James Earl Carter, Jr.
Birthplace: Plains, Ga.
Carter, Jr., was born in the tiny village of Plains, Ga., Oct. 1,
1924, and grew up on the family farm at nearby Archery. Both
parents were fifth-generation Georgians. His father, James Earl
Carter, was known as a segregationist, but treated his black and
white workers equally. Carter's mother, Lillian Gordy, was a
matriarchal presence in home and community and opposed the
then-prevailing code of racial inequality. The future president was
baptized in 1935 in the conservative Southern Baptist Church and
spoke often of being
born again Christian, although committed to the separation of
church and state.
Carter married Rosalynn Smith, a neighbor, in 1946. Their first
child, John William, was born a year later in Portsmouth, Va. Their
other children are James Earl III, born in Honolulu in 1950; Donnel
Jeffrey, born in New London, Conn., in 1952; and Amy Lynn, born in
Plains in 1967.
In 1946 Carter was graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at
Annapolis and served in the nuclear-submarine program under Adm.
Hyman G. Rickover. In 1954, after his father's death, he resigned
from the Navy to take over the family's flourishing warehouse and
cotton gin, with several thousand acres for growing seed peanuts.
Carter was elected to the Georgia Senate in 1962. In 1966 he lost
the race for Governor, but was elected in 1970. His term brought a
state government reorganization, sharply reduced agencies,
increased economy and efficiency, and new social programs, all with
no general tax increase. In 1972 the peanut farmer politician set
his sights on the presidency and in 1974 built a base for himself
as he criss-crossed the country as chairman of the Democratic
Campaign Committee, appealing for revival and reform. In 1975 his
image as a typical Southern white was erased when he won support of
most of the old Southern civil-rights coalition after endorsement
by Rep. Andrew Young, black Democrat from Atlanta, who had been the
closest aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. At Carter's 1971
inauguration as Governor he had called for an end to all forms of
In the 1976 spring primaries, he won 19 out of 31 with a broad
appeal to conservatives and liberals, black and white, poor and
well-to-do. Throughout his campaigning Carter set forth his
policies in his soft Southern voice, and with his electric-blue
stare faced down skeptics who joked about Jimmy Who? He defeated
Gerald R. Ford in Nov. 1976. Likewise, in 1980 he was renominated
on the first ballot after vanquishing Senator Edward M. Kennedy of
Massachusetts in the primaries. In the election campaign, Carter
attacked his rivals, Ronald Reagan and John B. Anderson,
independent, with the warning that a Reagan Republican victory
would heighten the risk of war and impede civil rights and economic
opportunity. In November Carter lost to Reagan, who won 489
Electoral College votes and 51% of the popular tally, to 49
electoral votes and 41% for Carter.
In his one term, Carter fought hard for his programs against
resistance from an independent-minded Democratic Congress that
frustrated many pet projects although it overrode only two vetoes.
Observers generally viewed public dissatisfaction with the
stagflation economy as a principal factor in his defeat. Others
included his jittery performance in the debate Oct. 28 with Reagan,
staff problems, friction with Congress, long gasoline lines, and
the months-long Iranian crisis, including the abortive sally in
April 1980 to free the hostages. Yet, assessments of his record
noted many positive elements. There was, for one thing, peace
throughout his term, with no American combat deaths and with a
brake on the advocates of force. Regarded as perhaps his greatest
personal achievements were the Camp David accords between Israel
and Egypt and the resulting treaty the first between Israel and an
Arab neighbor. The treaty with China and the Panama Canal treaties
were also major achievements. Carter worked for nuclear-arms
control. His concern for international human rights was credited
with saving lives and reducing torture, and he supported the
British policy that ended internecine warfare in Rhodesia, now
Zimbabwe. Domestically, his environmental record was a major
accomplishment. His judicial appointments won acclaim; the
Southerner who had forsworn racism made 265 choices for the Federal
bench that included minority members and women. He also ended the
U.S. practice of holding petroleum prices far below world levels
with price decontrols.
Wilson Reagan .............................................
Birthplace: Tampico, Ill.
Ronald Wilson Reagan rode to the presidency in 1980 on a tide of
resurgent right-wing sentiment among an electorate battered by
winds of unwanted change, longing for a distant,
era. He left office in Jan. 1989 with two-thirds of the American
people approving his performance during his two terms. It was the
highest rating for any retiring president since World War II.
His place in history will rest, perhaps, on the short- and
intermediate-range missile treaty consummated on a cordial visit to
the Soviet Union that he had once reviled as an evil empire. Its
provisions, including a ground-breaking agreement on verification
inspection, were formulated in four days of summit talks in Moscow
in May 1988 with the Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Reagan can point to numerous domestic achievements as well: sharp
cuts in income tax rates, sweeping tax reform, creating economic
growth without inflation, and reducing the unemployment rate, among
others. He failed, however, to win the Reagan Revolution on such
issues as abortion and school prayer, and he seemed aloof from
sleazy conduct by some top officials.
