Jimmy Carter: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Christopher Prokes

Chris is an instructional designer and college faculty member. He has a Master's Degree in Education and also umpires baseball.

Jimmy Carter was the 39th President of the United States. Learn about Carter's life, presidency, and post-executive service. Then, take a short quiz to see how much you learned.

Simple Roots in the South

Jimmy Carter was born on October 1, 1924 in Plains, Georgia. His family lived in a very rural and poor part of the state, where many, including the Carters, lacked running water and electricity.

Carter was raised to care for others. His mother was a nurse who helped African Americans needing medical care when others wouldn't. His father ran a general store and small peanut farm that employed locals. Their concern for others ensured that many families, including the Carters, were not completely harmed by the Great Depression. Owing to the hard work and lessons his father taught him and his Christian values, he would eventually serve as President of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States
Jimmy Carter

From Peanut Farmer to Politician

After high school, Carter entered college and then served in the US Navy. He married Rosalynn Smith and had four children. After the death of his father, Carter retired from military service to run the family peanut farm and store. He became involved in his community, serving on several local boards. In 1962, Carter entered politics as a Democrat and was elected for two terms in the Georgia Senate. He was elected governor of Georgia in 1970. Carter ran the state on the principles of caring for others and helping the poor.

Although Carter was a long shot in the presidential election of 1976, he was an outsider from the mess of Washington. People did not trust their elected officials due to scandals like Watergate and the way the Vietnam War had been handled by those in power. His win against incumbent Gerald Ford was due in no small part to his values and outsider status.

Results map of the election of 1976
Election of 1976

Presidency

As President, Carter wanted people to know he would take care of them. He tried his hardest to make prices fair. When faced with an energy crisis, he did his best to keep oil and gas available, despite the long lines at many gas stations. He also dealt with several critical human rights issues across the world. Carter was successful on some counts, including the Camp David Accords that created peace between Egypt and Israel. He also negotiated the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union that further reduced the nuclear weapon stockpiles of both countries.

Long lines for gas were a typical scene during the energy crisis of the 1970s
Energy Crisis 1970s

Though popular because of his concern for others, Carter also had hurdles. In 1979, for example, 66 Americans were held in the Iran hostage crisis. Carter tried for more than a year to secure their release but was unsuccessful. Carter also sought legislation (successfully) to return to the Panama Canal to Panama, which angered many Americans. They felt this action would weaken the United States as it would lose control of a key part of its economic dominance. It would also give Panama a great deal of power in Central America. There would be problems in regards to Panama faced by future presidential administrations due to Carter's actions; thus, the blame would continue after he left the Oval Office.

Protester angry with Carter during the Iran hostage crisis
Iranian Hostage Crisis

Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in the 1980 election. His campaign slogan was, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' Many Americans felt they were not better off, despite the leader who promised he would be there to take care of people, and so Carter left the White House after one term as president.

Post-Presidency: Carter's Humanitarian Work

After the presidency, Carter fixed his image by extensive humanitarian efforts, going back to his roots of taking care of others. He worked diligently to establish the Carter Presidential Center to address human rights and suffering across the globe. He pushed for health care in Africa and Latin America and supervised elections in struggling nations. Carter also worked to improve relations between the US and Cuba and North and South Korea.

Carter volunteers part of his time each year with Habitat for Humanity, along with his wife Rosalynn, building homes for those in need. In his other spare time, he serves as a member of the Elders, an independent global leadership group, while also being active in his church. Still going strong into his 90s, Carter has spent his life after politics embodying the spirit of helping and caring for others.

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