Thirty-ninth President of the United States
Jimmy Carter, served January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
Carter (born October 1, 1924) is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States (1977-1981) and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office. Before he became President, Carter served as a U.S. Naval officer, was a peanut farmer, served two terms as a Georgia State Senator and one as Governor of Georgia (1971-1975).
James Earl Carter, Jr., was born at the Wise Sanitarium on October 1, 1924, in the tiny southwest Georgia city of Plains, near Americus. The first president born in a hospital, he is the eldest of four children of James Earl Carter and Bessie Lillian Gordy. Carter’s father was a prominent business owner in the community and his mother was a registered nurse.
Carter was a gifted student from an early age who always had a fondness for reading. By the time he attended Plains High School, he was also a star in basketball. He was greatly influenced by one of his high school teachers, Julia Coleman (1889-1973). While he was in high school he was in the Future Farmers of America, which later changed its name to the National FFA Organization, serving as the Plains FFA Chapter Secretary.
After high school, Carter enrolled at Georgia Southwestern College, in Americus. Later, he applied to the United States Naval Academy and, after taking additional mathematics courses at Georgia Tech, he was admitted in 1943. Carter graduated 59th out of 820 midshipmen at the Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree with an unspecified major, as was the custom at the academy at that time.
Carter served on surface ships and on diesel-electric submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. As a junior officer, he completed qualification for command of a diesel-electric submarine. He applied for the US Navy’s fledgling nuclear submarine program run by then Captain Hyman G. Rickover. Rickover’s demands on his men and machines were legendary, and Carter later said that, next to his parents, Rickover had the greatest influence on him. Carter has said that he loved the Navy, and had planned to make it his career. His ultimate goal was to become Chief of Naval Operations. Carter felt the best route for promotion was with submarine duty since he felt that nuclear power would be increasingly used in submarines. Carter was based in Schenectady, New York, and working on developing training materials for the nuclear propulsion system for the prototype of a new submarine.
Jimmy Carter started his career by serving on various local boards, governing such entities as the schools, hospitals, and libraries, among others. In the 1960s, he served two terms in the Georgia Senate from the fourteenth district of Georgia.
His 1961 election to the state Senate, which followed the end of Georgia’s County Unit System (per the Supreme Court case of Gray v. Sanders), was chronicled in his book Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age. The election involved corruption led by Joe Hurst, the sheriff of Quitman County; system abuses included votes from deceased persons and tallies filled with people who supposedly voted in alphabetical order. It took a challenge of the fraudulent results for Carter to win the election. Carter was reelected in 1964, to serve a second two-year term.
For a time in State Senate he chaired its Education Committee.
In 1966, Carter declined running for re-election as a state senator to pursue a gubernatorial run.
In 1966, during the end of his career as a state senator, he flirted with the idea of running for the United States House of Representatives. His Republican opponent, Howard Callaway, dropped out and decided to run for Governor of Georgia. Carter did not want to see a Republican Governor of his state, and, in turn, dropped out of the race for Congress and joined the race to become Governor. Carter lost the Democratic primary, but drew enough votes as a third-place candidate to force the favorite, liberal former governor Ellis Arnall, into a runoff election, setting off a chain of events which resulted in the nomination of segregationist Democrat Lester Maddox. Maddox would go on to be selected governor of Georgia by the Georgia General Assembly despite finishing a close second in a three-way general election race between Maddox, Callaway, and Arnall, who ran as a Write-in candidate. During the primary Carter ran as a moderate alternative to both liberal Arnall and conservative Maddox. Although he lost, his strong third place finish was viewed as a success for a little-known state senator.
During his 1970 campaign, he ran an uphill populist campaign in the Democratic primary against former Governor Carl Sanders, labeling his opponent “Cufflinks Carl”. Carter was never a segregationist, and refused to join the segregationist White Citizens’ Council, prompting a boycott of his peanut warehouse. His family was also one of only two that voted to admit blacks to the Plains Baptist Church.
Carter’s campaign aides handed out a photograph of Sanders celebrating with black basketball players. Following his close victory over Sanders in the primary, he was elected Governor over Republican Hal Suit.
