He was President of the United States from August 1974 until January of 1977. Perhaps the most memorable part of his presidency was the day he took office. That day will be seared in my memory forever. I was 16 years old at the time. Here are my memories of that day, and those times:
It was August 9, 1974. It was the summer before my Jr. year of High School. It had just been a little over two years (June 17, 1972) since the Watergate break-in. On this day, the first resignation of a President of the United States would take place.
I was a very politically aware teenager. I tried to stay well informed. I had subscribed to Newsweek starting in about 1971. I still have my prized collection of Watergate related Newsweek magazines. I also read a lot of newspapers, and watched and listened to a lot of news on TV and radio.
On that August day, I was spending the Summer helping my Grandfather with his ranch (where I spent all of my summers as I was growing up.) At the time, my Grandfather was the County Chairman of the Republican Party. I remember that we supported Nixon for a long time, until the evidence against him became too overwhelming to ignore.
Normally on a Summer's day in August, we would be out in the hay fields, baling hay at that time of day. (Noon Eastern Time -- 10:00 AM our time). However, we knew of the great historical moment that was about to take place. It was a sad occasion. We felt let down by President Nixon. We wanted to believe in his innocence until the bitter end.
We came in from the fields to watch President Ford’s Speech. What we heard from the newly sworn-in President Ford was reassuring:
"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over."The nightmare of Watergate had begun some two years previously with the Watergate break-in. In the Spring and Summer of 1973, the US Senate created a special "Select" committee to investigate the Watergate break-in, to see if members of the administration were invovled in any way. After months of hearings the single greatest finding of the committe was the discovery of the previously unknown White House taping system.
Up until this time, it was one man's word against another, regarding the facts of the case and the involvement of the president and administration officials. The tapes would be incontrovertible proof of the President's involvement, or lack thereof, in the Watergate break-in, and the subsequent cover-up.
What then ensued was a long series of court battles over whether or not the president would have to turn over the tapes. The president claimed “Executive Privilege”, while prosecutors insisted they had the right to subpoena the tapes as evidence in their investigation.
After more than a year of legal wrangling, On July 24, 1974, the US Supreme Court, voted 8-0 that the president must surrender the tapes – and denied the president's claim to executive privilege.
On July 27-30, 1974 the House Judiciary Committee voted largely upon party lines to Impeach the president on three articles of impeachment:
- Obstructing the Watergate investigation
- Misuse of power and violating his oath of office
- Failure to comply with House subpoenas
On August 5, 1974 transcripts of 3 taped conversations were released which implicated the president in criminal conduct. The tapes showed that Nixon had obstructed justice by ordering the FBI to stop its investigation of the break-in, and that he directed a cover-up.
After these revelations were made public, even Republican members of the House Judiciary committee said they would change their votes in favor of impeachment.
On August 8, 1974, President Nixon announced his resignation in an nationally televised address.
Then at noon on August 9, 1974 I watched Gerald R. Ford as he was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States.
President Ford went on to say:
"I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself."
I have always remembered that statement.
Truth is the glue that holds families together. If we honor our covenants and remain true to one another our families will be strong.
Truth is the glue that holds communities together. If we are honest, honorable, and obey the law, our communities will be strong.
Clusters of truthful, strong communities make for a strong government and a strong civilization.
On the other hand, lies and deceit cause us to lose faith and trust in one another. When lies and deceit emanate from our government officials, our faith and trust in government is destroyed.
It is arguable if full faith in our government has ever been fully restored since the Watergate Scandal. Now we view our government with more of an eye of skepticism.
As we remember President Ford, we appreciate his integrity and his candor. He helped bring honor, integrity, and decency to the Presidency once more.
Shortly after taking office, President Ford took a great political risk in pardoning Richard Nixon. He was roundly criticized and condemned for this action. Most political experts agree that "The Pardon" was the main reason he was defeated by Jimmy Carter in 1976. Now, looking back we can see that the pardon was the right thing to do. The government had come to a virtual standstill with the scandal and the impeachment hearings. The pardon helped to get the country, and the government to re-focus on the issues at hand, and to move forward. It was time to put Watergate behind us.
President Ford's other policy decisions are open to debate. We may not necessarily agree with everything he did during his 2 1/2 years as president. (Remember the WIN lapel buttons for "Whip Inflation Now!") But he helped to rescue a floundering nation that was caught in a great constitutional crisis. He brought healing and direction to us once more.
In his speech to the nation, on that fateful day, he made the following promise to the nation:
"I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you last December 6: to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can f or America.He was a man of his word. He did not let us down. Thanks for your service to our nation in a time of great need.
God helping me, I will not let you down."