Gerald Ford

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Gerard Ford, 1974
Gerald Ford Signature.svg

Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. ( July 14, 1913 , Omaha , NebraskaDecember 26, 2006 , Rancho Mirage , California ; born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. , renamed after adoption ) was the 38th President from 1974 to 1977 of the United States . He was a member of the Republican Party and became his party 's minority leader in the House of Representatives in 1965 , serving from 1949 to 1973.

Following the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew on October 10, 1973, President Richard Nixon nominated Ford to be the new vice president . The US Senate approved it on November 27 and the US House of Representatives on December 6. In August 1974, President Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate affair . Ford became president in this manner, the only one not to be elected as either a presidential or vice-presidential nominee by the electoral college . He lost the presidential election in November 1976 in a narrow decision against the Democrat Jimmy Carter. Ford's presidency ended on January 20, 1977 . His 895-day presidency is the shortest of any U.S. president not to have died in office. He lived to be 93 years and five months old, making him the oldest U.S. president up until November 2017.

earlier years

childhood and education

Gerald Ford as a toddler in 1914
Ford as a football player at the University of Michigan in 1933

Gerald R. Ford was born Leslie Lynch King on July 14, 1913 in Omaha , Nebraska . He was named after his biological father, Leslie Lynch King Sr. However, his mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, separated a few weeks after the birth from his father, who suffered from alcoholism and beat his wife . After the separation, Dorothy and her son temporarily moved to Illinois to live with her sister and her husband. She later moved to Grand Rapids in Michigan , where she and her son initially stayed with her parents. Marriage to Leslie Lynch King was officially divorced in December 1913 . The grandfather paid maintenance to Dorothy until his death in 1930. In Grand Rapids, Dorothy Gardner met Gerald Rudolff Ford, whom she married in 1917. Ford was a paint salesman for his parents' family business in Grand Rapids. He had no children of his own, but the marriage produced three other sons: Thomas Gardner Ford (1918-1995), Richard Addison Ford (1924-2015), and James Francis Ford (1927-2001). After the marriage, Ford adopted a young Leslie Lynch King, who then took his stepfather's name. Ford himself later changed the spelling of his middle name from Rudolff to Rudolph. Ford got along well with his stepfather. He later said of him: "My stepfather was a magnificent person and my mother equally wonderful". With the exception of one encounter as a teenager, he had no further contact with his biological father, who died in 1941.

The young Ford attended a high school in Grand Rapids , which he graduated in 1931 as one of the best in his class. "Jerry", as he was called, showed particular interest in history and politics. After graduating from high school, he studied economics at the University of Michigan . After earning his degree, Ford turned down a job offer at a company in Grand Rapids to study law , also at the University of Michigan  . In 1938 he moved to Yale University , where he had already applied in 1935 to no avail. There Ford made his bachelor's degree in 1941 and was again considered one of the best of his year. Ford financed his studies largely through various part-time jobs, including as a waiter in a restaurant. He was an avid football player during his college and university years , where he competed in several championships between 1932 and 1935. Ford, who mostly played in the center position , was valued among his teammates as reliable and was considered one of the best players on the team. In 1935 he also took a part-time job as a football coach. Ford remained interested in football throughout his life and continued to attend games throughout his political career.

Occupation and time in the Navy

Gerald Ford as a US Navy naval officer in 1945

After graduating from college, Ford returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan in early 1941 and opened a law practice with a friend Philip Buchen . However, he only worked there for a few months. He volunteered for service in the United States Navy after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 . In April 1942 he was drafted into active service and after a month of training he was stationed in North Carolina . There he acted as an instructor for newly enlisted conscripts as well as a coach for various sports played at the military base. Then, in the spring of 1943, he entered active service aboard the USS Monterey (CVL-26) , which was deployed to the Pacific . There Ford, who had been promoted to lieutenant a few months earlier , also took part in active combat operations against the Empire of Japan on the high seas. Overall, his unit won ten battles there. A life-threatening situation occurred only once during this time, in December 1944, when Ford was almost washed off the ship's deck due to bad weather in Typhoon Cobra . During the storm, more than 800 Marines lost their lives and three US cruisers were in distress. The USS Monterey was declared unfit for further service after the storm and Ford returned with it to the United States. Stationed in California , he resumed his duties as an instructor and American football coach. After the end of World War II , Ford was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in October 1945 . In the spring of 1946 he retired from the Navy of his own volition and received several military awards such as the Bronze Star Medal . He then worked as a lawyer again until he entered politics.

