On the morning of August 10, 1974, the 38th President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, woke up and prepared for his first full day as the most powerful person in the world. Thanks to two major scandals reaching into the highest levels of the Executive branch of government, the 60-year-old Ford, who had spent nearly a quarter-century in the U.S. House of Representatives rocketed into power. In a span of just over 250 days, Ford went from House Minority Leader to Vice President of the United States and, as of the previous day, President. For the first time in history, the occupant of the White House had never been on a ballot in a national election.
Actually, Ford didn’t quite occupy the White House yet. In December 1973, when Ford was nominated to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew who resigned in disgrace after an investigation into charges of bribery, extortion, and tax evasion, a mansion at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. was being remodeled to serve as the official residence of the Vice President. The work was not yet finished when Congress confirmed Ford as the 40th Vice President. Fortunately, Ford’s long Congressional career had led him and his wife, Betty, to purchase a modest home in Alexandria, Virginia. With the Naval Observatory still being fixed up, the Fords remained in Alexandria. Security was beefed up in the neighborhood by the Secret Service and gaggles of reporters seemed to always be close by, but Ford saw no reason to change his familiar habits — the new Vice President was frequently photographed stepping outside in his bathrobe each morning to retrieve his newspaper.
During Ford’s brief Vice Presidency, the Watergate scandal raged out of control and engulfed President Richard Nixon. As the summer of 1974 approached, it was clear that President Nixon’s days were numbered, but no one knew for sure if he would stand and fight until impeached and removed from office, or if he would recognize the futility of such a battle and resign. When Nixon finally made the decision to resign and hand the Presidency over to Ford, it happened suddenly. It was the White House Chief of Staff, Alexander Haig, who called Ford at home in Alexandria and told him that he should be prepared to assume the Presidency at a moment’s notice. After speaking to Haig, Ford turned to his wife and told her, “Betty, I don’t think we’re ever going to live at the Vice President’s house.”
On August 8, 1974, Nixon officially announced that he was resigning and that Ford would become President at noon the following day. Before Ford took the oath of office in the East Room of the White House, he and Betty accompanied President and Mrs. Nixon to a helicopter which transported the Nixons into exile in Southern California. But the resignation and departure had happened so quickly there was not enough time for movers to clear the Nixon family’s possessions from the White House Residence. So, after one of the most dramatic and historically significant days in the life of the United States, the new President and First Lady headed back to their familiar home in Alexandria. For a short time, President Ford, like millions of other Americans, commuted each morning from the suburbs to his office. Ford’s office just happened to be the Oval Office.
After a few weeks, the Fords finally made the move to the White House. In preparation for the move, the President and First Lady helped with the packing at their Alexandria home. Going through one box, President Ford found some old clothing of his and nonchalantly suggested to Betty, “Well, I guess we should send these to the Goodwill.”
Betty looked in the box, shook her head with a smile on her face, and told her husband, “Jerry, I think some of this stuff may be a little important now. We’d better keep them.”
The President of the United States had almost donated the Navy uniforms that he wore while serving on the USS Monterey in the South Pacific during World War II.
Those uniforms eventually found a good home. Instead of ending up on a discount rack at a Goodwill store, those uniforms are now on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
People will sometimes bring up the Presidents of the Continental Congress and suggest that they were the first American Presidents, but it’s important to recognize how vastly different the position of President of the Continental Congress was from President of the United States. The Presidents of Congress held a largely ceremonial position — basically a chairmanship of a legislative body, and not even a powerful chairmanship at that. The Presidents of Congress had no executive authority whatsoever; it was a parliamentary position that was so weak that many of the Revolutionary leaders who served in the Continental Congress dreaded the thought of being elected President because they actually had more influence and a more active role in the proceedings if they weren’t the presiding officer.
