Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Gerald Ford's decision to pardon Richard Nixon for crimes he may have committed as chief executive was perhaps the pivotal moment of his brief presidency. The decision, which Ford said he made to end divisions within the country and to "heal the wounds that had festered too long," angered millions of Americans and may have cost him the election in 1976. An excerpt from The Post of Sept. 9, 1974:
President Ford yesterday granted former President Nixon a "full, free and absolute pardon" for all federal crimes Mr. Nixon "committed or may have committed" during his terms in the White House.
Mr. Nixon promptly issued a statement from his home in California accepting the pardon and admitting he had made mistakes but not acknowledging any crimes.
Mr. Nixon had not been formally charged with any federal crime, but Philip W. Buchen, Mr. Ford's counsel, told reporters at the White House it was "very likely" the former President would have been indicted without yesterday's action.
He noted that one federal grand jury named Mr. Nixon an unindicted co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up months ago, when he was still President and at a time when there was less evidence of his involvement than is available today.
The effect of Mr. Ford's action yesterday was to immunize Mr. Nixon from federal prosecution "for all offenses against the United States" during his almost six years as President.
Mr. Ford, in his formal proclamation of pardon, said he took the step because "the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States," a process he said would take a year or more and "cause prolonged and divisive debate" all across the country.
And finally, Mr. Ford added in a statement delivered rather grimly before television cameras and a small pool of reporters in the Oval Office, "I feel that Richard Nixon and his loved ones have suffered enough, and will continue to suffer no matter what I do."
Mr. Ford had said himself, during his vice presidential confirmation hearings last November, that "I don't think the public would stand for it" if one President resigned and his successor then took steps to quash his possible prosecution. Yesterday he said simply that many decisions in the White House "do not look at all the same as the hypothetical questions that I have answered freely and perhaps too fast on previous occasions."