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Jimmy Carter

For the submarine named in honor of the individual, see USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23).

James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. (born October 1, 1924), American politician and statesman, was the 39th President of the United States (19771981), and 83rd (19711975) Governor of Georgia.

Carter's presidency was marked by a period of American supremacy being challenged abroad and economic recession striking at home. In the midst of the 1980 campaign, a pro-U.S. monarchy was toppled by the 1979 Iranian Revolution and fifty-two hostages were taken inside the American embassy by Islamic fundamentalist revolutionaries. Later that year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Inflation and interest rates reached their highest levels since World War II as the administration freed domestic oil prices in response to rising prices from OPEC. These problems, many of them outside of Carter's control, and the perception that he failed to deal with them decisively, made him an unpopular president and contributed to his re-election defeat. However, among his administration's accomplishments were the Panama Canal treaties, the Camp David Accords, and the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union. Despite his failure to reform the tax system due to strained relations with U.S. Congress and promise to slash the government bureaucracy, his administration oversaw the founding of the Departments of Energy and Education and enacted strong legislation on environmental protection.

In the decades since he left office, Carter gained new respect as an international mediator and peacemaker and has used his position as a former president to further many charitable causes. In 1982 he founded the Carter Center as a forum for issues related to democracy and human rights. He has also travelled extensively to monitor elections, conduct peace negotiations, and establish relief efforts. In 2002, Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize for his "efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."


Early years

Carter was born the oldest of four children in the town of Plains, Georgia, to James Earl Carter and Bessie Lillian Gordy. He was the first president born in a hospital. Young Carter was a gifted student from an early age who always had a fondness for reading. He was greatly influenced by one of his high school teachers Julia Coleman. Ms. Coleman was handicapped by polio. She had encouraged young Jimmy to read War And Peace, he was disappointed to find that there were no cowboys or Indians in the book. Carter even mentioned his beloved teacher in his inaguration address as an example of someone who beat overwhelming odds.

His younger brother, Billy Carter (1937-1988), caused some political problems for him during his administration. Carter's sister, Gloria Carter Spann (1926-1990), was low-key and was famous for collecting and riding Harley Davidson motorcycles. His youngest sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton (1929-1983), became a well known Christian evangelist . He grew up in nearby Archery .

He attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and received a B.S. degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946, the same year he married Rosalynn Smith. Carter was a very gifted student and finished 59th out of his Academy class of 820. Vietnam POW and war hero Jeremiah Denton was one of Carter's classmates. They are considered members of the class of 1947, as their class would have graduated in 1947, except that the program had been temporarily compressed.

Carter served on submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. He was later selected by Admiral Hyman Rickover for the U.S. Navy's nuclear submarine program, where he became a qualified nuclear engineer. Rickover was a crusty, demanding officer and Carter was greatly influenced by him. He later said that next to his parents that Admiral Rickover had the greatest influence on him. There was a story he often told of being interviewed by the Admiral. He was asked about his rank in his class at the Naval Academy. Carter said "Sir, I graduated 59th out of a class of 820". Rickover only asked "Did you always do your best?" Carter was forced to admit he had not and the Admiral asked why. Carter later used this as the theme of his presidential campaign and as the title of his first book "Why Not The Best?" He even mentioned Admiral Rickover in his inagural address. Carter loved the Navy and planned to make it his career. His ultimate goal was to be Chief of Naval Operations. Upon the death of his father in 1953, however, he resigned from the Navy and established a peanut farming business in Plains where he was involved in a farming accident which left him with a permanently bent finger. From a young age, Carter showed a deep commitment to Christianity, serving as a Sunday School teacher throughout his political career. Even as President, Carter prayed several times a day and professed that Jesus Christ was the driving force in his life. Carter had been greatly influenced by a sermon he had heard as a young man called "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

After World War II, he and Rosalynn started a family. She bore him three sons (John William, born in 1947; James Earl III, born in 1950; and Donnel Jeffrey, born in 1952), and gave birth to a daughter late in life (Amy Lynn, born in 1967).

Early political career

Carter started his career by serving on the Plains school board. In the 1960s he served two terms in the Georgia State Senate.

In his 1970 campaign Carter was elected governor on a pro-George Wallace platform. Carter's campaign aides handed out thousands of photographs of his opponent, the liberal former Gov. Carl Sanders, showing Sanders associating with black basketball players. On the stump, Carter pledged to reappoint an avowed segregationist to the state Board of Regents. He promised as his first act to invite former Alabama Gov. George Wallace into the state to speak. Old-line segregationists across the state endorsed Carter for governor.

But following his election, Carter said in speeches that the time of racial segregation was over, and that racial discrimination had no place in the future of the state. He was the first state-wide office holder in the Deep South to say this in public (such sentiments would have signaled the end of the political career of politicians in the region less than 15 years earlier, as was the case with Atlanta mayor Ivan Allen Jr., who testified before Congress in favor of the Voting Rights Act), so his victory attracted some attention as a sign of changing times. Carter served as governor of the state of Georgia from 1971 to 1975.

When Carter entered the Democratic Party Presidential primaries in 1976 he at first was considered to have little chance against nationally better-known politicians. However the Watergate scandal was still fresh in the voters' minds, so his position as an outsider distant from Washington, DC became an asset. He ran an effective campaign, did well in debates, and won his party's nomination and then the election, receiving 50.1% of the popular vote.

The centerpiece of his campaign platform was government reorganization. Carter was the first candidate from the Deep South to be elected president since Reconstruction.


President Carter meets with Governor (and future president) Bill Clinton.
President Carter meets with Governor (and future president) Bill Clinton.

The Carter Administration's foreign policy is most remembered for the Iran hostage crisis, for the peace treaty he brokered between the states of Israel and Egypt with the Camp David Accord, for the SALT II treaty brokered with the Soviet Union, for the Panama Canal treaty which turned the canal over to Panama, and for an energy crisis. He was much less successful on the domestic front, having alienated both his own party and his opponents through what was perceived as a lack of willingness to work with Congress — much as he had in his term as Governor.

On July 15, 1979, Carter gave a nationally televised address in which he identified what he believed to be a crisis of confidence among the American people. This has come to be known as his "malaise" speech, even though he never actually used the word "malaise" anywhere in the text:

I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.... I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

Carter's speech, though viewed by some as too much like a sermon, was well-received. The country was in the worst recession since the 1930s, with inflation and unemployment at record levels. But many who hoped for more inspired leadership after the Ford Administration found themselves disappointed. Two days after the speech, Carter asked for the resignations of all of his Cabinet officers, and ultimately accepted five. With no visible efforts towards a way out of the malaise, Carter's poll numbers dropped even further.

Among Presidents who served at least one full term, Carter is the only one who never made an appointment to the Supreme Court.

Domestic policies

A major issue for President Carter was inflation, especially the rising price of imported oil which was the major source of energy for many industries. Carter added the United States Department of Energy as a new cabinet level department. The first head of the department was James R. Schlesinger.

Carter's government reorganization efforts also separated the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The inflation caused interest rates to rise to unprecedented levels (above 12 percent per year). The rapid change in rates led to disintermediation of bank deposts which contributed to beginning of the Savings and Loan crisis. Investments in fixed income were becoming less valuable (both bonds, and pensions being paid to retired people). With the markets for U.S. government debt coming under pressure, Carter appointed Paul Volcker as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board; Volcker replaced G. William Miller who left to become the Secretary of the Treasury. Volcker took actions (raising interest rates even further) to slow down the economy and bring down inflation, which he considered his mandate. He succeeded, but only by first going through a very unpleasent phase where the economy slowed down, causing a rise in unemployment, prior to any relief from the inflation. The stagnant growth (causing unemployment) in combination with a high rate of inflation is called stagflation.

Foreign policies

Carter promoted his foreign policy as being one that would place human rights at the forefront. This was intended to be a break from the policies of the Nixon administration, in which human rights abuses were often overlooked if they were committed by a nation that was allied to the United States. The Carter administration ended support to the historically U.S.-backed Somoza government in Nicaragua, and gave millions of dollars in aid to the nation's new regime, following a Sandinista coup.

Carter continued his predecessors' policies of imposing sanctions on Rhodesia, and, after Bishop Abel Muzorewa was elected Prime Minister, protested that the Marxists Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo were excluded from the elections. Strong pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom prompted new elections in what was then called Zimbabwe Rhodesia. Carter was also known for his criticism of Alfredo Stroessner, Augusto Pinochet, the apartheid government of South Africa, and other traditional allies.

Carter also established diplomatic and trade relations with the People's Republic of China, thus ending official relations with the Republic of China (though the two nations continued to trade and the U.S. unofficially recognized Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act).

The main conflict between human rights and U.S. interests came in Carter's dealings with the Shah of Iran. The Shah had been a strong ally of America since World War II, and was one of the few U.S.-friendly regimes in the Middle East. However, his rule was strongly autocratic. Though Carter praised the Shah as a wise and valuable leader, when a popular uprising against the monarchy broke out in Iran, the Carter administration did not intervene.

