The words that form the title of this blog post came from the lips of Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States.  You are forgiven for thinking that I was headed toward a discussion of Isaiah 1:17, Micah 6:8, or Matthew 23:23.  However, I would like to think that these and other texts of Scripture informed and inspired Ford’s speech following his inauguration as President on August 9, 1974.

Gerald R. Ford came to the Presidency of the United States following a series of events that were as unlikely as they were unfortunate.  Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, in response to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, charges to which Agnew pleaded no contest.  Agnew’s resignation led to the invoking of the vice-presidential vacancy provision of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  To fill the vacancy, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Ford, a 25-year Congressman from Michigan, who for the last 8 years had also served as House Minority Leader.  The U.S. Senate confirmed Ford with a 92 to 3 vote.  The U.S. House of Representatives followed with a confirmation vote of 387 to 35.

Gerald Ford was sworn in as Vice President on December 6, 1973.  When President Nixon resigned eight months later over his involvement in the Watergate scandal, Ford was sworn in as President of the United States on August 9, 1974, making him the first and only person in U.S. history to have served as both Vice President and President without having been elected by the Electoral College.

What do you say as the new political leader of the world’s most powerful country, knowing that no one had elected you to that office nor to the one you had just vacated to assume the Presidency?  Immediately after being sworn in by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, President Ford addressed the nation in a live, televised speech.  His words were infused with humility and hope.  Several poignant excerpts appear below.

The oath that I have taken is the same oath that was taken by George Washington and by every President under the Constitution.  But I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans.  This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.

I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers.  And I hope that such prayers will also be the first of many.

If you have not chosen me by secret ballot, neither have I gained office by any secret promises.  I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency.  I have not subscribed to any partisan platform.  I am indebted to no man, and only to one woman—my dear wife—as I begin this very difficult job.

I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it.  Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends.  They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name.  It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people.

Even though this is late in an election year, there is no way we can go forward except together and no way anybody can win except by serving the people’s urgent needs.  We cannot stand still or slip backwards.  We must go forward now together.

In all my public and private acts as your President, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end.

Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men.  Here the people rule.  But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

With all the strength and all the good sense I have gained from life, with all the confidence my family, my friends, and my dedicated staff impart to me, and with the good will of countless Americans I have encountered in recent visits to 40 States, I now solemnly reaffirm my promise I made to you last December 6: to uphold the Constitution, to do what is right as God gives me to see the right, and to do the very best I can for America.

God helping me, I will not let you down.

(Ford’s speech in its entirety, in both text and video, can be accessed here.)

It’s a shame that President Ford’s speech is frequently remembered only for his statement, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”  The speech was so much more substantive than that; and its themes remain relevant and extremely needful for our nation nearly 40 years later.

A call for prayer; an appeal to a Power higher than either the people or the government (don’t quibble over his terminology; he wasn’t being sworn in as a preacher, pastor, or pope); the divine ordinance of not only righteousness and justice, but also mercy and love; an appeal for the restoration of the golden rule and brotherly love in politics and the purging of suspicion and hate; patriotism above party.

May it be so!

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