On this day (Oct. 1) in 1924, James Earl (Jimmy) Carter Jr. was born in Plains, Ga., into the family of James Earl Carter Sr. and Lillian Gordy Carter.
The oldest of four children, Jimmy was raised in a strict Baptist household where traditional Christian ethics and morality were taught and practiced. Jimmy graduated from the public high school in rural Plains in 1941.
In 1943, he gained admission to the U.S. Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1946 – 59th out of a class of 820. On July 7, 1946, the 22-year-old, newly minted naval officer and 20-year-old Rosalynn Smith were married. Together they had four children: Jack, Chip, Jeffrey and Amy Lynn.
The highlight of his brief naval career (1946-1953) was being selected by Admiral Hyman Rickover to serve in the nuclear submarine program. In preparation to becoming an engineering officer on a nuclear submarine, Carter took advanced graduate work at Union College. However, upon the death of his father in 1953, he abruptly resigned his commission and returned to Plains to take over the Carter business enterprises.
Success in his various business enterprises led almost inevitably to a political career. Carter won election to the Georgia Senate, where he served with notable distinction from 1962 to 1966. In 1966, he ran unsuccessfully for governor. However, in 1970, he won the gubernatorial election to become Georgia’s 76th chief executive.
As governor (1971-1975), Carter gained a national reputation as a progressive southern chief executive. In his inaugural address, for example, he boldly declared that “the time for racial discrimination is over.”
In late 1974, he announced his candidacy for president, and through tireless campaigning won 18 of 31 Democratic Party primaries. He won the Democratic nomination on the first ballot and then, with his vice presidential candidate, liberal Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale, narrowly beat the Republican ticket of incumbent president Gerald R. Ford and vice presidential nominee and Kansas Sen. Robert Dole with 51 percent of the popular vote and a 297–240 electoral vote split.
As the 39th U.S. president (1976-1980), Carter usually is rated as one of the most unsuccessful presidents in recent history.
He presided over a country in turmoil. The 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, high gas prices, runaway inflation and a high unemployment rate of more than 7 percent combined to project the image of a chief executive who, although seen as a “good” man and devoted Christian, was not up to the job of president. Perhaps because of this perception, which was not entirely accurate, Carter was defeated in his re-election bid in 1980.
However, there were, in fact, several significant achievements, which included establishment of diplomatic relations with China, the Salt II treaty with the Soviet Union, the Panama Canal treaties, and the Camp David Accords (which brought temporary peace to the Middle East).
Since his involuntary political retirement in 1980, Carter has been extremely and productively busy. He founded and is actively involved with the nonpartisan Carter Center that, through its Global 2000 programs, promotes democracy and human rights. He regularly works with Habitat for Humanity. He teaches Sunday school and is a deacon at the Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains. Finally, he has, in his “spare time,” written and published 27 books.
Carter’s crowning achievement was the Dec. 10, 2002, awarding of 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.”
• Crystal Lake resident Joseph C. Morton is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and author of “The American Revolution” and “Shapers of the Great Debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.” Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.