In a controversial executive action, President Gerald Ford pardons his disgraced predecessor Richard M. Nixon for any crimes he may have committed or participated in while in office. Ford later defended this action before the House Judiciary Committee, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.

The Watergate scandal erupted after it was revealed that Nixon and his aides had engaged in illegal activities during his reelection campaign–and then attempted to cover up evidence of wrongdoing. With impeachment proceedings underway against him in Congress, Nixon bowed to public pressure and became the first American president to resign. At noon on August 9, Nixon officially ended his term, departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn. Minutes later, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States in the East Room of the White House. After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

Ford, the first president who came to the office through appointment rather than election, had replaced Spiro Agnew as vice president only eight months before. In a political scandal independent of the Nixon administration’s wrongdoings in the Watergate affair, Agnew had been forced to resign in disgrace after he was charged with income tax evasion and political corruption. Exactly one month after Nixon announced his resignation, Ford issued the former president a “full, free and absolute” pardon for any crimes he committed while in office. The pardon was widely condemned at the time.

Decades later, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented its 2001 Profile in Courage Award to Gerald Ford for his 1974 pardon of Nixon. In pardoning Nixon, said the foundation, Ford placed his love of country ahead of his own political future and brought needed closure to the divisive Watergate affair. Ford left politics after losing the 1976 presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Ford died on December 26, 2006, at the age of 93.

READ MORE: How Many US Presidents Have Faced Impeachment? 

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Delano Grape Strike begins

September 8, 1965 marks the beginning of one of the most important strikes in American history. As over 2,000 Filipino-American farm workers refused to go to work picking grapes in the valley north of Bakersfield, California, they set into motion a chain of events that would ...read more

Michelangelo’s statue of David is unveiled to the public

One of the world’s most beloved works art, “David,” the 17-foot-tall, 12,000-pound marble masterpiece by Michelangelo Buonarroti, is unveiled to the public in Florence, Italy’s Piazza della Signoria. Carved from a single block of white Italian Carrara marble that had been ...read more

Siege of Leningrad begins

During World War II, German forces begin their siege of Leningrad, a major industrial center and the USSR’s second-largest city. The German armies were later joined by Finnish forces that advanced against Leningrad down the Karelian Isthmus. The siege of Leningrad, also known as ...read more

New Amsterdam becomes New York

Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrenders New Amsterdam, the capital of New Netherland, to an English naval squadron under Colonel Richard Nicolls. Stuyvesant had hoped to resist the English, but he was an unpopular ruler, and his Dutch subjects refused to rally around him. ...read more

Italian surrender is announced

On September 8, 1943, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower publicly announces the surrender of Italy to the Allies. Germany reacted with Operation Axis, the Allies with Operation Avalanche. With Mussolini deposed from power and the earlier collapse of the fascist government in July, Gen. ...read more

SEATO established

Having been directed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to put together an alliance to contain any communist aggression in the free territories of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, or Southeast Asia in general, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles forges an agreement establishing a ...read more

RIAA begins suing individual sharers of copyrighted mp3 files

“Nobody likes playing the heavy and having to resort to litigation,” said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on September 8, 2003, “but when your product is being regularly stolen, there comes a time when you have to take appropriate ...read more

Oprah goes national

On September 8, 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show is broadcast nationally for the first time. A huge success, her daytime television talk show turns Winfrey into one of the most powerful, wealthy people in show business and, arguably, one of the most influential women in America. ...read more

Deadly hurricane batters Texas

One of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history hits Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900, killing more than 6,000 people. The storm caused so much destruction on the Texas coast that reliable estimates of the number of victims are difficult to make. Some believe that as many ...read more

Louisiana senator Huey Long is shot

Senator Huey Long is shot in the Louisiana state capitol building. He died about 30 hours later. Called a demagogue by critics, the populist leader was a larger-than-life figure who boasted that he bought legislators “like sacks of potatoes, shuffled them like a deck of cards.” ...read more

American troops arrive in Korea to partition the country

U.S. troops land in Korea to begin their postwar occupation of the southern part of that nation, almost exactly one month after Soviet troops had entered northern Korea to begin their own occupation. Although the U.S. and Soviet occupations were supposed to be temporary, the ...read more

Rebels thwart Yankees at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass

On September 8, 1863, at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass, a small Confederate force thwarts a Federal invasion of Texas at the mouth of the Sabine River on the Texas-Louisiana border. In November 1862, Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder assumed command of the District of ...read more

Bloody battle begins at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina

After receiving reinforcements, Major General Nathanael Greene of the Continental Army resumes offensive action against Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart and the British soldiers at Eutaw Springs, located on the banks of the Santee River in South Carolina. The Patriots ...read more

German airship hits central London

On September 8, 1915, a German Zeppelin commanded by Heinrich Mathy, one of the great airship commanders of World War I, hits Aldersgate in central London, killing 22 people and causing £500,000 worth of damage. The Zeppelin, a motor-driven rigid airship, was developed by German ...read more