Even if there had been executive authority vested in the Presidents of the Continental Congress, Huntington’s claim as the first is somewhat tenuous. Technically, Huntington was the 7th President of the Continental Congress (Virginia’s Peyton Randolph was the 1st). During Huntington’s Presidency, the Articles of Confederation went into effect, so the fact that his time presiding over the Congress overlapped with the ratification of the Articles is his only claim to being first. John Hanson, who succeeded Huntington, was actually the first elected President of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, but there was no difference in the job before and after the ratification of the Articles. It was still the same powerless, legislative chairmanship that it always was. The only thing it had common with the Presidency as we know it today is the title “President”. But, in reality, Presidents of the Continental Congress were closer in similarity to today’s President of the Senate — and, even then, the Senate President has more power because the President of the Continental Congress wasn’t able to drive the debate or set the agenda followed by the Congress.
According to their official story, the Curtiss Candy Company named the “Baby Ruth” candy bar after Grover Cleveland’s oldest daughter, Ruth Cleveland — not after the famous baseball player Babe Ruth.
While it’s hard to dispute a company’s “official” explanation, it’s also difficult to believe them. When the “Kandy Kake” bar, as it was originally called, was renamed “Baby Ruth” in 1922, Babe Ruth was the most famous baseball player in the United States. As for Ruth Cleveland — popularly nicknamed “Baby Ruth” by the press during her father’s Presidency which had ended a quarter of a century earlier — well, she had been dead since 1904. President Cleveland himself had been dead for 14 years when the “Baby Ruth” was released.
What’s the real story? Did the Curtiss Candy Company pay tribute to a former President’s daughter who just happened to die almost twenty years before the candy bar came out? Probably not. It’s likely this simple: Curtiss named their candy bar after the most famous athlete in America and didn’t want to pay the Bambino any royalties, so they brilliantly claimed the candy bar was an homage to Cleveland’s daughter.
During her short lifetime, Ruth Cleveland was a nationwide sensation. Born in 1891, during the interregnum between Cleveland’s non-consecutive Presidential terms, Ruth became a press darling when Cleveland returned to the White House in 1893. That year, Ruth’s sister Esther became the only child of a President to be born in the White House itself. Sadly, Ruth was a sickly child. Her father doted on her, but she died of diptheria at the age of 12 in 1904. Some say that Grover Cleveland never recovered from the heartbreaking loss of his “Baby Ruth” and his health rapidly failed, dying four years later.
As for Babe Ruth, he is still a legend and he had other interactions with Presidents. When he met Ruth, Calvin Coolidge greeted the slugger, “Hello, Mr. Ruth.” The Babe, sweating on a hot day, looked at the President, wiped the perspiration from his forehead and said, “Hot as hell, ain’t it, Prez?”. During the Presidency of Coolidge’s successor, a reporter mentioned to the Babe that some people thought it was unfair that Ruth pulled in a larger salary than the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. Babe agreed, “I know,” before adding, “but I had a better year than Hoover.”
Gerald Ford is the first President that comes to mind. By almost all accounts, Ford was a wonderful man who, despite his lengthy political career, made friends everywhere he went, on both sides of the ideological spectrum. He was the longest-living President in history, yet I’ve never heard someone say something bad about him personally.
The other name that I think of is William McKinley. If you look at photographs of McKinley, he has a severe, sober look to him, but people loved him — his friends, his supporters, and his opponents. McKinley was a sweet, cheerful man who made friends quickly and put everyone at ease. It was said that McKinley wore a red carnation in his lapel and in meetings when he had to decline somebody’s request he would give his carnation away so his visitor wouldn’t leave empty-handed. And at a time when people with physical handicaps were often hidden, McKinley took special care to keep his epileptic wife involved in his public life. If she had a seizure in public, McKinley would subtly hold a handkerchief near her face so that she wasn’t embarrassed and then act like nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. When Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley in Buffalo, his immediate reaction was to tell the crowd not to hurt his assassin. Then he thought of his wife, Ida, and told his aide George Cortelyou, “My wife, be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her — oh, be careful.” Even as he was seriously wounded from the gunshot wounds which would kill him, McKinley was thinking of others.
Lincoln and Kennedy are more iconic figures because Lincoln led the country through the Civil War and was murdered just days after Lee surrendered to Grant and Kennedy and his young family truly felt like a page in American history had been turned and the country was moving forward with the first President born in the 20th Century. There was also a bigger shock with the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. Lincoln was the first President to be assassinated, many people saw him as almost the symbolic final casualty of the Civil War, and his funeral was a national event with stops in over a dozen American cities over twenty days. JFK was shot to death in front of many people (including his wife), in the middle of the day, in a major American city, and the man charged with his assassination was himself murdered just two days later live on national television.
