James Earl Carter Jr. was born October 1, 1924, in the small farming town of Plains, Ga., and grew up in the nearby community of Archery. His father, James Earl Carter Sr., was a farmer and businessman and his mother, Lillian Gordy Carter, a registered nurse.
Jimmy Carter graduated valedictorian of the class at
Plains High School, attended Georgia Southwestern
College and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and
received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United
States Naval Academy in 1946. In the Navy, he became a
submariner, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific
fleets and rising to the rank of lieutenant. Chosen by
Admiral Hyman Rickover for the nuclear submarine
program, he was assigned to Schenectady, N.Y., where he
took graduate work at Union College in reactor
technology and nuclear physics, and served as senior
officer of the pre-commissioning crew of the Seawolf,
the second nuclear submarine.
Though he had always stood up for civil rights and inclusion, and was able to win reelection to the state senate against a segregationist opponent, Carter was stung by a humiliating defeat in a run for governor of Georgia in 1966. He attributed this loss to a lack of support from segregationist whites, who had turned out in large numbers to vote for his opponent, a nationally known segregationist named Lester Maddox. In a bid to win their vote in the 1970 governor's race, Carter minimized appearances before African American groups, and even sought the endorsements of avowed segregationists, a move that some critics call deeply hypocritical. Yet after he became governor of Georgia in 1971, he surprised many Georgians by declaring that the era of segregation was over. Among the new young southern governors, he attracted attention by emphasizing ecology, efficiency in government, and the removal of racial barriers.
Carter announced his candidacy for President in December 1974 and began a two-year campaign that gradually gained momentum. At the Democratic Convention, he was nominated on the first ballot. He chose Senator Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota as his running mate. Carter campaigned hard against President Gerald R. Ford, debating with him three times. Carter won by 297 electoral votes to 241 for Ford.
Carter's newcomer status soon showed itself in his inability to make deals with Congress. Sensing his shallow public support, Congress shot down key portions of his consumer protection bill. Carter was determined to free the nation from dependency on foreign oil by encouraging alternate energy sources and deregulating domestic oil pricing. But the creation of a pricing cartel by OPEC, the oil producing countries organization, sent oil prices soaring, caused rampant inflation, and a serious recession. Carter was also deeply troubled by public scandals involving his family, including a mysterious $250,000 payment by the government of Libya to Carter's brother Billy.
Foreign affairs during the Carter administration were equally troublesome. Critics thrashed both Carter's plans to relinquish control of the Panama Canal and his response to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan by pulling out of the Olympics and ending the sale of wheat to the Russians. His recognition of communist China, which expanded on Nixon's China policy, and his negotiation of new arms control agreements with the Soviets, were both criticized by conservatives in the Republican Party. But the most serious crisis of Carter's presidency involved Iran. When the Ayatollah Khomeini seized power there, the U.S. offered sanctuary to the ailing Shah, angering the new Iranian government, which then encouraged student militants to storm the American embassy and take over fifty Americans hostage. Carter's ineffectual handling of the much-televised hostage crisis, and the disastrous failed attempt to rescue them in 1980, doomed his presidency, even though he negotiated their release shortly before leaving office.
Carter is positively remembered, however, for the historic 1978 Camp David Accords, where he mediated a historic peace agreement between Israel's Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat. This vital summit revived a long-dormant practice of presidential peacemaking, something every succeeding chief executive has emulated to varying degrees. Nevertheless, because of perceived weaknesses as a domestic and foreign policy leader, and because of the poor performance of the economy, Carter was easily defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Since leaving office, Carter has remained active, serving as a freelance ambassador for a variety of international missions and advising presidents on Middle East and human rights issuesJimmy Carter's one-term presidency is remembered for the events that overwhelmed it—inflation, energy crisis, war in Afghanistan, and hostages in Iran. After one term in office, voters strongly rejected Jimmy Carter's honest but gloomy outlook in favor of Ronald Reagan's optimism. In the past two decades, however, there has been wider recognition that Carter, despite a lack of experience, confronted several huge problems with steadiness, courage, and idealism. Along with his predecessor Gerald Ford, Carter must be given credit for restoring the balance to the constitutional system after the excesses of the Johnson and Nixon "imperial presidency."