On this day in 1974, one day after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as president, making him the first man to assume the presidency upon his predecessor’s resignation. He was also the first non-elected vice president and non-elected president, which made his ascendance to the presidency all the more unique.
Congress had accused Nixon of obstruction of justice during the investigation of the Watergate scandal, which began in 1972. White House tape recordings revealed that Nixon knew about and may have authorized the bugging of the Democratic National Committee offices, located in the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. Rather than be impeached and removed from office, Nixon chose to resign on August 8, 1974.
Ford had become Nixon’s second vice president after the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew in October 1973 due to accusations of graft and tax evasion. Ford pardoned Nixon immediately upon becoming president, citing a desire to put the past behind a country still reeling in the aftermath of the divisive Vietnam War and a series of corruption scandals capped off by Watergate and Nixon’s resignation.
Ford had been elected to Congress in 1948; his legislative career included service on the Warren Commission that investigated President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Ironically, Ford became the target of two assassination attempts during his own presidency. On September 5, 1975, in Sacramento, California, a woman named Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme attempted to shoot the president, but her gun misfired. Seventeen days later, on September 22, Ford narrowly escaped another assassination attempt, this time by Sara Jane Moore in San Francisco. Fromme, a drug-addled Charles Manson cult follower, and Moore, a mentally unstable former FBI informant who fell into fringe revolutionary politics, both targeted Ford as a symbol of their hatred for the political establishment. Both women were apprehended and sent to prison.
According to White House historians, Ford described his administration’s policies as “moderate in domestic affairs, conservative in fiscal affairs, and internationalist in foreign affairs.” Ford finished out Nixon’s second term and ran for president as the incumbent in the election of 1976; he lost to Jimmy Carter.