Garfield and McKinley weren’t quite as charismatic as Lincoln or Kennedy, and they hadn’t made as much of an impact on daily American life as Lincoln and Kennedy. Garfield had only been President for a couple of months and McKinley was a low-key figure — an able, popular President, but not as beloved by as many people as Lincoln or Kennedy. But it is important to note that, at the time of their assassinations, Garfield and McKinley were widely mourned by the American people, much like Lincoln and Kennedy were. Their deaths just didn’t have as lasting of an impact.
Another possible reason for the differences in the assassinations might be the immediate impact. The Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations were sudden and their deaths were immediately shocking. Lincoln was shot late in the evening of April 14, 1865, there was no hope of recovery, and he died early the next morning. Kennedy was basically killed instantly. He was still breathing when he reached the hospital, but there wasn’t a single person who expected him to survive the massive head wound that he suffered.
With Garfield and McKinley, neither President died instantly. In fact, at some point following their respective shootings it was believed that Garfield and McKinley both might survive their wounds. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881 and survived until September 19th. In reality, President Garfield didn’t die directly from his gunshot wounds — he died from infections introduced into his body by doctors who probed his wounds with their dirty fingers and unsterilized instruments. McKinley didn’t survive his shooting nearly as long as Garfield did, but he lingered for 8 days after being shot on September 6, 1901, dying on September 14th. Garfield and McKinley rallied enough while fighting for their lives that it raised hopes that they might survive. Indeed, they would have survived with better medical care. When Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, his wounds were far more serious than those which killed Garfield and McKinley.
So, while the nation was still stunned and devastated by the deaths of Garfield and McKinley, they didn’t have the same immediate impact as the deaths of Lincoln and Kennedy. With Garfield and McKinley, the American people had a little bit of time to prepare for the worst. That didn’t necessarily make it easier to accept, but I think it possibly softened the blow.
Another possibility is that the assassins of Garfield and McKinley were both captured, brought to trial, convicted, and executed. John Wilkes Booth very nearly made his way to the Deep South and possible escape after shooting Lincoln but he was cornered and killed rather than being arrested and tried. And, of course, Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered while in police custody which helped perpetuate conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination that a majority of Americans believe are true.
Plus, as I wrote in my ranking of Wilson in 2012:
"I think it’s important for people to realize the type of leader he was — stubborn, paranoid, uncompromising, and, in the last 18 months of his Presidency, a crippled, gravely-ill, mentally-handicapped man who clinged to the Presidency with the help of his wife, a few doctors, and several aides. Is that a good President? I don’t think so."
In an answer to another reader’s question a while back, I expanded on my thoughts about Wilson (and included some previous things that I have written about him — opinions that I still strongly support):
"Woodrow Wilson was a lot of things, but he certainly wasn’t a good man. I disagree with your teacher regarding the First World War not concerning the United States. We played an important role in the war and it really expanded and solidified the U.S.’s position as a superpower. One of the problems with Wilson (and it’s just one of MANY problems with Wilson) is that he probably waited too long to get the U.S. involved in the war. Wilson probably should have gotten the American military ready much sooner.
I definitely agree with your teacher that Wilson’s intentions were not exactly pure. To get deeper into the subject, I’ll just copy and paste some past comments I’ve made about Wilson and his “idealism”, which was largely an effort to remake the world in the manner that he genuinely thought God put him on Earth and in the Presidency to see fit. I’ve written before that Wilson’s idealism is similar to George W. Bush’s:
I can’t speak for you, but there are many reasons I dislike Wilson. First of all, he was a virulent racist and vicious about it. Some Presidents had antiquated racial views, but Wilson just flat-out didn’t like people who weren’t white Christians. So, as a person, Wilson was garbage.
