Video clip from the documentary film Gerald R. Ford: A Test of Character

  • President Richard Nixon named Gerald Ford his vice president in 1973 after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew. A year later, Nixon himself resigned the presidency and Gerald Ford became the 38th President of the United States. 
     
    Nixon had resigned as increasing evidence connected him to a burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C. The enormous scandal quickly took the name of the building in which the crime took place, the Watergate.
     
    Ford wanted the country to move past the turmoil of the Watergate scandal and focus instead on important issues facing the nation, such as unemployment, inflation, and conflict. In an attempt to move the country forward, Ford decided to grant Nixon a full pardon—absolving the former president of any crimes associated with his time in the Oval Office. 
     
    Ford faced the reality that his controversial decision would elicit negative public and political responses and likely cost him votes in the 1976 presidential election. In response to suspicions that the pardon was part of a corrupt deal, Ford volunteered to testify before Congress.
     
    In his testimony, Ford stated, “I want to assure you, the members of the sub-committee, the members of Congress, and the American people, there was no deal, period, under no circumstances.” He also explained, “I was absolutely convinced then, as I am now, that if we had had this series—an indictment, a trial, conviction and anything else that transpired after that—that the attention of the president, the Congress, and the American people would have been diverted from the problems that we have to solve.” 
    1. What is one of the main reasons the film lists for Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon?

      Ford hoped that the pardon would bring a divided country back together and help it focus on other issues, such as inflation, unemployment, and energy concerns.

    2. If you were in Ford’s position, how would you have handled the charges against former President Richard Nixon? 

      Answers will vary but should mention possible alternatives to Ford’s decision or reasons Ford’s decision was the right one to be made. Possible answers may include: 

      • Let the courts try Nixon on charges to resolve issues connected to the Watergate scandal.
      • A prolonged trial may distract the government from solving other important issues the country faces.

       

    3. What does it mean to say Ford had “moral courage” to pardon Nixon? Do you think Ford was being courageous?

      Answers will vary and should mention why Ford should or should not be considered courageous for making the decision to pardon Nixon. Answers may include: 

      • Courageous: Ford knew the decision would be unpopular.
      • Courageous: Many advised Ford that this would hurt his chances in the 1976 presidential election.
      • Not courageous: Nixon's role and responsibilities in the Watergate scandal were never entirely resolved.
    • Throughout the rest of his life, Ford maintained that the pardon was the right decision.
    • Ford studied law at Yale University and relied heavily on his training and the advice of legal counsel to make the decision to pardon Nixon.
    • Accepting a presidential pardon is, by law, an admission of guilt.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    morality Noun

    beliefs about what is right or wrong behavior, or the degree to which something is right or wrong.

    pardon Verb

    to release from responsibility for a crime or other offense.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    resignation Noun

    formal act or statement giving up a title or position.

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