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Ronald Reagan - 40th President of the United States


Portrait of President Ronald Reagan (National Archives)
Portrait of President Ronald Reagan (National Archives)

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 - June 5, 2004) was the 40th President of the United States, from 1981 - 1989 (a Republican). Reagan was also a noted film actor before entering politics. He is the longest-lived person to have served as President (age 90 as of 2001), as well as the oldest elected President.

Child of an alcoholic father, Reagan developed an early gift for storytelling and acting. He was a first-rate radio announcer of Chicago Cubs games, getting only the bare outlines of the game from a ticker and relying on his imagination and storytelling gifts to flesh out the game. Once in 1934, during the ninth inning of a Cubs-Cardinals game, the wire went dead. Reagan smoothly improvised a fictional play-by-play until the wire was restored.

Reagan had a successful career in Hollywood as a second-rank leading man, as his face and body were as handsome as his voice. In 1940 he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the film Knute Rockne All American, from which he acquired the nickname the Gipper, which he retained the rest of his life. Reagan himself considered that his best acting work was in Kings Row (1942). Other notable Reagan films include Hellcats of the Navy and the campy Bedtime for Bonzo.

Ronald Reagan began his political life as a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. He gradually became a staunch anti-communist. His political career started through the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). He gained political stature through radio broadcasts and speaking tours sponsored by the General Electric company. By the 1964 election he was a staunch supporter of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater.

In 1966, he was elected Governor of California. Reagan tried to gain the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, and again in 1976 over the incumbent Gerald Ford but was defeated at the Republican Convention. He succeeded in gaining the Republican nomination in 1980 and went on to be elected President in 1980 and 1984. During his presidency, Reagan survived an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. Like most successful politicians, he had great stage presence, and great instincts for how to come across to people and make them like him. Some historians believe that all of those traits would have been meaningless without his perceived enthusiasm for America and strong personal belief in the individual.

He portrayed himself as being:

  • Anti-communist
  • in favor of tax cuts
  • in favor of smaller non-military government
  • in favor of removing regulations on corporations
  • supportive of business interests, both small and large
  • supportive of some individual liberties
  • tough on crime

He is credited with:

  • building up the military
  • lowering taxes
  • greatly escalating the "war on drugs"
  • ending the high inflation that damaged the economy under his predecessor, Jimmy Carter.
  • firing the air traffic controllers when they illegally striked

Reagan's policies and successes or failures remain controversial in many areas including:

  • Many of Reagan's supporters credit him with winning the Cold War. Others believe that the collapse of communism in 1989 was a result of internal failures much more than American policy.
  • There is disagreement over how much Reagan's policies contributed both to the severe recession that took place in 1982, and the strong expansion that began late in his first term and ran throughout his second term.
  • The combined tax cuts and military spending increases of his first term led to enormous deficit spending and a dramatic increase in the national debt. The debt increased by approximately 450% between when Reagan took office and when his successor, George Bush, left office.
  • It is generally agreed that Reagan substantially weakened environmental protection.
  • Reagan's tactics in the "war on drugs" emphasized imprisonment while slashing funding for addiction treatment. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the USA's prison population. Critics charged that the policies did little to actually reduce the availability of drugs or crime on the street while resulting in a great financial and human cost for American society.
  • Reagan supported missile defense, hoping to make the US invulnerable to attack by the Soviet Union. Many of his critics felt that the goal was unattainable in practical terms, and that the attempt would be likely to increase the Arms Race, as well as being extremely expensive.
  • Despite his frequent pronouncements that he advocated smaller and less intrusive government, Federal spending and bureaucracy increased in size during his administration; his increases in military and "drug war" spending were far larger than his cuts in social spending.
  • Probably Reagan's most controversial foreign policy was supporting a civil war of the Contra guerrillas against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Reagan's determination to continue support for the Contras despite opposition in Congress led to the worst scandal of his presidency - the Iran-Contra Affair.
  • Reagan was regarded by some critics as indifferent to the needs of poor and minority citizens.
  • Although considered personally honest by most Americans, there were multiple scandals of bribery, corruption, and influence peddling involving Reagan's aides and subordinates, resulting in some 30 members of his administration spending time in prison.

