rancho Mirage, a city in Riverside County, California.
- Joined the American Enterprise Insitute for Public Policy Research as its distinguished fellow in 1977 and founded the AEI World Forum, which held its first forum in Beaver Creek, Colorado in 1982.
- Appointed President of the Eisenhower Fellowships in January 1977 and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1986.
- Published A Time to Heal, his autobiography, in 1979.
- He was considered as a potential running mate to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election but negotiations fell through.
- Opened the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on April 27, 1981.
- The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan was dedicated on September 18, 1981.
- Received an honorary doctorate from the Central Connecticut State University in March 1988.
- Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in August 1999.
- Co-chaired the National Commission on Federal Election Reform in 2001 with former President James Carter.
- Received the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award in May 2001 for his pardon of President Nixon.
- Died on December 26, 2006, of arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease and diffuse arteriosclerosis.
- He lay in state at the U.S. Capitol on December 30, 2006, then had a state funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
- He is interred in a tomb at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
- At 93 years and 165 days old, he was the longest-lived U.S. President.
Born on 14 July 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska, Gerald Ford would become the 38thPresident of the United States of America upon the resignation of Richard Nixon in August 1974. He is the only person who held both the roles of Vice President and President of the United States without having been elected.
Parents & Childhood
Gerald Ford’s biological father, Leslie Lynch King Senior was born on 25 July 1884 in Chadron, Nebraska to Charles Henry King a successful and wealthy businessman, and Martha Porter King a housewife and homemaker. King attended a military academy in Missouri whilst his father amassed a business empire, establishing successful businesses along the Nebraska and Wyoming railroad before settling the family in Omaha in a large Victorian mansion he commissioned.
Ford’s mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner was born on 27 February 1892 in Harvard, Illinois to businessman and one-time mayor Levi Addison Gardner and Adele Augusta Gardner. Most of Adele’s ancestors were of English origin, having settled in New England in the 17thcentury. Adele was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and she enrolled her daughter Dorothy in the society also.
Neither King nor Dorothy’s childhoods are well documented, but we do know that the two met in early 1912 when King was visiting his sister Marietta at Wellesley College in Massachusetts where Dorothy was also studying and was a roommate of Marietta. King courted Dorothy for a number of months, whisking her off her feet with tales of his family wealth and position, before proposing. The couple married on 7 September 1912.
According to some sources, when the couple moved to Omaha, where King worked as the head of his father’s business, he revealed that he was not actually a wealthy man and was deeply in debt which came as a huge shock to Dorothy.
The couple honeymooned on the West Coast where King reportedly physically abused his new wife for allegedly looking at another man. She left him, returning to her parent’s home in Michigan, but he pursued her and convinced her to give him another chance. It’s also possible that by this time she was in the first stage of pregnancy and so she may have wanted the baby to be born into a married home. She may also have been hoping that King’s behaviour would change when they had a child.
This was not the case, and just a few days after the birth of her son Leslie Lynch King Junior who was born on 14 July 1913, King drunkenly brandished a knife at Dorothy and the baby, threatening to hurt them both. Dorothy left King, taking baby Leslie with her, and briefly stayed with her sister in Oak Park, Illinois, before settling with her parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The couple divorced in December 1913, and Dorothy may have filed charges of abuse and bodily harm or threatened to do so if he did not pay child support to her son. King claimed that he could not pay due to his debts and the face he had recently been fired by his father from his job. Charles, King’s father, eventually agreed to pay the overdue money as well as continue the payments for the remainder of his life, as long as Dorothy did not press charges against his son.
King married his second wife Margaret Atwood in 1919 and the couple had three children together, Marjorie, born in 1921, Leslie, born in 1923 and Patricia, born in 1925.
