Shortly after noon on this day in 1974, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the nation’s 38th president in the East Room of the White House. Eight months earlier, Ford became the first vice president chosen under the terms of the 25th Amendment. At that time, he was the House minority leader, representing a safe Republican district in central Michigan.
Ford thus became the first and, to date, only president ever to enter the White House as an appointee rather than as an elected official.
President Richard Nixon had nominated him to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had been forced to resign in disgrace after being charged with income tax evasion and political corruption. He ascended to the presidency immediately after Nixon formally resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
After taking the oath of office, Ford, speaking to the nation on television, declared, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” In his brief speech, Ford also said, “I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances. ... This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.”
Then he joined his wife, Betty, in the State Dining Room, where he chatted informally in a receiving line with everyone who attended the ceremony, including the reporters who covered the event.
In September 1974, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he might have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal. His previously high standing in the polls immediately plummeted.
In keeping with his political approach while serving in the House, Ford continued to view himself as “a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in foreign affairs.” Working with a Democratic Congress, he sought to cut taxes on business and ease controls exercised by federal regulatory agencies. “We ... declared our independence 200 years ago, and we are not about to lose it now to paper shufflers and computers,” he said.
Ford won the contested Republican nomination for the presidency in 1976 but lost in November to his Democratic opponent, former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. On Inauguration Day, Carter began his speech: "For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”