On this day in 1974, Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes that he had “committed or may have committed or taken part in” while serving as president. Ford justified his decision, as you can see above, in several ways: Nixon and his family had already suffered enough; Nixon’s trial wouldn’t begin for months or years, and might not be fair even then; the country would remain bitterly divided throughout the intervening period; Ford had the power to act, his conscience told him that he should, and so he did.

Nixon greeted the news by noting that he was “wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.” Ford, meanwhile, having announced the defining act of his presidency, traveled to Bethesda, Maryland, where he played a round of golf at the Burning Tree Country Club.