In his final months Reagan campaigned aggressively to win election
as president for his two-term vice president, George Bush.
Reagan's popularity with the public dipped sharply in 1986 when the
Iran-Contra scandal broke, shortly after the Democrats gained
control of the Senate. Observers agreed that Reagan's presidency
had been weakened, if temporarily, by the two unrelated events.
Then the weeks-long Congressional hearings in the summer of 1987
heard an array of Administration officials, present and former,
tell their tales of a White House riven by deceit and undercover
maneuvering. Yet no breath of illegality touched the President's
personal reputation; on Aug. 12, 1987, he told the nation that he
had not known of questionable activities but agreed that he was
Ronald Reagan, actor turned politician, New Dealer turned
conservative, came to films and politics from a thoroughly
Middle-American background middle class, Middle West, and small
town. He was born in Tampico, Ill., Feb. 6, 1911, the second son of
John Edward Reagan and Nelle Wilson Reagan, and the family later
moved to Dixon, Ill. The father, of Irish descent, was a shop clerk
and merchant with Democratic sympathies. It was an impoverished
family; young Ronald sold homemade popcorn at high school games and
worked as a lifeguard to earn money for his college tuition. When
the father got a New Deal WPA job, the future president became an
ardent Roosevelt Democrat.
Reagan won a B.A. degree in 1932 from Eureka (Ill.) College, where
a photographic memory aided in his studies and in debating and
college theatricals. In a Depression year, he was making $100 a
week as a sports announcer for radio station WHO in Des Moines,
Iowa, from 1932 to 1937. His career as a film and TV actor
stretched from 1937 to 1966, and his salary climbed to $3,500 a
week. As a World War II captain in Army film studios, Reagan
recoiled from what he saw as the laziness of Civil Service workers,
and moved to the Right. As president of the Screen Actors Guild, he
resisted what he considered a Communist plot to subvert the film
industry. With advancing age, Reagan left leading-man roles and
became a television spokesman for the General Electric Company.
With oratorical skill his trademark, Reagan became an active
Republican. At the behest of a small group of conservative Southern
California businessmen, he ran for governor with a pledge to cut
spending, and was elected by almost a million votes over the
political veteran, Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown, father of later
governor Jerry Brown.
In the 1980 election battle against Jimmy Carter, Reagan broadened
his appeal by espousing moderate policies, gaining much of his
support from disaffected Democrats and blue-collar workers. The
incoming Administration immediately set out to turn the government
around with a new economic program. Over strenuous Congressional
opposition, Reagan triumphed on his supply side theory to stimulate
production and control inflation through tax cuts and sharp
reductions in government spending.
The president won high acclaim for his nomination of Sandra Day
O'Connor as the first woman on the Supreme Court. His later
nominations met increasing opposition but did much to tilt the
Court's orientation to the Right.
In 1982, the President's popularity had slipped as the economy
declined into the worst recession in 40 years, with persistent high
unemployment and interest rates. Initial support for supply side
economics faded but the President won crucial battles in Congress.
Internationally, Reagan confronted numerous critical problems in
his first term. The successful invasion of Grenada accomplished
much diplomatically. But the intervention in Lebanon and the
withdrawal of Marines after a disastrous terrorist attack were
regarded as military failures.
The popular president won reelection in the 1984 landslide, with
the economy improving and inflation under control. Domestically, a
tax reform bill that Reagan backed became law. But the constantly
growing budget deficit remained a constant irritant, with the
President and Congress persistently at odds over priorities in
spending for defense and domestic programs. His foreign policy met
stiffening opposition, with Congress increasingly reluctant to
increase spending for the Nicaraguan Contras and the Pentagon and
to expand the development of the MX missile. But even severe
critics praised Reagan's restrained but decisive handling of the
crisis following the hijacking of an American plane in Beirut by
Muslim extremists. The attack on Libya in April 1986 galvanized the
nation, although it drew scathing disapproval from the NATO
Barely three months into his first term, Reagan was the target of
an assassin's bullet; his courageous comeback won public
Reagan is devoted to his wife, Nancy, whom he married after his
divorce from the screen actress Jane Wyman. The children from his
first marriage are Maureen, his daughter by Wyman, and Michael, an
adopted son. He had two children by Nancy: Patricia and Ron. Reagan
continues to struggle with Alzheimer's disease, which he developed
in the years following his presidency.
Jefferson Clinton ............................................
