President Ford Pardons Richard Nixon
On September 8, 1974, President Gerald Ford issued the pardon of Richard Nixon. By it, Ford granted to Richard Nixon, his predecessor, a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes that he might have committed against the United States as president. In particular, the pardon covered Nixon's actions during the Watergate scandal. In a televised broadcast to the nation, Ford, who had succeeded to the presidency upon Nixon's resignation, explained that he felt the pardon was in the best interests of the country and that the Nixon family's situation was "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 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.
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. He was the first sitting president to testify before the House of Representatives since Abraham Lincoln. Ford's approval rating dropped from 71% to 50% following the pardon. Here is a clip of President Fords Congressional Testimony:
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 Horst 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. 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".
After Ford left the White House in 1977, he privately justified his pardon of Nixon by carrying in his wallet a portion of the text of Burdick v. United States, a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision that suggested that a pardon carries an imputation of guilt and that its acceptance carries a confession of guilt.
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