Gerald Ford: Should He Have Pardoned Nixon?



Gerald Ford Pardoning former-President Nixon

Credit: National Archives and Records Administration And Gerald Ford has died, too.

By all accounts, he was a good and decent man. And we were fortunate to have such a man serve as President when history knocked at his door.

It won’t take long for pundits to skip over the “good and decent” and get to the question that ultimately defines his presidency: should he have pardoned Nixon?

On this one, Jack and I actually disagree, which is fairly unusual.

I think Ford did the right thing in using the pardon to get the country moving forward again.

Jack, not surprisingly, says Ford should have held Nixon accountable and emphasized that no man is above the law.

Comments are open.


You may also like...

16 Responses

  1. John Schuh says:

    Nixon made the mistake of not burning the tapes. Because he fell, the Democrats swept into power in Congress in 1974 and caused the copplase of the South Vietnamese government. As Talleyrand? said: , that was worse than a crime, it was a blunder

  2. Robert in San Jose says:

    No man is above the law? Nixon was forced to resign the Presidency, for the love of Pete. For a man like Nixon who craved power, losing the Presidency was worse than any punishment a court could have given him. He will be saddled with the ignominy of that humiliation not just for this generation but for the entire future history of the United States. What, did Jack want to see him in black stripes and holding on to jail cell bars like a common thug simply to satisfy his own bitter and unsatiated hatred of Nixon? (Yes, Jack, it’s THAT transparent).

    The reality that is transparent to all rational Americans is that it was more important for the country to heal than it was to see a series of circus trials that would have lasted until Nixon’s death. Tricky Dick would’ve fought this in the courts until he died in the 90’s. I’m sure that would’ve been extremely healthy for the country.

    In 1974 we were still trying to get out of Vietnam and we had pressing foreign policy issues with the Soviet Union. (Does anyone remember the Cold War these days?) Better to put that “national nightmare” behind us and deal with the issues that would shape the future of our country. God bless the President for having that vision.

    Gerald Ford was 100% correct to pardon Nixon even though it cost him any real shot at an elected Presidency in 1976.

    May he rest in peace and may the nay sayers finally give this decent man his due. He made the right decision.

  3. Carol says:

    I think Ford did the right thing in pardoning Nixon. There is nothing Nixon ever did that will overshadow what history will say about him and the scandals of his administration. Better to end that and focus on something else.

  4. Jack Yoest says:

    John, your argument is compelling. But with 20/20 hindsight I am grasping at any action that would have Ford beating Carter.

    Sparing us The Hostages, The Misery Index, The Department of Education…

    Thanks for your insight,


  5. Fritz says:

    Nixon’s misdeeds were small compared to what abuses other president’s have done. Nixon was just the first victim of a highly partisan left-wing media gone bad. Ford was right to pardon.

  6. not the senator says:

    Though I’m willing to give Ford the benefit of the doubt that it was made for best of reasons, The Pardon is unpardonable.

    The great lesson of Watergate was that the Rule of Law is greater than the political power of men or parties. Ford’s decision to short circuit this lesson resulted in the fact that ultimately, politics went on as usual. Money rules, dirty tricks are allowed, winning is everything and there is little consequence for misdeeds. If you liked Iran-Contra, Lee Atwater, Willie Horton, McCain/Bush in SC, Karl Rove, Mellon-Scaife, the Arkansas Project, Florida in 2000 and Swiftboating, well then you probably liked The Pardon. It was our best opportunity squandered to reform the political process. I cannot forgive Gerald Ford for this.

  7. Suzanne Ulmer says:

    Jack, hmmm, tell me what you really think about my employer?? 🙂


  8. Jay says:

    And yet… Carter ensured we got Reagan.

    While at the same time Carter gave us Volcker and set us on the path of deregulation, showing even he could have a silver lining (besides ensuring we got Reagan).

    I don’t know if anyone has ever addressed it in fiction, but surely Ford’s loss in 1976, and therefore presumably the pardon that tipped the scales, was one of the most pivotal points in American history. It would be fascinating to know where the road not followed would have led, but how can we be so sure it would have been to a better end?

