One of the most important decisions that Jerry Ford ever made was to pardon Richard Nixon. As I made clear to Jerry at the time, I thought it was a terrible mistake. I learned about the pardon when the phone rang at my Cambridge house on Sept. 8, 1974, a Sunday morning shortly after Jerry had become President.
"Hello, Tip? This is Jerry."
"Jerry Ford. ... I've made up my mind to pardon Nixon. I'm doing it because I think it's right for the country, and because it feels right in my heart. The man is so depressed, and I don't want to see the President go to jail."
"You're crazy," I said. "I'm telling you right now, this will cost you the election. I hope it's not part of any deal."
"No, there's no deal."
"Then why the hell are you doing it?"
"Tip," he said, "Nixon is a sick man. You can tell a lot by a man's attire, and he's become unkempt and seedy. And Julie has been calling me every day because her father is so depressed."
"Look," I said, "I know you're not calling for my advice, but I think it's too soon. The press is going to beat you over the head with it. Just yesterday I spoke to an audience of Yankee aristocrats, and a number of them came up to me and said that Nixon should not be let off."
"Some people will holler," he said, "but I don't think the American people are vindictive. Nixon has suffered enough. Besides, I can't run this office while this business drags on day after day. There are a lot more important things to be spending my time on."
Although I thought the pardon was wrong, I didn't want to send Nixon to jail either. Like Jerry, I believed that he had suffered enough. After all, it's not where a man lands that marks his punishment. It's how far he falls.
-- From Tip O'Neill's "Man of the House"