A Ford not a Lincoln

Posted: Dec 29, 2006 1:40 PM
A Ford not a Lincoln

• When Congressman Ford became Vice President Ford he said,"I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln. My addresses will never be as eloquent as Mr. Lincoln's. But I will do my very best to equal his brevity and his plain speaking."

• You know, by now, that Ford was the only person to be President without having first been elected to either the Vice Presidency or Presidency.

Ford became Vice President because Spiro Agnew had resigned under a cloud of corruption on October 10, 1973.

• Ford became President because Richard Nixon resigned under the weight of Watergate on August 9, 1974 having announced, in a speech the night before:

"I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office"

• But the story of how Congressman Gerry Ford became President Gerald R. Ford began well before that.

• In the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963, the issues of Presidential incapacity were raised in Congress. What if, given the advances in medicine even then, Kennedy had lived, but had suffered such grave damage to his brain that he was incapable of discharging his duties?

Abraham Lincoln lay in a coma for several hours before he died. James Garfield became increasingly incapacitated in the 80 days from the day he was shot twice to the time he succumbed to the injuries. Woodrow Wilson suffered a serious stroke with 18 months to go in his term. And Dwight Eisenhower suffered both a heart attack and a stroke during his Presidency.

• In 1965 the Congress adopted the 25th Amendment which was sponsored by Senator Birch Bayh (D-IN) and Rep. Emmanuel Celler (D-NY). It not only laid out the procedures how to proceed in such a case, but also provided for filling of a vacancy in the office of Vice President.

• Seven Vice Presidents had died in office and one (prior to Agnew) had resigned - Calhoun to take a seat in the US Senate. In each case the death of the President would have resulted in the elevation of the Speaker of the House to the Presidency.

• The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 and provides that:

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

• The 25th Amendment also provides for having the Vice President assume the duties of "Acting President. According to the NY Times:

Under Section 3 of the 25th amendment, whenever the President makes a written declaration to the Speaker of the House and the President pro tem of the Senate ''that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,'' the President's powers and duties are transferred to the Vice President, who becomes the Acting President.

• When President Ronald Reagan underwent surgery in 1985 he, at 10:32 AM temporarily transferred power, via just such a letter, to Vice President George H.W. Bush for the brief period when he was under general anesthetic He reclaimed power at about 7:22 PM that evening.

• As it happened, the Mullings Director of Standards & Practices and I were in Washington on the evening of August 8, 1974 when Richard Nixon announced his resignation, and we had a copy of the Washington Post from the next day "NIXON RESIGNS" for many years.

• When we decided to leave Ohio, we chose to move to Washington largely on the basis of the extraordinary activity and excitement that had engulfed the Nation's Capital on that day.

• If not for the 25th Amendment there would have been, for the ninth time in US History, no sitting Vice President and, under the terms of the Presidential Succession act of 1947, the Democratic Speaker of the House, Carl Albert (D-OK) would have become President of the United States.

• As President Ford said upon his becoming President:

"Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy."

• Rest well, Gerry Ford, in the presence of that higher Power.