Richard Nixon is one of the most well-known pardons in American history. It was one that people either agreed with or were completely against, there was very little in-between and it affected the political culture of the country until the next election. Gerald Ford was put in a tough position in which his friend and the former president was facing punishment for crimes against the country and a trial that could threaten the stability of the country. A trial in which an American president was shown to be a criminal could have lasting repercussions in and out of the United States.
Richard Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 and when Gerald Ford took the presidency one of his first decisions was what to do with Nixon. He knew that a pardon would be largely unpopular but still felt that it was the right thing to do. He contacted Nixon who was initially unsure of whether or not to accept the pardon and he refused to sign a statement of contrition. Nixon still felt that he had not done anything wrong and therefore did not want to sign anything that stated he was guilty. Ford agreed with Nixon and on September 8, 1974, he issued a full pardon which removed any possibility of indictment.
The pardon drew scrutiny and even led to Gerald Ford being called to testify before the House of Representatives. Many believed that a corrupt bargain had been struck in which Nixon agreed to resign so that Ford could take the presidency in return for a full pardon. This was denied by Ford and Nixon but the rumors continued and Ford’s approval rating never recovered. Ford would later admit that the pardon was a major reason why he lost the election in 1976.
Gerald Ford would always be haunted by the outcome of the pardon. He would carry around a portion of the text of Burdick v. the United States in his wallet. The case was a Supreme Court decision which suggested that pardon carried an “imputation of guilt” and that accepting a pardon was the same as admitting guilt. By Nixon accepting the pardon, he was, in some small way, admitting his guilt to the crimes that he was likely to be incriminated for. Gerald Ford would later get the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for issuing the pardon. Ted Kennedy admitted that he was against the pardon when it happened but later stated that it was the right move.