Jimmy Carter’s parents, Earl and Lillian Carter, owned a peanut farm and warehouse and a store outside the small town of Plains, Georgia. Earl was bright, hardworking, and a very good businessman. “Miz” Lillian had been trained as a nurse. Jimmy Carter was born in a house that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. By the time he was ten, Jimmy stacked produce from the family farm onto a wagon, hauled it into town and sold it. He saved his money, and by the age of thirteen, he bought five houses around Plains that the Great Depression had put on the market at rock-bottom prices. These homes were rented to families in the area.
Jimmy graduated valedictorian of the class at Plains High School. Encouraged by Uncle Tom Gordys stories and postcards from the United States Navy, Jimmy enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated in 1946 in the top tenth of his class, and signed on as an officer under the tough but inspirational Captain Hyman Rickover in the Navys first experimental nuclear submarine. Jimmy Carter married Rosalynn Smith in Annapolis in July of 1946. After Earl Carter died in 1953, Jimmy Carter decided to resign from the Navy, return to Plains, and help his family. Jimmy began to teach at Plains Baptist Church and began serving on local civic boards before being elected to two terms in the Georgia state senate. Jimmy Carter became governor of Georgia in 1971.
Jimmy Carter was completely unknown on the national stage. As Carter watched the defeat of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972, he knew he would have to market himself as a different type of Democrat to have a shot at the White House in 1976. In the aftermath of Nixons Watergate scandal, however, this became an advantage. Despite an ill-advised interview in Playboy magazine, which plummeted his rating in the polls, Carter squeaked out a narrow victory.
Carters newcomer status soon showed itself in his inability to make deals with Congress. Jimmy Carter sought to run the country the way he had run his farm — with unassuming strictness. This would be no imperial presidency like those of Johnson and Nixon. On inauguration day, Carter got out of the limousine and walked to the White House, delighting the crowd and horrifying the Secret Service who sought to protect him.
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 Carters brother Billy.
Foreign affairs during the Carter administration were equally troublesome. Critics thrashed both Carters 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 Nixons 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 Carters 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. Carters unsuccessful 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 Israels Menachem Begin and Egypts 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, Republican Ronald Reagan easily defeated Carter 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 issues. To many people, Jimmy Carter has provided Americans with an ideal model of post-presidential life. In fact, some consider him to be the nation’s greatest former president. He has emerged as a champion of human rights and worked for several charitable causes. To that end, Carter founded the Carter Presidential Center at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The center, began in 1982, is devoted to issues relating to democracy and human rights. Additionally, Carter worked with Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that works worldwide to provide housing for underprivileged people. Through such projects, Carter has maintained a high profile; he is often seen on television, helping with Habitat home construction or providing his opinions on the issues of the day.
As a president who was deeply embroiled in foreign crises during his term in office, Carter has taken opportunities to apply his experiences and knowledge on the world stage. Carter has served as a freelance ambassador for a variety of international missions, including soothing disputes between countries, observing elections in nations with histories of fraudulent voting processes, and advising presidents on Middle East issues. He has been involved in mediating disputes between the U.S. State Department and the most volatile of foreign leaders, including Kim Il Sung of North Korea and Muammar Qaddaffi of Libya. In 1994, the former president assisted the U.S. government settle a tension-filled nuclear weapons dispute with North Korea.