Marriage and Freemasonry

Gerald and Betty Ford, 1948

Gerald and Betty Ford were married on October 15, 1948 at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids. The marriage produced four children:

  • Michael Gerald Ford (born 1950), pastor
  • John Gardner "Jack" Ford (born 1952), journalist and public relations consultant
  • Steven Meigs Ford (born 1956), actor and rodeo rider
  • Susan Elizabeth Ford Vance Bales (born 1957), photographer

In 2005, the Fords were grandparents of seven.

Gerald Ford was incorporated into the Malta Lodge No. 465 in Grand Rapids, along with his three half brothers. He was awarded the journeyman 's degree and master's degree at Columbia Lodge No. 3 in Washington, DC on April 20 and May 18, 1951. On September 26, 1962 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia he was awarded the 33rd and highest degree of Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR), des most widespread high degree system of Freemasonry. At the same time he was made an honorary member of the Supreme Council in the AASR Northern Jurisdiction . At the annual convention of the Order of DeMolay , a youth organization of Freemasonry, April 6–9, 1975, Ford was unanimously elected an Active Member and Honorary Grand Master of the International Supreme Council . He held this post until January 1977, when he was appointed Honorary Old Grandmaster . His family had a vacation home in Beaver Creek .

Political rise

Election and first years in the US Congress

Newly elected Congressman Gerald Ford (left) is greeted in the Capitol by Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg , 1949

Prior to his service in the armed forces, Ford leaned more towards the isolationist wing of the Republican Party, which was particularly influential in the years leading up to World War II. However, the military commitment changed Ford's view of world politics and he subsequently advocated a foreign policy committed to internationalism . After his return home, he increasingly began to get involved at the local level with the Republicans. In 1947, Ford led a Republican organization called the Home Front , which advocated administrative reform in his hometown of Grand Rapids. He ran for the House of Representatives in the congressional elections the following year. Since the 5th District in Michigan, for which Ford was running, was a Republican stronghold, the internal party primary became the real hurdle for entering Congress. His opponent was incumbent Congressman Bartel J. Jonkman , whom Ford criticized for his isolationist foreign policy. His candidacy was supported by influential US Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg , also from Grand Rapids. Ultimately, Ford won in an extremely clear decision, which surprised even political observers at the time.

“I came back a converted internationalist. And of course our congressman at that time was an avowed, dedicated isolationist. And I thought he ought to be replaced. Nobody thought I could win. I ended up winning two to one”

“I came back as a converted internationalist. And our then congressman was, of course, a staunch isolationist. And I was convinced that it had to be replaced. Nobody thought I could win. Then I won two to one.”

Ford then easily won the actual election in November 1948, which brought him into Congress in January of the following year. He was regularly re-elected every two years up to and including 1972.

In Congress , Ford, who saw himself as a representative of the moderate wing of the Republican party, became a respected nonpartisan MP in the 1950s and early 1960s. He himself described his political philosophy as "moderate in domestic policy, internationalist in foreign policy and conservative in fiscal policy". In the legislative process , he gladly took on the role of mediator within the Republican faction as well as between his party colleagues and the Democrats . However, he did not write any significant bills of his own. Due to his good reputation, party friends repeatedly brought up a candidacy for the Senate or for governor of Michigan, which Ford rejected, however. Instead, he expressed ambitions to one day serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives . During the 1952 and 1956 election campaigns , Ford was a staunch supporter of Dwight D. Eisenhower , with whom he particularly agreed on foreign policy issues. He also approved the nomination of the controversial Richard Nixon for Vice President. In 1960 , he supported Nixon's campaign against Democrat John F. Kennedy . In January 1963, he was elected Republican Conference Chair , the third-highest Republican office after faction leader Charles A. Halleck and minority whip Leslie C. Arends , for the 88th Congress by Republicans.

Warren Commission

The Warren Commission presents the final report to President Johnson , Gerald Ford fourth from left , September 1964

In November 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him a member of the Warren Commission . The task force, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren , was tasked with investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy . During the ten months of work, Ford and his team had been tasked with investigating the biography of Lee Harvey Oswald , the alleged killer. The commission presented its final report in September 1964, which concluded that Oswald was solely responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy . For the rest of his life, Ford defended the commission's work and denied various conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's assassination. Ford gained national notoriety through his service on the Warren Commission.

Republican faction leader

1971 White House: Ford (right) during a briefing with Congressional officials; center President Nixon

After the 1964 election , in which the Republicans had suffered a bitter defeat in the course of President Johnson's re- election, Ford was elected the new leader of the Republican faction in the House of Representatives. He defeated the previous faction leader Charles A. Halleck in an internal party vote. This ended extremely narrowly with 73 to 67 votes within the parliamentary group. After the losses in the previous election, many Republicans advocated a renewal of their leadership figures. He assumed the function of Minority Leader (“minority leader”) in January 1965 after the meeting of the new Congress. He remained in that post until he became Vice President in late 1973.