    Any extrapolation is just that, with the butterflies increasing in ferocity by the day.

  9. Corlyss Drinkard says:

    Ford would have been my first vote for a Republican. As it was, his pardon of Nixon was an abortion of justice and a personal affront to every American citizen. Nixon should have been prosecuted and imprisoned. First of his offenses was not prosecuting the Viet Nam war to victory; then he compounded the error by persecuting dissenting citizens who would most likely have been silenced by a victory in Viet Nam. People forget in the mythology that surrounds the anti-war movement that 40% of McCarthy’s supporters wanted a more vigorous prosecution of the war. Nixon disgraced the office, disgraced the valiant dead, disgraced the American public. We should have had our reckoning with him. Instead, Ford’s premature pardon allowed Nixon to hang about the edges of policy and redeem himself to the point of ob becoming an elder statesman. There’s no forgiving Ford for that.

  10. Pat Patterson says:

    Even though I was a man of the Left in the 60’s and early 70’s I didn’t smoke or inhale anything that would cause me to forget that “…40% of McCarthy’s supporters wanted a more vigorous prosecution of the war”. McCarthy wrote poems blaming everything including the Lindbergh baby kidnapping on Johnson. It was Nixon who promised he had secret plan to achieve victory in Viet Nam and end the war.

    As to the main question I think that Pres. Ford did the right thing in pardoning Pres. Nixon for just the reasons that the 38th president claimed. To end the divisiveness and to forestall at least two years of hearings in front of a polarized national audience.

    Plus Nixon opened up Trestles in California so I didn’t have to walk miles through the brush to go surfing and risk my board being confiscated by the Marines. Nixon deserved to be pardonded simply for that act alone.

  11. Robert in San Jose says:

    So all of you nay-sayers believe that it would have been better to paralyze the country both politically and socially as the court cases against Nixon dragged on until his death in the 90’s? Don’t fool yourselves into thinking Nixon would have made a deal or that he would’ve simply lived with the first decision that was handed down. He would’ve fought this to the bitter end.

    How devastating would that have been to the country during the time when Soviet hegemony was expanding, the economy was in the dumps and the Vietnam war was still ripping the country apart?

    I can appreciate the argument for upholding the rule of law. It is certainly a valid point. However in the true historical context, Ford’s MORE valid course was to pardon Nixon rather than to allow the country to be crippled by the vicious legal process to come.

  12. KateM says:

    When Jack complains that “no man is above the law”, Jack would do well to note that presidential pardons are part of the law.

    Jack might not like it, but Jack’s not above the law.

  13. Jack Yoest says:

    Suzanne, If the Department of Education could be salvaged, you would be among the leaders to get it done.

    Full Disclosure: One of my first consulting gigs was for Bill Bennett…in the Dept of Education.



  14. Jack Yoest says:

    Frtiz, you are certainly right that previous presidents did much, much worse than Nixon.

    Even our liberal friends in the American Political Science Association chuckle over the election stealing antics of “Landslide Lyndon” Johnson in Texas and the sainted JFK winning with the “voters” from Chicago.

    Nixon’s sins were venial in comparison.

    Thank you for your comment,


  15. Sue Tovey says:

    At the risk of becoming too verbose, I shall answer the question of the Nixon pardon by President Ford with a resounding “yes,”under the circumstances, his action was well taken. The drawing out of the Nixon situation would only have served to cloud an already challenging dilemma facing the nation at that time, and susequently could have had no positive outcome for the country long term. Therefore, in my judgement, this was a very thoughtful move on Ford’s part, keeping only the future welfare of America in mind.

  16. Robert in San Jose says:


    Listen to what President Ford ACTUALLY SAID when he granted the pardon and maybe…just maybe…you’ll understand what the vast majority of us with any brains DO understand. Ford had come to terms with what the best course of action for the country was.

    I pity your self-centered, vindicitive position. You really should have given the man his due.

    Perhaps if you actually listen to the speech then it’s possible, 3 decades too late, you will accept the truth and grow as a person: