Gerald Rudolph Ford, the 38th President of the United States, was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., the son of Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Gardner King, on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska. After his parents'divorce and his mother's 1916 marriage to businessman Gerald R. Ford, he became known as Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
Jerry Ford graduated from Grand Rapids (Michigan) South High School in 1931 as an honor student and star performer in football and basketball. He was also active in scouting, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout in 1927. He earned spending money by working in the family paint business and at a local restaurant. He continued both his education and athletics at The University of Michigan where he played center on the Wolverine football team and was selected most valuable player by his teammates during his senior year.
He received offers from two professional football teams, the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers, but chose instead to take a position as boxing coach and assistant varsity football coach at Yale University during law school. He received his law degree from Yale in 1941, graduating in the top third of his class.
During World War II, Ford served in the Pacific as an operations officer aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Monterey. After the war, he returned to law practice in Grand Rapids, where his father was county Republican chairman. In 1948 he married Elizabeth Bloomer Warren, a fashion coordinator for a Grand Rapids department store. They would have four children: Michael Gerald, John Gardner, Steven Meigs, and Susan Elizabeth.
In the 1948 primary election Ford successfully challenged the incumbent Republican congressman and went on to win the first of his 13 terms in the House of Representatives. His philosophy during his congressional career was marked by a belief in bipartisan foreign policy, moderate views on social issues, and conservatism on government spending and economic issues. Through his service on the Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations, he became an expert on military weapons funding. As his reputation as a legislator grew, Ford declined offers to run for both the Senate and the Michigan governorship in the early 1950s. His ambition was to become Speaker of the House. As a member of the Warren Commission, he helped investigate the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 1965 House Republicans elected Ford Minority Leader, a position he held for nine years.
In 1973 Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after pleading "no contest" to a charge of income tax evasion. Under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, President Richard Nixon nominated Gerald Ford as the new Vice President. After an extensive investigation of his finances and personal and public history, both houses of Congress confirmed his appointment and he took the oath of office on December 6, 1973.
In subsequent months, "Watergate" crime and cover-up charges mounted against Nixon. Facing a Senate impeachment trial, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. Ford took the oath of office that same day, stating "the long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works." He inherited an administration plagued by a divisive war in Southeast Asia, rising inflation, and fears of energy shortages, as well as Watergate. He faced many difficult decisions including replacing Nixon's staff with his own, restoring the credibility of the presidency, and dealing with a Congress increasingly assertive of its rights and powers.
Ford's problems were increased by his unpopular early decision to pardon his predecessor. Believing that protracted impeachment proceedings would keep the country mired in Watergate and unable to address the other problems facing it, Ford decided to grant a pardon to Richard Nixon prior to the filing of any formal criminal charges. Public reaction was mostly negative, and the decision may have cost him the election of 1976, but President Ford always maintained that it was the right thing to do for the good of the country.
In domestic policy, President Ford felt that through modest tax and spending cuts, deregulating industries, and decontrolling energy prices to stimulate production, he could contain both inflation and unemployment. This would also reduce the size and role of the federal government and help overcome the energy shortage. His philosophy is best summarized by one of his favorite speech lines, "A government big enough to give us everything we want is a government big enough to take from us everything we have."
The heavily Democratic Congress often disagreed with Ford, leading to numerous confrontations and his frequent use of the veto to control government spending. Through compromise, bills involving energy decontrol, tax cuts, deregulation of the railroad and securities industries, and antitrust law reform were approved.
In foreign policy, Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger continued the policy of detente (relaxing or easing of tension between rivals) with the Soviet Union. Conservative opposition made this increasingly difficult, however. U.S.-Soviet relations were marked by ongoing arms negotiations, the "Helsinki agreements" on human rights principles and East European national boundaries, trade negotiations, and the symbolic Apollo-Soyuz joint manned space flight.
On two separate trips to California in 1975, Ford was the target of assassination attempts. Both of the assailants were women.
The 1975 fall of South Vietnam to communists marked the final failure of a bloody and expensive U.S. overseas commitment. With this background, Congress and the President struggled repeatedly over presidential war powers, oversight of the CIA and covert operations, military aid appropriates, and the stationing of military personnel. Each had mixed success.
On May 14, 1975, in a dramatic move, Ford ordered U.S. forces to retake the S.S. Mayaguez, an American merchant ship seized by Cambodian gunboats two days earlier in international waters. The vessel was rescued and all 39 crewmen saved. In the preparation and execution of the rescue, however, 41 Americans lost their lives.
During the 1976 campaign, Ford fought off a strong challenge by Ronald Reagan to gain the Republican nomination. He then succeeded in narrowing Democrat Jimmy Carter's large lead in the polls, but finally lost one of the closest elections in history. Three televised candidate debates were focal points of the campaign.
On January 20, 1977, President and Mrs. Ford journeyed to their new home in California. They continue to vacation at their home outside Vail, Colorado, where Ford enjoys skiing and golf. Ford is active on behalf of Republican Party and charitable causes, serves on corporate boards, and speaks frequently before college and other audiences.