GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — We reach an American landmark on Friday that will be noted by few and celebrated by none. It is the 40th anniversary of the confirmation of Gerald R. Ford as vice president.
On the surface there’s little reason to mark the ascension of anyone to a position that John Adams, the first man to occupy the vice presidency, described with some accuracy as “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived.” There have been 47 vice presidents, and it would be surprising if you could name a quarter of them.
There’s even less reason to note this occasion for a man such as Ford, one of 14 vice presidents to become president. For those who ascended, their most significant moments were in the White House, not in the humble vice-presidential cubbyholes where presidents tucked them away so they wouldn’t be a nuisance.
That said, the vice presidency and presidency of Gerald Ford stand apart.
He was the first vice president to move to the post under the 25th amendment, which provides for a president to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency and for that nominee to be confirmed by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. Only Ford and his own vice president, Nelson A. Rockefeller, have become vice president by that route.
Ford — “A Norman Rockwell painting come to life,” in the words of George H.W. Bush at Ford’s funeral — was also the first president to gain the office without a direct vote of the people, a condition he noted in his very first address as chief executive when he asked Americans to “confirm me as your president with your prayers.”
Ford became vice president at the height of perhaps the greatest constitutional crisis in American history. President Richard M. Nixon was on the defensive about Watergate, his impeachment not just possible but likely, his vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, having already resigned amid corruption charges. The country was reeling; Washington was in upheaval. The nation needed a vice president, but even more it needed a sense of stability.