In the 1960s, Ford supported the Johnson administration's efforts to promote African American equality . He also voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 desegregating as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was seen as a milestone in strengthening black suffrage. Ford was skeptical of President Johnson's Great Society reforms to expand the welfare state. However, unlike his more conservative party colleagues, he did not reject the welfare state as such. However, Ford's ability to influence the legislative process was severely limited after the previous election, as the Democrats had a nearly two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. In terms of foreign policy, the Republican faction leader criticized Johnson's policy in the Vietnam War as too lax. Like many of his party colleagues, Ford advocated a tougher approach to the communist regime in North Vietnam . In 1967, during a House plenary address, Ford openly questioned whether the Johnson administration had any real plan to bring the military engagement in Vietnam to a satisfactory conclusion. The President then lashed out at Ford, taunting him for playing "too much football without a helmet." Growing criticism of the President from both pro- and anti-war pro-war elections earned the Republicans votes in the fall of 1966 congressional elections. Nevertheless, it was not enough for a majority and Ford was therefore denied the desired post of speaker. During the second half of the 1960s, Ford appeared regularly on political television talk shows with his Senate counterpart Everett Dirksen to promote Republican politics. These performances became known in the media as "The Ev and Jerry Show". Ford also called for a strict law-and-order policy during the student protests of the 1960s .

Ford's political importance grew after the 1968 elections , when Richard Nixon, a Republican, moved into the White House in 1969. But despite Nixon's electoral success, the majority in Congress hardly changed. As early as the 1968 election, Ford was under discussion as a possible vice presidential candidate for Nixon. However, he rejected such a candidacy from the start, as he was still hoping for a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which would probably have brought him the influential post of speaker. Both domestic and foreign policies of the Nixon administration met with Ford's approval and soon earned a reputation as one of the most loyal retainers in the Capitol . In contrast to his party's conservative hardliners , the Republican faction leader was a supporter of the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China . Ford was also in agreement with the president's gradual withdrawal of the Americans from Vietnam. However , Ford rejected the War Powers Resolution of 1973 passed in Congress as a result of the Vietnam War . But even his opposition could not prevent the president's veto from being overruled, after enough Republicans had spoken out in favor of the amendment. The law provides for greater involvement of the legislature in the decision-making process for future war operations. Domestically, Ford supported the White House agenda; such as Nixon's environmental protection initiatives . This included in particular the establishment of a national environmental authority EPA in 1970 . Despite the political affinities, however, Nixon did not maintain close personal ties with his party's representatives in Congress.

Vice President of the USA

Gerald Ford (right) with his wife Betty and President Nixon and his wife Pat after the official introduction as Vice President in 1973 in the White House

In October 1973, around nine months after Richard Nixon's second term began, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned amid allegations of bribery. For the first time in American history, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution , initiated in 1967, came into effect. The amendment allowed the president, with the approval of Congress, to appoint a new vice president , which was not possible with previous vacancies in the post. Although the President's first choice was Treasury Secretary John Connally , his advisers and representatives of Congress from both parties recommended Ford's nomination. Nixon, who had already been politically weakened as a result of the Watergate affair , therefore wanted to minimize the political risk for himself and, in choosing Ford, decided on a candidate who would be confirmed as smoothly as possible. On October 13, the President officially announced the nomination during a press conference at the White House.

The Senate approved Ford's nomination on November 27, 1973 by a vote of 92 to 3. On December 6, the House of Representatives also gave its approval by a vote of 387 to 35. All dissenting votes came from the ranks of the Democratic Party, which held a majority of seats in both chambers of Congress. On the same day, Ford took the oath of office as the new US Vice President in the plenary chamber of the House. During the eight months of his vice presidency, Ford showed loyalty to the president and made public appearances to restore confidence in the US government after the Watergate scandal had brought Nixon's reputation into disrepute.


assumption of office

Gerald R. Ford is sworn in by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger on August 9, 1974 as successor to resigning President Richard Nixon
Left to right: Donald Rumsfeld , Gerald Ford and Dick Cheney in the Oval Office in 1975

At the end of July 1974 it became clear that President Nixon would not survive the Watergate affair. The House of Representatives initiated impeachment proceedings against the head of state. In early August, Ford canceled a planned trip to the western states, which the media saw as an indication of an impending handover. On August 8, 1974, before the Senate had to decide whether Nixon would remain in office, he announced his resignation for the following day. After Nixon finally stepped down on August 9th as the only US President to date, Ford took over the presidency. As required by the constitution , he had to complete the remaining two and a half years of the current term of office. Ford was sworn in as the new President in the East Room of the White House by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger after Nixon's trip home to California . The new President gave a short, informal speech, which was remembered primarily for the words “ our long national nightmare is over ” ( German  “our long national nightmare is over” ).

