Letter from House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford to President Richard M. Nixon

Article excerpt

Teaching with Documents

IN THE LATE SUMMER of 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore, Maryland, on charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy. In October, he was formally charged with having accepted bribes totaling more than $100,000 while holding office as Baltimore County Executive, governor of Maryland, and vice president of the United States. Agnew denied the bribery charge and pleaded no contest to a single charge that he had failed to report $29,500 of income received in 1967. On October 10, he was fined $10,000 and placed on three years' probation. Earlier that day, he had resigned the vice presidency, becoming the first in U.S. history to do so because of criminal charges.

Following Agnew's resignation, President Richard M. Nixon was faced with another "first"--putting to use the Twenty-fifth Amendment, ratified in 1967, that now required him to nominate a new vice president. Before placing a name into nomination, Nixon sought guidance from other government leaders, immediately holding separate meetings with Senators Hugh Scott and Robert P. Griffin, Representatives Gerald R. Ford and Leslie Arends, Speaker of the House Carl Albert, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.

In his meeting with Gerald Ford, Nixon asked the House Minority Leader to request members of the House of Representatives to submit recommendations for the president's consideration. Ford did so on October 11 at the House Republican Conference. He indicated to the members that the president had specified three criteria for the nominee: first, that the person be capable of serving as president; second, that the person share the president's views on foreign policy; and finally, that the person be able to work with members of both parties in Congress and be capable of confirmation by both houses.

In response to his request, the president received hundreds of letters from members of Congress listing potential nominees. One such letter is the featured document in this article. Suggestions included Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York; John Connally, former governor of Texas; William P. Rogers, secretary of state; George H. W. Bush, chairman of the Republican National Committee; Barry Goldwater, senator from Arizona; and Mel Laird, secretary of defense. A few women were also proposed. Margaret Heckler, a representative from the Massachusetts 10th district, urged the president to nominate a woman for the job. She explained, "No woman in high public office has ever been tainted with a hint of scandal, and nomination of a woman as vice president would go far toward helping restore public confidence in our government." Heckler suggested either Counsellor Anne Armstrong or Helen Delich Bentley, chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission, for the position. Gerald Ford, however, was the overwhelming favorite among his colleagues in Congress. One hundred and thirty-four members of the House and Senate mentioned Ford as one of their top three choices.

President Nixon also sought and received suggestions from outside of Congress. The recommendations of his cabinet and staff were similar to those of the members of Congress. They proposed Rockefeller, Rogers, and Ford, as well. Fifty-six members of the Republican National Committee, out of 142 who responded, suggested that the governor of California, Ronald Reagan, be the next vice president. Actor John Wayne agreed with this recommendation, sending the president a telegram describing Reagan as "the most untarnished and honorable American leader in politics."

The president received telegrams from still other individuals and political groups, and even one from the fifth and sixth graders at the Adams School in Lexington, Massachusetts. Their bipartisan suggestions included George McGovern, George Wallace, Edward Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

Late on October 11, President Nixon took all of the suggestions with him to his retreat at Camp David, Maryland. …