Revisiting President Ford’s Pardon of Richard Nixon

The other day I read (for the first time) Gerald Ford’s speech giving the pardon to Richard Nixon. What caught my attention was the degree to which Ford justified the pardon on the grounds that Nixon could not get a fair trial:

After years of bitter controversy and divisive national debate, I have been advised, and I am compelled to conclude that many months and perhaps more years will have to pass before Richard Nixon could obtain a fair trial by jury in any jurisdiction of the United States under governing decisions of the Supreme Court.

. . .

The facts, as I see them, are that a former President of the United States, instead of enjoying equal treatment with any other citizen accused of violating the law, would be cruelly and excessively penalized either in preserving the presumption of his innocence or in obtaining a speedy determination of his guilt in order to repay a legal debt to society.

During this long period of delay and potential litigation, ugly passions would again be aroused. And our people would again be polarized in their opinions. And the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad.

In the end, the courts might well hold that Richard Nixon had been denied due process, and the verdict of history would even be more inconclusive with respect to those charges arising out of the period of his Presidency, of which I am presently aware.

I guess I always thought of the pardon as being primarily about ending Watergate and healing the nation. Those considerations were relevant to Ford’s decision, but may not have predominated.


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