August 9, 1974: President Gerald Ford's First Day in Office

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum

A United States President’s first days in Office are hectic and often set the tone for the entire presidency.  President Ford’s first day was no different than any president before him – despite being ushered in under less than happy circumstances.  President Ford’s daily diary, photo records, and paper archive reveals the minute-by-minute events on August 9, 1974.

12 noon Eastern Standard Time
On August 9 1974 at 12 noon, in the East Room of the White House, Gerald R. Ford was sworn by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger as the 38th President of the United States.    

"After he took the oath, the Chief Justice said, "Congratulations, Mr. President." They shook hands. Ford kissed his wife. Mrs. Ford put the Bible under her arm and she sat down and put it in her lap. Ford smiled rather broadly before he started his speech." - Adam Clymer/Baltimore Sun

At the ceremony, Betty Ford held the Bible while the oath was administered. Mrs. Ford recalled, “The words cut through me, pinned me to the floor. I felt as though I were taking the oath with him, promising to dedicate my own life to the service of my country.”

Gerald R. Ford used the Jerusalem Bible given to him by his son, Mike, for both his Vice Presidential and Presidential swearing-in ceremonies.

After the ceremony, Warren Burger handed the new President the card from which the Chief Justice read the oath (pictured here with Bible).

On the backside of the card he had written a note, the first in Ford’s nascent administration where he was referred to as “Mr. President.”

As soon as Ford assumed the Presidency, official letters and telegrams of introduction were sent around the globe.

He also met personally with ambassadors to reaffirm cordial relationships and continued open communications with foreign leaders.

As he met with the representatives of foreign nations, President Ford and his advisers were laying the ground work for future policy, international agreements and social exchanges that would shape the world far beyond his presidency.

12:05 p.m.
After the Swearing-In ceremony, the President delivered his inaugural address. 

Ford's remarks were broadcast live over nationwide radio and television.

12:14 p.m.  
President went to the Red Room and greeted the Bi-partisan Congressional Leaders.
1:04 p.m.
President Ford’s first official act came soon after he gained the presidency: he announced the appointment of Jerald F. terHorst as his Press Secretary.     

Jerry terHorst had a long friendship with President Ford, and in his remarks, Ford remembered that “Jerry terHorst was… responsible for my first political success.”

1:36 p.m.
The President met with senior members of the White House staff.
2:05 p.m.
The President met with his senior economic advisers.
2:21 p.m.
The President met Ambassadors from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations.    

In 1974, fifteen countries were part of NATO (including the US): Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, West Germany and the United Kingdom.

In his remarks, Ford stressed several basic point of US policy, including his strong support of NATO and its combined interests of economic and military harmony across its member nations.

3:03 p.m.
The President met with his Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs, Maj. Gen. Brent Scowcroft.

In one of their conversations, they discussed Memo 265. Memo 265 sets forth the organization and procedures of the National Security Council System as established in 1969.

The National Security Council assists the president in carrying out his responsibilities for national security affairs, and is the principal forum for consideration of policy issues requiring Presidential determination.

3:11 p.m.
The President posed for an official photograph by White House photographers.
3:12 p.m.
The President met with Yasukawa M. Donowaki, the Ambassador of Japan to the U.S., Henry A. Kissinger and John O. Marsh, Jr., Assistant to Vice President Ford for Defense Affairs.    

They discussed the structure of the Japanese Diet (Japan's legislature, composed of a House of Representatives, and the House of Councillors) and the successful outcomes of an energy conference held earlier in the year.

During the meeting, President Ford also expressed his hope that he would be able to visit Japan – a trip that he undertook in November, 1974. Notably, Ford was the first sitting president to visit Japan, and it was his first overseas trip as president.

3:41 p.m.
The President met with: Secretary Kissinger,  Yuly M. Vorontosov, Charge-d'Affairs of the U.S.S.R. to the U.S., Maj. Gen. Scowcroft and Mr. Marsh.    

Former President Nixon had built a positive relationship with General Secretary Brezhnev, and President Ford’s talking points confirm that during the meeting with Minister Vorontsov.

Moscow had expressed concern over changes in American policy; and Ford expressed reassurances that his presidency would build on the previous agreements.

President Ford’s first trip abroad was to the USSR in November, 1974. He met with General Secretary Brezhnev and signed a nuclear weapons agreement during the Vladivostok Summit Meeting on Arms Control.

Ford and Brezhnev and their teams of advisers worked to reach agreements to limit the arms race between the nations. The visit ended with both leaders signing a communiqué pledging pursuit of a new strategic arms limitations agreement.

As Ford was ready to leave Vladivostok, Brezhnev walked the President up the ramp to the airplane. Ford was wearing a fur coat he had received from his friend, Jack Kim, an Alaskan furrier, when Air Force One stopped in Anchorage to refuel.

Ford noticed Brezhnev “eyeing enviously” his fur coat. Just before boarding Air Force One, President Ford took the coat off, and gave it to Brezhnev. “He put it on and seemed truly overwhelmed.”

The jacket in the Museum’s collection is a replacement jacket given to Ford by Jack Kim.

4:22 p.m.
The President met with Mr. Marsh and Lt. Col. Americo A. Sardo, Marine Corps Aide.
4:32 p. m.
The President met with Ambassadors from the Middle East, including the countries of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan,  Syria, Tunisia, UAE, and Yemen.     

