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Gerald Ford is the only president from Michigan. Here's why he has a unique place in US history

Posted at 10:59 AM, Feb 19, 2024

As Presidents Day is celebrated every third Monday in February, we want to take a look at the only president from Michigan – Gerald R. Ford.

Ford was actually born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. in Nebraska on July 14, 1913, but his mother, Dorothy Gardner King, moved to Grand Rapids when he was two weeks old as she was fleeing an abusive relationship.

All information cited from the Gerald Ford Presidential Library & Museum

In 1917, his mother married Gerald R. Ford, Sr., a businessman in Grand Rapids, and that's when he was renamed Gerald R. Ford, Jr.

Ford was America's 38th president, and he has a unique place in American history. He's the only person to become president without winning an election as either president or vice president.

But, how did that happen?

It started with Vice President Spiro Agnew, who was the VP for President Richard Nixon. Agnew was under investigation for accepting bribes and tax evasion while he was the governor of Maryland. Because of that, Agnew resigned on Oct. 10, 1973.

Under the 25th Amendment, Nixon was allowed to nominate a new vice president after being confirmed by a majority vote of both the House and the Senate.

Ford has been a congressman for more than two decades and was also the House Minority Leader in 1973. Two days after Agnew's resignation, Nixon nominated Ford to be the next vice president. By November and December, his nomination was approved by a vote of 92-3 in the Senate and 387-35 in the House. He took the oath of office on Dec. 6, 1973 in front of a joint session of Congress after the House approved the nomination.

What Michiganders said about President Gerald R. Ford after his death

As Ford took over as vice president, the Watergate scandal continued to grow. The tapes were eventually released, impeachment proceedings began, and according to the Ford Library and Museum, Nixon's chief of staff, Al Haig, told Ford he should prepare for a transition to the presidency on Aug. 1, 1974.

Ford was only vice president for 245 days when Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 8, 1974. Ford was sworn in as president on Aug. 9, 1974, under the 25th Amendment.

During remarks he gave after taking the oath, Ford acknowledged the unique situation both he and the country were in.

"I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers. And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many," he said, according to the Ford Library.

He later said, "I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends. They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name. It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people."

On Sept. 8, 1974, Ford pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while he was president, which had a major impact on approval ratings.

He was nominated to run on the Republican ticket for the 1976 election and kicked off his campaign in September 1976 a the University of Michigan, facing Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.

Carter won the election with 50.1% of the vote compared to 48% for Ford, but had a large electoral college win – 297-240.

Ford reportedly considered a run for president in 1980 but ultimately decided against it. The Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids was dedicated in 1981.

Ford died at his home in California on Dec. 26, 2006, at the age of 93. There were funerals in California, Washington D.C. and Grand Rapids.

He and his wife, Betty, are interred on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. The burial site is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Other facts about Gerald Ford

Ford attended Madison Elementary School, East Grand Rapids Elementary School and Grand Rapids South High School (Class of 1931). He played football, basketball and track, and was all-city and all-state in football.

He then went to the University of Michigan as part of the class of 1935 and majored in economics. He also played football at U-M as a center and linebacker, eventually becoming the starting center. He was named team MVP in his senior year and played in two all-star games. He also had contract offers from both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, but turned them down to go to Yale Law School.

Examining Gerald R. Ford's football career at Michigan

Ford joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and was on active duty until 1946, serving aboard the USS Monterey and rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-American Campaign Medal with one silver star and four bronze stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two bronze stars.

He served in the U.S. House from 1949-1973 until he was sworn in as vice president. He lost the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter and left office on Jan. 20, 1977.