Gerald Ford - Thirty-Eighth President of the United States

President Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon.
President Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon. National Archives and Records Administration.

Gerald Ford's Childhood and Education:

Ford was born on July 14, 1913 in Omaha, Nebraska. He actually grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He found out when he was about 12 that he was adopted by his father. He attended local public schools. He attended the University of Michigan. He played on the school's football team and could have become a professional football player. Instead, he decided to go to law school and worked his way through Yale Law School.

He received his degree in 1941 and was admitted to the bar.

Family Ties:

Ford was born to Dorothy Ayer Gardner and Leslie Lynch King. King was a wool merchant. However, he had nothing to do with his son over the years. Instead, his mother married Gerald Rudolph Ford, Sr., a businessman, who became his adoptive father. He had four half brothers and two half sisters. 

On October 15, 1948, Ford married Elizabeth "Betty" Anne Bloomer. She was a dancer and an advocate of women's rights. Together they had four children: Michael Gerald, John Gardner, Steven Meigs, and Susan Elizabeth. 

Gerald Ford's Career Before the Presidency:

Ford briefly practiced law in 1941-2 before joining the navy to fight in World War II. In 1943, he was sent to sea on the USS Monterey in the South Pacific. His ship took part in the recapture of the Philippines. He left the navy as a lieutenant commander in 1946. After the war he went back to practicing law.

In 1949, Ford became a U.S. Representative. He was reelected twelve times until 1973 when he became the Vice President under Richard Nixon.

Becoming Vice President:

In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned from office in order to avoid criminal charges for bribery. According to the 25th Amendment when there was a vacancy in the vice presidency, the president would nominate and the Senate and House would confirm a new Vice President.

Ford was chosen as a moderate. He took office on December 6, 1973. When Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, Ford became the first individual to be President who was not elected to either the presidency or the vice presidency.

Events and Accomplishments of Gerald Ford’s Presidency:

One month after taking over the presidency, Ford pardoned Nixon. This caused a lot of controversy but Ford claimed he did it to save the nation from the prospect of a long, messy, and divisive trial.

In 1974, President Ford also offered clemency to those who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War if they would swear allegiance and perform two years of public service. Similarly, those who deserted during the war could return for two years in the branch they left to achieve clemency. However, Ford was criticized both by those who felt he was being to easy on the draft dodgers and those who had avoided the service because they felt they were in the right.

In 1974, Ford asked for aid to be sent to South Vietnam as fighting had resumed. Congress would not agree. In April 1975, Saigon fell and by 1976, North and South Vietnam were united into one country.

Ford escaped two assassination attempts, both by women. First on September 5, 1975, Lynette Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, pointed a gun at him but did not fire.

She was convicted of attempting to assassinate the president and sentenced to life in prison. The second attempt on Ford's life occurred on September 22, 1975 when Sara Jane Moore fired one shot that was deflected by a bystander. Moore was trying to prove herself to some radical friends with the assassination of the president. She was convicted of attempted assassination and sentenced to life in prison.

Post-Presidential Period:

Ford ran for reelection but lost to Jimmy Carter. He retired to Rancho Mirage, California. He began lecturing around the country. He also wrote his memoirs. He was named as an honorary member of the board rebuilding the World Trade Center. He died at the age of 93 on December 26, 2006.

Historical Significance:

Ford only served a partial term in office. His pardoning of Nixon was the most controversial action of his presidency.