In Grand Rapids, Dorothy began raising her infant son with the help of her parents, but she soon after met Gerald Rudolff Ford who was a businessman in Grand Rapids. They married in February of 1917 when Leslie Junior was three. From this time on, the little boy would take on the name of his stepfather, becoming Gerald Rudolff Ford Junior although he was known in the family as “Jerry Jnr.” Gerald did not legally take his step father’s name until he was in his mid-twenties, although he did not associate with his legal name ever again from the age of three. Indeed, until the age of seventeen, Gerald was unaware that he even had a different biological father.
Together, Gerald Senior and Dorothy had three sons, stepbrothers of Gerald Junior, Thomas, born in 1918, Richard, born in 1924 and James, born in 1927. The family lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, near Dorothy’s parents, and the children attended local schools, becoming strong members of the community.
Ford attended Grand Rapids South High School where he was the captain of the school’s soccer team and which gained the attention of university scouts who were looking for talented athletes to grant scholarships to. During this time, Ford was also an Eagle Scout with the Boys Scouts of America, gaining the highest rank within the scouts. He is the only Eagle Scout to become President of the United States. During his teen years, he also waited on tables at local restaurants and it is whilst he was working that he met his father for the first time. King visited Ford whilst he was working but the meeting was not long, nor considered successful by either man. Ford did not have or pursue a relationship with his father or step-family on his father’s side, claiming,
“My stepfather was a magnificent person and my mother equally wonderful. So, I couldn’t have written a better prescription for a superb family upbringing”
Ford attended the University of Michigan where he studied economics and played football for the school team, the Wolverines. When he graduated from University, he was offered a professional football career with both the Detroit Lions as well as the Green Bay Packers, but he did not want to pursue an athletic career, choosing to attend Yale University instead where he attended law school, although he did coach football alongside his studies.
Ford first got a taste for politics in 1940 when he was twenty-seven years old and worked as a volunteer for Wendell Wilkie’s presidential campaign, the Republican candidate running against Democratic Franklin D. Roosevelt, attending the Republican Convention that year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This initial taste into politics intrigued him and when he graduated from Yale University in the following year, he moved back to Grand Rapids, opened his own law firm and explored what opportunities there were for him in local politics.
However, the war intervened in his political career and in 1942 he was enlisted into the US Navy. He served aboard the Monterey, an aircraft carrier, for four years, being stationed primarily in the South Pacific. During his time in the Navy, he gained a number of battle stars during battles with the Japanese including the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the World War Two Victory Medal. He was also almost swept off the deck of the ship one night during a typhoon.
He was discharged from the Navy in 1946 and returned to Grand Rapids and his law firm to pick up in his law career and his political interests where he had left off. In August 1947 Ford meets Betty Warren through friends and the couple began dating.
Elizabeth “Betty” Anne Bloomer Warren was born on 8 April 1918 in Chicago Illinois as the third child and only daughter of William Bloomer Senior and Hortense Neahr. The family settled at some point in Betty’s early childhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan where William worked for the Royal Rubber Company and where his wife Hortense had family connections to a wealthy furniture manufacturing company.
Betty was enrolled by her mother at eight years old into the Calla Travis Dance Studio as her mother believed that it was important for Betty to have social graces. It may have been her mother’s choice to send her to the dance studio, but it soon became a passion for Betty, who thoroughly enjoyed the ballet, tap and modern movement classes. She decided around age fourteen that she wanted to pursue a career in dance, teaching younger children to dance, and eventually opening her own dance school, teaching adults and children alike.
When she was sixteen, Betty’s father died of asphyxiation whilst working on the family’s car in their garage, although it was never determined whether the death was an accident or suicide. Regardless, the family had lost the breadwinner and Betty’s mother became the main earner, working as a real-estate agent.
When she graduated, Betty worked as a model in a department store in Grand Rapids, and spent two summers at the Bennington School of Dance in Vermont, studying under renowned choreographer and dancer, Martha Graham. She had her big break in 1940 when she was accepted to work with Martha Graham’s auxiliary troupe in New York City, which included a performance at Carnegie Hall. Despite minor successes, she soon realised that she would not succeed full-time as a dancer and she moved back to Grand Rapids and focused on a career in retail. She moved up in the company, working as a fashion coordinator, although she did keep a hand in dance, running her dance school, and teaching children with hearing and sight disabilities.
