September 8, 2010 •
On This Day: Pardon me, Mr. President…
On this day, thirty-six years ago, President Gerald R. Ford issued Proclamation 4311 announcing the unconditional pardon of ex-President Richard Nixon.
Ford had been President just short of a month following the resignation of Nixon on August 9, 1974 when he took the momentous step of pardoning his predecessor. Issuing the pardon would go on to define Ford’s presidency—and most likely cost him the 1976 election against Democrat Jimmy Carter. At the time, many people suspected a backroom deal had led to the pardon, but Ford disagreed. The country needed to move on from the trauma of Watergate and he alone had the power to pardon Richard Nixon even though no charges had been officially filed at that point in time. President Ford, though, believed the time was right. The country’s “long national nightmare” had to end.
Ford’s pardon of Nixon helped the country move past Watergate even though he may have paid a price for it politically in 1976. In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Foundation awarded President Ford the Profile in Courage Award. The Profile in Courage Award honors “modern-day elected officials who stand up for the public interest, even when it is not in their own interest to do so. The award celebrates individuals who choose principles over partisanship – who do what is right, rather than what is expedient.”
President Ford is thought to have carried a copy of the 1915 Supreme Court opinion Burdick v. United States with him during his time in the White House. Burdick established the legal principle that a pardon carries with it the imputation of guilt and that acceptance of a pardon is the legal equivalent of admission of guilt.
President Gerald R. Ford passed away on December 26, 2006. He is buried on the grounds of his Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
- Proclamation 4311 – from the Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum website
- Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum
- Profile in Courage Award – John F. Kennedy Library and Museum
- Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
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