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This Day in History: 09/08/1974 - Ford Pardons Nixon

This Day in History: 09/08/1974 - Ford Pardons Nixon


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This Day in History: 09/08/1974 - Ford Pardons Nixon - HISTORY

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Ford Pardons Nixon: 9/8/1974

In a controversial executive action, President Gerald Ford pardons his disgraced predecessor Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed or participated in while in office. Ford later defended this action before the House Judiciary Committee, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.

The Watergate scandal erupted after it was revealed that Nixon and his aides had engaged in illegal activities during his reelection campaign–and then attempted to cover up evidence of wrongdoing. With impeachment proceedings underway against him in Congress, Nixon bowed to public pressure and became the first American president to resign. At noon on August 9, Nixon officially ended his term, departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn. Minutes later, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

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. Exactly one month after Nixon announced his resignation, Ford issued the former president a “full, free and absolute” pardon for any crimes he committed while in office. The pardon was widely condemned at the time.

Decades later, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented its 2001 Profile in Courage Award to Gerald Ford for his 1974 pardon of Nixon. In pardoning Nixon, said the foundation, Ford placed his love of country ahead of his own political future and brought needed closure to the divisive Watergate affair. Ford left politics after losing the 1976 presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Ford died on December 26, 2006, at the age of 93.


Text Of President Ford’s Pardon Proclamation

Note: The proclamation granted Nixon a pardon for all offenses from January 20, 1969, the day he was first inaugurated as president. In reading the proclamation on national television, Ford inadvertently said ‘July 20’. The text of the proclamation takes precedence.

By the President of the United States of America a Proclamation

Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh President of the United States on January 20, 1969 and was reelected in 1972 for a second term by the electors of forty-nine of the fifty states. His term in office continued until his resignation on August 9, 1974.

Pursuant to resolutions of the House of Representatives, its Committee on the Judiciary conducted an inquiry and investigation on the impeachment of the President extending over more than eight months. The hearings of the Committee and its deliberations, which received wide national publicity over television, radio, and in printed media, resulted in votes adverse to Richard Nixon on recommended Articles of Impeachment.

As a result of certain acts or omissions occurring before his resignation from the Office of President, Richard Nixon has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States. Whether or not he shall be so prosecuted depends on findings of the appropriate grand jury and on the discretion of the authorized prosecutor. Should an indictment ensue, the accused shall then be entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury, as guaranteed to every individual by the Constitution.

It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.

Now, THEREFORE, I, GERALD R. FORD, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of September, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventy-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and ninety-ninth.

GERALD R. FORD

Citation: Presidential Proclamation 4311 of September 8, 1974, by President Gerald R. Ford granting a pardon to Richard M. Nixon, 09/08/1974, Record Group 11: General Records of the United States Government, 1778 – 1992 NARA, Washington, DC. (ARC #194597)


On this day in history, President Gerald Ford granted former President Richard M. Nixon an unconditional pardon “for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.”

The pardon exempted Nixon from indictment for, among other things, his role in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary. He issued a statement saying that he could now see he was “wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.”

President Ford said that he based his decision to pardon Nixon on the consideration in part on he thought Nixon and his family had suffered enough.


President Ford pardons Nixon, Sept. 8, 1974

On this day in 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, his predecessor, for any crimes he may have committed while in office as the Watergate scandal unfolded.

In a Sunday afternoon televised speech from the Oval Office, Ford argued that the pardon served the country’s best interests. He said Nixon’s circumstances — resigning when his political support on Capitol Hill collapsed — reflected “a tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.”

Ford also said: “My customary policy is to try and get all the facts and to consider the opinions of my countrymen and to take counsel with my most valued friends. But these seldom agree, and in the end, the decision is mine. To procrastinate, to agonize, and to wait for a more favorable turn of events that may never come or more compelling external pressures that may as well be wrong as right, is itself a decision of sorts and a weak and potentially dangerous course for a president to follow.”

In accepting the pardon, Nixon said, “That the way I tried to deal with Watergate was the wrong way is a burden I shall bear for every day of the life that is left to me.”

In issuing the pardon, Ford saw his poll numbers — which had soared when Nixon resigned — plummet. Jerald terHorst, his newly named press secretary, quit.

Trump Has No Fear: ‘Makes Nixon Look Like a Cream Puff’

In an unprecedented step, Ford, a former House minority leader, subsequently testified before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee. He said there was no quid-pro-quo involved in Nixon’s Aug. 9 resignation. (On that date, after being sworn into office, Ford had said, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”)

Among some on the political right, the Watergate drama evoked sympathy for Nixon, the sole president ever to resign. They tended to see Nixon as a victim of political infighting in Washington and regarded much of Nixon's behavior to be no worse than that of his predecessors.

