James Earl Carter Jr., better known as Jimmy, was born on October 1, 1924 in Plains, Georgia. His father, James Earl Carter Sr., was a peanut farmer who owned his own small plot of land as well as a small store. His mother, Bessie Lillian Gordy, was a registered nurse who in the 1920s worked with African American nurses, a task that was unheard of during this time. Jimmy was always extremely well-mannered and never disobeyed his parents. In between his studies, Jimmy worked at his father’s store since he was ten years old. In school, Jimmy attended an all-white high school, but his two best friends were African Americans, and he accredits his parents with teaching him that all people, regardless of race, are created equal. While in school, Jimmy worked extremely hard and was the first person in his family to graduate from high school.
United States Naval Academy
Upon graduating from high school, Carter attended a small technical school and then he joined the ROTC program at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Carter then applied at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and he began his studies at the academy in 1943. While at the Naval Academy, Jimmy excelled academically and outperformed his peers, graduating in 1946 in the top ten percent of his class. Once Jimmy left the Naval Academy, the Navy assigned him to work on submarines, and in the early years of their marriage, the Carters moved frequently. After a training program in Norfolk, Virginia, they moved to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where Carter was an electronics officer before moving to Washington D.C.
Governor of Georgia
In 1962, after he finished his duty with the Navy, Carter believed he had a chance to be a “new southerner,” meaning he opposed segregation. Carter ran for Georgia State Senate and was able to defeat the popular businessman, Homer Moore. While serving in the state Senate, Jimmy earned a reputation for being extremely liberal and a staunch anti-segregationist. Carter then decided to make a run at becoming governor of Georgia, but lost in his first attempt because many Democrats rejected his liberal ideas. Carter, however, would prove successful in his second bid for governor. Soon, following the Watergate Scandal involving Richard Nixon, Carter endeavored to become president.
Running for President
Jimmy Carter was one of ten candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976, and at first he was probably the least well known. However, in a time of deep frustration with establishment politicians, Carter's anonymity proved an advantage. He portrayed himself as the “common man,” and he vowed to never tell a lie all while saying he would work to balance the national budget. Carter was able to capture the Democratic nomination and faced off against Gerald Ford, the incumbent. Although he held an early lead, Ford made a comeback, but ultimately Carter won the election and became the 39th President of the United States.
Policies and Priorities
Symbolizing his commitment to a new kind of leadership, after his inaugural address, Carter got out of his limousine to walk to the White House amongst his supporters. Carter's main domestic priority involved energy policy. With oil prices rising, and in the aftermath of the 1973 oil embargo, Carter believed it was absolutely necessary to reduce America's dependency on foreign oil. Carter received major criticism throughout his term for rising gas prices due to his war on foreign oil dependency. Carter's foreign policy centered around a promise to make human rights a central concern in the United States' relations with other countries. But Carter's most notable foreign policy achievement was his successful mediation of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, leading to a historic peace treaty in which Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and the two sides officially recognized each other's governments.
Failure in the Iranian Hostage Crisis
Probably the biggest factor in Carter's declining approval rating was the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In November 1979, radical Iranian students seized the United States Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 Americans hostage. Carter's failure to negotiate the hostages' release, followed by a badly botched rescue mission, made him look like a poor leader who had been outsmarted by a group of radical students in a country that was seen as lesser than the United States. The hostages were held for 444 days before finally being released on the day Carter left office. It was because of a series of poor decisions that caused him to lose his bid for reelection to Ronald Reagan, a former movie star from California.
Although Carter is best-known for his humanitarian efforts, his term in office is widely recognized as a failure due to his poor handling of foreign affairs. The Iranian Hostage Crisis left a permanent black eye on his administration and he was never able to rebound from it. Today, Carter is still known as being a great humanitarian and was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his efforts to end conflicts around the world. He is the longest-lived of all American presidents.