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Looking at The Biography of The 39th President of The United States, James Earl Carter Jr

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“We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes — and we must.” No president valued equality, human rights and the alleviation of human suffering as truly as Jimmy Carter. He was the greatest social activist ever to have been President of the United States.

James Earl Carter Jr, more commonly known as Jimmy, was born in Plains, Georgia on October 1, 1924. His parents, James Sr and Bessie Lillian Gordy, were peanut famers and devote members of the Baptist Church. Jimmy began working on the farm and in the family’s store at the age of ten. In 1941, Jimmy graduated high school, the first on his father’s side of the family to do so. Carter’s modest upbringing in Plains contributed to his attainment of presidency.

After high school, Jimmy joined the Naval ROTC program to study engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 1943, Carter was accepted to the highly competitive, Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland where he finished his education. Jimmy was smaller than most men at the Academy, but he excelled at academics. Shortly after Carter graduated in 1946, he married a girl he had known since childhood, Rosalynn Smith. The couple went on to have four children, John William (Jack), James Earl III (Chip), Donnel Jeffrey (Jeff), and Amy Lynn.

Jimmy served for seven years as a Naval officer where he worked mostly on submarines. During these years, like most military families, the Carters moved around frequently. In the summer of 1953, Jimmy’s father passed away from pancreatic cancer. Jimmy moved his family back to Plains, Georgia to assume the family’s peanut farming business and to watch over his widowed mother.

Once settled in Georgia, Jimmy entered state politics. Desegregation had just began to gain momentum in the American South during the 1950s. The anti-civil rights movement, caused Carter’s first, liberal campaign for Governor of Georgia to fail in 1966. Despite white backlash, Jimmy stood firmly against segregation. In 1970, Carter ran for Governor again, this time focusing on white, rural voters who had rejected his liberal ways the first time around. Carter’s second attempt was victorious and he was elected Governor of Georgia. As Governor, Jimmy focused largely on equality, ecology, efficiency in Government and removal of racial barriers. Later, as President of the United States, Carter would enforce these values on a national scale.

In December 1974, Jimmy Carter announced his candidacy for President and began a two year campaign representing the Democratic Party. Carter chose Senator Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota as his running mate. Jimmy viewed Republican Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal as a perfect opportunity for him to restore the American people’s faith in politics. Carter emphasized integrity. He famously declared, “I’ll never tell a lie.” Other Carter campaign slogans included, “A Leader, For a Change” and, “I’ll never avoid a controversial issue.” Slogans like these registered well with the American people, who had recently lost their confidence in the Government.

Republican Gerald Ford, who became President after Nixon’s impeachment, was Jimmy’s opponent in the election of 1976. In his 1976 Presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter repeatedly invoked, before a variety of audiences, the theme of ‘competence and compassion.’ Carter had entered the race with a double-digit lead over Ford. However, Carter made various errors that contributed to a much closer election than initially expected. The most significant of these mistakes was in an interview with Playboy; Carter admitted to committing adultery “in his heart” and made several other comments regarding sex and infidelity. Nevertheless, Carter won by 297 electoral votes to 241 for Ford, making him the thirty-ninth President of the United States of America.

When Jimmy took office, there were several, domestic problems facing America including ongoing economic issues of inflation and unemployment. During his administration, Carter increased the work force by nearly eight million jobs and put a decrease in the budget deficit, measured in percentage of the gross national product. Sadly, inflation and interest rates were at record highs by the end of his administration and efforts to minimize them created a short recession.

The main domestic priority during Carter’s administration involved energy policy and America’s unhealthy, dependence on foreign fuel. Carter addressed the energy shortage by establishing a national energy policy, developing huge emergency stores of oil, and by decontrolling domestic petroleum prices to stimulate production. These triumphs, unfortunately, were overshadowed when the Iranian Revolution of 1979 drove up gas prices again and led to long lines at gas stations.

Carter had several accomplishments in domestic affairs that did not go unnoticed, like his attempts to fix the economic and energy issues had. Carter strongly pursued environmental conservation; He broadened the national park system which included expanded protection over 103 million acres of Alaskan lands. Increasing human and social services was another domestic goal of Carter’s. Jimmy created the Department of Education, strengthened the Social Security System, and appointed record numbers of women, blacks and Hispanics to Government jobs. Carter sought Government efficiency through civil service reform and through the deregulation of the trucking and airline industries.

Carter’s attitude toward foreign affairs that was like no other before him. The focus of Carter’s foreign policy was a promise to make human rights a central concern in the United States’ relations with other countries. This mentality led to a number of victories including the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties, and the completed negotiation of the SALT II nuclear limitation treaty with the Soviet Union. He also suspended economic and military aid to Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua to protest their abuse of human rights.

The most remarkable of Carter’s foreign policy achievements took place in the Middle East at the Camp David Accords. In 1978, Carter mediated the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. With this treaty, Israel withdrew from the Sinai and the two sides officially recognized each other’s governments.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis of November 1979, was detrimental to Carter’s political career. Radical Iranian students seized the US Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 Americans Hostage. Carter failed to negotiate the release of the hostages and failed his attempt at a rescue mission. The hostages were held for 444 days before finally being released on the day Carter left office. After this crisis, many Americans felt Carter was an unfit leader who was outsmarted by a group of radical students.

Carter boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow in response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Carter had previously threatened to do so if Soviet troops did not withdraw from Afghanistan within one month, so he was obligated to keep his word. It was the only time the US did not participate in the Summer Olympics, which raised a great deal of controversy. The Soviet Union, to say the least, disliked Carter and his large support of human rights. The Soviets retaliated by boycotting the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and they did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan until 1989.

Although he attempted reelection, Carter only served one term as President from 1977 to 1981. Iran’s holding of American hostages combined with the continuing economic and energy problems contributed to Carter’s defeat in the election of 1980 against Ronald Reagan.

Carter’s presidency was widely considered a failure. However, he has had one of the most successful post presidencies. His humanitarian efforts after leaving the White House have greatly recovered his reputation. In 1982, Carter founded the Carter Presidential Center to promote peace and human rights worldwide. “The Carter Center, in partnership with Emory University, is guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering. It seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.” At the Carter Center, the ex-president and his wife, Rosalynn, are partners in projects to resolve conflict, promote human rights, improve global health, and build democracy in more than sixty countries. Along with their work at the Center, Jimmy and Rosalynn both work extensively with Habitat for Humanity.

Rosalynn Smith, Jimmy Carter’s spouse, was a big member of her husband’s campaign team from the moment he entered politics. She fully believed in her husband’s ability to lead the nation. As First Lady, she focused national attention on the preforming arts, programs to aid mental health, the community, and the elderly. Currently, Rosalynn is vice chair of the Carter Center in Atlanta. At the Center, she leads a program to end stigma against mental illness and to promote greater access to mental health care.

In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.” The committee cited the Camp David Accords, “in itself a great enough achievement to qualify for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

Carter has always been a man of integrity. His presidential intentions were more honest, more consistent and more committed to the best interest of the people, than the intentions of any other president. At the time of his administration, Jimmy lacked the follow-through on these intentions that was needed to make his presidency effective. Carters post presidential years haven proven that his foremost mission has been, and always will be, to best serve the people, both domestically and abroad. If every President of the United States had Jimmy’s mentality, and had the decisiveness and initiative that Carter lacked, the American people would be more satisfied with their leader.

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