Over time, Ford’s pardon resulted in a further polarization of a nation already traumatized by the Watergate scandal.

After being defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter in November 1976 and leaving office in January 1977, Ford continued to carry in his wallet a copy of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the court had ruled that a pardon reflected a presumption of guilt and that the acceptance of a pardon was tantamount to a confession.

In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation awarded its Profile in Courage Award to Ford, a Michigan Republican. In presenting the award, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) noted that while he had opposed the Nixon pardon at the time, history had proved Ford had made the correct decision.


Contents

Following the release of the "smoking gun" tape on August 5, 1974, Nixon's position had become untenable. In his 1979 autobiography, A Time to Heal, Ford wrote about a meeting he had with White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig before Nixon's resignation. Haig was explaining what he and Nixon's staff thought were Nixon's only options. He could try to ride out the impeachment and fight against conviction in the Senate all the way, or he could resign. His options for resigning were to delay his resignation until further along in the impeachment process to try to settle for a censure vote in Congress or to pardon himself and then resign. Haig told Ford that some of Nixon's staff suggested that Nixon could agree to resign in return for an agreement that Ford would pardon him. On this subject, Ford wrote:

Haig emphasized that these weren't his suggestions. He didn't identify the staff members and he made it very clear that he wasn't recommending any one option over another. What he wanted to know was whether or not my overall assessment of the situation agreed with his. [emphasis in original] Next he asked if I had any suggestions as to courses of actions for the President. I didn't think it would be proper for me to make any recommendations at all, and I told him so. [6]

In a Washington Post story published the night Ford died, journalist Bob Woodward said that Ford once told Woodward he decided to pardon Nixon for other reasons, primarily the friendship that Ford and Nixon shared. [7]

Following Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974, the Nixons flew to their home La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, California. [8] According to his biographer, Jonathan Aitken, after his resignation, "Nixon was a soul in torment." [9] Congress had funded Nixon's transition costs, including some salary expenses but reduced the appropriation from $850,000 to $200,000. With some of his staff still with him, Nixon was at his desk by 7 a.m. with little to do. [9] His former press secretary, Ron Ziegler, sat with him alone for hours each day. [10]

Nixon's resignation had not put an end to the desire among many to see him punished. With his resignation, Congress dropped its impeachment proceedings against him but criminal prosecution was still a possibility both on the federal and state level. [11]

The Ford White House considered a pardon of Nixon, but it would be unpopular in the country. Nixon, contacted by Ford emissaries, was initially reluctant to accept the pardon but then agreed to do so. Ford, however, insisted on a statement of contrition Nixon felt he had not committed any crimes and should not have to issue such a document. Ford eventually agreed, and on September 8, 1974, he granted Nixon a "full, free, and absolute pardon" that ended any possibility of an indictment. Nixon then released a statement:

I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy. No words can describe the depth of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have caused the nation and the presidency, a nation I so deeply love, and an institution I so greatly respect. [12] [13] [14]

The Nixon pardon was controversial. Critics derided the move and claimed a "corrupt bargain" had been struck between the men: that Ford's pardon was granted in exchange for Nixon's resignation, elevating Ford to the presidency. Ford's first press secretary and close friend Jerald terHorst resigned his post in protest after the pardon.

The Nixon pardon was a pivotal moment in the Ford presidency. Historians believe that the controversy was one of the major reasons that Ford lost the election in 1976, and Ford agreed with that observation. [7] In an editorial at the time, The New York Times stated that the Nixon pardon was a "profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act" that in a stroke had destroyed the new president's "credibility as a man of judgment, candor, and competence". Allegations of a secret deal made with Ford, promising a pardon in return for Nixon's resignation, led Ford to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on October 17, 1974. [15] [16] He was the first sitting president to testify before the House of Representatives since Abraham Lincoln. [17] [18] Ford's approval rating dropped from 71% to 50% following the pardon. [19]