Ford initially made no changes to the previous cabinet . Some of Nixon's ministers, such as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger , remained in their posts until the end of Ford's tenure in 1977. Within the White House, however, he reorganized his staff, with Alexander Haig being replaced as chief of staff by Donald Rumsfeld . When he was appointed Secretary of Defense by the President in 1975 - a post he later held again under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006 - Ford made Dick Cheney Chief of Staff, later Vice President under George W. Bush. Based on the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, Ford, with the approval of Congress, appointed former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller as the new Vice President. It was the second time in a year, and the last to date, that a vice president has been retrospectively appointed.

After taking office, Ford faced immediate economic problems. The aftermath of the Watergate affair and the Vietnam War, as well as various congressional investigations into illegal activities by the US secret services in recent years, have led to a deep crisis of confidence among the American people in the politicians in Washington.

"Nixon Pardon"

President Ford announces Nixon's pardon in September 1974
On October 17, 1974, Gerald Ford testified in person on the Nixon Pardon before the House Judiciary Committee

Immediately after Nixon's resignation, there was a lot of speculation in the US public as to whether Ford would grant his predecessor a pardon or whether Nixon would have to face criminal proceedings as the first president. On September 8, 1974, Ford granted Nixon amnesty for all crimes he had been accused of during his presidency. This decision, which has become known as the Nixon Pardon , was extremely controversial at the time. After Ford's death, many who had earlier opposed this amnesty, such as the influential Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy , characterized the President's decision as the right one for the good of the country. According to observers at the time, a criminal trial against Nixon would have destroyed the social climate between the Republican and Democratic-minded sections of the population and would have put the country to the test. Ford also justified its decision with this. The new president also argued that he wanted to draw a line under the Watergate scandal so that he could face the challenges of economic, social and foreign policy. After Ford announced his predecessor's pardon in a televised address to the nation, his approval ratings in opinion polls fell from 71 percent to 50 percent within a week. Republican MPs criticized the timing of the decision in light of the upcoming congressional elections in November of the same year. The President's press secretary Jerald terHorst , a longtime associate of Ford, resigned from his post on the same day in protest. Some observers at the time argued that Nixon's pardon was instrumental in Ford's relatively narrow defeat in the 1976 election.

In October 1974, Ford became the first US President to appear in person before the House Judiciary Committee , where he commented extensively on Nixon's pardon. The President defended his decision in front of the MPs. Ford also denied rumors that there was an informal understanding between himself and Nixon that the clemency was a condition of Nixon's resignation. Ford biographer John Robert Greene also writes that there is no evidence of such an agreement between the two presidents.

1974 congressional elections

A few months after Ford took office, the midterm elections were again scheduled for congressional elections . Because of the Watergate affair and the amnesty for Nixon, the Republicans lost much of their popularity, which meant that the Democrats were able to noticeably expand their majorities in both chambers of Congress. In the Senate, their number of seats increased from 56 to 60 of the 100 members. They gained 49 seats in the House of Representatives, increasing their majority from 242 to 291 of the 435 seats. Even Ford's old Michigan constituency, always considered safe Republican ground, was won by a Democrat. The Democrats have also won many state and local elections. It is common in American history for the president's party to lose seats in mid-term congressional elections, but the factors just mentioned meant that Republican losses were disproportionately large. Democrats, first elected in the 1974 general election, were quickly dubbed the Watergate Babies by the American public .

economic and social policy

President Gerald Ford in the Oval Office, 1976

In the mid-1970s, the US economy increasingly slipped into recession . This was reflected in rising inflation and stagnating economic growth. As a result, the term stagflation was coined by the American public as a portmanteau of stagnation and inflation . Rising inflation led to capital flight abroad. As the country slipped into recession in 1975, the US government cut income taxes to stimulate the economy. At the same time, taxes on imported oil were increased. In legislation, particularly after the congressional elections in late 1974, a struggle erupted between the White House and Congress. Of the 48 regular presidential vetoes, Congress rejected 12, or a quarter of them, with the required two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature . Furthermore, the Ford government tried to counter the economic difficulties with spending cuts. This succeeded to the extent that inflation fell from 11 to 5.8 percent by 1976. Nevertheless, in 1975 the number of people without a job reached a record high. The unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in the summer of 1975, the highest level since 1941.

