OTD in History… August 9, 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford Sworn in as president after Richard Nixon resigns

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OTD in History… August 9, 1974, Vice President Gerald Ford Sworn in as president after Richard Nixon resigns

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history August 9, 1974, Vice President Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as president after Richard Nixon resigns over impending impeachment because of his involvement in the Watergate break-in scandal cover-up. With impeachment from Congress certain, Nixon did the unprecedented, on the evening of August 8, he announced to the American public that he would be resigning effective at noon the next day. On August 9, Vice President Ford would assume the presidency under unprecedented terms prescribed in the 25th Amendment on presidential succession, the first to do so without the American public ever having elected him, and serving the shortest time, 2 years and 164 days.

Ford was the only president to have never been elected even to the vice presidency. Nixon appointed Ford after Spiro T. Agnew resigned less than a year before. Ford assumed the vice presidency on December 6, 1973, after Agnew resigned because he was charged with “tax evasion and money laundering” for accepting bribes as the governor of Maryland. Congressional leaders advised Nixon he should choose the then-House Minority Leader the much-liked Gerald Ford as vice president to which Nixon obliged. Nixon nominated Ford on October 12, on November 27, the Senate confirmed him with a vote of 92 to 3, with three Democrats opposing, while the House confirmed Ford on December 6, 1973, with a vote of 387 to 35.

On August 1, 1974, Nixon’s Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, gave Ford a warning about the “smoking gun” Oval Office tape that could end Nixon’s presidency. Ford later recounted, “Al Haig asked to come over and see me to tell me that there would be a new tape released on a Monday, and he said the evidence in there was devastating and there would probably be either an impeachment or a resignation. And he said, ‘I’m just warning you that you’ve got to be prepared, that things might change dramatically and you could become President.’ And I said, ‘Betty, I don’t think we’re ever going to live in the vice president’s house.’”

The morning of August 9, was emotional for Nixon. In his last hours as president, he delivered a farewell address at 9 am to his cabinet and staff in the East Room, where Ford was also present. Nixon tendered his resignation at 11:35 am to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Gerald and Betty Ford escorted the Nixons to the helicopter before Ford officially assumed office. Technically, Ford became president a minute later but he only took the oath of office five minutes after noon, once Nixon and his family left the White House to return to San Clemente, California. Chief Justice Warren Burger administered Ford the oath of office in the East Room of the White House at 12:05 pm.

Immediately afterward, Ford delivered a short 850-word inaugural address, written Counselor to President Robert T. Hartmann, and discussed the “extraordinary circumstances” that led him to the presidency. Ford expressed:

“I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers. And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many… If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises. I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency. I have not subscribed to any partisan platform. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman — my dear wife, Betty — as I begin this very difficult job… My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over… Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.”

Ford was the ninth Vice President to take office unexpectedly, the first and only because of a resignation, whereas the rest were due to unexpected death, by illness or assassination. Ford’s presidency was also the shortest of any president “who did not die in office,” having only served 895 days. On September 8, 1974, Ford took the unpopular initiative of granting a “full free and absolute pardon” to Nixon for any offenses he “has committed or may have committed.”

Historian David McCullough claims Ford was “a very good president” because of the pardon. McCullough remarked, “I think Gerald Ford is one of the most interesting stories in the whole history of the presidency. He made one of the bravest decisions ever as president. From one of the worst moments in presidential history — Nixon’s resignation — came one that many now consider the finest.” The move the most likely cost him any chance of election in the 1976 presidential election but it closed the chapter on Watergate for the nation allowing it to go forward and heal. As historian Jon Meacham described it “an act of political courage that truly healed the country.”

SOURCES AND READ MORE

Brinkley, Douglas. Gerald R. Ford. New York: Times Books, 2007.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

 

Remarks on Taking the Oath of Office

August 9, 1974

Mr. Chief Justice, my dear friends, my fellow Americans:

The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution. But I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.

Therefore, I feel it is my first duty to make an unprecedented compact with my countrymen. Not an inaugural address, not a fireside chat, not a campaign speech–just a little straight talk among friends. And I intend it to be the first of many.

I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers. And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many.

If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises. I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency. I have not subscribed to any partisan platform. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman–my dear wife–as I begin this very difficult job.

I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends. They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name. It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people.

Thomas Jefferson said the people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. And down the years, Abraham Lincoln renewed this American article of faith asking, “Is there any better way or equal hope in the world?”

I intend, on Monday next, to request of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate the privilege of appearing before the Congress to share with my former colleagues and with you, the American people, my views on the priority business of the Nation and to solicit your views and their views. And may I say to the Speaker and the others, if I could meet with you right after these remarks, I would appreciate it.

Even though this is late in an election year, there is no way we can go forward except together and no way anybody can win except by serving the people’s urgent needs. We cannot stand still or slip backwards. We must go forward now together.

To the peoples and the governments of all friendly nations, and I hope that could encompass the whole world, I pledge an uninterrupted and sincere search for peace. America will remain strong and united, but its strength will remain dedicated to the safety and sanity of the entire family of man, as well as to our own precious freedom.

I believe that truth is the glue that holds government together, not only our Government but civilization itself. That bond, though strained, is unbroken at home and abroad.

In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end.
My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

In the beginning, I asked you to pray for me. Before closing, I ask again your prayers, for Richard Nixon and for his family. May our former President, who brought peace to millions, find it for himself. May God bless and comfort his wonderful wife and daughters, whose love and loyalty will forever be a shining legacy to all who bear the lonely burdens of the White House.

I can only guess at those burdens, although I have witnessed at close hand the tragedies that befell three Presidents and the lesser trials of others.

With all the strength and all the good sense I have gained from life, with all the confidence my family, my friends, and my dedicated staff impart to me, and with the good will of countless Americans I have encountered in recent visits to 40 States, 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 for America.

God helping me, I will not let you down.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:05 p.m. in the East Room at the White House following administration of the oath of office by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. The oath of office and the President’s remarks were broadcast live on radio and television.

The White House announced that Richard Nixon’s letter of resignation as 37th President of the United States was tendered to Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in his White House office by Assistant to the President Alexander M. Haig, Jr., at 11:35 a.m.

Gerald R. Ford: “Remarks on Taking the Oath of Office,” August 9, 1974. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=4409.

 

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