Gerald Ford's Presidency

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Why did Gerald Ford pardon Richard Nixon?

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Upon the resignation of then-President Richard Nixon, the Constitution stipulates the vice president of the United States becomes president. The former majority speaker of the House had assumed the position of vice president when the vice president, Spiro Agnew, became embroiled in a legal scandal that forced him to resign. Gerald Ford ascended to the position of vice president and then president when Nixon resigned.

As you may imagine, the continuing saga and drama surrounding the scandal plaguing the presidency and the test to the Constitution created a great deal of turmoil in the United States and the world. Richard Nixon, under indictment for crimes of obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal and under investigation for authorizing the break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Hotel, chose to resign when the prospect of impeachment became inevitable. The vote for impeachment and the ultimate embarrassment of being removed from office appeared to be all but certain.

The turmoil of political scandal and the test to the democratic form of the republic established by the Constitution was genuine. The concept that no person is above the law was tested as well. Adversarial countries like Russia used the turmoil to press their communist agenda while the United States was distracted by scandal. In a demonstration of compassion and so as not to prolong the ongoing scandal, President Ford pardoned Nixon, effectively ending the investigation and closing the chapter on the first real test to the strength of American Constitutional government since the Civil War.

Ford believed furthering the investigation and placing an American president on trial would have a polarizing effect on the country. By ending the scandal with a full pardon of Nixon, Ford hoped to restore the country's faith in government and send a message to the rest of the world that America was strong. Historians believe the pardon cost Ford the presidential election against then-Governor Jimmy Carter, who ran on a platform of restoring honesty and integrity to government. The event is historically significant as a reminder of the strength of the Constitution and serves as a reminder that even powerful politicians have to answer to the people.

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