Friday, August 10, 2007

August 9, 1974:

Ford Becomes President

Thirty-three years ago, Gerald R. Ford succeeded Richard Nixon as president. Probably none of the architects of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which paved the way for Ford's rise to the presidency, imagined that it would have been applied quite so soon. The amendment had only been ratified by the requisite 38 states in early 1967. Ford was appointed vice president under its provisions (Section 2) in late 1973.

Ford was also the first vice president to succeed to the presidency after the amendment was ratified. In Section 1, the amendment formalized the precedent established by John Tyler in 1841: "In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President."

On the occasion of the first anniversary of his accession to fall after Ford's death, one writer, Quin Hillyer of The American Spectator, offers the opinion that Ford's swearing-in speech is an underrated gem of American oratory: "...on Aug. 9, 1974, Gerald Ford took office with one of the finest, and still most underrated, speeches in modern American history," he wrote on Aug. 8, 2007. "Amidst all the vitriol of Watergate, Ford's speech reminded Americans of the great things that unite us...

"After just a couple of basic introductory sentences, Ford quickly began achieving real eloquence with these words: 'I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers.'

"He then turned his lack of national election into a strength: 'If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises. I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency. I have not subscribed to any partisan platform. I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman -- my dear wife -- as I begin this very difficult job.'

"He followed with some concise and effective encomiums to peace and to candor in government, citing (without overly showy emphasis) Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as he did so. Then came the most famous line of the speech, followed by four more sentences of appropriate grace:

"'My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy. As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate...'"

The entire essay is here. The text of Ford's speech is on line many places, including here.

No comments: