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39 Chapter 4 Challenges Who was this new President? How did this almost-­ stranger happen to attain the preeminent office in the world? Not since Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt twenty-­ nine years earlier had the American people known so little about a man who had stepped forward from obscurity to take the oath of office as President of the United States. Like Truman, Ford was a sturdy, stolid, dependable, hardworking, straightforward midwesterner. The two had more in common. Each had a happy boyhood, growing up in a time and place where life was pleasant, neighborhoods were safe, and material possessions less important . Each had the good fortune to be guided by parents who had to work hard to keep bread on the table, who lived by old-­ fashioned principles, and who taught their sons precepts they never forgot: Tell the truth. Earn your way. Keep your word. Never forsake a friend. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Do what is right, whatever the consequences. Each had his courage tested and his provincial outlook broadened by war: Truman as a captain of artillery in France; Ford as a lieutenant on the bridge of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Both aspired early to public service and became workhorses on Capitol Hill. Neither man expected to be President—­ or even wanted to be. Both took the oath of office in war and brought about a time of peace. But there were significant differences, notably in their political beginnings . Truman was the product of a corrupt political boss: Thomas J. Prendergast and his Kansas City machine put Truman in his first elected office, as a courthouse commissioner in Jackson County, Missouri, and 40 gerald r. ford elevated him to the U.S. Senate. Democratic Party bosses chose Truman to succeed President Franklin Roosevelt. Ford fought the bosses, and beat them. He began his political career by challenging and defeating the corrupt Republican boss of western Michigan. Again and again Ford opposed the entrenched political powers. His first vote upon entering the House of Representatives in 1949 was against party leaders scheming to expand their power. Defying the conservative Republican establishment that supported Senator Robert Taft for President in 1952, Ford—­ with eighteen other young Republicans in the House—­ signed an open letter urging General Dwight D. Eisenhower to run as “the surest way . . . to promote peace in the world.” Their initiative to place peace before party, Eisenhower wrote later, strongly influenced his decision to run. In 1962, Ford was so dissatisfied with his party’s lackluster leadership in the House that he challenged the aging Chairman of the House Republican Conference and won. Two years later, he took on the do-­ nothing Republican Leader of the House, hard-­ drinking Charles Halleck , and defeated him. In his quarter-­ century as a House Member and Leader, Ford worked with colleagues of both parties, with three Democratic Presidents and two Republican Presidents, but he consistently maintained his independence . Jerry Ford was always his own man. So he had been taught in childhood. His training began with a mother who was loving, indomitable by nature, spontaneous in spirit, but tempered by an unfortunate first marriage. When Dorothy Gardner was 20 years old and a student at a women ’s college in Knoxville, Illinois, she met the blond, handsome, and charming brother of a classmate. He was Leslie King—­ the only son of an Omaha banker and merchant. She was infatuated; so, at 30 years old, was he. After a whirlwind courtship, King asked Dorothy’s father for her hand. He was, he assured Levi Gardner, well established financially . With $35,000 in his bank account and a well-­ paying job in one of his father’s companies, King said he could provide a comfortable life for her. Gardner, aware that the young man’s father, Charles Henry King, was a multimillionaire entrepreneur in Omaha, had no reason to doubt Leslie. He consented. The wedding, on September 12, 1912, was the social event of the season in Harvard, Illinois, where Gardner was a prosperous merchant and former mayor. Joining in the celebration were King’s wealthy parents Challenges 41 and a score of his Omaha friends. When the bride and groom boarded the Pullman to begin their wedding trip to the West Coast, Adele Gardner had never seen her younger daughter so happy. Three weeks later, Dorothy’s happiness ended. In the lobby of the elegant Multnomah Hotel in Portland, Oregon, Leslie...


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