Ford’s pardon of Nixon helped heal the nation.
One month after Nixon resigned, President Gerald Ford pardoned him before he could go to trial for any crimes he might have committed while president. In 2001, Sen. Ted Kennedy thanked Ford for the pardon, saying, “His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us.” Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, seemed to agree, saying in his 1977 inaugural address, “For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”
In fact, however, the pardon exacerbated the public’s distrust of government by reinforcing Americans’ sense that the president was above the law. It also cast a damaging vote of no confidence by the executive in the co-equal judicial branch of government. After the pardon, Ford’s favorability ratings plummeted overnight, and he lost his 1976 bid for reelection. And, although Americans have become more favorable toward the pardon over time, it did nothing to stop the downward trend in Americans’ trust in government accelerated by Watergate.