Birthplace: Hope, Ark.
Jefferson Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope,
Ark., on Aug. 19, 1946. He was named for his father, who was killed
in an automobile accident before Clinton's birth. Virginia Kelley,
his mother, eventually married Roger Clinton, a car dealer, whose
surname the future president later adopted.
In high school in Hot Springs, Ark., Clinton considered becoming a
doctor, but politics beckoned after a meeting with President John
F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C., on a Boys' Nation trip. He earned a
B.S. in international affairs in 1968 at Georgetown University,
having spent his junior year working for Arkansas Senator J.
William Fulbright. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford between 1968
and 1970. He then attended Yale Law School, where he met his future
wife, Hillary Rodham, a Wellesley graduate. The couple has one
Clinton taught at the University of Arkansas (1974-1976), was
elected state attorney general (1976), and in 1979 became the
nation's youngest governor. But he was defeated for reelection in
1980 by voters irate at a rise in the state's automobile license
fees. In 1982 he was elected again. This time he reined in liberal
tendencies to accommodate the conservative bent of the voters.
Clinton became the 42nd U.S. president following a turbulent
political campaign. He overcame vigorous personal attacks on his
character and on his actions during the Vietnam War, which he
actively opposed. The character issue stemmed from allegations of
infidelity, which Clinton refuted in a television interview in
which he and Hillary avowed their relationship was solid.
Throughout his term in office, Clinton was dogged by allegations
relating to the Whitewater real estate deal in which he and Hillary
were involved prior to the 1992 election. Though the Clintons were
never accused of any wrongdoing, partners in the venture were
convicted of fraud and conspiracy in a trial in 1996.
The problems faced by the new president were as daunting as they
were varied. In January 1993 he became embroiled with the military
leadership over his campaign pledge to allow homosexuals to serve
openly in the armed services. He ultimately agreed to a compromise,
dubbed the don't ask, don't tell policy. Clinton's first year also
saw him wrangling with Congress over the Federal budget and
In his second year, Clinton faced persistent troubles on the
domestic front, with acrimonious battles raging over health care,
welfare reform, and crime prevention. A health care reform package
crafted by his wife failed to gain sufficient support. Clinton had
to reduce his objective from massive overhaul to incremental
Clinton won major victories with the passage of the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect Jan. 1, 1994, and
the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which led to the
establishment in 1995 of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Congress also approved a deficit reduction bill, rules allowing
abortion counseling in federally funded clinics, a waiting period
for handgun purchases (the Brady Bill), and a national service
Foreign affairs, once a weak point for a man elected on a domestic
economic agenda, became a proving ground for Clinton. He improved
his international image when the Israel Jordan peace agreement was
signed at the White House in the summer of 1994 by Israeli prime
minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan's King Hussein. In the fall of
that year, the administration succeeded in restoring Haiti's ousted
president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to power. Clinton scored again
by bolstering Russian president Boris Yeltsin's popularity with
promises of economic aid.
The problems in Eastern Europe were Clinton's next big challenge.
Though he wanted desperately to end the brutal ethnic cleansing in
Bosnia, he did not want to commit American ground troops to do so.
A peace accord involving American peacekeeping troops was
ultimately signed in Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995.
The 1994 elections resulted in a Republican-controlled Congress,
and 1995 was largely a tug-of-war between the White House and
Capitol Hill over budget-balancing and other key points of the
G.O.P.'s Contract with America, crafted by Speaker of the House
In 1996, aided by a booming economy, Clinton won reelection to a
second term, becoming the first Democratic president since Franklin
D. Roosevelt to do so. The country's general prosperity also made
it possible in 1997 for Clinton and the Republicans to reach an
agreement to balance the federal budget in three decades.
However, the character issues that had followed Clinton for years
soon began to emerge once again. A series of investigations was
begun to determine whether Clinton and Vice President Gore had
participated in questionable fund-raising practices in their 1996
As his tenure wore on, Clinton came under increasing pressure from
Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who in 1994 took over the
investigation of the Clintons' involvement in the Whitewater land
deal. Over time, Starr's brief was expanded to include other
matters, such as the death of White House lawyer Vincent Foster,
the handling of firings in the White House travel office, and
shocking allegations of sexual misconduct by Clinton.
The president seemed to win a point in April 1998 when a federal
judge in Arkansas threw out a long-pending sexual harassment suit
brought by Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee. In
July 1999, however, the same judge fined Clinton $90,000 after
finding him guilty of giving false and misleading testimony in the
Jones case over an alleged affair with a young White House intern,
Monica S. Lewinsky. In January 1998, Clinton had adamantly denied
ever having engaged in sexual relations with Lewinsky, or of asking
anyone to lie to cover up the affair.
