Ford, Gerald R. (United States of America)

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Gerald Rudolph Ford was the 38th President of the United States, and the first ever man to become vice-president and president without being elected, having succeeded Spiro T. Agnew and Richard M. Nixon after their resignations. Ford’s tenure as president lasted from 1974–77. He is best remembered for granting his predecessor Nixon a ‘full, free and absolute pardon’ as well as for helping heal the wounds caused in America by the Watergate scandal.

Early Life

Born Leslie King Jr. on 14 July 1913 in Omaha, Nebraska, Ford later took the name of his stepfather after his mother divorced and remarried. After relocating to Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ford graduated from High School in 1931 and went to study economics and political science at the University of Michigan where he excelled on the football field. He then went to Yale where he worked as a football and boxing coach while studying for a law degree. He was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1941.

During World War II, Ford joined the navy and served in the South Pacific. When he was discharged he had reached the rank of lieutenant commander. After the war Ford returned to practicing law and, in 1948, married Elizabeth Bloomer, with whom he would have four children. The same year he entered the political arena, running successfully for Congress in the 5th district of Michigan. In 1963 he was elected chairman of the House Republican Conference and he served on the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In 1965 he challenged the re-election of Republican Minority Leader Charles A. Halleck, defeating him by 73 votes to 67. On Oct. 10 1973 vice-president Spiro Agnew resigned after facing an income tax evasion charge and Nixon nominated Ford as his new vice-president, knowing that his affable reputation would carry the Democratic vote in Congress. Ford was sworn in as vice-president on 6 Dec. 1973.

Career Peak

The deepening Watergate scandal soon made it inevitable that Nixon would face criminal charges and, after he resigned from office, Ford was sworn in as president by Chief Justice Warren Burger on Aug. 9 1974. Seeking to re-establish public confidence in the presidency Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller as his vice-president, and gradually replaced members of Nixon’s cabinet. On 8 Sept. 1974 the new president controversially granted his predecessor a ‘full, free and absolute pardon for all offences against the United States’ committed whilst in office. Their decision was not well received by Congress or the general public, although Ford defended his action, arguing that it was necessary to end the national preoccupation with Watergate.

Ford inherited a high inflation economy which he attempted to slow down by reducing spending. The onset of a severe recession in 1974–75 and rising unemployment led Ford to push for $16bn. in tax cuts and to initiate the WIN programme (‘Whip Inflation Now’.. By the end of 1976 Ford had vetoed more than 50 congressional initiatives to increase spending.

Ford oversaw the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. After south Vietnamese forces withdrew from northern territories, American citizens were evacuated from the area and 100,000 Vietnamese refugees were resettled in the United States. Cambodia fell in April and Ford ordered the Marines into action after the new Cambodian government seized an American cargo vessel. 41 US lives were lost but the 39-member crew were saved. The end of American involvement in southeast Asia helped soothe relations with the Soviet Union.

In Sept. 1975 Ford survived two assassination attempts. By 1976 the recession had eased and unemployment had fallen. These factors helped Ford to win the Republican presidential nomination, albeit narrowly. After defeating Ronald Reagan he picked Senator Robert Dole of Kansas as his running mate. Democratic opponent Jimmy Carter led in the presidential race, benefitting from Ford’s perceived ineptitude, dissatisfaction with the pardon he had granted Nixon and the slowing of the country’s economic recovery. Ford failed to overhaul his opponent’s early lead and was defeated in the Nov. 1976 election by a margin of 1.7 m. votes and 297 electoral college votes to 240.

Later Life

Ford was offered but refused a route back into politics in 1980 when Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan asked him to be his running mate. Instead he served as a director on the board of various companies.

On 13 Nov. 2006 Ford achieved the age of 93 years and 121 days, thus surpassing Ronald Reagan to become the longest-lived US president. He died at his home in Rancho Mirage, California on 26 Dec. 2006.

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