The Shah was deposed and exiled. Many have since connected the Shah's dwindling U.S. support as a leading cause of his quick overthrow. Carter was initially prepared to recognize the revolutionary government of the monarch's successor, but his efforts proved futile.

In 1979, Carter reluctantly allowed the deposed Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi into the United States for political asylum and medical treatment. In response to the Shah's entry into the U.S., Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Tehran taking 66 Americans hostage and demanded the Shah's return to Iran for trial and execution. Though later that year the Shah would leave the US and die in Egypt, the Iran hostage crisis continued, and dominated the last year of Carter's presidency, even though 14 of the hostages were released. The subsequent responses to the crisis, from a "Rose Garden strategy" of staying inside the White House, to the unsuccessful attempt to rescue the hostages, were largely seen as contributing to defeat in the 1980 election.

Although the Carter team had pursued the release of the hostages, an agreement for their release was not signed until January 19, 1981, after the election of Ronald Reagan. The hostages had been held captive for 444 days, and their release happened just minutes after Carter left office. However, Reagan asked Carter to head to Germany to greet the hostages.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 was a response to the U.S. military presence there, according to Carter's National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. After the invasion, Carter announced the Carter Doctrine, according to which the U.S. would not allow any outside power to gain control of the Persian Gulf. Also in response to the events in Afghanistan, Carter prohibited Americans from participating in the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow, and he reinstated registration for the draft for young males.

In order to oppose the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski started a $40 billion program of training Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In retrospect, this contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but, ironically, is also often tied to the resulting instability of post-Soviet Afghani governments, which led to the rise of Islamic theocracy in the region. Some even tie the program to the 1996 coup that established the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and to the creation of violent Islamic terrorist groups. At the time, and continuing into the Reagan and G.H.W. Bush presidencies, Islamic fundamentalism as a political force was not well understood.

Interest in extraterrestrial life and UFOs

President Carter claims to have witnessed a UFO in 1969. He filed a report with the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma City after a request from that organization. [1] During his presidential campaign, Carter promised to release the truth about any alleged UFO cover-up.

Through Stanford Research Institute, Mr. Alfred Webre was Principal Investigator for a proposed civilian scientific study of extraterrestrial communication presented to and developed with interested Carter White House staff. This took place during the period from May 1977 until the fall of 1977.

President Jimmy Carter's official statement placed on the Voyager spacecraft for its trip outside our solar system, June 16, 1977: "We cast this message into the cosmos . . . Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some - - perhaps many - - may have inhabited planet and space faring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message: We are trying to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope some day, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of Galactic Civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe."[2]


Members of the Reagan-Bush campaign and administration (most notably Barbara Honegger , in her book October Surprise), and the president of Iran in 1980 (Abu Al-Hasan Bani-Sadr , My Turn to Speak: Iran, the Revolution and Secret Deals With the U.S.) have alleged that a secret agreement between the Reagan campaign and the Iranians (orchestrated by George H. W. Bush) was responsible for destroying a deal between the Carter administration and the Iranian government that would have had the hostages released in October 1980. Such a scenario was termed "The October Surprise" by the Reagan team. Unnamed sources also are alleged to have claimed that it was blackmail over the deal that led to the U.S. involvement in the later Iran-Contra scandal, as Iran demanded to be sold weapons to use in its war against Iraq if the Reagan administration wanted it to keep quiet. It should be noted that none of these allegations has been proven or even officially investigated by any governmental body.

In 1977 Carter stated that there was no need to apologize to the Vietnamese people for the damage and suffering caused by the Vietnam war as "the destruction was mutual".

During Carter's administration, diplomatic recognition was switched from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China, a policy continued into the 21st century. In response, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act.

Some have accused Carter of ordering a cover-up of the events at Three Mile Island following the near meltdown of that nuclear plant. He has also been criticized for not doing enough to promote his stated human rights foreign policy stance in his administration, such as continuing to support the Indonesian government even while it was implicated in the commission of acts of genocide in the occupation of East Timor.


