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“As a Republic dedicated to liberty and justice for all, this Nation cannot deny equal status to women.”

On August 22, 1974, President Ford signed a proclamation designating August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. That date honored the incorporation of the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, into the Constitution on August 26, 1920.

In the proclamation President Ford noted his previous backing of the Equal Rights Amendment and his intention to continue supporting it. “Today I want to reaffirm my personal commitment to that amendment,” he stated. “The time for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment has come just as surely as did the time for the 19th Amendment.”

Representatives Yvonne Brathwait Burke (D-Calif), Barbara Jordan (D-Tex), Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY), Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md), Leonor K. Sullivan (D-Mo), Cardiss Collins (D -Ill), Corinne C. Boggs (D-La), Margaret M. Heckler (R-Mass), Bella S. Abzug (D-NY), Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), Ella T. Grasso (D-Conn), Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo), and Patsy T. Mink (D-Hawaii) attended the signing ceremony held in the Cabinet Room. First Lady Betty Ford and Anne Armstrong, Counsellor to the President, were also present for the signing.

The First Lady’s First Press Conference

A week after the President gave his first press conference Betty Ford held one of her own. She fielded questions in the State Dining Room for 25 minutes on September 4, 1974.

Although she had interacted informally with the press since entering the White House, Mrs. Ford took a step many former First Ladies had not by making herself available to the media in an official press conference. Around 150 reporters and photographers attended the session.

During the press conference Mrs. Ford answered questions about her family’s transition to the White House, the impact of the economy on her family’s budget, and the possibility of President Ford running in the 1976 election. She spoke openly on several topics that would come up throughout the administration, including her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s engagement in civic affairs. “I think that by becoming very active in politics, which I deeply encourage, that they will play a great role in the future of our country,” she said.

Reporters asked her about her role as First Lady as well. Mrs. Ford expressed her interest in supporting the arts, particularly in education, and working with underprivileged and retarded children. She also responded to a question regarding the kind of “footprint” she wanted to make during her time in the White House: “I would like to be remembered in a very kind way; also as a constructive wife of a President. I do not expect to come anywhere near living up to those First Ladies who have gone before me. They have all done a great job, and I admire them a great deal and it is only my ambition to come close to them.”

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40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: A President, a Pen, a Pardon

On Sunday, September 8, 1974, President Ford attended services at St. John’s Episcopal Church to pray for guidance and understanding before making his announcement to the nation.

In his remarks just before signing the document, he noted that the pardon reflected both his Presidential responsibilities and his personal beliefs:

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 tranquility, but to use every means that I have to insure it.

Shortly after the announcement was made former President Nixon released a statement accepting the pardon. Although such a statement wasn’t required President Ford felt it was very significant. According to the precedent set by Burdick v. United States, a pardon “carries an imputation of guilt, acceptance, a confession of it.” By resigning and accepting the pardon Nixon was publicly acknowledging his guilt in the Watergate cover up.

“It was an unbelievable lifting of a burden from my shoulders,” President Ford wrote about announcing the pardon. “I felt certain that I had made the right decision, and I was confident that I could now proceed without being harassed by Nixon or his problems any more. I thought I could concentrate 100 percent of my time on the overwhelming problems that faced both me and the country.”

The public’s reaction to the announcement, however, quickly proved that the pardon had not settled matters as President Ford had intended.

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A Good Marriage, Not a Honeymoon

President Ford returned to the House Chamber where he had served as a Representative of Michigan for 25 years on August 12, 1974, to make his first address to a Joint Session of Congress. 

In this speech he set out his vision for Executive-Congressional relations. He expected that Congress would be a working partner and constructive critic so together they could find solutions to the difficult issues the nation faced. “I do not want a honeymoon with you. I want a good marriage,” he said.

Although President Ford felt the State of the Union was excellent he knew the state of the economy was not. Declaring inflation “domestic enemy number one,” he called for Congress to reactive the Cost of Living Council and announced plans for a domestic summit meeting on the economy. He also appealed to voters in the upcoming November election to support those candidates "who consistently vote for tough decisions to cut the cost of Government, restrain Federal spending and bring inflation under control.“

Shifting his focus to international affairs, President Ford stated his intention to continue the foreign policy developed during the Nixon administration. ”There will be no change of course, no relaxation of vigilance, no abandonment of the helm of our Ship of State as the watch changes,“ he affirmed. "We stand by our commitments and we will live up to our responsibilities, in our formal alliances, in our friendships, and in our improving relations with potential adversaries.”

Read the full text of President Ford’s remarks.

40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: The Background

Concerned by the number of questions regarding Richard Nixon that came up during his first press conference on August 28, President Ford asked his White House Counsel Phil Buchen to quietly look into legal precedents for Presidential pardons. Benton Becker, a lawyer who had been involved in preparing for Ford’s Vice Presidential confirmation, assisted with the research.

Buchen and Becker consulted numerous sources, including The Federalist and court cases such as Burdick v. United States and Ex parte Garland. In their research they found that a President could issue a pardon before the recipient was formally charged and that the pardon did not have to name a specific crime.

Buchen also sought the opinion of Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski regarding how long it be before prosecution of former President Nixon could occur as well as how long it might last. In his response written on September 4, Jaworski outlined the “unprecedented” circumstances surrounding the case. He estimated that the situation would “require a delay before selection of a jury is begun of a period from nine months to a year, and perhaps even longer.”

President Ford also talked about the possibility of a pardon with several key aides: Chief of staff Alexander Haig, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Counsellors Robert Hartmann and Jack Marsh. Due to the sensitivity of the topic the discussions were a closely held secret. After considering all of the research and opinions gathered, on September 7 he made the decision to pardon the former President.

Proclamation 4311, Granting Pardon to Richard Nixon, was typed up and placed in this envelope for President Ford to sign during a special announcement on Sunday, September 8, 1974.

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Nelson Rockefeller, Vice President-Designate

President Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller, the former Governor of New York, as his Vice President on August 20, 1974. 

Selecting a Vice President had been one of President Ford’s main priorities after taking office. He requested recommendations from the members of his Cabinet and Congressional leaders. By the end of his first week as President he had narrowed his choice down to five candidates, and after careful deliberation he asked Rockefeller to take the position.

After announcing the nomination President Ford introduced Rockefeller for a brief press conference. “I think he will make a great teammate,” he said. “I think he will be good for the country, I think he will be good for the world, and I am looking forward to working with him.”

Vice President-designate Rockefeller fielded questions about why he accepted a job he had previously turned down during other administrations and the confirmation process. Although he didn’t know what his specific duties would be yet he stated, “I am deeply honored and should I be confirmed by the Congress, will look forward to the privilege and honor of serving the President of the United States and, as I said in the other room, through him all of the people of this great country.”

After four months of extended hearings Rockefeller was confirmed and sworn in as the 41st Vice President of the United States on December 19, 1974, becoming the second person to fill the office under the 25th Amendment.

Images: President Ford and Nelson A. Rockefeller in the Oval Office as the President prepares his message to Congress nominating Rockefeller as Vice President, 8/20/1974; Message of President Gerald R. Ford nominating Nelson A. Rockefeller to be Vice President of the United States, 08/20/1974, from the Records of the U.S. Senate.

40th Anniversary of the Nixon Pardon: Congressional Testimony

President Ford’s sudden announcement of his decision to pardon Richard Nixon raised many questions. People felt that the pardon circumvented justice, continuing the Watergate coverup by preventing the possible indictment of the former President that could have provided answers to lingering questions. Among the overwhelming negative responses from the public was the idea that the pardon was part of a “secret deal” between Ford and Nixon.

Several Representatives requested answers to specific questions regarding the pardon and the circumstances surrounding it. On October 17, 1974, President Ford appeared on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, becoming the first sitting President to give sworn congressional testimony. He delivered an opening statement and answered questions posed by the committee members regarding when and with whom he had discussed the pardon, and why he decided to grant it.

“I hope…that I have at least cleared the air so that most Americans will understand what was done and why it was done,” he said at the end of the two hour session. “And again I trust that all of us can get back to the job of trying to solve our problems both at home and abroad.”