To say 1974 was a turbulent year in American politics would be an understatement. A series of unprecedented changes took place in Washington, D.C. On September 8, President Gerald Ford granted his disgraced predecessor, Richard Nixon, a full, unconditional pardon for any crimes Nixon might have committed against the U.S. while serving as the nation’s commander-in-chief.

Timeline of events

Ford’s pardon of Nixon came nearly a month after Nixon bowed to pressure and did something no other sitting president had ever done before or since— he resigned.

Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, occurred in the midst of impeachment proceedings after the Watergate scandal had sent shockwaves across the nation. Nixon and his administration allegedly indulged in illegal activities during a re-election campaign and attempted to cover up evidence of wrongdoing.

To this day, Watergate is considered one of America’s most significant political scandals, lasting from 1972 to 1974. The scandal began when five men burglarized the Democratic National Committee headquarters within the Watergate office in Washington, D.C., and continued with allegations Nixon was covering up his administration’s involvement in the incident.

Former CIA agent James W. McCord was one of the men involved in the burglary. McCord’s ties to Nixon included service as the salaried service coordinator of Nixon’s re-election committee.

Broadcast of hope

Ford outlined the multiple reasons behind his decision in an address before the nation, which was widely broadcast on TV. In the address, Ford said he delivered the pardon in the hopes of moving the country forward. Because of the prominence the presidency holds, Ford in his address said he did not believe Nixon would have been privy to a fair and just trial.  “The facts, as I see them, are that a former president of the United States … would be cruelly and excessively penalized,” said Ford.

A controversial course of action

Ford’s pardoning of Nixon was controversial. Critics of the decision said it smacked of corruption and offered privilege. As a prelude to the deluge of criticism he likely would face, Ford addressed the anticipated heat in his address: “I do believe that the buck stops here, that I cannot rely upon public opinion polls to tell me what is right.”