Significant legislation that Ford signed into law as late as 1974 created a program that earmarked approximately $25 billion for the promotion of educational programs. He also signed a law partially restricting campaign funding. However, these new regulations only affected the federal level, since the right to vote is the responsibility of the states . With his right of veto, however, the President opposed various socio-political initiatives of the Democrats, which would have earmarked more funds for social housing , health care and food aid for the poor. Fiscally conservative, Ford also rejected subsidy programs for American farmers in order to be able to limit the budget deficit .

foreign policy

Ford signing the partial amnesty for conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War in September 1974
Gerald Ford (left) in conversation with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in November 1974
President Ford discusses the evacuation of Saigon with Vice President
Rockefeller (center) and Secretary of State Kissinger (left) in the
Oval Office in April 1975

On foreign policy, Ford continued Richard Nixon's policy of détente with the Eastern Bloc and the People's Republic of China, although the conservative wing of the Republican party saw this with some skepticism. A very important foreign policy act during his term of office was the signing of the CSCE Final Act of Helsinki in 1975, which gives his presidency great importance. With this final act, the Soviet Union and the other socialist states nolens volens recognized the validity of human rights . The United States established diplomatic relations with East Germany as early as September 1974 .

Under Ford, Nixon's withdrawal from Vietnam was fully completed after the last US combat troops left the Southeast Asian country in 1973. In view of the impending collapse of the South Vietnamese regime – the peace concluded in 1973 was only on paper anyway – Ford urged Congress for financial aid for the US ally South Vietnam . But after years of US military involvement, which from an American perspective was disappointing, Congress was unwilling to help South Vietnam any longer financially or even in a military form. The senators and deputies therefore canceled all funds for South Vietnam against the will of the President. At the end of April 1975, as Communist troops from the north continued to advance toward the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon , Ford ordered the remaining US personnel to be evacuated. In addition, the United States flew out several thousand South Vietnamese in the last few days as part of Operation Frequent Wind . These were in particular those Vietnamese who had worked with American forces and now feared reprisals from the new regime. They were flown out by helicopter to US warships off the coast. Dramatic scenes took place both in front of the US embassy , to whose cordoned-off area several Vietnamese tried to flee, and on the American warships, which were still cruising off the coast. On April 30, 1975, the United States evacuated the last of the personnel. South Vietnam was completely taken over by communist troops and was reunited with the north the following year. Ford later blamed Congress for refusing aid to the US ally for the South's rapid collapse. As early as September 1974, Ford issued a partial amnesty for conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War, which was assessed quite differently at the time. His successor, Jimmy Carter, eventually issued a general amnesty.

Another foreign policy crisis in Southeast Asia occurred during Ford's presidency: in the Mayaguez incident in May 1975, Cambodia , shortly after the Khmer Rouge had taken power there, attacked the American merchant ship Mayaguez in international waters. Ford sent US Marines to the area to rescue the crew. However, the task force landed on the wrong island and met resistance. Unbeknownst to the US government, the Mayaguez sailors had already been released. Several American soldiers were killed in the fighting. According to Howard Zinn , Ford knew of the release and nonetheless ordered the commando action to show American military strength in Southeast Asia shortly after the humiliating evacuation of Saigon via Operation Frequent Wind .

In 1974, Turkey , an ally of the USA, occupied Northern Cyprus in violation of international law, and in 1975, Indonesia , an ally of the USA, annexed East Timor in violation of international law , which resulted in a number of human rights violations and deaths. President Ford and his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, gave the go-ahead to their respective governments to do so, according to the documentary On the Accused: Henry Kissinger .

Assassination attempts on Ford in 1975

In Sacramento on September 5, 1975, a supporter of imprisoned mass murderer Charles Manson named Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme attempted to kill Ford. However , the Secret Service was able to prevent the attack. Just 17 days later, on September 22, 1975, Sara Jane Moore attempted to shoot Ford in San Francisco . However, the passer-by Oliver Sipple was able to prevent this. The assassin was sentenced to life imprisonment. Lynette Fromme's sentence was also life imprisonment; she was released on parole in 2009.

1976 presidential election

Gerald Ford at a campaign appearance in the final days of the campaign; here on October 31, 1976 in New York
Ford hat in the 1976 election campaign

In the next presidential election , which was held in November 1976, Ford ran for a full term as president. In the Republican primary , he faced unusually strong competition for an incumbent president in the person of former California governor and later President Ronald Reagan . Above all, Reagan criticized Ford's policy of detente during the Cold War and accused the President of foreign policy weakness in the final phase of the Vietnam War. Reagan also represented much more conservative positions than the moderate Ford on economic and social policy issues. At the beginning of the Republican Party Convention in Kansas City at the end of August 1976, Ford's lead in the primaries was so weak that it was not possible to predict whether Ford or Reagan would be nominated. Ford finally won in the first round of voting with 1187 delegate votes. 1,070 delegates voted in favor of Reagan. Nevertheless, in the opinion of many observers, Reagan left a sovereign impression with his party conference speech. It was also unfavorable for Ford that the United States had reached an all-time low with third place at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal in prime American time behind the Soviet Union and the "small" GDR - and that despite the former football player Ford had repeatedly used for top-class sport. However, his campaign benefited in election year from the fact that he was an acting president during the numerous celebrations marking the bicentennial of the United States' Declaration of Independence .

Ford selected Bob Dole , Senator from Kansas , as his vice presidential nominee at the Republican convention . Ford's previous deputy, Nelson Rockefeller, had ruled out voting at the end of 1975. In any case, the liberal Rockefeller was seen as too great a burden for Ford, who initially had to assert himself within the party against the conservative Reagan. However, Ford later described it as a mistake not to have competed again with Rockefeller. The Democrats nominated ex- Georgia governor Jimmy Carter as a challenger to Ford and Senator Walter Mondale as their vice presidential nominee. Carter owed his surprise success in the Democratic primaries above all to his position as an outsider, since the population's distrust of the politicians in Washington, DC as a result of the Watergate affair was great. The main topics of the election campaign were the economic situation, foreign policy and the Watergate affair. In September and October 1976, television duels were held between the two candidates for the first time since 1960 . In that foreign policy debate, Ford made a blunder when he claimed that there was no Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe . Some observers even saw this as a decisive factor in his defeat, since it was an issue in which he should have scored points against Carter, who was inexperienced in foreign policy. During the election campaign, Ford presented himself as an experienced and pragmatic politician, consistently catching up in the polls. Carter's lead in the opinion polls narrowed from around thirty percentage points in July to less than five in October. The last survey results were within the error tolerance range and the outcome of the election was regarded as completely open.

On election day, November 2, 1976, the race was extremely close. The major television networks were not able to declare Carter the winner until early morning the following day. However, the Democratic challenger only gained a majority in 23 states and the capital Washington, DC, while Ford won more votes in a total of 27 states, primarily in the western United States. However, since the states won by Carter were mostly more populous and thus more electors, he was able to win 297 votes in the Electoral College , while Ford only got 240. When it came to the popular vote , Carter's lead was even narrower: he received 50 percent of the votes, while 48 percent voted for Ford. On January 20, 1977, Ford's presidency ended with Carter's inauguration. During his inaugural speech, he praised his predecessor's contribution to unity in the country after the Watergate affair. Even during the election campaign, both opponents had refrained from mutual personal attacks. Carter and Ford maintained a private friendship well after the political careers of both politicians ended.

After the presidency

Group portrait of the US Presidents of 1981: left to right Richard Nixon , Ronald Reagan , Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter
Funeral service for Gerald Ford at the Washington National Cathedral

After the end of his tenure, Ford largely retired into private life, but remained a public figure and was widely respected as an elder statesman . For the 1980 presidential election , Ford was considered a possible Republican nominee for vice president from presidential candidate Ronald Reagan . However, since Ford insisted on relatively far-reaching powers and in particular demanded Henry Kissinger as an integral part of the new government, Reagan nominated the former CIA director and later President George Bush senior . Ford had already rejected another presidential candidacy in advance. Ford, who was a personal friend of his successor Jimmy Carter, supported Reagan's 1980 candidacy for the White House.

Even in the years after 1980, Ford remained active for a long time, among other things, he worked at the think tank American Enterprise Institute . Although he no longer held political office, Ford often commented on political issues. Here, too, he did not always accept the majority opinion within his party. In May 1994, he and his two successors, Carter and Reagan, signed a letter to Congress in which the three ex-presidents advocated a ban on semi-automatic weapons . Ford took over the patronage for the Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail in 1989. In 2001, Ford broke with his Republican party colleagues on a fundamental socio-political issue by advocating legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

As an elder statesman , Ford, who positioned himself in the political center , often came into conflict with the conservative wing of his party. In addition to calls for stricter gun laws and legal recognition of same-sex marriage, his stance on abortion, social issues and affirmative action aroused opposition from conservatives. What alienated Ford in particular from the Republican right wing was his defense of Bill Clinton in the Lewinsky impeachment trial . While Ford was repelled by Clinton's behavior and lies about it, he saw impeachment as far too harsh a measure. Instead, he advocated an official censure of the president by Congress.

Gerald Ford died of old age at his home in California on December 26, 2006 . Ford was one of six ex-presidents who lived to be in their 90s. The other five were or are John Adams , Herbert Hoover , Ronald Reagan , George Bush Sr. and Jimmy Carter . In the last years of his life he led a very secluded life with his wife Betty. The couple only showed up to attend services at Margaret's Anglican Church near their home in Rancho Mirage.

After his death, around 60,000 people walked past the coffin to pay their last respects. At a state ceremony in Washington on January 2, 2007, US President George W. Bush paid tribute to the deceased as a man of character, courage and modesty . Ford's gravesite is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the grounds of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum .

A few days after Ford's death, it became known that he was very critical of the Iraq war in a 2004 interview with journalist Bob Woodward , who had played a central role in uncovering the Watergate scandal . In the interview, Ford said George W. Bush and his administration had made serious mistakes in justifying the war. At Ford's request, the interview would not be published until after his death.

Aftermath and Reception

Portrait of Gerald Ford in the Oval Office in 1976

Although Ford was only President for two and a half years and was only able to set a limited tone in domestic and foreign policy, he is now mostly praised in the USA for his leadership after the Watergate affair. According to many historians, Ford succeeded in restoring the trust and integrity of the presidency after the Watergate affair.

Ford was often seen as awkward and clumsy. In 1975, on his arrival in Salzburg , he slipped on the rain-soaked gangway of Air Force One and slid down. The Austrian Chancellor at the time, Bruno Kreisky , then helped him up. On other occasions, the tall Ford would often bang his head against the frame of Air Force One's exit and accidentally bump into people. His behavior has been satirized on numerous shows . An example of this is his appearance on the television series The Simpsons . In the scene, he stumbles over the curb at the same time as Homer Simpson , and both yell Homer's famous line "No!" (originally D'oh ) at the same time.


On August 11, 1999, US President Bill Clinton presented Ford with the Medal of Freedom , the highest civilian honor in the United States.

On January 3, 2007, just days after Ford's death, it was announced that the United States Navy 's newest aircraft carrier would be named USS Gerald R. Ford . The Ford is thus also the lead ship of the Gerald R. Ford class named after her .


  • Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Gerald Ford, 1974: Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President. US Gov. printing. Off., Washington D.C., 1975.
  • Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Gerald Ford, 1975: Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President (in 2 volumes). US Gov. printing. Off., Washington D.C., 1977.
  • Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Gerald Ford, 1976-77: Containing the public messages, speeches, and statements of the President. (in 3 volumes), U.S. Gov. printing. Off., Washington D.C., 1979.
  • A Time To Heal. The Autobiography Of Gerald R. Ford. Harper & Row, New York City, 1979.


  • Manfred Berg : Gerald R. Ford (1974–1977): The Striving for Consensus. In: Christof Mauch (ed.): The American Presidents: 44 historical portraits from George Washington to Barack Obama. 6th, continued and updated edition. Beck, Munich 2013, ISBN 978-3-406-58742-9 , pp. 383–386.
  • J. Edward Lee, HC Toby Haynsworth: Nixon, Ford, and the abandonment of South Vietnam. McFarland, Jefferson, NC 2002, ISBN 0-7864-1302-6 .
  • John Robert Greene: The presidency of Gerald R. Ford. University of Lawrence: Press of Kansas, 1995, ISBN 0-7006-0639-4 , ISBN 0-7006-0638-6 .
  • John Robert Greene: Gerald R. Ford: A bibliography. Greenwood Press, Westport CT 1994, ISBN 0-313-28195-5 .
  • Bernard J. Firestone (ed.): Gerald R. Ford and the politics of post-Watergate America. Greenwood Press, Westport 1993, ISBN 0-313-27974-8 .
  • Edward L. Schapsmeier, Frederick H. Schapsmeier: Gerald R. Ford's date with destiny: A political biography. Lang, New York 1989, ISBN 0-8204-0961-8 .