In October 1974, Nixon fell ill with phlebitis. Told by his doctors that he could either be operated on or die, a reluctant Nixon chose surgery, and Ford visited him in the hospital. Nixon was under subpoena for the trial of three of his former aides (John Dean, H. R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman) and The Washington Post, disbelieving his illness, printed a cartoon showing Nixon with a cast on the "wrong foot". Judge John Sirica excused Nixon's presence despite the defendants' objections. [20] Congress instructed Ford to retain Nixon's presidential papers, which began a three-decade legal battle over the documents that was eventually won by the former president and his estate. [21] Nixon was in the hospital when the 1974 midterm elections were held, and Watergate and the pardon were contributing factors to the Republican loss of 43 seats in the House and three in the Senate. [22] Two years later, lingering public resentment over the pardon was a factor in Ford's narrow loss to Democratic Party nominee Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election. [23]


President Ford Pardons Richard Nixon

Note: The proclamation granted Nixon a pardon for all offences from January 20, 1969, the day he was first inaugurated as president. In reading the proclamation on national television, Ford inadvertently said ‘July 20’. The text of the proclamation takes precedence.

Text of President Ford’s Address to the Nation announcing Nixon’s pardon.

Ladies and gentlemen:

I have come to a decision which I felt I should tell you and all of my fellow American citizens, as soon as I was certain in my own mind and in my own conscience that it is the right thing to do.

I have learned already in this office that the difficult decisions always come to this desk. I must admit that many of them do not look at all the same as the hypothetical questions that I have answered freely and perhaps too fast on previous occasions.

My customary policy is to try and get all the facts and to consider the opinions of my countrymen and to take counsel with my most valued friends. But these seldom agree, and in the end, the decision is mine. To procrastinate, to agonize, and to wait for a more favorable turn of events that may never come or more compelling external pressures that may as well be wrong as right, is itself a decision of sorts and a weak and potentially dangerous course for a President to follow.

I have promised to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best that I can for America.

I have asked your help and your prayers, not only when I became President but many times since. The Constitution is the supreme law of our land and it governs our actions as citizens. Only the laws of God, which govern our consciences, are superior to it.

As we are a nation under God, so I am sworn to uphold our laws with the help of God. And I have sought such guidance and searched my own conscience with special diligence to determine the right thing for me to do with respect to my predecessor in this place, Richard Nixon, and his loyal wife and family.

Theirs is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.

There are no historic or legal precedents to which I can turn in this matter, none that precisely fit the circumstances of a private citizen who has resigned the Presidency of the United States. But it is common knowledge that serious allegations and accusations hang like a sword over our former President’s head, threatening his health as he tries to reshape his life, a great part of which was spent in the service of this country and by the mandate of its people.

After years of bitter controversy and divisive national debate, I have been advised, and I am compelled to conclude that many months and perhaps more years will have to pass before Richard Nixon could obtain a fair trial by jury in any jurisdiction of the United States under governing decisions of the Supreme Court.

I deeply believe in equal justice for all Americans, whatever their station or former station. The law, whether human or divine, is no respecter of persons but the law is a respecter of reality.

The facts, as I see them, are that a former President of the United States, instead of enjoying equal treatment with any other citizen accused of violating the law, would be cruelly and excessively penalized either in preserving the presumption of his innocence or in obtaining a speedy determination of his guilt in order to repay a legal debt to society.

During this long period of delay and potential litigation, ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad.

In the end, the courts might well hold that Richard Nixon had been denied due process, and the verdict of history would even more be inconclusive with respect to those charges arising out of the period of his Presidency, of which I am presently aware.

But it is not the ultimate fate of Richard Nixon that most concerns me, though surely it deeply troubles every decent and every compassionate person. My concern is the immediate future of this great country.

In this, I dare not depend upon my personal sympathy as a long-time friend of the former President, nor my professional judgment as a lawyer, and I do not.

As President, my primary concern must always be the greatest good of all the people of the United States whose servant I am. As a man, my first consideration is to be true to my own convictions and my own conscience.

My conscience tells me clearly and certainly that I cannot prolong the bad dreams that continue to reopen a chapter that is closed. My conscience tells me that only I, as President, have the constitutional power to firmly shut and seal this book. My conscience tells me it is my duty, not merely to proclaim domestic tranquillity but to use every means that I have to insure it. I do believe that the buck stops here, that I cannot rely upon public opinion polls to tell me what is right. I do believe that right makes might and that if I am wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right would make no difference. I do believe, with all my heart and mind and spirit, that I, not as President but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy.

Finally, I feel that Richard Nixon and his loved ones have suffered enough and will continue to suffer, no matter what I do, no matter what we, as a great and good nation, can do together to make his goal of peace come true.

Now, therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free, and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from July (January) 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this eighth day of September, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and seventy-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and ninety-ninth.

