James Earl Carter Jr., the 39th President of the United States, was the first President from the Deep South since Andrew Jackson, and the first President to officially use his nickname, Jimmy, is office.
Jimmy Carter was born in Plains, Georgia on October 1, 1924. In 1927 his family moved to the tiny settlement of Archery, just outside Plains, where he lived until he was 17 years old. As a boy he mopped cotton, which means to take the seeds out of cotton. He graduated from high school in 1941, then spent a year at Georgia Southwestern College and another at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Carter began a military career in June 1943 by enrolling in the United States Naval Academy. By 1946 he was serving as a comissioned officer, and in that same year he married Rosalynn Smith. In 1948 he entered submarine school, subsequently serving as the junior officer on four submarines. He was accepted into the navy?s protype nuclear submarine training program in 1952 and remained there for 11 months. On his father?s death, he left the navy to take over the family?s peanut business in Plains.
In Georgia, Carter became a prominent businessman and active citizen, known as a liberal on racial matters. He was elected to the state senate in 1962, was reelected two years later, and then ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1966. At that time, he had a religious experience, becoming a “born-again” Christian. He won the governorship in 1970 and headed a politically moderate administration, representative of the so-called New South.
Before his governmental term ended, Carter had decided to run for the presidency. After intense primary battles, he overcame the problems of being an unknown candidate from the Deep South without a national constituency, and in 1976 gained the Democratic party?s nomination on the first ballot. Carter and his vice-presidential running mate, Senator Walter F. Mondale, defeated the Republican incumbent president, Gerald R. Ford, and his running mate, Senator Robert Dole, with an electoral vote of 297 to 241. Carter received 40.8 million popular votes to ford?s 39.1 million.
Carter?s biggest obstacle in solving the country?s economic problems was the energy crisis. Throughout Carter?s term, oil prices kept going up. In 1979 alone, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, known as OPEC, doubled oil prices from fourteen to more than twenty-eight dollars a barrel. This led to a shortage of affordable gasoline. When lines at the pumps reached a mile and a half long, most states introduced gasoline rationing.
To limit the dependence on foreign oil, Carter proposed an energy bill with strict rules for conversation. Carter?s bill also included money for the development of new energy sources. For eighteen months, the president struggled with Congress before a watered-down version of his bill was passed in November 1978.
In matters of defense, Carter advocated increased spending, favoring a cruise missile system. He endorsed a strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but opposed its use of neutron bombs. He secured a passage of a new Panama Canal treaty.
With regard to the Soviet Union, Carter continued Nixon?s policy of detente. The Strategic Arms Limitation alks (SALT II) produced another treaty, which Carter and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev signed in June 1979.
Before SALT II could be ratified, however-and its prospects were not good-the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Waging a war that resembled the U. S. effort in Vietnam, the Red Army spent nine years fighting unsuccessfully to defend the Soviet-backed government against Islamic rebels. In response to the invasion, President Carter cut off U.S. grain sales and led a sixty-four nation boycott of the Moscow Olympics held during the summer of 1980.
Carter initiated a foreign policy based on respect for human rights. The president believed it was immoral for the United States to support governments that abuse their citizens?even if those governments also oppose communism. Providing that he meant what he said, the president cut off aid to brutal military dictatorship in Argentina, Ethiopia, and Uruguay.
Carter?s greatest triumph came when he provided the framework for the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Israel Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, signed the “Framework of Peace in the Middle East” and the “Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty Between Egypt and Israel,” following eleven days of U. S. sponsored talks at Camp David. The treaty was signed on March 26, 1979.
On November 4, 1979, a mob of Islamic students attacked the U. S. embassy in Iran and took the staff hostage. President Carter did not approve of the torture the shah had used to control Iran. But neither was he willing to submit to terrorism. Instead, he tried to free the hostages through diplomatic means, all of which failed.
As the months passed, public pressure on Carter continued to grow. When nothing else seemed to work, the president approved a military rescue mission in April 1980. Unfortunately, helicopter problems forced the mission to pull out, and eight servicemen were killed when one helicopter hit a transport plane. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who had opposed the raid, resigned in protest, and the president?s public image suffered badly.
It wasn?t until January 19, 1981, his last full day in office, that Carter finally negotiated the hostages? release, ending 444 days of captivity. The former president spent the first day of his retirement welcoming back the hostages at a military hospital in West Germany.
Although Carter?s popularity declined sharply during his term, he successfully campaigned for renomination in 1980. In the election, however, Carter and Mondale were overwhelmingly defeated by Republicans Ronald Regan and George Bush. After leaving office, Carter continued to champion human rights and became a public spokesman for numerous charitable causes. In 1982, he founded the Carter Center of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The center serves as a forum for discussion of issues relating to democracy and human rights. Since the mid-1980s the Carters have helped build low-income housing for the poor as part of the nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity. Carter has also traveled extensively throughout various developing countries helping to monitor elections, establish relief efforts, and conduct peace negotiations. He has also written several books.
President Carter?s active participation in things like the Carter Center, the Atlanta Project, and Habitat for Humanity prove that he is just as committed to helping the poor and disenfranchised here in the United Stares as he is to advancing the cause of global unity. You can find him building a house for a family in the inner-city, in the company of the most powerful leaders in the world, or back home teaching Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church. The man from Plains, Georgia is still providing the moral leadership he promised nearly two decades ago.