One month after taking over the presidency, Ford pardoned Nixon. This caused a lot of controversy but Ford claimed he did it to save the nation from the prospect of a long, messy, and divisive trial.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS…
Ford on Nixon's pardon: “After years of bitter controversy … I am compelled to conclude that many months and perhaps more years will have to pass before Richard Nixon could obtain a fair trial. … But it is not the ultimate fate of [Nixon] that most concerns me. … My concern is the immediate future of this great country.”
This action, however, cost him support throughout his presidency and possibly the 1976 election. In 2001, Ford was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage award for this action.
Clemency for Draft Dodgers
In 1974, President Ford offered clemency to those who had evaded the draft during the Vietnam War if they would swear allegiance and perform two years of public service. Similarly, those who deserted during the war could return to the branch they left for two years to achieve clemency. Ford was criticized by both sides for this action. On one hand, he was seen as being too easy on those who evaded the draft; on the other hand, those who had avoided the service felt they were in the right and should not have to perform any public service.
At the beginning of Ford's administration, the rest of the American troops left Vietnam. Ford actually asked for aid to be sent to South Vietnam in 1974, as fighting had resumed. With American opinion completely against any further intervention, Congress would not agree. In April 1975, Saigon fell to the North and by 1976, North and South Vietnam were united into one country.
Ford not only pardoned Nixon, but he also pardoned Robert E. Lee. In 1970, a researcher found an old signed Pledge of Allegiance by Lee dated 1865. Senator Harry Byrd from Virginia offered a resolution asking for him to be pardoned posthumously. It passed through Congress and Ford signed it into law on August 5, 1975, at General Lee's family home.
Ford continued with Nixon's goal of building better relationships with China and the Soviet Union, visiting China again in December 1975. He also entered into the Helsinki Accords with the Soviet Union and thirty-three other countries. The goal of the accords was to mutually agree upon certain natural rights, including the right to sovereignty, territorial integrity of states, respect for human rights, and others.
Ford escaped two assassination attempts in the year 1975, both of which were carried out by women. On September 5, 1975, Lynette Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, pointed a gun at Ford but did not fire. She was supposedly trying to talk to him about the plight of California redwoods. She was convicted of attempting to assassinate the president and sentenced to life in prison.
The second attempt on Ford's life occurred on September 22, 1975, outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Sara Jane Moore fired one shot that was deflected by bystander Oliver Sipple. Moore was trying to prove herself to some radical friends by assassinating the president. She was convicted of attempted assassination and sentenced to life in prison.