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Chief Justice Warren Burger swears in Gerald R. Ford as the 38th president in 1974. (© Bettmann / CORBIS)

The Pardon

President Gerald R. Ford's priority was to unite a divided nation. The decision that defined his term proved how difficult that would be

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"Well," Ford began, "let me say at the outset that I made a statement in this room in the few moments after the swearing-in, and on that occasion I said the following." Ford paused, looked down, shuffled through some cue cards, then read, slowly, "‘that I hoped that our former president, who brought peace to millions, would find it for himself.'

"Now the expression made by Governor Rockefeller, I think, coincides with the general view and the point of view of the American people. I subscribe to that point of view. But let me add, in the last ten days or two weeks I have asked for prayers for guidance on this very important point.

"In this situation," Ford declared, "I am the final authority. There have been no charges made, there has been no action by the courts, there has been no action by any jury, and until any legal process has been taken, I think it is unwise and untimely for me to make any commitment."

"May I just follow up on Helen's question?" someone asked from the back. "Are you saying, sir, that the option of a pardon for former President Nixon is still an option that you will consider, depending on what the courts do?"

"Of course, I make the final decision," Ford said. "And until it gets to me, I make no commitment one way or the other. But I do have the right as president of the United States to make that decision."

"And you are not ruling it out?"

"I am not ruling it out. It is an option and a proper option for any president."

Several voices rose at once. Ford had created an opening, and the reporters, accustomed to doing battle with Nixon, blitzed. Scanning the expectant faces, the president found Tom Jarrell of ABC.

"Do you feel that the special prosecutor can in good conscience pursue cases against former top Nixon aides as long as there is the possibility that the former president may not also be pursued in the courts?" Jarrell asked.

"I think the special prosecutor, Mr. Jaworski, has an obligation to take whatever action he sees fit in conformity with his oath of office, and that should include any and all individuals."

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