Reagan was in many ways the founder of the modern Republican Party. His redefinition of fiscal conservatism as being focused on tax cuts without regard to a balanced budget ("Reaganomics"), his opposition to progressive taxation, his hostility to environmental protection and abortion, the importance of the Moral Majority and its supporters in his governing coalition, and even his fascination with missile defense have all become trademarks of subsequent Republican leaders, including George W. Bush. Reagan's predecessors such as Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower would not have recognized any of these as part of the Republican platform.

He was the first divorced person to be elected President.

During his administration, there was a major scandal and investigation of his administration's covert support of wars in Iran and Nicaragua in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair. His quick call for the appointment of an Independent Counsel to investigate, and cooperation with counsel, kept the scandals from affecting his presidency.

Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) was christened March 4, 2001, 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 Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), USS Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 709), USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23), and USNS Bob Hope (T-AKR-300).)

Supreme court Appointments

  • Sandra Day O'Connor - 1981
  • William Rehnquist - Chief Justice, 1986 (an associate justice since 1972)
  • Antonin Scalia - 1986
  • Anthony M. Kennedy - 1988


 

 

 
Photographs of President Ronald Reagan



Photograph of Newlyweds Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan cutting their wedding cake, 03/04/1952 (National Archives)
Photograph of Newlyweds Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan cutting their wedding cake, 03/04/1952 (National Archives)





Photograph of Governor Ronald Reagan, Ron Junior, Mrs. Reagan, and Patti Davis, ca. 1967 (National Archives)
Photograph of Governor Ronald Reagan, Ron Junior, Mrs. Reagan, and Patti Davis, ca. 1967 (National Archives)





Photograph of Ronald Reagan in a cowboy hat at Rancho Del Cielo, ca. 1976  (National Archives)
Photograph of Ronald Reagan in a cowboy hat at Rancho Del Cielo, ca. 1976 (National Archives)





Photograph of Ronald Reagan giving his Acceptance Speech at the Republican National Convention, Detroit, MI, 07/17/1980 (National Archives)
Photograph of Ronald Reagan giving his Acceptance Speech at the Republican National Convention, Detroit, MI, 07/17/1980 (National Archives)





Photograph of President Reagan being sworn in on Inaugural Day, U.S. Capitol, 01/20/1981 (National Archives)
Photograph of President Reagan being sworn in on Inaugural Day, U.S. Capitol, 01/20/1981 (National Archives)





Photograph of Official Portrait of Mrs. Reagan in the Red Room, ca. 02/07/1981 (National Archives)
Photograph of Official Portrait of Mrs. Reagan in the Red Room, ca. 02/07/1981 (National Archives)





Photograph of the Four Presidents (Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon) toasting in the Blue Room prior to leaving for Egypt and Sadat's Funeral, 10/08/1981 (National Archives)
Photograph of the Four Presidents (Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon) toasting in the Blue Room prior to leaving for Egypt and Sadat's Funeral, 10/08/1981 (National Archives)





Photograph of President Reagan giving the State of the Union Address to Congress, 01/25/1984  (National Archives)
Photograph of President Reagan giving the State of the Union Address to Congress, 01/25/1984 (National Archives)





Vice President Bush and President Reagan working in the Oval Office, 07/20/1984  (National Archives)
Vice President Bush and President Reagan working in the Oval Office, 07/20/1984 (National Archives)





Photograph of President Reagan, Mrs. Reagan, Vice-President Bush and Mrs. Bush at the Republican National Convention, Dallas, TX, 08/23/1984 (National Archives)
Photograph of President Reagan, Mrs. Reagan, Vice-President Bush and Mrs. Bush at the Republican National Convention, Dallas, TX, 08/23/1984 (National Archives)





