40 years ago: Gerald Ford becomes president in a historic first

On August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford officially became President in the most unusual of circumstances, as Richard Nixon left Washington in disgrace and the trusted Ford took office without the benefit of direct election to office.

Ford_sworn-inAt 12:30 p.m., Ford took the oath of office just three minutes after he escorted Nixon and his family to a helicopter on the White House lawn.

Ford became the first, and so far the only, person to become President without winning a general election for President or Vice President.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution allowed Ford to assume the presidency after he was selected by Nixon to replace Spiro Agnew, the Vice President elected on the 1972 Republican ticket who was forced to resign in an unrelated scandal.

Section 2 of the 25th Amendment gave the President the power to name a new Vice President, if that office became vacant, with the permission of Congress.

Nixon nominated the popular Ford, who was the House minority leader, to take Agnew’s position on October 12, 1973. The Senate voted 92 to 3 to confirm Ford on November 27, 1873, and on December 6, 1973, the House confirmed him by a vote of 387 to 35.

Ford quickly acknowledged the situation after taking the presidential oath administered by Chief Justice Warren Burger.

“The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution. But I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts,” Ford told a national audience. “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

Ford had served in the U.S. House of Representatives with distinction for 25 years and he was a member of the Warren Commission that investigated President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Ford also served as House minority leader for eight years before becoming Vice President.

Ironically, one of Ford’s most noticed statements as minority leader was on the subject of impeachment.

In 1970, Ford made a notable comment as the House considered charges against Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas for alleged financial improprieties that were never proven.

“An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history,” Ford said, in a blunt statement that is part of an on-going debate over the process.

More Constitution Daily Watergate Stories

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Watergate’s biggest mysteries remain unsolved

The legacy of Watergate: Five ways life changed after the scandal

The lesson of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation

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