James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. was the 39th president of the United States. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.
James Earl Carter Jr. was born on October 1, 1924, 11 Plains, Georgia. His father, James Earl, was a farmer and the proprietor of a small store in Archery. His mother, known as “Miss Lillian,” was a registered nurse. Jimmy grew up with plenty to do on his father’s farm. He “mopped” the family’s cotton crop with a mixture of poisonous arsenic, molasses, and water to drive off boll weevils, and he helped pick the cotton when it ripened. He picked peanuts, too, boiling them and then selling bags of them in Plains and earning himself about a dollar a day, a money-making venture that earned him the nickname “Hot,” short for “Hotshot.” It was an apt nickname. When he was a teenager, Jimmy expanded his little business and saved enough to buy four rental houses, which he eventually sold to buy an engagement ring for Rosalynn Smith.
At his segregated public school, Jimmy was singled out by a teacher, Julia Coleman, who encouraged him to take on tough assignments. He was equally captivated by an uncle, Tom Gordy, who was in the navy. To a young boy who was getting out of bed before dawn to handle tiring farm chores, navy life - with travel to exotic ports - seemed like a perfect career choice. Not surprisingly, Jimmy set his sights on the U.S. Naval Academy at a very early age, writing to Annapolis for information while he was still in elementary school.
Carter graduated from Plains' 11-grade school in 1941 at the age of 16.
He studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology before being inducted into the U.S. Naval Academy in 1943, from where he graduated in 1946. He was subsequently enlisted in the American Navy.
He served as an ensign on an experimental nuclear submarine with Captain (later Admiral) Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy. In 1953, after the death of his father, Carter resigned his commission to take over his family's peanut farm, which he turned into a thriving business.
Carter became a deacon and Sunday school teacher in the Plains Baptist Church, then chairman of the Sumter County School Board, where he peacefully promoted racial desegregation of the schools. As a state senator, Carter fought local segregationist groups, and he defeated racist opponents to win reelection to the senate. He encouraged blacks to join the Plains Baptist Church.
In 1966 Carter ran for governor but lost to arch-segregationist Lester Maddox. Carter's loss led him to become a born-again Christian. In the 1970 Democratic gubernatorial primary Carter declared his opposition to busing as a means of overcoming racial segregation in schools, leading the Atlanta Constitution to call him an “ignorant, racist, backward, ultraconservative, redneck South Georgia peanut farmer.” With evangelical and fundamentalist Christian support, he won the election.
Although elected with segregationist support, Carter was a progressive, especially on race relations. Carter reorganized the state government and consolidated many independent agencies into a few efficient departments. He increased minority hiring in state government by 50 percent, and he promoted environmental and educational programs. But he worked poorly with traditional politicians in the state legislature, gaining a reputation as an arrogant and isolated governor.
Carter began a steady rise in national Democratic politics, however. He became chair of the Democratic Governors’ Campaign Committee in 1972 and campaign chair for the Democratic National Committee in 1974—a year in which the party scored major successes in congressional elections. By 1975 Carter was spending most of his time making speeches and traveling from one state to another seeking financial support and media attention.
Carter portrayed himself as an outsider who could clean up the mess in Washington. He promised never to lie to the American people, implicitly contrasting himself to politicians like Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. He called for “a government that is as honest and decent and fair and competent and truthful and idealistic as are the American people.”
Carter won the Iowa Presidential caucuses on January 19, 1976, and propelled himself to the forefront of the Democratic field. He won the New Hampshire primary a few weeks later, and funds poured into his campaign. He won a number of other primaries and gained sufficient votes for a first-ballot nomination at the national convention. He defeated the incumbent President, Gerald Ford, in the general election by a narrow margin, due in large measure to a split in the opposition ranks between moderate Republicans and conservatives who had favored Ronald Reagan. The high unemployment rate and Ford's pardon of Nixon also worked in Carter's favor.
Carter's popularity fell during much of his term, as inflation increased to more than 15 percent and the unemployment rate, after dropping early in his term, rose again to more than 6 percent. Interest rates rose to the 20 percent range, which made it difficult for people to purchase homes and consumer goods.
Carter's most dramatic moments in foreign policy affairs began in November 1979 when Iranian student militants seized the United States embassy in Tehran and took 52 U.S. citizens hostage. The hostages were to be held, their captors said, until the deposed Shah, who was in the United States for medical treatment, was handed over. Carter responded first by cutting diplomatic relations with Iran and stopping all imports from that country. An April 1980 attempt to rescue the hostages ended in failure with the death of eight U.S. marines in a helicopter crash in the Iranian desert. And the resignation of Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance. In the end the crisis lasted for a total of 444 days with the hostages finally being released on January 20, 1981, the last day that Carter held office.
In response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which raised a bitter controversy
In July 1980 Carter's popularity slid to 20 percent in the polls-lower even than Nixon's during the Watergate scandal.
In the 1980 Democratic nominating contest, Senator Edward M. Kennedy almost defeated Carter, and much of Kennedy's liberal platform was adopted by the convention in a repudiation of the Carter Presidency. With the Democrats split, Republican conservative Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in a three-way race that also involved independent candidate John Anderson.
On the day Carter's successor was inaugurated, the Iranian government released the 52 hostages they had held for 444 days. President Reagan asked Carter to fly to Germany to greet the returning hostages.
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 more than 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.
The Carter Center of Emory University is an institution devoted to mediating international conflict and ameliorating health problems in the world's developing nations. In a departure from the usual quiet retirement of presidents, participated in the creation and work of the Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta, an organization devoted to human rights and humanitarian causes around the world. Carter has played an active role in numerous diplomatic and domestic efforts after leaving office. In this, he is especially known for his successful international mediations in countries such as North Korea and Haiti.
