President Ford was riding high on wave of popularity until one month after his inauguration, when he made this announcement.
President Gerald R. Ford: "I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section II of the Constitution, have granted, and by these presents do grant, a full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from July 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974."
Announcer: Ford meant to say January 1969, not July. In any event, the pardon covered all of Nixon's days in the White House. Ford's Press Secretary, Jerald terHorst, disapproved of the pardon and quit his job. Congressional disparity finally led to an unprecedented appearance by a modern U.S. President before a House Committee, where he answered questions about the pardon. He repeated to them what he had said previously in a press conference.
President Gerald R. Ford: "I was more anxious to heal a nation; that was the top priority. And I felt then and I feel now that the action I took will do that. I couldn't be oblivious, however, to news accounts that I had concerning the President's health; but the major reason for the action I took related to the effort to reconcile divisions in our country and to heal the wounds that had festered far too long."
Announcer: Shortly after the Nixon pardon, Ford revealed he was offering conditional amnesty to all draft dodgers and military deserters who fled the country during the Vietnam War.
President Gerald R. Ford: "The program provides for Administrative disposition of cases involving draft evaders and military deserters not yet convicted or punished. In such cases, 24 months of alternate service will be required, which may be reduced for mitigating circumstances. The program also deals with cases of those already convicted by a civilian or military court. For the latter purpose, I am establishing a Clemency Review Board of nine distinguished Americans, whose duty it will be to assist me in assuring that the Government's forgiveness has extended to applicable cases of prior conviction as equitably and as impartially as is humanly possible."
Announcer: Very few of the self-imposed exiles accepted Ford's conditional amnesty by the end of the year.
As the election-campaign season opened, one of the first political announcements came from Senator Ted Kennedy.
Senator Ted Kennedy: "My primary responsibilities are at home. It has become quite apparent to me that I would be unable to make a full commitment to a campaign for the Presidency. I simply cannot do that to my wife and children and other members of my family. Therefore, in 1976, I will not be a candidate for President or Vice-President of the United States. This decision is firm, final and unconditional."
Announcer: But it was 1974, not '76, that concerned most politicians. The aftermath of Watergate could affect those running for office under the banner of the Republican Party. In October, President Ford hurried through 19 states, asking voters to vote for the GOP. But when the ballets were tallied, it was mostly the Democrats who came out victorious. President Ford wound up the year with a trip to Japan, Korea and Russia. It was in Vladivostok, Russia, where Ford met with Leonid Brezhnev, that the most significant result of the trip occurred: Russia and the United States came to an agreement on strategic-arms limitations. The visits to Japan and Korea were for the most part courtesy calls to assure those countries that U.S. policy toward them would not change with the new Administration.
But Ford had to come home from the Far East to face the realities of the American problems of inflation and recession. He had to face a Congress whose majority was Democratic, and he also looked ahead to '76 when he announced that he would seek the Presidential Nomination at that time. But he knew his election in 1976 would depend on his performance during the next two years. His biggest problem? The economy of the United States.
The economic story of the United States for the past several years has been the same: higher prices with incomes not keeping pace with the growth; in short, inflation. But the fear in early 1974 was that the inflation would lead inevitably to a recession, which meant generally a substantial decline in business activity, along with a significant rise in unemployment. In his State of the Union message, President Nixon tried to assure the nation that a recession was not in our future.
President Richard M. Nixon: "As we turn to the year ahead, we hear once again the familiar voice of the perennial prophets of gloom telling us now that because of the need to fight inflation, because of the energy shortage, America may be headed for a recession. Let me speak to that issue head-on: there will be no recession in the United States of America."
Announcer: However, by the end of the year, the Ford Administration was openly admitting that a recession indeed was working its way through the entire economy.