Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, and the 40th Vice President of the United States serving from 1973 to 1974. He was the first person appointed to the vice-presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment, and became President upon Richard Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974. Ford was the fifth U.S. President never to have been elected to that position, and the only one to have held both the office of Vice-President the office of President while never having been elected to either. He was also the longest-lived president in U.S. history, dying at the age of 93. Before ascending to the vice-presidency, Ford served nearly 25 years as Representative from Michigan's 5th congressional district, eight of them as the Republican Minority Leader. As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward détente in the Cold War. Compared with his predecessors, Ford's policies were less directed towards intervention in Vietnamese affairs. Domestically, Ford presided over the worst economy since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. One of his more controversial decisions was granting a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. During Ford’s incumbency, 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 1976, Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but ultimately lost the presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter by a small margin. Following his years as president, Ford remained active in the Republican Party. After experiencing health problems and being admitted to the hospital four times in 2006, Ford died at his home on December 26, 2006.
Ford was born as Leslie Lynch King, Jr. on July 14, 1913, at 3202 Woolworth Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska, where his parents lived with his paternal grandparents. His father was Leslie Lynch King, Sr., a wool trader and son of prominent banker Charles Henry and Martha King. His mother was the former Dorothy Ayer Gardner. Dorothy separated from King, Sr. just sixteen days after her son's birth. She took her son with her to the Oak Park, Illinois home of her sister Tannisse and her husband, Clarence Haskins James. From there she moved to the home of her parents, Levi Addison Gardner and his wife, the former Adele Augusta Ayer, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dorothy and Leslie King divorced in December 1913; she gained full custody of their son. Ford's paternal grandfather Charles Henry King paid child support until shortly before his death in 1930.
Scouting and athleticsEdit
Eagle Scout Gerald Ford (circled in red) in 1929. Michigan Governor Fred Green at far left, holding hat. Ford was involved in The Boy Scouts of America, and attained that program's highest rank, Eagle Scout. He always regarded this as one of his proudest accomplishments, even after attaining the White House. In subsequent years, Ford received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award in May 1970 and Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He is the only US president who was an Eagle Scout. Scouting was so important to Ford that his family asked that Scouts participate in his funeral. About 400 Eagle Scouts were part of the funeral procession, where they formed an honor guard as the casket went by in front of the museum, and served as ushers. Ford attended Grand Rapids South High School and was a star athlete and captain of his football team. In 1930, he was selected to the All-City team of the Grand Rapids City League. He also attracted the attention of college recruiters. Attending the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, Ford played center and linebacker for the school’s football team and helped the Wolverines to undefeated seasons and national titles in 1932 and 1933. The team suffered a steep decline in his 1934 senior year, however, winning only one game. Ford was the team’s star nonetheless, and after a game during which Michigan held heavily favored Minnesota (the eventual national champion) to a scoreless tie in the first half, assistant coach Bennie Oosterbaan later said, “When I walked into the dressing room at half time, I had tears in my eyes I was so proud of them. Ford and [Cedric] Sweet played their hearts out. They were everywhere on defense.” Ford himself later recalled, “During 25 years in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, I often thought of the experiences before, during, and after that game in 1934. Remembering them has helped me many times to face a tough situation, take action, and make every effort possible despite adverse odds.” His teammates later voted Ford their most valuable player, with one assistant coach noting, “They felt Jerry was one guy who would stay and fight in a losing cause.”
Ford received a commission as ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve on April 13, 1942. On April 20, he reported for active duty to the V-5 instructor school at Annapolis, Maryland. After one month of training, he went to Navy Preflight School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he was one of 83 instructors and taught elementary seamanship, ordnance, gunnery, first aid and military drill. In addition, he coached in all nine sports that were offered, but mostly in swimming, boxing and football. During the one year he was at the Preflight School, he was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade on June 2, 1942, and to Lieutenant in March 1943.
