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Gerald Ford: Economic, Domestic & Foreign Policy

Instructor: Evan Thompson

Evan has taught high school History and has a bachelor's degree in history with a master's degree in teaching.

Gerald R. Ford had the second-shortest presidency of the 20th century, being 13 days longer than Warren Harding. His term, however, was far from uneventful. Read on to learn about the first unelected president.

President Gerald R. Ford

Gerald Ford took over as president under unusual and difficult circumstances. He faced the task of leading in a healing manner, given that his presidency came on the heels of the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War. He also faced an economic situation more dire than anything since the Great Depression. What did the Ford administration attempt to do about the situation? Let's take a look.

President Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford

Becoming President

Ford was appointed by President Richard Nixon to be vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, and Ford was confirmed by an overwhelming margin. Less than a year later, Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, and Ford became president. After taking the oath of office, Ford addressed the nation in a brief, televised address, stating that ''our long national nightmare is over.''

Ford Takes the Oath of Office
Ford Takes the Oath of Office

Pardon of Nixon

Ford took office during a time of economic crisis and domestic turmoil. He felt that the country needed to be free from distractions, such as the Watergate scandal. On September 8, Ford pardoned Nixon for anything illegal that he did regarding Watergate. The public was irate, as were some Congressional Democrats. Ford's press secretary was so upset that he resigned over the ordeal.

Ford stated later that his legal justification was a 1915 Supreme Court decision, Burdick v. United States, establishing that issuing a pardon indicated a presumption of guilt and accepting a pardon indicated admission of guilt. Ford never doubted that a pardon was the right decision, even though that played a large role in his loss to Jimmy Carter in the 1976. Years later, Ted Kennedy, a longtime Senate Democrat, said that Ford did the right thing, and that the act took tremendous courage.

Stagflation & the Energy Crisis

The economy was a mess. It had entered a period known as stagflation, a combination of stagnation and inflation. To make matters worse, there was also an energy crisis, a low supply of oil and resulting high prices for oil and gasoline, that had just ended. The crisis resulted from an Arab oil embargo, a complete ban on any trade with someone, against the United States over the U.S. support of Israel. Even though the embargo was over, there was still an oil shortage, and prices had skyrocketed.

To combat inflation, Ford came up with the WIN (Whip Inflation Now) campaign, calling for people to voluntarily spend less money in an effort to reduce inflation. The campaign failed miserably. To combat the energy crisis, Ford asked Congress to implement a higher tariff on imported oil, a new tax on American oil companies, and the end to price controls on oil. He figured that the higher tariff and end of price controls would stimulate oil production in the United States, and that the tax on American oil companies would keep the public happy, since many saw oil executives as greedy fat cats.

Unfortunately for Ford, the plan backfired. Congressional Republicans were angered by the tax on American oil companies, and the Democrats felt that Ford's requests would make prices escalate even more. Throughout most of 1975, Ford and the heavily Democratic Congress couldn't come to a consensus on an energy policy, but in December, Ford signed a bill that reduced the price of oil by 12% immediately, but phased out price controls over a 40-month period.

WIN (Whip Inflation Now) Sign
WIN (Whip Inflation Now) Sign

Federal Bailout of NYC

In the spring of 1975, New York City nearly went bankrupt. City officials tried to get more aid from the federal government, who already provided about 25% of the city's budget. Ford didn't want to provide more aid, feeling that the federal government shouldn't be bailing cities out of financial crises, even going so far as to state publicly that he was against any federal bailout. In October, after the State of New York unveiled a plan to help balance the city's budget, Ford supported a $2.3 billion federal loan.

Détente with the Soviet Union

Ford continued the Nixon administration's policy of détente with the Soviet Union and China. Détente is the French word for ''relaxation,'' and in foreign policy terms, it refers to a time of peaceful co-existence between opposing superpowers. In regards to the U.S. and Soviet Union or the U.S. and China, it meant recognition of each other's borders plus agreements to limit weaponry on both sides.

In August 1975, the U.S., Soviet Union, and several European countries agreed to the Helsinki Accords, which formally recognized the post-1945 European borders and also supported human rights. Ford and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev agreed in November 1974 to the Vladivostok Accords, which set limits on aircraft and missiles, but disagreements over the number of Soviet long-range bombers and American cruise missiles that would be allowed prevented it from becoming a formal treaty.

Ford and Brezhnev, 1974
Ford and Brezhnev, 1974

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