Gerald Ford: An Enigmatic President

Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford

As presidents go, Gerald Ford was highly unusual. Not only was he never elected to be president, he was not elected to be the vice president, either. This is what happened: during President Richard Nixon’s second term, which was one of the most disastrous in US history, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced to resign in an atmosphere of ugly corruption. Thus, after serving as a Congressman for 25 years, Ford was given the job as second in command. Not long after Nixon came under fire in the infamous Watergate scandal, and, facing impeachment, also resigned. This sad sequence of events led to Gerald Ford finding himself the 38th President of the United States, a position he held for 895 days, the shortest term of any other US president to date who did not die in office.

Ford became president on August 9th, 1974, and held the seat until Jimmy Carter took office in January 1977. The November election and Ford’s defeat by Carter was traumatic for Ford, especially since it was one of the closest elections in US history. The margin was so small (only 2 percent) that it took most of the night following the closing of the polls to determine the winner. By 3:30am however, NBC News was able to announce Jimmy Carter’s election as the 39 President of the US, a true blow to Ford.

For a variety of reasons, including the short length Ford was president, as well as the advent of typewriters; there are almost no handwritten letters in existence written by Ford while he held the office of president. One of those rare letters, which is found in the collection of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation and closely related to The Benjamin Shapell Family Manuscript Foundation, is, ironically, a thank-you letter to a friend who expressed her sympathy over his loss to Carter. The letter modestly reveals the true character of Ford, who admitted once to a collector that “frankly, I wrote very few” letter by hand. Even the letter thanking the man who prevented an assassination attempt on President Ford was typewritten. We can surmise from this that Ford was deeply hurt by his loss in the election, and deeply moved by his friend’s sympathy.

Jason Elsman

Jason Elsman is a periodic contributor to Left Justified, bringing his business knowledge and background to the publication. With 15 years on Wall Street, Jason offers a unique perspective on the business world as it impacts the political landscape. Jason also has a special fondness for history, and will write on this subject when the urge compels him Find Jason at carl(at)

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