Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. (/ˈdʒɛrəld/ JERR-əld; born Leslie Lynch King Jr.; July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was an American politician who served as the 38th president of the United States from 1974 to 1977. He previously served as the leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, and as the 40th vice president of the United States from 1973 to 1974. When President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974, Ford succeeded to the presidency, but was defeated for election to a full term in 1976.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ford attended the University of Michigan, where he was a member of the school’s football team, winning two National Championships. Following his senior year, he turned down offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, instead opting to go to Yale Law School. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving from 1942 to 1946; he left as a lieutenant commander.
Ford began his political career in 1949 as the U.S. representative from Michigan’s 5th congressional district. He served in this capacity for 25 years, the final nine of them as the House minority leader. In December 1973, two months after the resignation of Spiro Agnew, Ford became the first person appointed to the vice presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment. After the subsequent resignation of President Nixon in August 1974, Ford immediately assumed the presidency. To date, this was the last intra-term U.S. presidential succession.
As president, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, which marked a move toward détente in the Cold War. With the collapse of South Vietnam nine months into his presidency, US involvement in the Vietnam War essentially ended. Domestically, Ford presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. In one of his most controversial acts, he granted a presidential pardon to Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal.
During Ford’s presidency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the president. In the Republican presidential primary campaign of 1976, Ford defeated former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. He narrowly lost the presidential election to the Democratic challenger, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Surveys of historians and political scientists have ranked Ford as a below-average president.
Following his years as president, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. His moderate views on various social issues increasingly put him at odds with conservative members of the party in the 1990s and early 2000s. In retirement, Ford set aside the enmity he had felt towards Carter following the 1976 election, and the two former presidents developed a close friendship. After experiencing a series of health problems, he died at home on December 26, 2006.
While Gerald Ford was still an infant, his parents were divorced, and his mother moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she married Gerald R. Ford, Sr., who adopted the boy and gave him his name. After graduating from the University of Michigan (1935), where he was a star gridiron-football player, Ford worked as an assistant coach while he earned a law degree from Yale University (1941).
He joined the navy during World War II and served in the South Pacific, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander and nearly losing his life in 1944 during a deadly typhoon that killed hundreds. In 1948, the year he won his first elective office, as Republican congressman from Michigan, he married Elizabeth Anne Bloomer (Betty Ford), with whom he had four children—three sons (Michael, John, and Steven) and one daughter (Susan).
Ford, the first president who came to the office through appointment rather than election, had replaced Spiro Agnew as vice president only eight months before. In a political scandal independent of the Nixon administration’s wrongdoings in the Watergate affair, Agnew had been forced to resign in disgrace after he was charged with income tax evasion and political corruption. In September 1974, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.
Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913 – April 22, 1994) was the 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. He was a member of the Republican Party who previously served as a representative and senator from California and was the 36th vice president from 1953 to 1961. His five years in the White House saw the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, détente with the Soviet Union and China, the first manned Moon landings, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Nixon’s second term ended early, when he became the only president to resign from office, following the Watergate scandal.
Nixon was born into a poor family of Quakers in a small town in Southern California. He graduated from Duke Law School in 1937, practiced law in California, then moved with his wife Pat to Washington in 1942 to work for the federal government. After active duty in the Naval Reserve during World War II, he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946.
His work on the Alger Hiss Case established his reputation as a leading anti-Communist, which elevated him to national prominence, and in 1950, he was elected to the Senate. Nixon was the running mate of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in the 1952 election, and served for eight years as the vice president. He ran for president in 1960, narrowly lost to John F. Kennedy, then failed again in a 1962 race for governor of California. In 1968, he made another run for the presidency and was elected, defeating Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace in a close contest.
Nixon formally ended American involvement in Vietnam combat in 1973, and with it, the military draft, that same year. His visit to China in 1972 eventually led to diplomatic relations between the two nations, and he also then concluded the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. In step with his conservative beliefs, his administration incrementally transferred power from the federal government to the states.
Nixon’s domestic policy saw him impose wage and price controls for 90 days, enforce desegregation of Southern schools, establish the Environmental Protection Agency, and begin the War on Cancer. Additionally, his administration pushed for the Controlled Substances Act and began the War on Drugs. He also presided over the Apollo 11 Moon landing, which signaled the end of the Space Race. He was re-elected with a historic electoral landslide in 1972 when he defeated George McGovern.
In his second term, Nixon ordered an airlift to resupply Israeli losses in the Yom Kippur War, a war which led to the oil crisis at home. By late 1973, the Nixon administration’s involvement in the Watergate eroded his support in Congress and the country.
at age 81
On August 9, 1974, facing almost certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon resigned the presidency. Afterwards, he issued a pardon by his successor, Gerald Ford. In his almost 20 years of retirement, Nixon wrote his memoirs and nine other books and undertook many foreign trips, rehabilitating his image into that of an elder statesman and leading expert on foreign affairs.
He suffered a debilitating stroke on April 18, 1994, and died four days later at age 81. Surveys of historians and political scientists have ranked Nixon as a below-average president. Evaluations of him have proven complex, as the successes of his presidency have been contrasted with the circumstances of his departure from office.
In August 1942, after a brief stint in the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C., Nixon joined the navy, serving as an aviation ground officer in the Pacific and rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. Following his return to civilian life in 1946, he elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating five-term liberal Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis in a campaign that relied heavily on innuendos about Voorhis’s alleged communist sympathies.
Running for reelection in 1948, Nixon entered and won both the Democratic and Republican primaries, which thus eliminated the need to participate in the general election. As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAAC) in 1948–50, he took a leading role in the investigation of Alger Hiss, a former State Department official accused of spying for the Soviet Union.
In dramatic testimony before the committee, Whittaker Chambers, a journalist and former spy, claimed that in 1937 Hiss had given him classified State Department papers for transmission to a Soviet agent. Hiss vehemently denied the charge but later convicted of perjury. Nixon’s hostile questioning of Hiss during the committee hearings did much to make his national reputation as a fervent anticommunist.
Elements of his plan included a restoration of decades-long important alliances in Europe, the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and ending of American involvement in the Vietnam War, opening China to the world, to force the Soviet Union to negotiate, resulting in a substantial decrease in tensions around the world and the first nuclear arms limitation agreements with the Soviet Union. His decisive action on Israel’s behalf in the Yom Kippur War when he declared, “send everything that can fly,” saved Israel and expelled the Soviet Union from the region. He went to the Middle East shortly thereafter to form new strategic partnerships that benefit America today.