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Presidents Ford, Reagan and G.H.W. Bush with Gov. Milliken

3 Presidents & a Governor

For a larger view of the above image, click 3 Presidents and a Governor - Large View.

This image represents a bit of a mystery. We can plainly see that it features four prominent individuals: Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan; and William G. Milliken, Michigan's governor from 1969 through 1982. The Archives of Michigan, however, has no data to indicate when the photo was taken.

It is not uncommon for photos to arrive at an archives with no identification. Even one such as this, featuring well-known public figures, may not be as easy to retroactively place in context as one might think.

This photo does, however, provide some clues. On the back appears a handwritten note reading, "copyright 1980, Richard Marshall." Richard Marshall's identity would seem another mystery. That note, however, provides an approximate date of the photo's creation. This, in turn, narrows the possible setting, since the four depicted individuals probably didn't appear together often.

After some research, this author identified two occasions in which all four men were present. The first is the 1980 Republican National Convention. The second is the 1981 dedication of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

The GOP held its 1980 convention in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. As expected, convention delegates appointed Ronald Reagan the party's Presidential candidate. Reagan's choice of a running mate, however, remained a matter of some suspense. On July 16, 1980, the Detroit News reported that "Reagan is being pushed by moderates and other Republicans interested in mending the party's left and right factions to select Bush." Such people believed that the moderate George H.W. Bush could broaden the appeal of the more conservative Reagan. The same Detroit News article paraphrased Reagan pollster Richard Withlin: "What support Reagan lacks among affluent, college-educated and union voters, Bush would clearly make up."

Bush, however, was not Reagan's first choice. "Reagan, the lowly Dixon, Illinois kid whose determination brought him success, seems to have a visceral distaste for Bush, the Eastern Establishment blueblood of a different ilk," reported the Detroit News. The News further noted that a rift had developed between the two during the "long and bitter" campaign for the Republican nomination (Bush had also campaigned to be the party's Presidential candidate that year.).

Reagan first set his sites on another moderate Republican: former President (and Michigan native) Gerald R. Ford. He met with Ford and tried to negotiate a deal. The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press reported on this in a "joint edition" of the two papers, dated July 17, 1980 (A note explains that the two newspapers would be published jointly until a Teamsters strike against the Free Press was resolved.). Bill Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, explained Ford's terms to a Detroit News reporter. Brock said that Ford might be interested in the vice-presidency if Ford "took on more of a policy-making function." Ford would "have to have the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget under his control and be the White House chief of staff as well," Brock told the reporter. "It would be a co-presidency. A dream ticket," declared the Detroit News/Free Press. Ultimately, Reagan and Ford couldn't reach an agreement. According to the Detroit News/Free Press, Reagan then called George H.W. Bush on July 16th at 11:35 p.m. Bush would serve as Reagan's Vice President for eight years. He was elected to the Presidency himself in 1988.

Ford claimed that he never wanted to be Reagan's Vice President. Journalist Thomas M. DeFrank discussed Ford's relationship with Reagan (among others) in his 2007 book Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). DeFrank states that Ford "neither liked nor respected" Ronald Reagan. Reagan had challenged Ford, a then-incumbent President, in the 1976 Republican primaries. According to DeFrank, Ford believed that Reagan hurt him further that year by failing to campaign more heavily for him in the fall. DeFrank notes that Ford, a loyal party man, felt that Reagan had done a disservice to a fellow Republican and never really forgave him for it.

Of course, we still have one more man in this picture: Michigan Governor William G. Milliken. Milliken, like Bush and Ford, was a moderate. Dave Dempsey, in his book William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006) notes that Milliken had campaigned for Ford in 1976 and for Bush during the 1980 primary season. Dempsey notes that Milliken had misgivings about the more conservative Reagan but "campaigned with his party's nominee in 1980." (For a look at Milliken on the Reagan campaign trail, click Reagan and Milliken at a Barbeque)

The 1980 Republican National Convention might seem the most likely setting of the above image. The handwritten 1980 date on back makes it an even better match. All four men gathered together at least one more time, however.

On September 18, 1981, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum was dedicated in Grand Rapids. Former President Gerald Ford, President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush and Governor William Milliken were among the attendees. Foreign representatives included Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo and former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Several celebrities were on hand as well, and these included Debby Boone, Glen Campbell, Bob Hope and Larry King. Festivities included fireworks and a parade. President Reagan praised Ford as a man who "healed America because he so thoroughly understood America." Governor Milliken stated that Ford "restored honesty to the highest office in our land by his very presence." The Grand Rapids Press covered the event in its September 19, 1981 edition. Associated Press coverage can also be found online. Click Ford Museum Dedication to access it.

-Bob Garrett, Archivist

Anyone possessing information on the above photo - or who knows of any other occasion when these four men appeared together - is encouraged to contact Bob Garrett at the Archives of Michigan. Bob Garrett can be reached via e-mail at or by calling 517-241-1382.

Thomas M. DeFrank's Write It When I'm Gone and Dave Dempsey's William G. Milliken: Michigan's Passionate Moderate were both selected for Michigan Notable Book awards. To read more about this program - and see lists of Notable Books for various years - please click Michigan Notable Books.

This month's photo was selected in honor of President's Day. February 12, 2009 marks the bicentennial birth of one of America's greatest Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. The Michigan Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Committee was formed to help Michigan celebrate. To learn more about the committee - and about Lincoln's Michigan connections, click Michigan Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Committee.

Click Archives of Michigan to visit the Archives of Michigan home page.

Click Image of the Month Archives to access former Image of the Month pages.

Archives of Michigan
Michigan Library and Historical Center
702 W. Kalamazoo Street
Lansing, MI 48913
Phone: (517) 373-1408

This page is the Archives Image of the Month page for February 2009.

Updated 01/28/2009

Michigan Historical Center, Department of History, Arts and Libraries
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