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Gerald Ford: Biography, Presidency & Facts

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  • 0:06 Ford's Early Years
  • 1:02 Ford's Congressional Years
  • 2:38 From Congress to the…
  • 4:02 Ford Presidency
  • 7:14 Presidential Election of 1976
  • 8:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

This lesson discusses the life and times of President Gerald Ford. Learn more about his personal and political life on the way to becoming the 38th President of the United States.

Ford's Early Years

Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King in Omaha, Nebraska on July 14, 1913 (he legally changed his name in 1935 to that of his stepfather's). Ford was a standout football player in high school and was offered a partial scholarship to the University of Michigan. He was a linebacker and a center on the Wolverine championship teams in 1932 and 1933. After turning down offers to play professional football with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, Ford went to Yale in 1935 to study law.

After graduating from Yale, Ford enlisted in the United States Navy and was commissioned in April 1942. Ford served with distinction in the Pacific Theater of World War II and earned several commendations before he was discharged in 1946. Not long after he returned home, the football star and war hero met Betty Warren, a dancer and department store fashion coordinator. They were married in November 1948.

Ford's Congressional Years

When Ford returned from World War II, he had a different view of the world. He rejected American isolationism in favor of a more interventionist nation, one that protected against international tyranny. As a result, Ford decided to help shape American policy by running for Congress as a Republican. Ford defeated Michigan's incumbent Republican Congressman, Bartel Jonkman, in 1948, earning the right to represent the state's Fifth Congressional District.

Early in his Congressional career, Ford served on several associations, including the House Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Following President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963, Ford was appointed to the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of Kennedy, by President Lyndon Johnson. Ford vehemently supported the single-assassin premise and even provided secret information on members of the Warren Commission who opposed the theory to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

After the successful re-election of Johnson in 1964, Republicans in Congress looked to replace Minority Leader Charles Halleck with a stronger presence. Ultimately, Ford was chosen to serve as the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. As Minority Leader of the House, Ford proved to be an outspoken opponent to Johnson's policies in the Vietnam War.

Ford openly criticized the war on the House floor and joined fellow Congressmen Everett Dirksen in holding a series of televised events to recommend new strategies for successfully ending the war. Needless to say, Ford's relationship with Johnson went from a working association to bitter contempt. He hoped for a better relationship with the president when Republican Richard Nixon was elected in 1968.

From Congress to the White House

During Nixon's early years, Ford helped steer several pieces of legislation involving the environment and revenue sharing through Congress. Yet, Ford was in for a great surprise in October 1973. On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from his duties due to income tax evasion and allegations that he accepted bribes.

Nixon turned to Congress for suggestions on potential replacements, as he wanted to make sure that the nomination process was quick and painless. Ford became the vice presidential front-runner and was eventually confirmed by Congress on December 6, 1973 by an overwhelming vote of 387 to 35. This marked the end of Ford's 25-year career in the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, the pomp and circumstance for Ford's confirmation was lost in a sea of media reports on Nixon's Watergate scandal. By August of 1974, Ford was being briefed by Chief of Staff Alexander Haig that the evidence against Nixon's involvement in the Watergate break-in was monumental. Haig advised Ford to be prepared to assume the presidency.

In a hasty turn of events, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974 and Ford was immediately sworn in as President of the United States. He quickly nominated the Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, as vice president. Ford is the only person to become vice president and president without having been elected to either office.

The Ford Presidency

Ford's foremost goal was to usher in a period of healing in the United States after a decade of despair, destruction and loss. A great example of this was captured in his remarks upon assuming the office, as he said:

'My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule. As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.'

Unfortunately, Ford proved to be an inefficient leader and incapable of ushering in important change. Ford's first article of business was a pardon of Richard Nixon in September 1974 from the crimes of the Watergate scandal. Ford wanted the nation to move on rather than possibly see Nixon involved in a drawn out Congressional trial. As a result, Ford was required to testify before Congress to explain his decision on the presidential pardon.

Needless to say, Ford lost a great deal of support from conservatives in Congress as well as the American public. His popularity continued to plummet as he issued an executive proclamation that established an amnesty program for Vietnam War draft dodgers and deserters. Through the program, suspected individuals had their criminal charges converted to clemency status and were eligible for a presidential pardon.

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