President Ford remarked: “…I will pursue … lasting and durable peace in the Middle East. This is the policy the American people want. Let me say that I do not think the peace can be one-sided because then it will not be accepted. But I think that our goal of peace in the Middle East is achievable.

I think it is in the interests of all of us--those of us who come from industrial as well as developing nations, to keep our world economy strong. We can't maintain prosperity if we have broken links in our world economy.”

President Ford’s first State Visit and Dinner would happen in fewer than 7 days – he and First Lady Betty Ford would host their Majesties, the King and Queen of Jordan.

In his toast at dinner, President Ford reflected on the length of relationship between Jordan and the United States, and noted, “We are proud of our long friendship and association.”

King Hussein replied: “It is really a source of pride to us to have had this very close cooperation between our nations, to have seen in the recent past some basic steps taken for the establishment of a just and durable peace in our part of the world, largely through the efforts of our friends in the United States.”

President Ford hosted Anwar Sadat at a State Dinner on October 27, 1975.

Ford’s toast to the Egyptian President acknowledges the long, difficult path to reconciliation:

“We share your deep belief and conviction that nations can gain much by working together. Your courage, Mr. President, in taking the first steps towards peace after almost three decades of warfare assures your place in history in the Middle East, and we congratulate you for it. “

Henry Kissinger’s lengthy “shuttle diplomacy” with Anwar Sadat led to the signing of Sinai Interim Agreement or Sinai II, which Egypt and Israel signed on September 4, 1975. This agreement outlined the withdrawal of Israeli forces and a new U.N. zone.

The agreement also committed major U.S. resources in the Sinai.

4:40 p.m.
The President met with: Mr. Marsh, Mr. Haig, and Mr. Hartmann.

President Ford received a background paper on the Cabinet prior to their first scheduled meeting scheduled for the next day.

Ford was encouraged to acknowledge the “stress and strain” the Cabinet had been under during the Watergate crisis, and more importantly, that he did not “want them to submit letters of resignation.”

5:10 p.m.
The President met with: Secretary Kissinger, Huang Chen, Chief of the Liaison Office of the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC), Maj. Gen. Scowcroft, and Chi Chao-chu, interpreter.

Ford recognized that US-Chinese relations were one of the highest priorities of his administration, and noted that he had already sent a message to Chairman Mao reaffirming “the basic continuity of American foreign policy in general and our policy toward the People's Republic of China in particular.”

He also thanked the Ambassador for his role in maintaining the smooth relationship between the countries.

President Ford had been to the PRC in 1972 with Congressman Boggs; and he reminisced how both the Manchurian countryside and the “warmth of the people” reminded him of his home state of Michigan.

In December 1975, President Ford, Susan Ford and First Lady Betty Ford traveled to the People’s Republic of China. There they were treated to several banquets, sight-seeing excursions and athletic demonstrations. President Ford met with many Chinese officials, including Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.

In the background prepared for President Ford, Henry Kissinger noted: “You will find the Chairman mentally alert but physically very frail. He is not able to stand up for long periods or escort you out of the room. He will gesture vigorously with his arms and hands as he speaks… He will cover his agenda in a seemingly casual, even haphazard manner, but by the time he is finished he will have conveyed all the main points he wishes to get across in comprehensive, though very economical, fashion.”

In his autobiography “A Time to Heal”, Ford remarked that Mao was a “world statesman, and a brilliant poet who thought in conceptual terms.”

5:39 p.m. 
The President met with senior staff and transition advisers.
6:00 p.m.
The President met with Latin American Ambassadors. 

In the background paper prepared for President Ford, it was noted that the Latin American Ambassadors were concerned that the new president might spend time, resources, and attention elsewhere in the world. President Ford was to reassure the group that he endorsed “Secretary Kissinger's new initiatives … to design a new U.S. policy and improve … relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The President would also stress “neighborliness” – and remembered that he “was raised by my parents to be a good, thoughtful and considerate neighbor,” and he asked for “understanding and cooperation” as the nations worked together for continued peace and progress.

6:49 p.m.
The President met with Secretary Kissinger, Simcha Dinitz, Ambassador of Israel to the US, and Maj. Gen. Scowcroft.

Ford, Kissinger and Dinitz knew each other very well, and the mood of the meeting was light. They joked with Kissinger about his recent “shuttle diplomacy” (32 days of “shuttle diplomacy” and negotiating with the Syrians and Israelis), and exchanged personal anecdotes about their families.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was also a close friend of President Ford, and he made several State Visits to the White House during the Ford Administration (September 1974, June 1975, and January 1976.)

7:03 p.m.
The President met with Mr. Hartmann and Donald H. Rumsfeld, Representative of the U.S. to NATO.
7:12 p.m.
The President met with Secretary Kissinger Tran Kim Phuong, Ambassador of the Republic of South Vietnam to the US, and Maj. Gen. Scowcroft.

They spoke at length about how budget cuts could affect the flow of supplies to the South Vietnamese military and about the loss of American lives during the on-going war.

A few months later, Ford would be faced with the final evacuation of Saigon – and he made decisions that changed the lives of thousands of men, women, and children as they fled their homeland. During those chaotic days, Ford ordered special evacuations of infants and children by air, in an event that became known as Operation Babylift.

7:31 p.m.
The President returned home to 514 Crown View Drive, Alexandria, Virginia. 

The move to the White House would take place over the next few days; by August 20, 1974, the Ford family was living in the Second Floor Residence.

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