Remarks at the Dedication of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan
September 18, 1981
Reverend clergy, President and Mrs. Ford, the distinguished people that you have met up here and those that are in the audience:
Millions of Americans will follow us to this place, and like us, they will find history here. They will relive in their own minds or through their children's eyes dramatic and critically important moments in our nation's life. Here they will reflect on the achievements of the 38th President of the United States. They will dwell on what Gerald Ford brought to this Nation and what he gave to his country and his people. Some of those who come here will bring, just as many of us have today, personal memories. I have my own.
I couldn't help but recall, as we prepared for this trip, that the first time he and I encountered each other was in Michigan. Well, it wasn't exactly an encounter, and we certainly didn't have any awareness of each other. I was a young sports announcer for station WHO of Des Moines, Iowa. I was broadcasting an Iowa-Michigan football game. The center on that Michigan team was a fellow named Jerry Ford. Candor and a decent regard for history force me to admit that was about 47 years ago, and Michigan won.
I have some other unique memories; one in particular is more recent, but serves to highlight our mutual interest in sports and politics. In 1976 we were engaged in another kind of game. He won that one, too. But you observed one day that we had something in common. He said that we both played football, and he said that he had played for Michigan, and I played for Warner Brothers. [Laughter] Well, let me add that playing the Gipper did get more attention than my 3 years in the line for Eureka College, which maybe proved something us linemen have always felt, and that is that it's pretty easy for the backs to get the glory. I was a guard -- right guard, that is. [Laughter]
Mr. President, other, less humorous similarities between us have occurred recently. This came home to me when I ran across this description of the American economy: ``the worst inflation in the country's peacetime history, the highest interest rates in a century, the consequent severe slump in housing, sinking and utterly demoralized securities markets, a stagnant economy with large-scale unemployment in prospect, and a worsening international trade and payments position.'' That description comes from the New York Times, and I thought you would like to know the date was the summer of 1974. Gerald Ford had just become President of the United States.
During his first few months in office, he made the battle against inflation, growing unemployment, and a stagnant economy his first priority. He didn't hesitate to point to the causes of this economic crisis. He noted that in a 10-year period, Federal spending had increased from over 100 billion to over 300 billion dollars; in a 15-year period, direct and indirect Federal payments to individuals had gone from 24 percent of the Federal budget to 46 percent, while spending for defense fell from 49 percent of the budget to 26 percent.
President Ford asked his countrymen to choose: ``To put it simply,'' he said, ``we must decide whether we shall continue in the direction of recent years -- the path toward bigger government, higher taxes, and higher inflation -- or whether we shall now take a new direction, bringing to a halt the momentous growth of government, restoring our prosperity, and allowing each of you a greater voice in your own future.''
Well, as President, Gerald Ford made his choice. And when he left office, the economy was again moving in the right direction with inflation shrunk to a yearly rate of 4.8 percent. And his decision to carefully rebuild America's defense and his willingness to protect American interest and lives abroad began to reestablish our international prestige. He showed it can be done.
Well, these are the facts, the objective criteria by which the success of the Ford Presidency can be judged. Yet the legacy left his countrymen by General [President] Gerald Ford is something deeper and something more profound.
In 1787, shortly after the Constitutional Convention concluded its work, Benjamin Franklin was asked what had been accomplished, and we all know he said: ``We've given you a Republic, if you can keep it.'' For two centuries this has been the challenge before all Americans, a challenge that has always been met, but not without uncertainty, moments of doubt and danger.
During the first transition of Federal power from one party to the other in 1800, fierce acrimony, vows of retribution, and even talk of succession filled the Nation's Capital. And in 1861 another great internal crisis shook our nation. And this time the dissolution of the Union was not only threatened; it was, for a time, a reality. In both cases the steadiness, the fortitude, the personal ease, and quiet confidence of our Presidents saw us through.
On August 9th, 1974, when the nation was experiencing another traumatic test of its institutions, Gerald Ford, as it's been said several times here today, took the oath of office in the East Room of the White House and spoke of the ``extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans.'' He spoke of a time of ``trouble'' and ``hurt,'' and he told us ``our long national nightmare is over.'' He woke us from that nightmare. We've heard repeated here today dramatic statements that were made as evidence of that. He did heal America, because he so thoroughly understood America. His was and is an unquestioning belief in the soundness of our way of governing and in the resiliency of our people.
And when he was about to step down from the Presidency, he took note of our remarkable tradition of peaceful transitions of power. He said: ``There are no soldiers marching in the streets except in the Inaugural Parade; no public demonstrations except for some of the dancers at the Inaugural Ball; the opposition party doesn't go underground, but goes on functioning; and a vigilant press goes right on probing and publishing our faults and our follies.''
And during our Bicentennial, he reminded the American people of the collective wisdom of their ways and the remarkable achievements of their past and the fact that we can meet in solemn gatherings like this and go right on without being bothered a bit by a few raucous voices from beyond.
``In the space of two centuries,'' Gerald Ford said, ``we have not been able to right every wrong, to correct every injustice, to reach every worthy goal. But for 200 years we have tried and we will continue to strive to make the lives of individual men and women in this country and on this Earth better lives -- more hopeful and happy, more prosperous and peaceful, more fulfilling, and more free. This is our common dedication,'' he said, ``and it will be our common glory as we enter the third century of the American adventure.''
Gerald Ford healed America, because he understood the adventure of America -- her way of governing, her people, and the source of her strength as a nation. And on the night he learned that he was likely to be the next President of the United States, he and Betty recited a favorite prayer from the Book of Proverbs: ``Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.''
Today many of us in public life, from this country and others, have come here to speak words of tribute to Gerald Ford. The millions of Americans who will soon hear or read these words will not long remember them, but can be sure that in their minds and hearts there will be a flash of recognition and a swell of gratitude, feelings that if put into words would result in a simple statement by his countrymen about Gerald Ford: He was a good President who led us well, a good man who sought to serve others.
Mr. President, I noted recently that your confidence in our nation's future is not at all diminished. You said that the nation again faces difficult moments, but that ``there's a good feeling in the country despite the problems.'' You said our plans for economic recovery will work, because the American people will make them work. You noted that the will of the people ``is more important than all the technical things, all the micro- and macro-economics. There is just no way to equate that,'' you said, ``with the will of 229 million Americans.''
I am, of course, grateful for your support and counsel on this matter, but I would remind you that if today 229 million Americans can look forward to that future you speak of, it is because you brought us through difficult and trying times and helped us to believe again in ourselves.
Not too long ago, on the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere's famous ride, you offered a prayer, Mr. President, in the Old North Church in Boston. You said you hoped that those who follow us might say of our generation, ``We kept the faith, freedom flourished, liberty lived.'' That's a worthy prayer, Mr. President, and we offer it again today in a spirit of gratitude for your Presidency and affection for you.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my honor to introduce to you the 38th President of the United States, a man of decency, a man of honor, a man of healing, Gerald R. Ford.
Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. outside the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.
Prior to the dedication ceremony, the President and Mrs. Reagan, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada, President Jose Lopez Portillo of Mexico, and former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing of France accompanied former President and Mrs. Ford on a tour of the museum.