Herbert S. Parmet
AT noon on 9 August 1974, the day on which President Nixon resigned, everyone in the East Room of the White House rose as Chief Justice Warren Burger entered. Then came Vice President and Mrs. Gerald Ford. She held the Bible, opened to the Book of Proverbs, as Ford placed his right hand on it and was sworn in as the thirty-eighth president of the United States. He told the audience that "our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great Republic is a Government of laws and not of men." Then he urged, "Let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate." Three days later, the new president addressed a joint session of the Congress and said, I do not want a honeymoon with you. I want a good marriage." He stressed opposition to "unwarranted cuts in national defense" and gave the control of inflation as his first priority. His foreign policy would be a continuation of Nixon's: working toward a cease-fire in Vietnam and a negotiated settlement in Laos, détente with the Soviet Union, and continuation of the "new relationship" with the People's Republic of China. Addressing himself directly to the ethics of government, he promised no "illegal tapings, eavesdropping, buggings, or break-ins by my Administration."
Ford was the first president of the United States to reach the White House by way of the Twenty-fifth Amendment. He thereby became more a designated, rather than an "accidental," president. Even at the moment of his nomination, mounting revelations about the Watergate scandal had made his ultimate rise to the presidency a distinct possibility. In naming him to replace Spiro Agnew, Nixon had little choice other than to heed the advice of the Democratic leadership that the former House minority leader was the only Republican they would agree to confirm. Ford was simply not viewed as a potent candidate for the presidential nomination in 1976. His elevation made him, in effect, the first congressional president. Contrary to the expectations of its sponsors, the Twenty-fifth Amendment created a presidency that considerably reduced the distance between Capitol Hill and the White House. Ford had not been in office very long before the amendment's implications became obvious. A Ford speechwriter, Robert Hartmann, later wrote that Congress "will never knowingly select the strongest possible Presidential prospect as their opposition. They will pick, at best, someone they see as a competent caretaker until the next election." Ron Nessen, Ford's second press secretary, observed that no other president was routinely described as " 'acting presidential' instead of simply being president." Ford never fully recovered from that burden.
Two accounts of the Ford presidency are essential reading, one by a meticulous and judicial historian, John Robert Greene, The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford (Lawrence, Kans., 1995), the other by an insider journalist, James Cannon, Time and Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment with History (New York, 1994). These should be read along with Ford's own book, A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford (New York, 1979).
Jerald F. terHorst, Gerald Ford and the Future of the Presidency (New York, 1974), by the man who served Ford as press secretary until he resigned after the pardon, is a valuable prepresidential biographical study. Jules Witcover, Marathon: The Pursuit of the Presidency, 1972–1976 (New York, 1977), is the most comprehensive of the several books about the election of 1976.
Robert T. Hartmann, Palace Politics: An Inside Account of the Ford Years (New York, 1980), uses Hartmann's long acquaintance with Ford, both before and after the presidency, to produce an often bitter, sometimes dyspeptic indictment of the administration and its surrender to Nixon holdovers. Ron Nessen, It Sure Looks Different from the Inside (New York, 1978), another work by an insider that does not place a premium on loyalty to the boss, is a defense of Ford with surprising candor. John Osborne, The White House Watch: The Ford Years (Washington, D.C., 1977), is an indispensable collection of perceptive, urbane articles that first appeared in the New Republic . Richard Reeves, A Ford, Not a Lincoln (New York, 1975), is a well-written view of a man out of his depth. John Hersey, Aspects of the Presidency: Truman and Ford in Office (Boston, 1980), originally written as a magazine assignment, provides an indispensable glimpse into the Ford White House.
Seymour Hersh, "The Pardon: Nixon, Ford, Haig, and the Transfer of Power," in Atlantic (August 1983), demolishes Ford's public defense of the pardon, concluding that self-interest and political loyalty compromised the democratic process. Clark R. Mollenhoff, The Man Who Pardoned Nixon (New York, 1976), too often reads like a diatribe but remains valuable for having asked the right questions and provided information for future skeptics of the pardon explanation. Ken Auletta, The Streets Were Paved With Gold (New York, 1979), is the basic book for an understanding of the New York City fiscal crisis.
Coral Bell, The Diplomacy of Détente: The Kissinger Era (New York, 1977), a careful and balanced study of the assumptions and contradictions of détente, is particularly insightful about the role of nationalism and Washington-Beijing-Moscow diplomacy. Roger Morris, Haig: The General's Progress (New York, 1982), is a most unflattering view of a political general, who emerges as a first-rate schemer; Morris's Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (New York, 1977), is an unflattering portrait. William Colby and Peter Forbath, Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA (New York, 1978), is an account by the CIA's director during the first half of the Ford administration that, while inevitably self-serving, is an essential guide to an understanding of intelligence operations during the period. John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story (New York, 1978), contains candid revelations by the man who headed the intelligence venture in Angola.
The First Lady's recollections are in Betty Ford, with Chris Chase, The Times of My Life (New York, 1978). For further sources consult John Robert Greene, comp., Gerald R. Ford: A Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1994).
Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: