Todayinah Ed. says, Gerry Ford's decision to prosecute Richard Nixon changes the Presidency for ever. If you're interested in viewing samples of my other work why not visit Todayinah site.
In 1974, in a special address from the Oval Office on this day, President Gerald Ford announced that "I have come to a decision which I felt I should tell you and all of my fellow American citizens, as soon as I was certain in my own mind and in my own conscience that it is the right thing to do". Because a two-page typed transcript known as Proclamation 4311 ordered legal proceedings to commence immediately against disgraced former President Richard M.Nixon. Click to watch the address
Co-Presidency Part 1: Proclamation 4311 The previous month, Nixon had been forced to resign the presidency amid the Watergate scandal. His successor, then Vice President Gerald R. Ford had privately agreed to issue a full pardon for any crimes that Nixon might have committed while in office.
Yet since taking office, Ford had been placed under immense pressure to allow the legal processes begun by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and the U.S. Supreme Court to play out. And in his own heart, Ford had come to realise that America could not heal unless Nixon was sent to jail. Put simply, the nation now accepted that Nixon was despite his denials, a crook. Click to watch the Press Conference
Ford justified his decision of conscience with a bold appeal to his own constitutional authority, declaring that "The Constitution is the supreme law of our land and it governs our actions as citizens. Only the laws of God, which govern our consciences, are superior to it. As we are a nation under God, so I am sworn to uphold our laws with the help of God".
"The Constitution is the supreme law of our land and it governs our actions as citizens. Only the laws of God, which govern our consciences, are superior to it. As we are a nation under God, so I am sworn to uphold our laws with the help of God".The decision to charge Nixon would create the controversial public spectacle of private citizen Nixon going on trial and also likely ended Ford's chances for re-election to the presidency in 1976. Both the decision and its timing came under severe criticism. The charge was announced by Ford on a Sunday morning, taking advantage of an off-beat time for Washington newsmakers in an attempt to minimize the initial political fallout. It was a vain attempt, however, as the decision caused a firestorm of anger in the press and indignation among those who wanted to see Nixon receive a full pardon.
Although the initial reaction to the charge was overwhelmingly negative, in recent years many original opponents of the pardon have reconsidered Ford's decision. On May 21, 2001, President Ford received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award at the Kennedy Library. Speaking on this occasion, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg said of President Ford, "As President, he made a controversial decision of conscience to charge former President Nixon and end the trauma of Watergate. In doing so, he placed his love of country ahead of his own political future".
In 1980, on this day a joint edition of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press reversed the previous days report that "Ronald Reagan is being pushed by moderates and other Republicans interested in mending the party's left and right factions to select Bush [for Vice President]" now reporting that Reagan had already negotiated a power-sharing deal under which Gerald Ford would be his co-President.
Co-Presidency Part 2: Precedent for a Dream TicketThe problem with a Reagan-Bush ticket was that a rift had developed between the two during the "long and bitter" campaign for the Republican nomination. "Reagan, the lowly Dixon, Illinois kid whose determination brought him success, seems to have a visceral distaste for Bush, the Eastern Establishment blueblood of a different ilk," reported the Detroit News. A moderate candidate was required by Reagan, with the Detroit News reporting that "What support Reagan lacks among affluent, college-educated and union voters, Bush would clearly make up".
Reagan thought that Ford would be more effective vote-winner in this electoral space, and yet there was also a rift there too. Journalist Thomas DeFrank states that Ford "neither liked nor respected" Ronald Reagan. Reagan had challenged Ford, a then-incumbent President, in the 1976 Republican primaries. According to DeFrank, Ford believed that Reagan hurt him further that year by failing to campaign more heavily for him in the fall. DeFrank notes that Ford, a loyal party man, felt that Reagan had done a disservice to a fellow Republican and never really forgave him for it.
Both men negotiated arrangements that might lure a former commander in chief into a secondary position. Contemporary accounts said Ford was represented by former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and others. But at a 2000 conference of former White House chiefs of staff, Dick Cheney disclosed that he had been deeply involved. He recalled an intense debate about how to shape expanded lines of authority in a job often ridiculed as largely ceremonial. Ford "made a number of requests in terms of his influence over the budget, personnel, foreign policy, et cetera," Cheney said. "I can remember sitting in a session with Bill Casey, who later became CIA director. Bill had a list of items that in fact the Reagan people were prepared to discuss. They went a long way to accommodate President Ford". 1
Bill Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, explained Ford's terms to a Detroit News reporter. Brock said that Ford was interested in the vice-presidency if Ford "took on more of a policy-making function". Ford2 would "have to have the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget under his control and be the White House chief of staff as well," Brock told the reporter. "It would be a co-presidency. A dream ticket," declared the Detroit News/Free Press.
Reagan, Ford, Bush and Milliken attended a press conference at Grand Rapids in a show of unity to announce the Reagan-Ford ticket (Bush was offered Secretary of State as a sweetener). Reagan praised Ford as a man who "healed America because he so thoroughly understood America". Michigan Governor Milliken stated that Ford "restored honesty to the highest office in our land by his very presence".3
The negotiations were a dead letter, quite literally. On March 30th, 1981 Reagan was assassinated by John Hinckley, Jr and Ford became an unelected President for the second time. This tragic event had been strangely foreshadowed in Ford's defeat in 1976. "Damn it, we shoulda won. We shoulda won". said Joe Garagiola, sobbing. Ford comforted him "Hey, there are more importantant things to worry about than what's going to happen to Jerry Ford"..
And the negotiations themselves were not without future consequences. In 1980, as Ford was being wooed to run for vice president, Dick Cheney played a key role in re-imagining the job. "If there is precedent for Cheney's role [as Vice President in 2001-2009]," according to Dan Quayle, "it is the short-lived second vice presidency of Gerald R. Ford".
In 1980, on this day in Detroit, Ronald Reagan made a late night dash from his hotel room to the Republican Convention Floor at the Joe Louis Arena to quosh speculation that George Bush might be nominated for vice president.Co-Presidency Part 3: Dutch Courage
"I know that I am breaking with precedent to come here tonight and I assure you at this late hour I'm not going to give you my acceptance address. But in watching the television at the hotel and seeing the rumors that were going around and the gossip that was talking place here. It is true that a number of Republican leaders . . . . feel that a proper ticket should include the former president of the United States, Gerald Ford, as second place on the ticket. . . . I then believed that because of all the talk and how something might be growing throughout the night that it was time for me to advance the schedule a little bit. . . . I have asked and I am recommending to this convention that tomorrow when the session reconvenes that Gerald Ford be nominated for vice president" announced Reagan.
"Reagan, the lowly Dixon, Illinois kid whose determination brought him success, seems to have a visceral distaste for Bush, the Eastern Establishment blueblood of a different ilk"Few members of the convention were surprised. Because as early as July 16, a joint edition of the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press had reported that "Ronald Reagan is being pushed by moderates and other Republicans interested in mending the party's left and right factions to select Bush [for Vice President]" now reporting that Reagan had already negotiated a power-sharing deal under which Gerald Ford would be his co-President. In fact a rift had developed between the two [Reagan and Bush] during the "long and bitter" campaign for the Republican nomination. "Reagan, the lowly Dixon, Illinois kid whose determination brought him success, seems to have a visceral distaste for Bush, the Eastern Establishment blueblood of a different ilk," reported the Detroit News.
Contemporary accounts said Ford was represented by former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger and others. But at a 2000 conference of former White House chiefs of staff, Dick Cheney disclosed that he had been deeply involved. He recalled an intense debate about how to shape expanded lines of authority in a job often ridiculed as largely ceremonial. Ford "made a number of requests in terms of his influence over the budget, personnel, foreign policy, et cetera," Cheney said. "I can remember sitting in a session with Bill Casey, who later became CIA director. Bill had a list of items that in fact the Reagan people were prepared to discuss. They went a long way to accommodate President Ford".
The former President was a controversial choice for the second place on the ticket, Ford's announcement of September 8, 1974 that Richard Nixon would be subjected to the full force of criminal law had received an overwhelmingly positive response from the American people. And yet the trial had dragged on throughout the two years of his Presidency, preventing Ford from ending America's long national nightmare. Instead the trial itself turned into a nightmare, with Nixon manipulatively choosing insanity as a defense plea. The chaos in the Republican Party had gifted the 1976 election to "The Georgia Giant", Jimmy Carter who had promised "I will never lie to you". And yet during the co-presidency, Ford's own integrity would be questioned as details of his involvement in the Warren Commission came to light, ironically through the reporting of Woodward and Bernstein.
In 1974, White House Chief of Staff General Alexander Haig (pictured) took the fortieth Vice President, Gerry Ford for a walk in the rose garden on this day. Nixon was going bonkers, said Haig, and we have got to get him out of here, and there are four possible ways to do that. The first three are unrealistic. But the fourth, he said, was if Ford would promise to pardon Nixon after he [Ford] became President, which in his [Haig's] view would gain Nixon's agreement to resign.
High Stakes Poker in the White House Rose GardenFord dismissed the suggestion out of hand. But the discussion was far from over, it was in fact just getting started. Because Nixon had an "ace in the hole". Previously, 82nd Airborne had been brought in to protect the Presidency against anti-war demonstrations. The division was commanded by General Cushman, unusually a political appointee who had served Nixon as National Security Advisor during his Vice Presidency, and later Deputy CIA Director. Cushman understood that those same protestors were now calling for "Jail to the Chief". And so from his inside pocket, Haig produced a top secret, "eyes only", limited distribution order to move the the 82nd Airborne Division from its base at Fort Bragg, North Caroline to surround the White House. Signed by General Robert Cushman, commandant of the US Marine Corps the order was marked topmost priority, Flash Override.
"All men are created equal and that includes presidents and plumbers" ~ Mike Mansfield, Democratic Majority LeaderOf course the provisions of the National Security Act required that the President transmit all military orders through the defense secretary, James Schlesinger. In fact the Secretary was deeply concerned about the President's mental condition - during the last six months alone Schlesinger had been forced to countermand orders to bomb Damascus and Jordan and nuke Vietnam and Korea (orders that were ignored until Nixon sobered up in the morning). Secretary of the Treasury George Schultz also believed that Nixon was stoned out of his mind on Seconal, single-malt Scotch, Dilantin, speed, and clinical paranoia, beating his wife, Pat on a regular basis. By this time the pressure to resign was incredible, and Nixon was clearly losing his mind. Both Schlesinger and Schultz feared a military coup, having agreed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff that all military orders must be signed by two Senior Cabinet Officers (them).
Ford bought the deal, he had not choice. Forced to accept the fourth option, he was not forced to honour the bargain. Because Ford's integrity was built open loyalty to the Constitution and the American people. And so less than four weeks in office, on September 8th now President Gerry Ford anounced that his predecessor would be subject to the full force of criminal law, whether he was insane or not. And shortly afterwards, Haig was replaced in his post by Donald Rumsfeld.
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© Today in Alternate History, 2013-. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.