Photograph of President Reagan giving a speech at the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Federal Republic of Germany, 06/12/1987  (National Archives)
Photograph of President Reagan giving a speech at the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Federal Republic of Germany, 06/12/1987 (National Archives)

 
Quick Facts about President Ronald Reagan

Rank: 40th (1981-1989)
Predecessor: Jimmy Carter
Successor: George Bush
Date of Birth: February 6, 1911
Place of Birth: Tampico, Illinois
First Lady: Nancy Davis
Profession: actor
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: George Bush

 
To learn more - use these online Internet resources

  • Gorbachev: 'We All Lost Cold War' - By Robert G. Kaiser - Washington Post Staff Writer - Friday, June 11, 2004
    Reagan, said Gorbachev, 73, was "an extraordinary political leader" who decided "to be a peacemaker" at just the right moment -- the moment when Gorbachev had come to power in Moscow. He, too, wanted to be a peacemaker, so "our interests coincided." ...But if he had warm, appreciative words for Reagan, Gorbachev brusquely dismissed the suggestion that Reagan had intimidated either him or the Soviet Union, or forced them to make concessions. Was it accurate to say that Reagan won the Cold War? "That's not serious," Gorbachev said, using the same words several times. "I think we all lost the Cold War, particularly the Soviet Union. We each lost $10 trillion," he said, referring to the money Russians and Americans spent on an arms race that lasted more than four decades. "We only won when the Cold War ended."... The changes he wrought in the Soviet Union, from ending much of the official censorship to sweeping political and economic reforms, were undertaken not because of any foreign pressure or concern, Gorbachev said, but because Russia was dying under the weight of the Stalinist system...."All that talk that somehow Reagan's arms race forced Gorbachev to look for some arms reductions, etc., that's not serious. The Soviet Union could have withstood any arms race. The Soviet Union could have actually decided not to build more weapons, because the weapons we had were more than enough." (Read more)
  • The American President: Ronald Reagan - Fact file and biographical sketch based on the PBS series. Also includes gallery and quotations.
  • AskMen.com - Ronald Reagan - Pictures, biography, commentary, and links on the ex-president
  • Biography of Ronald Reagan - A short biography from the official Whitehouse 'Past Presidents' site.
  • The Gipper.com - A multimedia tribute to President Reagan, including illustrated timelines, text of speeches, biography, and bookstore.
  • History of Ronald Reagan at Eureka College - Site about Reagan's undergraduate years and legacy, from his alma mater.
  • Person of the Year Archive: Ronald Reagan - Article reprinted from the Jan. 6, 1981 issue of Time magine cites Reagan as the publication's 54th Person of the Year.
  • Reagan - Primary source documents, enhanced transcripts, timeline and photo gallery, based on the PBS documentary.
  • Reagan and the Soviets - Examines the final years of the Cold War, with a particular focus on Ronald Reagan's policy towards the Soviet Union.
  • The Ronald Reagan Homepage - Tribute page focuses on the economic and diplomatic successes of Reagan's administration.
  • Ronald Reagan Legacy Project - Speeches, photos, records, humor and information on joining.
  • Ronald Reagan Library Opening 11/4/91 - A transcription of the Ronald Reagan Library opening ceremonies as recorded for the film Post No Bills
  • Ronald Reagan Lightouse Forum - Discussion forum and live chat devoted to the life and contributions of Ronald Regan.
  • The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation - Document archive and store dedicated to the Reagan presidency.
  • Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (official site) - Repository of documents and paraphernalia from the Reagan Administration.
  • Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator - Paper explores Reagan's upbringing, his early years, and his beliefs.
  • Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum Bookstore - Tour online exhibits from Reagan's life and career.
  • RonaldReagan.com - Provides in-depth biographical information, message boards, video clips, and transcripts of historic speeches.
  • TheReaganLegacy.com - A macromedia flash tribute. Text of speeches, quotes, photographs, multimedia, news and related links.


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