U.S. President Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., Sworn in 40 Years Ago, Withstood the Corrupting Influence of Political Power August 8, 2014 Vol. VII, No. 19 12:13 pm Most of the news media coverage of the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon, tendered at 11:35 a.m. on August 9, 1974, highlights
U.S. President Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., Sworn in 40 Years Ago, Withstood the Corrupting Influence of Political Power
August 8, 2014 Vol. VII, No. 19 12:13 pm
Most of the news media coverage of the 40th anniversary of the resignation of President Richard Nixon, tendered at 11:35 a.m. on August 9, 1974, highlights Nixon’s personal weaknesses and moral failings that led to the Watergate Scandal and his downfall. I would like to shift the attention to what happened 30 minutes later at 12:05 p.m., on August 9, 1974, when the 38th President of the United States, born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., was sworn in.
The 38th President of the United States is the only president who was never elected president or vice president. He was chosen because of his personal strengths and moral integrity. In honor of the 40th anniversary of his swearing in, I have selected passages from his autobiography, A Time to Heal, including prayers he and his wife said one week before he became president.
Leslie Lynch King, Jr. was born on July 14, 1913. While an infant, his father’s abusive behavior (beating his mother and threatening both of them with a knife) led to his parents’ divorce.
He was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan by his mother and stepfather, a paint salesman.
He graduated from the University of Michigan, where he was a star football player on the national championship teams of 1932 and 1933. He washed dishes to help pay for college.
He graduated from Yale University Law School in the top 25% of his class.
On December 3, 1935, at the age of 22, he changed his legal name to honor his stepfather, the paint salesman, to Gerald Rudolff Ford, Jr.
In 1942 – 43, he spent a year at Chapel Hill, North Carolina at the Naval Preflight School.
He married, had four children, and served in the United States Congress as a Republican from Grand Rapids, Michigan for 25 years. He rose to the leadership role of U.S. House Minority Leader.
In December 1973, Congressman Jerry Ford was selected by President Richard M. Nixon to fill Vice President Spiro Agnew’s term after Agnew was forced to resign due to criminal charges related to bribes he accepted while Governor of Maryland.
Eight months later, on August 9, 1974, President Nixon resigned due to the Watergate Scandal.
In his autobiography, A Time to Heal, President Ford shared a profoundly personal moment that occurred in the wee hours of the morning one week before his swearing in; the night he and his wife Betty realized that Nixon may have to resign and that they may be living in the White House.
“It was almost one-thirty and time to go to bed. We entered our bedroom, undressed and snapped off the light. As we lay there in the darkness, our hands reached out and touched simultaneously without either of us having said a word. Then we began to pray.
"God, give us strength, give us wisdom, give us guidance as the possibility of a new life confronts us.
"We promise to do our very best, whatever may take place.
“You have sustained us in the past.
“We have faith in Your guiding hand in the difficult and challenging days ahead.
“In Jesus' name we pray.”
“I concluded with a prayer from the fifth and sixth verses of chapter 3 of the Book of Proverbs: ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.’”
“Fifty years before, I had learned that prayer as a child in Sunday school. I can remember saying it the night I discovered that my stepfather was not my real father. I had repeated it often at sea during World War II. It was something I said whenever a crisis arose.”
The following Wednesday, the day before Nixon resigned, Ford writes in A Time to Heal:
“At eleven-thirty the next morning, I went to the Office of House Minority Leader John Rhodes for our regular Wednesday prayer session with Minnesota Representative Albert Quae and former Wisconsin Representative Melvin Laird. We'd been having these private sessions for some time, and the pattern was always the same. One of us started out with a simple prayer. Then we went around the room with no predetermined sequence. When the last person had finished, we said the Lord's Prayer in unison.
No one mentioned the political crisis gripping the capital. No one had to. The prayers the others offered were all in my behalf as the potential President. And mine were for their support – and God's – in meeting the new challenges that I’d face.”
The following day, Thursday, August 8, 1974, President Nixon announced to the nation via a live TV broadcast that he would resign the next day at noon. At 12:05 p.m. the next day, August 9, 1974, Gerald Rudolff Ford, Jr., born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., was sworn in as President of the United States. He ended his 850-word swearing in speech this way:
“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over... Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.”
It is important that we remember the cautionary lessons of leaders like Nixon who were corrupted by political power. But, it is far more important that we remember the lessons of leaders like President Ford who showed us that we can choose to lead with personal strengths and moral integrity; that we can lead without being corrupted by political power.
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Thank You for Reading the John Davis Political Report John N. Davis, Editor