Despite the explosive charges, Clinton's overall popularity among
Americans remained high. The country seemed willing to ignore his
weaknesses in character, much as they did in the 1992 elections, as
long as the economy was good, his policies were popular, and the
United States remained strong abroad. On Aug. 17, 1998, Clinton
made history by becoming the first U.S. president to testify in
front of a grand jury, in an investigation of his own possibly
criminal conduct. In an address to the nation that evening, he
admitted to having had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky,
but reaffirmed that he did not ask anyone to lie about or cover up
On Sept. 9, Starra conservative Republican whose investigation was
seen by Clinton supporters as a politically inspired vendetta
delivered his report to the House of Representatives. While the
report outlined 11 possible grounds for impeachment, none stemmed
from the initial subjects of the investigation, including the
Whitewater real estate deal. The real focus of the accusations
seemed to be Clinton's moral conduct, and the Starr Report
graphically detailed his sexual affair.
Despite the American population's general disapproval of a trial
(which was reflected in poll after poll), Congress moved forward in
its highly partisan impeachment proceedings and on Dec. 19, Clinton
became the second president in American history to be impeached.
Two of the four articles of impeachment passed (Article I, grand
jury perjury, and Article III, obstruction of justice), the votes
drawn along party lines. After a Senate trial in Jan.Feb. 1999,
Clinton was acquitted on both counts.
While the impeachment trial overshadowed all other activity in
Washington for a good portion of 1998, Clinton was forced to
respond to continued problems with Iraq at the end of the year. In
December, Saddam Hussein blocked a weapons inspection by the United
Nations. The U.N. responded with airstrikes that would continue on
a nearly daily basis for the next three months, and then off and on
through the spring and summer, as Iraq taunted the U.S. and its
allies further by shooting at jets patrolling the no-fly zones set
up after the Persian Gulf war.
In the spring of 1999, reports of continued ethnic cleansing in the
Serbian province of Kosovo were growing. Clinton and his British
counterpart, Tony Blair, led the push for NATO intervention, which
resulted in a 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia that began in
March. Although Clinton received some sharp criticism for holding
back on the deployment of NATO ground troops, he was ultimately
justified, as Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic finally agreed
to a peace treaty, signed June 9.
In his final year of office, the president maintained a relatively
low profile but took several major trips overseas, to South Asia,
Europe, and Africa. He also prepared for the 2000 elections,
lending his support not only to presidential hopeful Al Gore, but
also to his wife, Hillary Clinton, who ran for U.S. senator from
The Top Ten
Most Notorious Despots ...................................................
by Borgna Brunner
Infoplease's top ten despots of the last thousand years share a few
common bonds. Each had a penchant for sadism. And each would no
doubt claim that the murder and mayhem that took place under his
rule was necessary for law and order or to make the trains run on
time. But whether their excuse is ideological or practical, the
genuine reason was an overweening egotism at the expense of
everything and everyone else.
Tamerlane's life (c. 1336-1405) was spent conquering the
inhabitants of Asia. A Turkik Mongol, his goal was to make his
capital, Samarkand, the most impressive in Asia. Yet he rarely
stayed at home, preferring to vanquish and destroy additional
lands. Legendary for his ruthless savagery and lack of mercy,
Tamerlane massacred entire populations including the 80,000
residents of Delhi and razed whole cities, leaving behind nothing
but rubble. And he had a macabre sense of architecture building
towers out of the skulls of his victims.
the Terrible (Ivan IV)
On January 16, 1547, Ivan became the first czar of Russia, ruling
until 1584. His early reign was primarily spent in battle in an
effort to expand Russian land. His tyrannical cruelty only
developed later in life, when he turned increasing paranoid and
vindictive historians suspect mental instability. In 1570, Ivan
formed a troop of personal bodyguards called oprichniki, who
answered only to him and became the vehicle for massacring his
perceived enemies over a seven-year period (1565-1572). The landed
gentry was Ivan's particular nemesis, and he unleashed his
oprichniki upon thousands of them. He was equally guilty of
domestic violence, killing his son and heir, Ivan, in a state of
fury, as well as several of his wives he is believed to have
had seven of them.
Robespierre was the mastermind of the Reign of Terror (1793-1794),
the dark underside of the French Revolution that perverted its
lofty ideals of democracy with fanaticism and inhumanity.
Robespierre, leader of the infamous Committee of Public Safety,
turned France into a police state, sending "enemies of the
nation" to the guillotine without benefit of a public trial or
legal representation. About 40,000 French men and women were
executed or died in prison, and another 300,000 were imprisoned.
Only Robespierre's own beheading ended the slaughter.