Then, politically, his “idealism” was no different than George W. Bush’s idealism. In fact, I’ve said it many times before: I think that Wilson and Bush were VERY similar Presidents. Here are two past things that I’ve written about my dislike for Wilson:
Woodrow Wilson governed in the same manner as George W. Bush. Wilson’s beliefs were so intractable that not only was he convinced that he was always correct, but he was determined to prove that anyone who didn’t agree with him was worse than wrong. Wilson felt that all of his opponents were enemies who stood on the wrong side of history, providence, and national survival. Throughout his life and career, Woodrow Wilson believed that God ordained his success, placed him in a position of power, and intended for Wilson to zealously and tirelessly pursue his policies, ignore his supporters and colleagues, and stubbornly force his views on everyone else.
and, this, from when I was asked if Wilson would have approved of the Iraq War:
Woodrow Wilson is partly responsible for the Iraq War.
George W. Bush’s belief that it is America’s role to spread democracy and fight tyranny around the world is rooted in Wilsonian thinking. Bush was emulating Wilson. He felt that Iraq was a place where democracy could take hold if Saddam Hussein were out of the picture. Bush would argue that the Iraq War was not imperialistic, and I believe Woodrow Wilson would support that viewpoint.
Wilsonian idealism consisted of many things, but one of the main points was this belief that what is good for us in the United States is just as good for the rest of the world. Wilson felt that we basically knew what was best for everyone else and if you’re looking for someone who mirrored that thinking, you’d find him in President Bush.
Bush and Wilson came from different places and different parties and their wars were waged for different reasons. Our entry into World War I was for a very good reason while the Iraq War was despicable. The goal of both Wilson and Bush, however, was to export American-style democracy — either to ensure peace or to create a system where American leadership and military might was required to sustain a growing capitalist society.
I could get a lot of heat for comparing Wilson and Bush, but people need to dig deeper and really understand that they thought the same way, they acted the same way, and they were both stubborn Presidents who wanted things done a certain way (THEIR way) or else they were fine with seeing everything crumble.
Wilson wouldn’t frown because the Iraq War was imperialistic. He would have frowned because he didn’t think of it before Bush did.”
Two years before the hopelessly crazy Richard Lawrence infamously attempted to shoot President Andrew Jackson and miraculously misfired with two different pistols before Jackson attacked him with his cane, Jackson was assaulted in an incident that has fallen through the cracks of history.
On May 6, 1833, Jackson and some of his Cabinet took a steamboat trip down the Potomac River to lay the cornerstone for a monument being erected to honor George Washington’s mother. Jackson was 66 years old, in poor health, and weary from the 1832 re-election campaign and his troubles with a hostile Congress led by his former Vice President John C. Calhoun. Still, Jackson was, as always, feisty.
In Alexandria, Virginia, the steamboat was tied up at shore and Jackson read a newspaper as he sat at a table in a cabin. Suddenly, the President was interrupted by a former Navy lieutenant, Robert Randolph, whose firing Jackson had ordered when Randolph was accused of theft. Randolph said nothing. Instead, he quickly approached Jackson and punched the President directly in the face.
Jackson was trapped in his chair behind the table as Randolph was quickly held back by some of Jackson’s associates and some of Randolph’s own friends who had boarded the steamboat with Randolph. Jackson angrily yelled, “What, Sir! What, Sir!”, as he scrambled to get out of his seat and lunged for his cane.
Randolph was quickly thrown off the boat and arrested. Jackson was not seriously hurt but he was furious and embarrassed, storming around the cabin and swearing about the attack. Later, Old Hickory would say, “Had I been apprised that Randolph stood before me, I should have been prepared for him, and I could have defended myself. No villain has ever escaped me before; and he would not, had it not been for my confined situation.”
By the time Randolph went to trial for attacking Jackson, Old Hickory had retired to Tennessee. In a letter to the new President Martin Van Buren, Jackson said, “I have to this old age complied with my mother’s advice to ‘indict no man for assault and battery or sue him for slander’, and to fine or imprison Randolph would be no gratification.” Jackson asked President Van Buren to pardon Randolph if his assailant was found guilty for the attack. Randolph’s attack on Jackson was the first attempted assault of any sitting President.
The attack on Jackson was startling, but people around him said that it “put his blood in motion” and excited the old warrior. Later, when Lawrence made the mistake of attempting to assassinate Jackson he found that Old Hickory was still tough and pugnacious, particularly when he was free to defend himself and had his trusty cane nearby to do so.
