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Jimmy Carter - 39th President of the United States

President Jimmy Carter  01/22/1977  (National Archives)
President Jimmy Carter 01/22/1977 (National Archives)

James Earl Carter, Junior (born October 1, 1924) was the 39th (1977 to 1981) President of the United States, a Democrat. He is better known as Jimmy Carter, and sued for the right to have his name appear on the ballot in that form.

Carter was born in the town of Plains, Georgia. Before entering politics, he was a peanut farmer in Plains (after serving as an officer and nuclear engineer in the U.S. Navy, serving under Admiral Hyman Rickover).

In the 1960s he served 2 terms in the Georgia State Senate. In his 1970 campaign for governor he 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 white southern politician to say this in public (such sentiments would have signaled the end of the political career of white politicians in the region less than 15 years earlier), 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 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. Government reorganization was the centerpiece of his campaign platform. He was the first candidate from the deep South to be elected president since the American Civil War.

As part of his government reorganization efforts, Carter separated the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. He also elevated the Energy agency into a new cabinet-level department, the U.S. Department of Energy.

Carter's administration is best remembered for the peace treaty brokered between the states of Israel and Egypt with the Camp David Accord, the SALT II treaty brokered with the Soviet Union, the Panama Canal treaty which turned the canal over to Panama, and an energy crisis.

In 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. Rather than inspiring Americans to action as he had hoped, the was perceived by many to express a pessimistic outlook which may have damaged his reelection hopes.

Also in 1979, Carter allowed the former Iranian dictator, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi into the United States for poltical asylum and medical treatment. Although Carter had ostensibly promoted human rights as a hallmark of his foreign policy, he had been a staunch supporter of the Iranian strongman during his reign. In response to the Shah's entry into the US, Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Tehran and demanded the Shah's return to Iran. The hostage crisis dominated the last year of his presidency, and his subsequent responses to the crisis, from a "Rose Garden strategy" of staying inside the White House to the botched attempt to rescue the hostages, were largely seen as contributing to defeat in the 1980 election.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he announced the Carter Doctrine, according to which the US would not allow any other single 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.

Carter has been accused of ordering a cover-up of the events at Three Mile Island following the near meltdown of that nuclear plant. He also been criticized for not doing enough to promote his stated human rights foreign policy stance in his administration, such as continuing to support Indonesia even while they were committing genocide in their occupation of East Timor.

Since losing his bid for re-election, Carter has been involved in a variety of human rights and charitable causes, largely through Habitat for Humanity and the Carter Center. Habitat is involved in affordable housing throughout the world and the Carter Center also focuses on world-wide health care including the campaign to eliminate guinea worm disease. Another major focus of his work has been providing election observers to help ensure free and fair elections in a variety of countries. In 2002, in a deliberate dig at the Bush administration, the Nobel Prize committee awarded Carter the Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights and mediation work. The only other president to have received the Peace Prize was Theodore Roosevelt.

The submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) was named on April 27, 1998, making it one of the very few US Navy ships to be named for a living person. (The first was USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70); others include USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 709), and USNS Bob Hope (T-AKR-300).)


Photographs of President Jimmy Carter

Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter and Amy Carter on the south lawn in front of the White House, 07/24/1977 (National Archives)
Rosalynn Carter, Jimmy Carter and Amy Carter on the south lawn in front of the White House, 07/24/1977 (National Archives)

President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during Inauguration., 01/20/1977 (National Archives)
President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during Inauguration., 01/20/1977 (National Archives)

Jimmy Carter and his mother Miss Lillian Carter, 02/17/1977  (National Archives)
Jimmy Carter and his mother Miss Lillian Carter, 02/17/1977 (National Archives)

Quick Facts about President Jimmy Carter

Rank: 39th (1977-1981)
Predecessor: Gerald R. Ford
Successor: Ronald Reagan
Date of Birth: October 1, 1924
Place of Birth: Plains, Georgia
First Lady: Eleanor Rosalynn Smith
Profession: farmer
Political Party: Democrat
Vice President: Walter Mondale

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