President Jimmy Carter 1977–1981
Vice President Walter F. Mondale 1977–1981
State Cyrus R. Vance 1977–1980
  Edmund Muskie 1980–1981
Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal 1977–1979
  G. William Miller 1979–1981
Defense Harold Brown 1977–1981
Justice Griffin Bell 1977–1979
  Benjamin R. Civiletti 1979–1981
Interior Cecil D. Andrus 1977–1981
Commerce Juanita M. Kreps 1977–1979
  Philip M. Klutznick 1979–1981
Labor Ray Marshall 1977–1981
Agriculture Robert Bergland 1977–1981
HEW Joseph A. Califano, Jr. 1977–1979
HHS Patricia R. Harris 1979–1981
Education Shirley M. Hufstedler 1979–1981
HUD Patricia R. Harris 1977–1979
  Moon Landrieu 1979–1981
Transportation Brock Adams 1977–1979
  Neil E. Goldschmidt 1979–1981
Energy James R. Schlesinger 1977–1979
  Charles W. Duncan 1979–1981


Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.
Presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the Reagan Presidential Library.

Since his unsuccessful bid for re-election, Carter has been involved in a variety of public policy, human rights, and charitable causes. His work in international public policy and conflict resolution is largely through the Carter Center. The center also focuses on world-wide health care including the campaign to eliminate guinea worm disease.

He and members of the center are sometimes involved in the monitoring of the electoral process in support of free and fair elections. This includes acting as election observers , particularly in Latin America and Africa.

Because he had served as a submariner (the only President to have done so), a submarine was named for him. The USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) was named on April 27, 1998, making it one of the very few US Navy vessels to be named for a person still alive at the time of the naming. In February 2005, Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter both spoke at the commissioning ceremony for this submarine.

Carter visited Cuba in May 2002, meeting with Fidel Castro and becoming the first President of the United States, in or out of office, to visit the island since Castro's 1959 revolution.

Not all Carter's efforts have gained him favor in Washington; President Clinton and both Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush were said to have been less than pleased with Carter's "freelance" diplomacy in Iraq and elsewhere.

Carter was the third U.S. president, after Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize award.

Five and attended the funeral of on , , in Nixon's hometown of , . From left: and , and , and , Jimmy and , and .
Five presidents and first ladies attended the funeral of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994, in Nixon's hometown of Yorba Linda, California. From left: Bill and Hillary Clinton, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Gerald and Betty Ford.

In March 2004 Carter roundly condemned George W. Bush and Tony Blair for waging an unnecessary war "based upon lies and misinterpretations" in order to oust Saddam Hussein. He claimed that Blair had allowed his better judgement to be swayed by Bush's desire to finish a war that George H. W. Bush (his father) had started.

He and his wife Rosalynn are also well-known for their work with Habitat for Humanity.

Every September he goes to the Plains Peanut Festival and reportedly frequents the Pink Pig Barbecue Restaurant in Cherry Log, Georgia when he and the former First Lady are visiting their log cabin near Ellijay, Georgia. Carter also teaches a Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.

On November 22, 2004, New York Republican Governor George Pataki named Carter and the other living former presidents (Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton) as honorary members of the board rebuilding the World Trade Center.


Jimmy Carter has been a relatively prolific author. He has written the following:

  • Why Not the Best? (1975 and 1996)
  • A Government as Good as Its People (1977 and 1996)
  • Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (1982 and 1995)
  • Negotiation: The Alternative to Hostility (1984)
  • The Blood of Abraham (1985 and 1993)
  • Everything to Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (1987 and 1995), with Rosalynn Carter
  • An Outdoor Journal (1988 and 1994)
  • Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age (1992)
  • Talking Peace: A Vision for the Next Generation (1993 and 1995)
  • Always a Reckoning (1995), a collection of poetry, illustrated by his granddaughter
  • The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer (1995), a children's book, illustrated by his daughter
  • Living Faith (1996)
  • Sources of Strength: Meditations on Scripture for a Living Faith (1997)
  • The Virtues of Aging (1998)
  • An Hour before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (2001)
  • Christmas in Plains: Memories (2001)
  • The Nobel Peace Prize Lecture (2002)
  • The Hornet's Nest (2003), a historical novel and the first work of fiction written by a U.S. President
  • Sharing Good Times (2004)

Further reading

  • Jones, Charles O. The Trusteeship Presidency: Jimmy Carter and the United States Congress. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1988
  • Jordan, Hamilton. Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency. NY: Putnam, 1982
  • Jordan, William J. Panama Odyssey. Austin: UT Press, 1984
  • Kaufman, Burton I. The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. Lawrence, KS: U. of KS, 1993
  • Kucharsky, David. The Man from Plains: The Mind and Spirit of Jimmy Carter. NY: Harper & Row, 1976
  • Lance, Bert. The Truth of the Matter: My Life in and out of Politics. NY: Summit Books, 1991

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|- style="text-align: center;" | width="30%" |Preceded by:
Gerald Ford | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |President of the United States
January 20, 1977January 20, 1981 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
Ronald Reagan

Last updated: 10-19-2005 08:36:19
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