As the nation’s most visible and powerful leader, the President of the United States receives approximately 60,000-80,000 letters per week. This is in addition to the 100,000 e-mails and thousands of phone calls received each day. Every piece of correspondence sent to the President is processed and the White House Correspondence Office does its best to respond appropriately to all communication. The Secret Service is often involved in the process as Presidents are frequently threatened and threats must be investigated in order to monitor credible dangers to the President or his family. George W. Bush received approximately 4,000 threats against his life annually; President Obama receives about four times as many threats.
Because of the sheer amount of mail sent to the White House, it is difficult for the President to get personal mail. A letter sent to the White House by a personal friend or family member of the President would go through all necessary screenings before possibly being passed on to staff who, at best, might pass the letter on to a Presidential secretary. It is unlikely that the President would ever see a letter sent through those channels.
However, President’s do have personal friends, they do have family members who want to send Christmas cards, they have bill collectors, and they have a need for mail from outside of the bubble of the White House. As I previously wrote about in “The Blue Goose (and other Presidential Perks)”, the U.S. Postal Service establishes a secret personal ZIP code for the use of the President. The President’s personal ZIP code is given to people who he would like to receive mail from during his time in the White House — sort of a VIP list for letters. The President’s ZIP code is unique from any other location and given to people of the President’s choosing. If the secret ZIP code is somehow leaked, the Postal Services issues a new one. Each President has a new personal ZIP code created for him upon taking office.
Like every piece of mail or package that enters the White House, the letters to the President’s ZIP code are first examined for nuclear, biological or chemical contamination at a military facility near Washington, D.C. Once they are screened, however, they are delivered directly to the President’s desk — a great feeling of (relatively) unfettered access for the mail sender and a breath of fresh air to Presidents wanting news or information unfiltered by the White House bubble.
A President is only eligible to be elected twice. If someone assumes the office in case of death, resignation, or removal from office and they serve more than two years of the unfinished term, they are only eligible to be elected in their own right once. If they serve less than two years of an unfinished term, they are eligible to be elected to two terms.
As an example, when Lyndon Johnson assumed the Presidency upon President Kennedy’s assassination, he served less than two years of JFK’s unfinished term before being elected in his own right in 1964, so he was eligible for another term in 1968. On the other hand, when Gerald Ford assumed the Presidency upon Nixon’s resignation, he served more than two years of Nixon’s unfinished term meaning that he wouldn’t have been eligible in 1980 had he been elected in his own right in 1976.
It’s all very confusing if you read Article Two of the Constitution or the 22nd Amendment, so I totally understand the questions about it.
I think Andrew Johnson was probably the most racist President for his time or anyone else’s time. And Woodrow Wilson would probably be in second place.
I doubt it would have made much of a difference. Truman and LBJ were Democrats and would have distanced themselves from Nixon — particularly Truman, who hated Nixon (“Richard Nixon is a no-good lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he’d lie just to keep his hand in,” is just one of the many things Truman said about Nixon). Even though Eisenhower and Nixon had grown closer personally towards the end of Ike’s life (helped in part by the marriage of Nixon’s daughter to Eisenhower’s grandson), I imagine the General would have kept his distance, too, had he been alive during Watergate. Although all three of those Presidents you mentioned (Truman, Eisenhower, and LBJ) taped phone conversations and some meetings in the White House, they didn’t cover up crimes while being taped. Had any other Presidents been alive at the time, I don’t think it would have helped Nixon.
In fact, it might have hurt him even more. It might have been a case where one or all of those former Presidents spoke out and said, “Hey, you are tarnishing the office of the Presidency and you need to go,” and it would have dealt Nixon a devastating blow. After all, it wasn’t until Republican leaders of Congress came to the White House and told Nixon that they couldn’t support him and that he was going to be impeached that he finally stepped down. Had Truman, Eisenhower, or LBJ been alive, they might have had the gravitas to nudge him out of office even more quickly.
By the way, LBJ had some prophetic words in 1969 after Nixon was inaugurated as President: ”I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad…(Nixon’s) like a Spanish horse who runs faster than anyone for the first nine lengths and then turns around and runs backwards. You’ll see — he’ll do something wrong in the end. He always does.”