In this speech before the Congressional Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, of October 17, 1974, President Gerald Ford explains his decision to pardon former President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. Nixon had resigned on August 9, 1974, and Ford pardoned his disgraced predecessor a month later, on September 8. When Ford appeared before the subcommittee to explain the controversial pardon, he asserted that his purpose in granting it was “to change our national focus. . . to shift our attentions from the pursuit of a fallen President to the pursuit of the urgent needs of a rising nation.” Ford noted that while Nixon had not requested the pardon, “the passions generated” by prosecuting him “would seriously disrupt the healing of our country from the great wounds of the past.” Ford declared that “the general view of the American people was to spare the former President from a criminal trial” and that sparing Nixon from prosecution would “not cause us to forget the evils of Watergate-type offenses or to forget the lessons we have learned.”
My appearance at this hearing of your distinguished Subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary has been looked upon as an unusual historic event - - one that has no firm precedent in the whole history of Presidential relations with the Congress. Yet, I am here not to make history, but to report on history.
The history you are interested in covers so recent a period that it is still not well understood. If, with your assistance, I can make for better understanding of the pardon of our former President, then we can help to achieve the purpose I had for granting the pardon when I did.
That purpose was to change our national focus. I wanted to do all I could to shift our attentions from the pursuit of a fallen President to the pursuit of the urgent needs of a rising nation. Our nation is under the severest of challenges now to employ its full energies and efforts in the pursuit of a sound and growing economy at home and a stable and peaceful world around us.
We would needlessly be diverted from meeting those challenges if we as a people were to remain sharply divided over whether to indict, bring to trial, and punish a former President, who already is condemned to suffer long and deeply in the shame and disgrace brought upon the office he held. Surely, we are not a revengeful people. We have often demonstrated a readiness to feel compassion and to act out of mercy. As a people we have a long record of forgiving even those who have been our country’s most destructive foes.Yet, to forgive is not to forget the lessons of evil in whatever ways evil has operated against us. And certainly the pardon granted the former President will not cause us to forget the evils of Watergate-type offenses or to forget the lessons we have learned that a government which deceives its supporters and treats its opponents as enemies must never, never be tolerated.