- Discuss the arguments President Ford used to justify his pardon of Richard Nixon. Do you think these arguments were convincing? Why did Ford need to justify his decision to pardon Nixon to the American people?
- Divide the class in half and have them debate whether President Ford made the right decision in the long run by pardoning Nixon. One side can argue that Ford issued the pardon for the public good while the other side might contend that Ford impeded justice by issuing the pardon.
- President Ford is often portrayed as being a man of high character. What characteristics lead Ford to be depicted that way? How, if at all, did Ford try to establish or reinforce that he was a man of character in the speech?
- Many Americans lost their trust in the office of the presidency following the Watergate scandal. Consequently, President Ford was charged with restoring trust to the Oval Office. Break the class up into small groups. Have one group discuss whether Ford’s speech pardoning Nixon helped or hindered the effort to restore trust in the presidency. Have a second group discuss whether or not the Watergate scandal permanently damaged citizens’ sense of trust in the executive office. As a class, compare the two group’s responses. Meanwhile, a third group can discuss what criteria citizens generally employ to decide whether or not they trust a politician. A fourth group can generate a list of rhetorical strategies that a speaker should use to gain trust from an audience. As a class, consider whether the third group’s list of criteria matches the fourth group’s list of strategies.
- Listen to an audio recording of Ford’s speech. How do you think his delivery might have impacted his message? Was his delivery appropriate for the content of the speech and the situation in which he spoke?
- A Gallup poll taken immediately after the pardon showed that President Ford’s approval rating fell 21 points. Why do you think some citizens reacted so strongly to the pardon? On the other hand, why was Ford able to maintain a 50 percent approval rating? How do you think citizens might have regarded Ford if the president had issued the pardon immediately upon taking office?
- President Ford had the power to pardon Nixon under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. Why did the nation’s founders include a presidential pardoning power in the Constitution? What are the possible advantages and disadvantages of a president having such powers?
- Interview family members or friends who are old enough to remember President Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Did they watch the speech on television, hear it on the radio, or read about it in the news? What was their reaction to the pardon? How do they describe the public sentiment about the pardon at the time? Did they vote for Ford in the 1976 election? Why or why not?
- Research media coverage of President Ford’s death in 2006. How was Ford’s pardon of Nixon recalled in that coverage? How have opinions about the pardon changed over time? How is Ford’s legacy different from Nixon’s?
- Locate and listen to the audio from the Nixon Watergate tapes, including the so-called “smoking gun” conversation. What made these recordings so damaging to Nixon’s presidency? What do you think the media coverage would be like if such a scandal happened today? Would public reaction be any different now than it was then?
- When Ford assumed the presidency, there was considerable suspicion that he would pardon Nixon because of a secret, pre-arranged deal between the two men. Research the evidence for and against this claim. Do you believe that such a deal existed? Why does it even matter if there was a deal in place between the two men?
- Research other occasions in which the president has exercised the executive pardoning power. What were the circumstances? In each instance, how did the presidential pardon help serve the public good?
- Ford remained in office for more than two years after his pardon of Nixon before losing the 1976 election to Jimmy Carter. What were Ford’s major policy accomplishments? Was he a competent leader despite never being elected to the presidency?
- Research the 1976 presidential campaign between Ford and Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter. Do you think Ford’s pardon of Nixon was a relevant issue in the campaign? To what extent should political campaigns revolve around the issues associated with a candidate’s “character?”
- View a Gerald Ford retrospective video online (see the Suggested Resources guide for some options) and consider how Ford’s legacy is portrayed. How do we typically depict our nation’s leaders in public memory? What aspects of a president’s personal life and political career are emphasized? What aspects are neglected or ignored? What are the benefits of celebrating and commemorating the legacy of a political leader? Are there any potential drawbacks or consequences of such retrospective depictions?
- Locate the polling data that shows President Ford’s approval ratings upon taking office and compare it to polling data after Ford’s pardon of Nixon. What role should polling–particularly presidential approval ratings–play in democratic politics? Does a president’s approval rating have an impact on an executive’s ability to govern? Should a president take polling data into consideration before making an important decision, or has the modern presidency become too dependent on polling data?
- President Ford is credited with healing the nation and restoring trust in the executive office. Do you think the Watergate scandal still affects the level to which citizens trust the government? Do people today trust the president more or less than they have in the past? What factors affect the public’s ability to trust the president?
- Find Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution and read the description of the executive pardoning power. Why did the founders include this provision in the Constitution? What are the benefits and drawbacks of such a power? Should the presidential pardoning power be limited or extended?
- President Ford was never elected to the presidency or even to the vice-presidency. Research the chain of succession that allowed Ford to assume the presidency. Do you think a politician should be able to serve as president without being elected? What checks and balances are there for protecting the public from an unscrupulous leader?
Last updated May 3, 2016