2001 Profile in Courage Award recipient President Gerald Ford with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, May 21, 2001.

Background

President Gerald Ford was honored for his courage in making a controversial decision of conscience to pardon former President Richard M. Nixon. On September 8, 1974, President Ford granted a “full, free and absolute pardon” to former President Nixon “for all offenses against the United States which he...has committed or may have committed or taken part in” while he was president. Nixon accepted the pardon. The response from the press, Congress and the general public was overwhelmingly negative. Appearing before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, President Ford explained under oath, in the first sworn congressional testimony ever given by a sitting president, that there were no deals connected with the pardon. Ford wrote in his autobiography that Nixon's pardon “wasn't motivated primarily by sympathy for his plight or by concern over the state of his health. It was the state of the country’s health at home and around the world that worried me.” In 1976, President Ford lost the White House to Jimmy Carter in one of the closest elections in American history. Many historians believe Ford’s pardon of Nixon contributed to his defeat.