He also became involved in monitoring elections in a number of foreign nations, which aided in their transformation from dictatorship to democracy.
In 2000, Carter criticized the Southern Baptist Convention, disagreeing over the role of women in society. He continued to teach Sunday School and serve as a deacon in his local Baptist Church.
Carter shed many of the trappings of the “imperial” Presidency and pursued a foreign policy emphasizing human rights and peaceful solution of international conflict. He was an intelligent man and knew the issues in detail. But he had no base in the Democratic party and few friends in the federal government, making it difficult for him to achieve his purposes.
Although Carter took office with large Democratic majorities in Congress, he was unable to get them to support much of his program. His opposition to some rivers and harbors projects early in his term was fiercely resisted by his own party's congressional leaders, as was his 1978 veto of a public works measure on the grounds that it would be inflationary.
Although Congress passed his proposal to create a department of energy, his comprehensive energy program was revised. When it did pass, it proved unpopular with the public because it emphasized conservation and higher prices.
He cut back on federal aid to urban areas, causing a backlash among liberal Democrats. His decision to cancel the B-1 bomber upset party conservatives. When Congress transformed his tax reform plan into new favors for special interests, Carter referred to them as “a pack of ravenous wolves.”
Carter did have some successes: he got Congress to divide the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into two new departments, one for education and the other for health and human services; the minimum wage was raised; and Congress deregulated the airline, trucking, and railroad industries. It also established a “Superfund” to clean up toxic waste sites.
In foreign affairs, too, Carter took actions that were unpopular. In 1977, although more than three-fourths of the American people wanted to keep the Panama Canal Zone, Carter negotiated two treaties with Panama that called for the United States to give up sovereign rights in the Panama Canal Zone and to turn over operation of the canal to Panama by the turn of the century. The Senate consented to the treaties by only a bare margin.
In 1978 Carter presided over the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt, which resulted in a treaty between the two nations the following year. In 1979 Carter recognized communist China and canceled a defense treaty with the anticommunist government on Taiwan—actions that upset Southern conservatives.
He began an emphasis in American foreign policy on human rights, cutting off foreign aid to certain Latin American nations with repressive regimes. The second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) with the Soviet Union was signed on June 18, 1979, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan put Senate consent to the treaty in doubt and Carter withdrew it from the Senate. Nevertheless, both governments adhered to its terms.
Carter had strong beliefs about human rights, and he wasn’t afraid to criticize foreign governments that violated the rights of their citizens, although he didn’t press the issue when his criticisms led to tension in foreign policy.
"A strong nation, like a strong person, can afford to be gentle, firm, thoughtful, and restrained. It can afford to extend a helping hand to others. It's a weak nation, like a weak person, that must behave with bluster and boasting and rashness and other signs of insecurity."
"We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams."
"What are the things that you can't see that are important? I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love...They're the guiding lights of a life."
"Failure is a reality; we all fail at times, and it's painful when we do. But it's better to fail while striving for something wonderful, challenging, adventurous, and uncertain than to say, " I don't want to try because I may not succeed completely."
"America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense human rights invented America."
Carter is introspective, always ready to confront his own shortcomings and seek self-improvement. He is industrious and self-disciplined and believes strongly in the power of positive thinking. He has said that his greatest strength is an inner peace. Disarmingly unpretentious, he brought an informality to the White House typified in photos of the president toting his own suit bag aboard Air Force One. Yet for all his outward simplicity, Carter is a complex personality. Bruce Mazlish, a historian trained in psychoanalysis, concluded that a “fusion of contradictions” runs deep in the Carter character and added, “The ambiguities that could tear another person apart are held together in Jimmy Carter.” Indeed, Carter has been described variously as shy yet supremely self-confident, compassionate and tender but also at times inconsiderate and steely. Only occasionally did he explode in anger in front of others. Usually he expressed displeasure with an icy stare or a searing bit of sarcasm.
Carter is 5 feet 9.5 inches tall and weighed about 155 pounds as president. He used to part his sandy hair on the right but changed to the left during his term as president. He has hazel eyes and wears a soft contact lens in his right eye for reading. His most distinctive feature is his broad, toothsome grin. He suffers from a bad knee and a permanently bent finger, the latter the result of a cotton gin accident. He speaks in a soft Georgia drawl. He dresses simply, often wearing his “lucky” red tie. He prefers his denim “peanut clothes,” however.
Quotes from others about the person
“Religion always functions best at the margins of society and not in the councils of power, and I think Jimmy Carter’s career illustrates that beautifully. ~ Randall Balmer
Jimmy Carter has literally become such an anti-Israel bigot that there is a special place in Hell reserved for somebody like that. He has no sympathy or understanding for the suffering of the Jewish people—for the plight of the Jewish people. He loves every Muslim extremist he can find. He thought the former president of Syria—Assad—was a wonderful man. He bounced Yasser Arafat's children on his knee and loved Yasser Arafat and his crooked wife who stole three billion dollars from the Palestinian people, but he never had a kind word to say about almost any Israeli, except a few on the hard left who maybe tended to agree with him. ... If you're an Israeli, Carter doesn't like you and if you're an Arab or a Muslim, he likes you. ~ Alan Dershowitz
It was impossible not to like Jimmy Carter. He was a deeply committed Christian and a man of obvious sincerity. He was also a man of marked intellectual ability with a grasp, rare among politicians, of science and the scientific method. ~ Margaret Thatcher”