House of RepresentativesEdit
After returning to Grand Rapids, Ford became active in local Republican politics, and supporters urged him to take on Bartel J. Jonkman, the incumbent Republican congressman. Military service had changed his view of the world; "I came back a converted internationalist", Ford wrote, "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." During his first campaign in 1948, Ford visited farmers and promised he would work on their farms and milk the cows if elected—a promise he fulfilled. In 1961, the U.S. House membership voted Ford a special award as a "Congressman's Congressman" that praised his committee work on military budgets. Ford was a member of the House of Representatives for twenty-four years, holding the Grand Rapids congressional district seat from 1949 to 1973. It was a tenure largely notable for its modesty. As an editorial in The New York Times described him, Ford "saw himself as a negotiator and a reconciler, and the record shows it: he did not write a single piece of major legislation in his entire career." Appointed to the House Appropriations Committee two years after being elected, he was a prominent member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Ford described his philosophy as "a moderate in domestic affairs, an internationalist in foreign affairs, and a conservative in fiscal policy." In the early 1950s, Ford declined offers to run for both the Senate and the Michigan governorship. Rather, his ambition was to become Speaker of the House.
In November 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ford to the Warren Commission, a special task force set up to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Ford was assigned to prepare a biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin. The Commission's work continues to be debated in the public arena. According to newly released records from Ford's FBI files, he secretly advised the FBI that two of his fellow members on the Warren Commission doubted the FBI's conclusion that John F. Kennedy was shot from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository in Dallas. A 1963 FBI memo said Ford, then a Republican congressman from Michigan, had volunteered to keep the FBI informed about the panel's private deliberations, but only if that relationship remained confidential. The bureau agreed. Ford generally believed in the single bullet and single assassin theory. According to the same reports, Ford generally had strong ties to the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.
House Minority LeaderEdit
In 1965, Republican members of the House elected Ford as its Minority Leader. During the eight years (1965–1973) he served as Minority Leader, Ford won many friends in the House because of his fair leadership and inoffensive personality. But Johnson disliked Ford for the congressman's frequent attacks on the administration's "Great Society" programs as being unneeded or wasteful, and for his criticism of the President's handling of the Vietnam War. As Minority Leader in the House, Ford appeared in a popular series of televised press conferences with famed Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, in which they proposed Republican alternatives to Johnson's policies. Many in the press jokingly called this "The Ev and Jerry Show". Johnson said of Ford at the time, "That Gerald Ford. He can't fart and chew gum at the same time." The press, used to sanitizing LBJ's salty language, reported this as "Gerald Ford can't walk and chew gum at the same time." An office building in the U.S. Capitol Complex, House Annex 2, was renamed for Gerald Ford as the Ford House Office Building.
Vice Presidency, 1973–74Edit
On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned and then pleaded no contest to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he accepted $29,500 in bribes while governor of Maryland. According to The New York Times, "Nixon sought advice from senior Congressional leaders about a replacement. The advice was unanimous. 'We gave Nixon no choice but Ford,' House Speaker Carl Albert recalled later".
When President Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal on August 9, 1974, Ford assumed the presidency. During his inauguration, he chose not to play "Hail to the Chief", but "Hail to the Victors", Michigan's fight song. He served 29 months as President until January 20, 1977 and presided over what were then the worst economic times since the 1930s, with record levels of inflation. The cost of living rose higher than at any time since the collapse of the Confederate dollar. During his presidency, Ford survived two assassination attempts. In his bid for re-election, Ford fell badly behind in the polls relative to his Democratic opponent, Jimmy Carter, and although almost catching up as Election Day arrived, was defeated. An article published in Newsweek shortly after Ford's death in 2006 discussed the former President's spiritual beliefs and cited evidence that Ford's preference not to openly express his Episcopalian faith in public contributed to his loss to Southern Baptist former Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter. Ford's lowest level of support was in the Bible Belt states of the Deep South (Carter won every Southern state that year except Virginia).
Post-presidential years, 1977–2006Edit
Ford died at the age of 93 years and 165 days on December 26, 2006 at 6:45 p.m Pacific Standard Time (02:45, December 27, UTC) at his home in Rancho Mirage, California of arteriosclerotic cerebrovascular disease and diffuse arteriosclerosis. He died of a heart attack and heart failure. Gerald Ford lived the longest of any US President, surpassing Ronald Reagan by 45 days