Gerald Ford's pardon of Nixon for the crimes he committed during his presidency was quite an unpopular and controversial move. Why did he make this decision?

  • @TylerDurden The answer was posted nearly 3.5 years ago, no mind reading involved. Commented Feb 16, 2015 at 0:35
  • 1
    If this question were asked today, it would probably be closed for insufficient research. Given that it has an answer, I'll take no further action.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 11:39

3 Answers 3


One doesn't need to speculate, he specifically stated the reason why in Proclamation 4311:

It is believed that a trial of Richard Nixon, if it became necessary, could not fairly begin until a year or more has elapsed. In the meantime, the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States. The prospects of such trial will cause prolonged and divisive debate over the propriety of exposing to further punishment and degradation a man who has already paid the unprecedented penalty of relinquishing the highest elective office of the United States.

  • @choster Because there's obviously a conspiracy involved... :P
    – Luke_0
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 12:32
  • 7
    Waiddaminnit, we don't need to speculate that there was any other motive (an anticipated personal or party-political advantage, for example), because when a President proclaims something then it must be true? Isn't that how Nixon got into the whole mess in the first place, thinking he could make things true just by saying them? ;-) This certainly is the ostensible reason why, Ford's actual reason surely could be different? Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 18:21
  • It's also worth noting that, historically, prosecuting political leaders for what they did in office rarely ends well, and frequently sets off waves of retribution. If your goal is the welfare of the nation rather than doing justice on one particular person, letting them walk free in ignominy is the best solution.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 12:02

Conrad Black describes the circumstances in Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full as follows:

The inevitable swarms of conspiracy theorists claim that [Alexander] Haig brokered a pardon for Nixon from Ford. Both Haig and Ford deny this and have done so in identical and strenuous terms for over thirty years at the time of writing ... Further, Nixon considered himself a wronged and tormented man; he was not seeking anything that would imply admission that he had done anything that justified the present legal condition ...

At Ford's first presidential press conference, on August 28 [1974], there was a question about a possible pardon of Nixon, which Ford parried. Hugh Scott and [Nelson] Rockefeller had both said publicly that Nixon had endured enough and should not be pursued further. Ford said that he agreed with Scott and Rockefeller, but that there was no judicial process under way and he thought it inappropriate to comment further. The press took this to mean that Ford would pardon Nixon after a trial but not before ...

In Washington, Haig had spoken to Nixon and been bombarded with calls from his daughters and sons-in-law expressing concern about Nixon's health and morale. David Eisenhower called President Ford on August 28 and made the same point with him. [Leon] Jaworski advised Ford that he was not planning to ask for an early indictment against Nixon, but a grand jury might prefer one, and that it would take at least nine months to get a trial started. No one seriously thought it would be possible to empanel an impartial jury anywhere in the United States in such a case, and the timetable Jarkowski outlined would have the trial of the former president rolling into and trough the election year of 1976.

Ford told his counsel, Philip Buchen, to tell Nixon's new lawyer ... that he was considering a pardon, but that he wanted a statement from Nixon that would be an act of contrition ... There were four drafts, mainly composed by Nixon, who refused to acknowledge any guilt, but was prepared to express some remorse ...

[Benton] Becker finally requested to see Nixon, so he could report to Ford on his condition. He found the ex-president shockingly diminished in the month since he had left Washington. He was jowly, pallid, almost shrunken, and had a limp handshake and a distracted manner. Becker reported to Ford that Nixon was severely depressed and he doubted if he would life more than another couple of months.

On Sunday, September 8, Ford went on television on radio, explained that he wished to put Watergate behind the country and the terrible divisions it had created, and read his proclamation of a "full, free, and absolute" pardon for Nixon.

Hope this helps.

  • 2
    Believing Haig about anything is not really going to get you towards the truth.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 15:54
  • I'm just citing sources (being aware that Conrad Black, "convicted fellon and historian" according to Wikipedia, is himself in part a problematic source, who e.g./neverthelesss has an excellent FDR biography to his name) :)
    – Drux
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 15:59
  • 1
    @MartinSchröder thx for fixing typos ... good service to the community :)
    – Drux
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 18:41

There is no clear answer to this question, as President Ford did not give one before his death. Many speculate that President Nixon made a deal with Ford, stating that he would resign the presidency, allowing Ford to assume the office, with the condition that Ford would pardon Nixon. Ford made Nixon sweat, and did not pardon him immediately.

There is no direct evidence, however, that such a deal was made. Perhaps Ford felt it was the right thing to do, given that Nixon was made to take the entire fall for the Watergate scandal. Or perhaps Ford still held friendly regard for his one-time friend and colleague. Unfortunately, nobody will ever have a definite answer, since both parties are dead.

  • 2
    Hmmm ... almost the entire effort of historians is spent on searching evidence from and answers for the past, i.e. studying affairs where the parties have long been dead. And how more "definite" an answer you would hope to get from, say, Nixon if he were still alive?
    – Drux
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 18:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.