Carter was sworn in as the 76th Governor of Georgia on January 12, 1971, and held this post for one term, until January 14, 1975. Governors of Georgia were not allowed to succeed themselves at the time. His predecessor as Governor, Lester Maddox, became the Lieutenant Governor. Carter and Maddox found little common ground during their four years of service, often publicly feuding with each other.
In 1972, as US Senator George McGovern of South Dakota was marching toward the Democratic nomination for President, Carter called a news conference in Atlanta to warn that McGovern was unelectable. Carter criticized McGovern as too liberal on both foreign and domestic policy, yet when McGovern’s nomination became a foregone conclusion, Carter lobbied to become his vice-presidential running mate.
During the 1972 Democratic National Convention he endorsed the candidacy of Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington. Carter received 30 votes at the Democratic National Convention in the chaotic ballot for Vice President. McGovern offered the second spot to Reubin Askew, from next door Florida and one of the “new southern governors”, but he declined.
When Carter entered the Democratic Party presidential primaries in 1976, he was considered to have little chance against nationally better-known politicians. He had a name recognition of only two percent. When he told his family of his intention to run for President, his mother asked, “President of what?” The Watergate scandal was still fresh in the voters’ minds, and so his position as an outsider, distant from Washington, D.C., became an asset. The centerpiece of his campaign platform was government reorganization. Carter published Why Not the Best? in June 1976 to help introduce himself to the American public.
Carter and President Gerald Ford debating at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. Carter became the front-runner early on by winning the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. He used a two-prong strategy: In the South, which most had tacitly conceded to Alabama’s George Wallace, Carter ran as a moderate favorite son. When Wallace proved to be a spent force, Carter swept the region. In the North, Carter appealed largely to conservative Christian and rural voters and had little chance of winning a majority in most states. He won several Northern states by building the largest single bloc. Carter’s strategy involved reaching a region before another candidate could extend influence there. He traveled over 50,000 miles, visited 37 states, and delivered over 200 speeches before any other candidates even announced that they were in the race. Initially dismissed as a regional candidate, Carter proved to be the only Democrat with a truly national strategy, and he eventually clinched the nomination.
Carter was elected over Gerald Ford in 1976. His tenure was a time of continuing inflation and recession, as well as an energy crisis. On January 7, 1980, Carter signed Law H.R. 5860 aka Public Law 96-185 known as The Chrysler Corporation Loan Guarantee Act of 1979 bailing out Chrysler Corporation and canceled military pay raises during a time of high inflation and government deficits. While attempting to calm various conflicts around the World, most visibly in the Middle East resulting in the signing of the Camp David Accords, giving back the Panama Canal and signing the SALT II nuclear arms reduction treaty with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, the final year of his administration was marred by the Iran hostage crisis, which contributed to his losing his 1980 re-election campaign to Ronald Reagan.
Carter wrote that the most intense and mounting opposition to his policies came from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which he attributed to Ted Kennedy’s ambition to replace him as president. Kennedy, originally on board with Carter’s health plan, pulled his support from that legislation in the late stages; Carter states that this was in anticipation of Kennedy’s own candidacy, and when neither won, the tactic effectively delayed comprehensive health coverage for decades.
Carter’s campaign for re-election in 1980 was one of the most difficult, and least successful, in history. He faced strong challenges from the right (Ronald Reagan), the center (John B. Anderson), and the left (Ted Kennedy). He had to run against his own “stagflation”-ridden economy. He alienated liberal college students, who were expected to be his base, by re-instating registration for the draft. He was defeated by Ronald Reagan.
In 1981, Carter returned to Georgia to his peanut farm, which he had placed into a blind trust during his presidency to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. He found that the trustees had mismanaged the trust, leaving him over one million dollars in debt. In the years that followed, he has led an active life, establishing The Carter Center, building his presidential library, teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and writing numerous books.
Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale are the longest-living post-presidential team in American history. On December 11, 2006, they had been out of office for 25 years and 325 days, surpassing the former record established by President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826. On September 7, 2012, Carter is expected to surpass Herbert Hoover as the President with the longest retirement from the office.
Jimmy Carter is one of only four presidents, and the only one in modern history, who did not have an opportunity to nominate a justice to serve on the Supreme Court. The other three are William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Johnson.
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