Gerald R. Ford Junior was born in Omaha on 14 July 1913 by the name of Leslie Lynch King. His mother left his father when he was two years old. They moved to Michigan where his mother married Gerald R. Ford Sr., and he adopted his stepfather's name. The young Ford graduated in 1931 from South High School, where he excelled in history and government. He finished in the top 5 percent of his class and was named the most popular senior by his classmates. As a teenager, Ford worked at a local restaurant and took up the game of football. Playing center, he became one of the best in the state.
Ford studied liberal arts in Ann Arbor under an athletic scholarship of football at the University of Michigan. He starred on the University of Michigan football team, then went to Yale, where he served as assistant coach while earning his law degree. In 1941 he received his law degree as top third of his class.
Back in Michigan, Ford opened a successful law practice in 1941 with his friend (and future White House counsel) Philip Buchen. At the same time, he became increasingly interested in politics. A Republican, Ford had supported Wendell Willkie's unsuccessful run against President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election. Ford became active politically in Grand Rapids, joining a group of Republican reformers called the "Home Front," who opposed the local Republican machine headed by the arrogant and imperious boss Frank McKay.
Pearl Harbor put Ford's legal career and political interests on hold.In 1942 Gerald Ford enlisted in the army. During World War II he attained the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy. and in December 1945 he was discharged as a lieutenant. After the war he returned to Grand Rapids, where he began the practice of law, and entered Republican politics.
In 1948 Ford announced that he wanted to challenge the congressman Jonkman in the Republican party primary. Jonkman never took the young Ford seriously, and thanks to Ford's vigorous campaigning, he won the primaries. In November of 1948 Ford was voted into Congress, seated in the House of Representatives from January 1949 to December 1973. A few weeks before his election to Congress in 1948, he married Elizabeth Bloomer. They have four children: Michael, John, Steven, and Susan.
During that time, Representative Ford earned a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which oversaw all government spending and which provided the young politician with an education in how the government (and its programs) actually worked. Ford consistently advocated for a muscular anti-Communist foreign policy, supporting both Democratic and Republican Presidents who looked to contain Soviet and Chinese power.
During his first few terms in Congress, Ford demonstrated an ability to work with members of both parties, won a reputation among his colleagues for hard work and integrity, and earned the trust of his fellow Republicans on the Hill, including a young California legislator named Richard Nixon. From 1965 to 1973, Gerald Ford was House Minority Leader.
By 1973, Richard Nixon's presidency was beginning to collapse under the weight of the Watergate scandal. In June 1972, police caught several men burglarizing the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at Washington's Watergate Hotel. Nixon and his staff knew that a number of the burglars were political operatives working on the President's re-election campaign. The White House, under direct orders from Nixon, worked furiously to cover up this connection, going so far as to pay the burglars hush-money and to order the CIA to ask the FBI to back off its investigation. The subterfuge held through the 1972 campaign but investigators in the press and in Congress learned more about the administration's illegal activities the following year.
In October 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned as part of a plea bargain with the Justice Department resulting from its investigation into Agnew's acceptance of bribes while serving as vice president and as governor of Maryland. Nixon asked Ford to be the next vice president, largely because Nixon's advisers and political allies told him that Ford was the only man on the President's short list whom the Senate and the House would support. With the Watergate scandal looming, Nixon could not afford a confrontation with Congress. The Senate confirmed Ford by a vote of 92 to 3; the House did the same by a tally of 387 to 35. Ford took the oath of office on December 6, 1973, not in the White House, as Nixon requested, but in the well of the House of Representatives.
Ford served as vice president for eight months. He was able to isolate himself from the Watergate vortex that was swallowing the Nixon presidency, although he vigorously defended the Nixon administration during his first month in office. He changed his stance somewhat in January 1974, criticizing Nixon's advisers, whom he described as "an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents." Ford, though, never publicly criticized the President himself, even though his doubts about Nixon's innocence grew during the first six months of 1974.
Nixon's days as President were numbered. In 1973, it had become known that Nixon had an elaborate taping system in the White House. Investigators subpoenaed the tapes but Nixon claimed "executive privilege" and refused to relinquish them; Ford, in fact, urged Nixon to turn over the tapes. In late July 1974, the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to give up the tapes, which he did. They revealed that President Nixon had orchestrated the Watergate cover-up and had grossly abused the powers of his office. Congress moved quickly to impeach the President. Nixon, in turn, pondered his fate and possible resignation.
Ford broke with Nixon publicly on August 5, 1974, stating that the tapes made it impossible for the President to continue to claim that he was "not guilty of an impeachable offense." As Nixon planned his next move, Ford met with his advisers and prepared to assume the presidency. On August 8, 1974, Nixon announced his resignation in a televised address to the American people. The next day, Gerald Ford became President of the United States, the first person ever to occupy that office who had not been sent there by the electorate.
As President, Ford tried to calm earlier controversies by granting former President Nixon a full pardon. His nominee for Vice President, former Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, was the second person to fill that office by appointment. Gradually, Ford selected a cabinet of his own.
Ford established his policies during his first year in office, despite opposition from a heavily Democratic Congress. His first goal was to curb inflation. Then, when recession became the Nation's most serious domestic problem, he shifted to measures aimed at stimulating the economy. But, still fearing inflation, Ford vetoed a number of non-military appropriations bills that would have further increased the already heavy budgetary deficit. During his first 14 months as President he vetoed 39 measures. His vetoes were usually sustained.
Ford continued as he had in his Congressional days to view himself as "a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in foreign affairs." A major goal was to help business operate more freely by reducing taxes upon it and easing the controls exercised by regulatory agencies. "We...declared our independence 200 years ago, and we are not about to lose it now to paper shufflers and computers," he said.
In foreign affairs Ford acted vigorously to maintain U. S. power and prestige after the collapse of Cambodia and South Viet Nam. Preventing a new war in the Middle East remained a major objective; by providing aid to both Israel and Egypt, the Ford Administration helped persuade the two countries to accept an interim truce agreement. Detente with the Soviet Union continued. President Ford and Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev set new limitations upon nuclear weapons.
President Ford won the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 1976, but lost the election to his Democratic opponent, former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia.