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Gerald R. Ford

 
 

Ford, Gerald R.

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., became the 38th president of the United States on Aug. 9, 1974, after Richard M. Nixon resigned to avoid probable impeachment as a result of the Watergate affair. For 25 years a Republican member of Congress without national ambitions, Ford had been appointed vice-president in 1973 by President Nixon to replace Spiro T. Agnew, who resigned after being accused of bribery and of violations of the income tax laws.

Early Life

The only child of Leslie and Dorothy Gardner King, Ford was born on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebr., and was originally named Leslie Lynch King, Jr. His parents were divorced when he was two years old, and his mother moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., where she met and married a business executive named Gerald R. Ford, who formally adopted the young boy and gave him his name.

In school, young Ford was a good student and an excellent athlete. He became a star center on the University of Michigan football team and graduated from the university in 1935 with a B average. After graduation, he took a job as a football and boxing coach at Yale University. He was soon admitted to the Yale Law School, finishing in the top third of his class. With the outbreak of World War II, his fledgling law practice in Grand Rapids was interrupted. He entered the navy, served aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, and was discharged at the end of the war with the rank of lieutenant commander.

Ford returned to Grand Rapids and resumed his law practice. In 1948 he married Elizabeth ("Betty") Bloomer Warren, a fashion coordinator and former dance student whose first marriage had ended a year earlier in divorce. In the same year he entered the Republican primary in Michigan, upset the incumbent representative from the state's Fifth District, and easily won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in November. He won reelection every two years thereafter, until he resigned in 1973 to become vice-president.

In the House, Ford gained a reputation as a moderately conservative, hardworking, and loyally partisan member of the Republican party, who made up for his lack of legislative brilliance by providing effective personal service to his Michigan constituents. In 1965 he was chosen as House Republican leader. Had the Republicans gained a majority of the seats while he was party leader, he would certainly have been named Speaker of the House. After Spiro Agnew resigned on Oct. 10, 1973, however, Nixon nominated Ford as vice-president under the provisions of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the first time that the procedures outlined in the amendment were utilized. Following congressional approval of his appointment, Ford was sworn in on Dec. 6, 1973.

Presidency

A little more than eight months later, Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend his impeachment. Ford automatically succeeded him and thus became the first president in U.S. history who had not been chosen in a national election either as president or as vice-president. Nevertheless, Ford's unaffected personal style and his attempts to bring the presidency closer to the public were well received by the American people.

His political problems began four weeks after he took office, when he issued a full pardon to Nixon for any crimes he might have committed as president. In addition, the Ford administration was faced with a major economic slump, in which inflation was uniquely combined with recession to produce stagflation. Ford engaged, moreover, in a running battle with the Democratic Congress. During his two and a half years as president, he vetoed 61 bills that had been passed by Congress. Only 12 of the vetoes were overridden. The resultant popular impression that the government in Washington was deadlocked probably hurt Ford's reelection chances.

In foreign relations he generally followed his predecessor's policies. Major events during Ford's administration included the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975 and, in the same year, the overthrow of the Lon Nol regime in Cambodia (Kampuchea) by Communist forces. The latter led to the Mayagüez incident, in which a small force of U.S. Marines were sent to recapture the U.S. freighter Mayagüez and its crew, which had been seized by Cambodian forces.

Ford received the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1976, despite a serious challenge in state presidential primary elections by former California governor Ronald Reagan. At the beginning of the fall campaign, he trailed the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter of Georgia, by ten points in the Gallup Poll, but after a vigorous campaign in the final weeks, Ford lost to Carter by only 2.1 percent of the popular vote. Although disappointed, he retired from public office with characteristic good grace. He remains active in corporate and charitable affairs.

Biography from The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia