Decade of Disillusionment: 1972–1980

Gerald Ford's Presidency

Gerald Ford's presidency lasted less than one term and was marked by political division and a series of problems that began during President Nixon's term.

Following the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew in the wake of the Watergate scandal in October of 1973, President Richard Nixon was in a position to choose a new vice president. Congress would need to approve the nomination, so Nixon chose Republican Representative Gerald Ford because he felt Ford was the only Republican the Democratic Congress would accept. Gerald Ford became the 38th president of the United States on August 9, 1974, following Nixon's resignation. He was the first president not elected to executive office.

One month after Nixon resigned and Ford assumed the presidency, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed. However, this greatly affected his credibility with the American public. An outraged Congress implied Ford had been blackmailed by Nixon into issuing the pardon, and Ford was called before a subcommittee in the House of Representatives to answer for his actions. This was the first time a current president testified in Congress. Ford appeared voluntarily.

Ford also granted amnesty, the act of an authority granting pardon to a large group of people, to those who had fled the United States to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War. This practice was called draft dodging. Amnesty was conditional upon two years of work in public service and a pledge of loyalty to the United States. The offer was accepted by fewer than 20 percent of the roughly 210,000 young men who had evaded the draft.

In 1974 Ford signed an amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), legislation passed in 1971 to regulate the raising and spending of money in federal elections in the United States. Under the new legislation, limits were placed on campaign contributions by individuals and political parties, as well as Political Action Committees (PACs), organizations that raise and distribute campaign funds for political candidates. An independent agency called the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was tasked with overseeing elections and enforcing election and campaign finance laws. This amendment marked the first significant attempt at campaign finance reform since the Progressive Era in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

Ford's brief term as president was marred by two separate assassination attempts in September 1975, failures in Vietnam (such as his inability to convince Congress to send more military aid to South Vietnam), and a slew of economic problems. He tried to slow the economy to help with inflation, but the result was a high unemployment rate and economic depression. The Democratic Congress was successful in vetoing 40 of his legislative actions. Although his initial approval ratings were high, in November of 1975 Ford's approval rating dropped to 40 percent. He was granted the nomination for candidacy by the Republican Party in 1976 but was defeated by Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter. Ford's presidency lasted less than one term.
Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States on August 9, 1974-the same day President Richard Nixon resigned.
Credit: Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library