Nixon’s Response

I have been informed that President Ford has granted me a full and absolute pardon for any charges which might be brought against me for actions taken during the time I was president of the United States.

In accepting this pardon, I hope that his compassionate act will contribute to lifting the burden of Watergate from our country.

Here in California, my perspective on Watergate is quite different than it was while I was embattled in the midst of the controversy, and while I was still subject to the unrelenting daily demands of the presidency itself.

Looking back on what is still in my mind a complex and confusing maze of events, decisions, pressures and personalities, one thing I can see clearly now is that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy.

No words can describe the depths of my regret and pain at the anguish my mistakes over Watergate have caused the nation and the presidency — a nation I so deeply love and an institution I so greatly respect.

I know many fair-minded people believe that my motivations and action in the Watergate affair were intentionally self-serving and illegal. I now understand how my own mistakes and misjudgments have contributed to that belief and seemed to support it. This burden is the heaviest one of all to bear.

That the way I tried to deal with Watergate was the wrong way is a burden I shall bear for every day of the life that is left to me.


September 8, 1974 -- Ford Pardons Nixon

In a controversial executive action, President Gerald Ford pardons his disgraced predecessor Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed or participated in while in office. Ford later defended this action before the House Judiciary Committee, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.

The Watergate scandal erupted after it was revealed that Nixon and his aides had engaged in illegal activities during his reelection campaign–and then attempted to cover up evidence of wrongdoing. With impeachment proceedings underway against him in Congress, Nixon bowed to public pressure and became the first American president to resign. At noon on August 9, Nixon officially ended his term, departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn. Minutes later, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

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. Exactly one month after Nixon announced his resignation, Ford issued the former president a “full, free and absolute” pardon for any crimes he committed while in office. The pardon was widely condemned at the time.

Decades later, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented its 2001 Profile in Courage Award to Gerald Ford for his 1974 pardon of Nixon. In pardoning Nixon, said the foundation, Ford placed his love of country ahead of his own political future and brought needed closure to the divisive Watergate affair. Ford left politics after losing the 1976 presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Ford died on December 26, 2006, at the age of 93.


President Gerald Ford pardons Richard Nixon, Sept. 8, 1974

On this day in 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, his disgraced predecessor, for any crimes, spawned by the Watergate scandal, that he might have committed or participated in while in office.

In a Sunday afternoon broadcast from the Oval Office, Ford argued that the pardon served the country’s best interests. He said Nixon’s circumstances reflect “a tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.”

In accepting the pardon, Nixon said: “That the way I tried to deal with Watergate was the wrong way is a burden I shall bear for every day of the life that is left to me.”

In the wake of the pardon, Ford’s poll numbers plummeted. His newly named press secretary, Jerald terHorst, resigned in protest. In an unprecedented step, Ford, a former House minority leader, testified before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee. He insisted that there was no quid pro quo involved in Nixon’s Aug. 9 resignation. On that date, after taking the oath of office, Ford had said, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

After leaving office in 1977, Ford carried in his wallet a portion of the text of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said that a pardon indicated a presumption of guilt and that acceptance of a pardon was tantamount to a confession of that guilt.

In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation awarded its Profile in Courage Award to Ford. In presenting the award, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) noted that while he had opposed the Nixon pardon at the time, history proved Ford had made the correct decision.


President Ford pardons Richard Nixon, Sept 8, 1974

On this day in 1974, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, his predecessor, for any crimes he may have committed while in office as an outgrowth of the Watergate scandal.

In a Sunday afternoon televised speech from the Oval Office, Ford argued that the pardon served the country’s best interests. He said Nixon’s circumstances reflect “a tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must.”

In accepting the pardon, Nixon said, “That the way I tried to deal with Watergate was the wrong way is a burden I shall bear for every day of the life that is left to me.”

In the wake of the pardon, Ford’s poll numbers – which had soared when Nixon resigned a month earlier – plummeted. Jerald terHorst, his newly named press secretary, quit.

In an unprecedented step, Ford, a former House minority leader, testified before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee. He said that there was no quid-pro-quo involved in Nixon’s Aug. 9 resignation. On that date, after taking the oath of office, Ford had said, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

After leaving office in 1977, Ford carried in his wallet a copy of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision which found that a pardon reflected a presumption of guilt and that the acceptance of a pardon was tantamount to a confession.

In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation awarded its Profile in Courage Award to Ford, a Michigan Republican. In presenting the award, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) noted that while he had opposed the Nixon pardon at the time, history proved Ford had made the correct decision.

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