web links

Commons : Gerald Ford  - Collection of images, videos and audio files




  1. Philip Kunhardt Jr.: Gerald R. Ford "Healing the Nation". Riverhead Books, New York, pp. 79f (English).
  2. John Robert Greene, Gerald Ford: Life before the presidency. Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia (English).
  3. Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City NY 2007, p. 5 (English).
  4. Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City 2007, pp. 12ff (English).
  5. United States Masonic Presidents. Freemason Information (English).
  6. Cf. William A. Syers: The Political Beginnings of Gerald R. Ford: Anti-Bossism, Internationalism, and The Congressional Campaign of 1948. In: Presidential Studies Quarterly. Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter 1990, ISSN  0360-4918 , pp. 127–142.
  7. Philipp Kunhardt Jr.: Gerald R. Ford: Healing the Nation. Riverhead Books, New York, pp. 79f (English).
  8. Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City 2007, pp. 14ff (English).
  9. Republican Conference Chairmen | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. Retrieved February 28, 2021 (English).
  10. Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City 2007, p. 19 (English).
  11. John Robert Greene: The presidency of Gerald R. Ford. University of Lawrence: Press of Kansas, 1995, ISBN 0-7006-0639-4 , ISBN 0-7006-0638-6 , p. 5 (English).
  12. Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City 2007, p. 25 (English).
  13. Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City 2007, p. 27 (English).
  14. John Robert Greene: The presidency of Gerald R. Ford. University of Lawrence: Press of Kansas, 1995, ISBN 0-7006-0639-4 , ISBN 0-7006-0638-6 , p. 6 (English).
  15. Douglas Brinkley: Gerald R. Ford: 1974–1977 (= American Presidents Series). Times Books/Henry Holt, New York City 2007, pp. 31f (English).
  16. John Robert Greene: The presidency of Gerald R. Ford. University of Lawrence: Press of Kansas, 1995, ISBN 0-7006-0639-4 , ISBN 0-7006-0638-6 , pp. 11f (English).
  17. John Robert Greene: The presidency of Gerald R. Ford. University of Lawrence: Press of Kansas, 1995, ISBN 0-7006-0639-4 , ISBN 0-7006-0638-6 , p. 13 (English).
  18. a b c d e Christof Mauch: The American Presidents. CH Beck, Munich, ISBN 978-3-406-58742-9 , pp. 384ff.
  19. Cf. Mark J. Rozell: President Ford's Pardon of Richard M. Nixon: Constitutional and Political Considerations. In: Presidential Studies Quarterly. Vol. 24, No. 1, Winter 1994, ISSN  0360-4918 , pp. 121–137.
  20. John Robert Greene: The presidency of Gerald R. Ford. University of Lawrence: Press of Kansas, 1995, ISBN 0-7006-0639-4 , ISBN 0-7006-0638-6 , p. 53 (English).
  21. John Robert Greene: The presidency of Gerald R. Ford. University of Lawrence: Press of Kansas, 1995, ISBN 0-7006-0639-4 , ISBN 0-7006-0638-6 , pp. 54ff (English).
  22. See Andrew D. Moran: Gerald R. Ford and the 1975 Tax Cut. In: Presidential Studies Quarterly. Vol. 26, No. 3, Summer 1996, ISSN  0360-4918 , pp. 738–754.
  23. See Andrew D. Moran, More than a Caretaker: The Economic Policy of Gerald R. Ford. In: Presidential Studies Quarterly. Vol. 41, No. 1, March 2011, ISSN  0360-4918 , pp. 39–63.
  24. John Robert Greene: Gerald Ford: Domestic affairs.
  25. a b John Robert Greene: Gerald Ford: Foreign affairs.
  26. Christof Mauch: The American Presidents. CH Beck, Munich, ISBN 978-3-406-58742-9 , p. 385.
  27. Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States . 2nd Edition. HarperCollins, New York 2005, ISBN 978-0-06-083865-2 , pp. 552f (English).
  28. Would-Be Assassin 'Squeaky' Fromme Released from Prison. ABC News, August 14, 2009, retrieved July 10, 2011.
  29. ^ a b Christof Mauch: The American Presidents. CH Beck, Munich, ISBN 978-3-406-58742-9 , p. 386.
  30. ^ a b John Robert Greene: Gerald Ford: Campaigns and elections.
  31. Arnd Krüger : The Unfinished Symphony. A History of the Olympic Games from Coubertin to Samaranch. In: James Riordan , Arnd Krüger (eds.): The International Politics of Sport in the 20th Century. London: Routledge 1999, pp. 3–27 (English).
  32. Cf. Leo P. Ribuffo: Is Poland a Soviet Satellite? Gerald Ford, the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine, and the Election of 1976. In: Diplomatic History. Vol. 14, No. 3, Summer 1990, ISSN  0145-2096 , pp. 385–403.
  33. Ford, Carter, Reagan Push for Gun Ban. Los Angeles Times , May 5, 1994 (English).
  34. Wolfgang Winheim: Pepi Gramshammer and other pioneers. Neue Zürcher Zeitung , February 2, 2015.
  35. Gerald Ford: Treat gay couples equally. ( Memento of 20 January 2013 at the Internet Archive ) Page on Q, 21 October 2001 (English).
  36. Michael A. Davis, The Post-Presidential Years of Gerald R. Ford. In: Scott Kaufman (ed.): A Companion to Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter. John Wiley, Chichester 2016, ISBN 978-1-4443-4994-8 , pp. 513–532; here: p. 528.
  37. Ex-President Ford: 'Ensure me with your prayers'. , December 28, 2006.
  38. Tens of thousands bid farewell to ex-President Ford. 20 Minutes , January 4, 2007.
  39. Difficult Legacy: Gerald Ford Leaves Criticism of Iraq War. The World , December 28, 2006.
  40. Next Navy aircraft carrier to be named for late President Gerald Ford, buried Wednesday. International Herald Tribune , no longer available online (English).