Ronald Reagan: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about Ronald Reagan. We will explore the life and political career of this dynamic 20th century president, and we will highlight key developments surrounding his administration. We will also point out a few of his interesting and notable quotes.

The ''Great Communicator'': A Dynamic 20th Century President

Ronald Reagan is consistently ranked as one of the most popular 20th century U.S. Presidents, alongside men like Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. A dynamic president, Reagan actually began his career not in politics, but in acting. His experience in Hollywood shaped him into an expert communicator. In fact, as the 40th president Reagan earned the nickname ''The Great Communicator'' because of his ability to openly communicate with the American people. Reagan wasn't liked by everyone however, he certainly had his detractors, but generally he was a popular president. He is often credited with playing a leading role in America's economic revival in the 1980s, and more frequently, with bringing an end to the Cold War. Let's dig deeper and learn more about Reagan and his presidency.

Ronald Reagan is consistently ranked one of the most popular presidents of the 20th century.
reagan official

From Movie Star to Politician

Let's very quickly highlight Reagan's early career, before spending most of our time on his presidency. Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois in 1911. As a young man he served as a lifeguard, and supposedly made 77 rescues. After graduating from Eureka College, he went on to pursue a career in acting. He starred in several B-movies before making it big. He would joke about the poor quality of B-movies, saying that producers ''didn't want them good, they wanted them Thursday.'' Once he became president, Reagan would be known for his jokes, particularly his jokes at the expense of the Soviet Union. Reagan's most famous film was the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American, in which he played University of Notre Dame football player, George Gipp. Because of this role, Reagan picked up another nickname: ''the Gipper''.

By the 1940s, Reagan was taking an increasing interest in politics, particularly anti-communism. He used his influence as an actor to speak out against communism. He supplied the FBI with names of Hollywood actors suspected of being communist sympathizers, and even testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on the matter. Reagan had actually been a Democrat in his early career, but by the 1950s his anti-communist sentiment caused him to move away from his party. By 1962 he was a full-fledged Republican. Reagan campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964, gaining him national political attention. A few years later he ran for the governorship of California and won. He served as the Republican Governor of California between 1967-1975.

''Reaganomics'' and Domestic Policy

A nationally recognized conservative leader by the mid-1960s, Reagan ran for president in 1968 and 1976, but in both cases lost in the primaries. In the 1976 election he lost in the primaries to Gerald Ford. He ran again in 1980, and this time won both the primary and the presidency. Reagan thus served as the 40th U.S. President between 1981-1989. Early in his first term he survived an assassination attempt. As a Republican, Reagan championed conservative economic principles. His economic approach came to be known as ''Reaganomics''. ''Reaganomics'' stressed supply-side (or ''trickle down'') economics, tax cuts, deregulation, and a general laissez-faire (or free market) approach. Basically, Reagan wanted the government to stay out of economics and he wanted business to be as free from government interference as possible. In fact, Reagan's opposition to ''big government'' remains one of his hallmark trades. Notice below some of his famous quotes related to limiting big government:

''Man is not free unless government is limited.''

''The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.''

''Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.''

Reagan sought to cut taxes and limit government involvement in economics.
reagan tax

Foreign Policy and the End of the Cold War

Reagan may best be known for his foreign policy. He took the position that the United States must be strong in order to maintain peace: peace through strength is the idea here. To this end, he increased defense spending and built up the American military. He took a bold stance against communism, going so far as to refer to the Soviet Union as an ''evil empire.''

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