TIP SHEET: University of Virginia Experts on President Gerald R. Ford

December 27, 2006

Scholars at the University of Virginia who have studied aspects of the presidency of Gerald Ford remembered the late president as "greatly underrated" and possessing a "bipartisan spirit" but disagree on the impact of his pardon of Richard Nixon.

The following scholars are available to talk with the media about Ford's legacy in the wake of his death at age 93 on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2006

• James Sterling Young, The Randolph P. Compton Scholar and Senior Director of the Kennedy Oral History Project

James Sterling Young launched the Oral History Program in 1981. He was awarded the Bancroft Prize in 1967 for his book The Washington Community, 1800-1828.

“I think Gerald Ford was greatly underrated at the time,” said Young, who believes Ford will be most remembered for pardoning President Richard M. Nixon and being “a calming and healing voice for the country at that time and not an exploiter for his own benefit. He was courageous, and he put the well-being of the country first, helping it get over the poison of Nixon’s corruption and impeachment.”

Ford had been an excellent legislator, and Young said he took that experience into the White House. While Young believes Ford will be remembered for stating during a presidential candidate debate that Poland was not then dominated by the Soviet Union, he had other foreign policy accomplishments.

“People forget that Ford was the one who pulled people out of Saigon, where he basically had to mop up an impossible situation that had been left to him,” Young said. “He was given a bad reputation by that but that was offset by the strong and decisive action he took on the Mayaguez (a U.S. merchant ship seized in international waters by Cambodia.)”

“Gerald Ford is the type of president people today wish they had now,” Young said. 
Young may be reached at (434) 982-2763 or jsy@virginia.edu

• Brian Balogh, Co-Chair of the American Political Development Program and Mayo Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of History

Brian Balogh teaches Viewing America: The United States 1945 to the Present, The Press and U.S. Politics. He also teaches graduate colloquia and seminars on 20th Century American Political Development and The United States from 1865 to the Present. His book, A Government Out of Sight: The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth Century America, will be published in 2007.

“President Ford’s standing in history has improved with time.  He assumed the presidency at a difficult time in this nation’s history," Balogh said. “As a long-time leader of the Republican minority in Congress, Ford knew how to compromise on issues of fundamental importance to Americans.  As we look back on the Ford presidency from the vantage point of today’s partisan rancor, his moderate approach and bipartisan spirit are qualities that many of today’s leaders might well learn from.”

Brian Balogh may be reached at (434) 243-8971 or bb9s@virginia.edu

• Sidney Milkis, Co-Chair of the American Political Development Program and Chair of the University’s Department of Politics

Milkis teaches American Political Development and The American Presidency. In August 2005, Mr. Milkis co-edited and published The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism. His books include: The President and the Parties: The Transformation of the American Party System Since the New Deal (1993); Political Parties and Constitutional Government: Remaking American Democracy (1999); Presidential Greatness (2000), coauthored with Marc Landy; and The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776-2002 (2003), 4th edition, coauthored with Michael Nelson.

“Succeeding Nixon, in the wake of Watergate, Gerald Ford promised on taking office that the country’s ‘long national nightmare’ [was] over. Ford's modest persona and personal integrity did much to heal the country. But his pardon of Richard Nixon, a month after he became president, aroused strong opposition from the public and Democratic Congress, and greatly weakened his ability to govern. By the end of his tenure, the press’s celebration of Ford's unpretentious personal style was transformed into an attitude of scorn and ridicule; indeed, as Ford himself admitted, on his watch, the pendulum shifted dramatically to Congress, so much so that the presidency appeared to be slipping into receivership.”

Milkis may be reached at smm8e@virginia.edu or (434) 924-3037

• Charles W. McCurdy, Professor of History and Law

Charles W. McCurdy's scholarship explores the sources and effects of legal change in United States history. He is currently studying federalism and the transformation of American legal thought since the New Deal. His publications include:  “The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839-1865,” 2001; “The ‘Liberty of Contract’ Regime in American Law,” in The State and Freedom of Contract, ed. Harry N. Scheiber, 1998; and “The Knight Sugar Decision of 1895 and the Modernization of American Corporation Law,” 1979.

“The president has a pardon power that can be exercised for any reason. [Ford’s pardon pf Nixon] was a tough call but a lot of people seem to think he made the right one,” McCurdy said.

McCurdy may be contacted at (434) 924-7972 (office), (434) 293-3210 (home) or cwm@virginia.edu

• Seth Center, Fellow at the Miller Center for Public Affairs

Seth Center is studying the foreign policies of Ford and Nixon and how they worked on building the United States’ image overseas.

He may be reached at (202) 431-6314.

• The Miller Center for Public Affairs is home to the Presidential Recordings Project, where scholars transcribe and analyze the secret White House recordings from the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations. Here’s the audio and transcript (in flash) of a conversation between President Johnson and then-Rep. Ford, in which LBJ congratulates him on being elected House minority leader. http://www.whitehousetapes.org/clips/1965_0119_ford/

More materials:


There are tapes available for your use at http://www.whitehousetapes.org.

President Kennedy, Robert McNamara, and McCone discuss Ford (transcript): http://www.whitehousetapes.org/transcripts/jfk_3_pub/09_oct23.pdf

President Johnson Appoints Ford to Warren Commission: http://www.whitehousetapes.org/clips/1963_1129_ford/

Congratulations…and a Request: http://www.whitehousetapes.org/clips/1965_0119_ford/

LBJ and Ford on Bombing in Vietnam: http://www.whitehousetapes.org/clips/1965_0617_ford/

President Richard M. Nixon and Gerald Ford on antiwar demonstrations: http://www.whitehousetapes.org/clips/1971_0505_ford/


In 2001, President Ford served as co-chair of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. Materials from the commission are at: http://www.millercenter.org/programs/natl_commissions/final_report.html

Ford also participated in the 1992 Commission on Choosing and Using Vice Presidents: http://millercenter.virginia.edu/programs/natl_commissions/past_commissions/comm_1992.pdf





Ford papers


Oral History

Caspar Weinberger (November 19, 2002) http://webstorage1.mcpa.virginia.edu/library/mc/poh/rwr/transcripts/weinberger_caspar.pdf

Ford on AmericanPresident.org: http://www.americanpresident.org/history/geraldford/

The Ford Presidency: http://webstorage1.mcpa.virginia.edu/library/mc/forums/published/portrait7.pdf