She married for the first time in 1942 to William C. Warren, a furniture salesman and childhood friend. They spent three years travelling the country as part of William’s job, however, in 1945 William developed acute diabetes and so their situation changed. Betty had to work full time to support them and she was made aware of the inequalities between male and female working conditions, including unequal pay. When Warren recovered, he wanted to continue travelling and working but Betty wanted to settle down in one place and start a family. The couple parted ways around 1946 or 1947.
Betty met Gerald Ford in August of 1947. At the time he was a US Navy veteran who had just returned to his law practice in Grand Rapids and was planning to run for Congress. Betty and Gerald dated for a year and eventually became engaged in February 1948, marrying in November, just before the congressional election. It has been suggested that Ford made a conscious decision to have the wedding after the primary campaign to avoid garnering the disapproval of the conservative factions. Immediately after the wedding, the couple began working together in politics, campaigning for the election to Congress.
The Journey of Congressman to President
In November of 1948, Ford campaigned successfully as the Republican candidate for a seat in Congress. In December of the same year, the couple moved to Washington D.C. so that Ford could begin his role in Congress, Betty also taking up the role as political wide, getting to know other congressmen’s wives as well as serving as an unofficial advisor to her husband.
Ford served thirteen terms as congressman between 1948 and 1973, focusing during that time on foreign policy and the military, areas he had become particularly passionate about following his time served in the Navy during WW2. He also had a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee which oversaw spending. He was involved in the key years of the space programme and also the establishment of the Warren Commission, the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy which occurred in November 1963. During his thirteen-year tenure, he served a term as Chair of the House Republican Conference and rose to become the House minority leader.
Whilst Ford worked in Congress, Betty took up the role of housewife, mother and father to the couple’s children, Michael Gerald, born 14 March 1950, John “Jack” Gardner, born 16 March 1952, Stephen Meigs, born 19 May 1956, and Susan Elizabeth, born 6 July 1957.
By 1972 Ford was beginning to look towards winding down his career and reportedly told family and friends that he would stand for one more election in 1974 and if successful, serve the following two-year term, before retiring in 1977. However, those plans did not come to fruition.
In 1973, President Nixon had just won re-election to his second term as President, however, shortly afterwards the Watergate scandal broke. The President had known about politically motivated burglaries which took place in June 1972 at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. The burglaries were in the midst of Nixon’s re-election campaign, and, knowing that some of the burglars were politicians working on his campaign, he ordered a cover-up of the information, going as far as paying the burglars hush-money and ordering the CIA to force the FBI out of the investigation. When he won the re-election in November 1973, the scandal came out into the public.
During this time there was also another political scandal breaking which would bring Ford into the political spotlight. In October of 1973, just before Nixon won his re-election campaign, his Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned as part of an arrangement with the Justice Department following the exposure of evidence of Agnew’s having accepted bribes whilst serving as Vice President and even as governor of Maryland.
In the midst of Nixon covering up the Watergate events and approaching the imminent election, he had to quickly find a replacement Vice President. He chose Ford, allegedly because he was the only congressman who the Senate and the House of Representatives would support. It was key, therefore, that Nixon kept their support as he knew that the Watergate scandal would break soon. So, in October 1973 Ford found himself becoming Vice President of the United States alongside a President whom he had always vehemently supported, but who had not always been a big fan of Ford’s.
Whilst the Watergate investigations had been ongoing since 1972, President Nixon had been able to distance himself from the firing line slightly, by claiming he did not know of or approve the cover-up, however in 1974 a number of tapes were released to the public which revealed Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up, going back to 1972 when he ordered the payment of hush-money. By February 1974 the House of Representatives approved an investigation into the involvement of the President and a possible impeachment. In July of that year, just after the tapes were released to the public, Nixon was found to have three articles of impeachment which were the obstruction of justice, an abuse of power and the contempt of Congress.
On the evening of 8 August 1974 President Nixon resigned from office, knowing that he had no chance of staying in office when the findings of the investigation were published, choosing to walk away rather than being removed from the presidency. He said, in part:
“To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home. Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”
Therefore, Gerald Ford found himself, just ten months after taking the position of Vice President, being sworn in as the 38thPresident of the United States of America.
“We are bound together by the most powerful of all ties, our fervent love for freedom and independence, which knows no homeland but the human heart”
Ford assumed the presidency over a country which had seen a decline in its governance and public appearance over the last thirty years since the second world war when it’s approval rating was at an all-time high. The Vietnam War, as well as the Watergate scandal, had eroded the people’s trust in their leaders. Ford had to step into the breach left by the Nixon administration and spend the next three years fighting to recoup some of the damage. In his inaugural address, he said: “Our long national nightmare is over.”
Nevertheless, Ford’s time as President is considered of mixed success. One of his first actions after taking office was to pardon Nixon for any crimes he may have committed as President which meant that he would face no criminal charges over the Watergate scandal. This received a lot of criticism as many American people wanted Nixon to face justice after the scandal. Ford claimed the move was an effort to put the entire business to bed and for America to look to the future rather than at the past.
During his time as President Ford struggled to work with his heavily democratic congress, vetoing 66 pieces of legislation which he vehemently opposed due to their conservative nature and failing to pass an order to send more military aid to the failing Vietnam war efforts. He did, however, manage to reduce tensions between the US and the Soviet Union through his signing of the Helsinki Accords which consisted of ten key agreements which 35 countries including the US, Europe and the Soviet Union all signed. The ten articles included such as ‘refraining from the threat or use of force’, ‘peaceful settlement of disputes’ and ‘co-operation among states [countries].’ It was seen as a milestone step in the journey to reduce cold war tensions.
During his time as President, he was the target of two assassination attempts, neither of which were successful or even caused any injuries to anyone. The first was on 5 September 1975 when Lynette Fromme, a cult member of Charles Manson’s Cult attempted to shoot him from arm’s length in Sacramento, California where Ford was due to attend a meeting. The gun did not fire, no one was hurt, and Ford even continued to walk down the street to his meeting, showing incredible fortitude. Fromme spent 34 years in prison for the attempt. The second attempt occurred just seventeen days later on 22 September 1975, when Sara Jane Moore, a political radial attempted to shoot Ford in San Francisco. This attempt also failed, and as a result, a number of California gun laws were passed. Following these two attempts, there were no more.
Ford appreciated that his actions in pardoning President Nixon may cost him in the long run, and in 1976 he ran for election to continue his position as President, but he lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter who promised a fresh start for America. Ford was apparently nonplussed by his loss and claimed that he was honoured to have had the opportunity to help the country during his three years as president.
Life after the Presidency
By the time he left the Presidency, Gerald Ford was sixty-three. His four children were all grown-up and were either married or would marry in the coming two years. Gerald and Betty would go on to welcome seven grandchildren into their family over the coming twenty years.
In the years following his Presidency, Ford set up the presidential library in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a museum in Grand Rapids. He and Betty also opened the Betty Ford Rehabilitation Clinic in California following Betty’s fight with breast cancer in 1974 and subsequent mastectomy.
In August 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded Ford the Presidential Medal for Freedom in recognition of his public service in bringing the country back together following the Watergate scandal.
Gerald Rudolff Ford died at the age of 93 on 26 December 2006 at his home in Rancho Mirage, California where the couple had moved to after their time in Washington D.C. His wife of sixty-three years, Betty Ford also died age 93 on 8 July 2011 of natural causes, four and a half years after her husband. She was buried next to her husband Gerald in the grounds of the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.