Guest Essayist: Juliette Turner


Jimmy Carter: Thirty-Ninth President of the United States

Nickname: The Peanut Farmer

Terms in Office: 1977-1981

Fast Stats

  • Born October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia
  • Parents: James Earl and Lillian Gordy Carter
  • Jimmy Carter is still living
  • Age upon Start of Term: 52; Age upon Conclusion of Term: 56
  • Religious Affiliation: Southern Baptist
  • Political Party: Democrat
  • Height: 5 feet 9.5 inches
  • Vice President: Walter Mondale

Bottom Line:

Jimmy Carter tried to fix a struggling U.S. economy while simultaneously working to promote international peace and stability, winning a Nobel Prize in 2002.

What Was He Thinking?

Jimmy Carter believed the government should be used to help reform the lives of individuals for the better. He also believed taxes should be reduced for the lower and middle-income earners and that the American tax system should be reformed. Although he believed in eliminating excess government regulation, during his term in Congress he created the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. Carter was an avid supporter of clean and renewable energy and education reform. He moved to increase federal funding for public schools while leaving private schools to act as they see fit. Carter also supported the promotion of equal rights for African-Americans, appointing several African-American men and women to his cabinet.

Why Should I Care?

The greatest levels of success during Jimmy Carter’s time in office occurred in the international field. In addition to formally opening diplomatic relations with China, Carter also worked to promote peace in the Middle East through his Camp David Accords. Although the peace treaty was short-lived (Egyptian leader Anwar al-Sadat was assassinated two years after he signed the Accords), the peace negotiations helped stabilize relations between Egypt and Israel, which had previously been hostile and deadly.


Breakin’ It Down

Early Life

James Earl Carter Jr. was the eldest of four children born to the Carter family. As a young kid, James would help “mop” the cotton and peanut crops on the farm by picking the cotton and peanuts from the small bushes. James earned a dollar for every day he worked.

Growing up in the Deep South before segregation was declared unconstitutional, Jimmy attended segregated public schools. Starting in elementary school, he aspired to attend the Annapolis Naval Academy, writing to the school as a young boy for information. Although he graduated from his high school as class valedictorian, he feared he wasn’t ready to apply to the naval school. He attended Southwestern Junior College for a year and Georgia Tech University for math and physics to further prepare.

In 1943, he entered the Naval Academy, graduating in 1946 in the top 10 percent of his class. After graduation, he was assigned to the USS Wyoming, and then to the USS Mississippi before being transferred to the navy’s submarine branch. In 1948, Carter was assigned to the USS Pomfret, based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During his time there, he almost lost his life when a storm surge caused him to fall overboard.

He also served in the Korean War, starting in 1951 on the USS K-1. Carter was chosen by Admiral Hyman Rickover to help develop the first nuclear submarine. Before doing so, Carter returned to New York and attended Union College to gain a graduate degree in nuclear physics. Although he showed exceptional promise in the navy, Carter retired after the news of his father’s death to return home and help his mother with the family business.



After his first political defeat in 1966, Carter returned to church to deepen his faith, becoming a self-declared “born-again Christian.”

Jimmy Carter remains the only president born in Georgia.

Sibling Problem

Jimmy Carter was born thirteen years before his youngest brother, Billy. Billy was a character, to say the least. During Jimmy’s political campaign, Jimmy’s opponents often used Billy as a controversial figure in the Carter family. Billy was often found drinking to excess during his youth and would later serve as a political lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for the Libyan government.


First Couple

In 1946, Jimmy Carter married Eleanor Rosalynn Smith when she was just eighteen years old. Rosalynn, as she is called, actually rejected Carter’s first marriage proposal because they had just begun dating and she considered it too soon. Two months later, however, Rosalynn accepted. Together, Jimmy and Rosalynn had four children, all of whom are still living today. During the presidency, Jimmy constantly consulted Rosalynn on the issues he faced as president – from international affairs to appointment dates and writing speeches. Unlike any first lady before her, Rosalynn attended cabinet meetings with her husband and took detailed notes in a notebook she carried around with her. Today Rosalynn works alongside her husband to promote human rights and many social issues facing the world.

Previous Political Career

1962: Elected to the Georgia state senate after proving his opponent was guilty of voter fraud, and served two terms.

1966: Ran for Georgia governor, but lost.

1970: Elected Georgia governor, and became a leader of the New South movement, which called for an end to racial segregation in the south.


Election Results

Carter’s brief career in politics and his detachment from Capitol Hill worked in his favor in the election of 1976. He campaigned as a soft-spoken peanut farmer from the Deep South, who provided a break from the Washington-as-usual scandals, lies, cover-ups, and party politics. Almost no one in America outside of Georgia knew a man by the name of “Jimmy Carter,” but Carter overcame this. When he met people for the first time, he would shake their hand, saying, “Hello, I’m Jimmy Carter, and I’m going to be your next president.” It also helped that he had very little “baggage” for his opponents to bring forth. By emphasizing the need for a people-oriented and virtuous government, Carter became the first man to win the presidency from the Deep South since Zachary Taylor in 1848.

Election of 1976

  1. Jimmy Carter: 297 Electoral Votes
  2. Gerald R. Ford: 240 Electoral Votes


Presidential Personality

It was Jimmy Carter’s personality that helped him succeed in the world of politics. An unassuming, humble, and “down-to-earth” southern farmer, he has worked his entire life to be considered a normal American who had the happy fortune of holding leadership positions. Although he works to improve the lives of millions worldwide, Carter also constantly strives to reverse his own errors and seeks self-improvement. He is known among his closest colleagues as a rather confusing character, who can be both shy and confident, both compassionate and stern, and both gentle and prone to anger.


Domestic Issues

Almost immediately upon becoming president, Carter was faced with a slew of domestic problems. Inflation was still increasing and unemployment numbers were rising. The real estate market was also floundering due to the high interest rates resulting from inflation. America also encountered an energy problem: oil imports from the Middle East were priced at all-time highs and were entering America more and more sporadically. Television channels displayed long lines of cars waiting for gasoline. Carter first appealed to the American people, asking them to cut back on consumption of oil in addition to tolerating the higher taxes and prices.

Energy Problems

Carter then proposed an alternative energy plan, outlining the benefits of new energy sources, such as solar panels and nuclear energy, promoting it to the American people as the future of energy creation and consumption. The appeal for alternative energy sources failed, largely due to the unreceptive American public; they were more concerned with when they would once again be able to afford a tank of gas. Additionally, Carter’s proposal was dampened by coal miner strikes (which also increased the cost of energy) and the nuclear power plant accident – a nuclear meltdown that occurred on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979, resulting in radioactive gases being released into the environment. To make matters worse, the increasing dependence on foreign oil lessened the value of the U.S. dollar, worsening inflation. Carter’s approval ratings plummeted within months.

International Affairs

Carter experienced more successes in regard to international affairs than he experienced on the domestic side. His first success was with the People’s Republic of China, when he formally recognized the Chinese government as legal and legitimate. That action allowed for the opening of normal diplomatic relations between the two countries. Carter also negotiated a treaty with Panama, which turned the Panama Canal over to their government. Carter was close to negotiating SALT-II with the Soviet Union, but relations turned icy once again when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 – an action the United States viewed as a dangerous expansion of communism. This led to Carter’s issuance of the Carter Doctrine, which stated that the U.S. would not tolerate any attempt by the Soviet Union to control the Persian Gulf region. Because of the increase in tension between the two nations, America did not attend the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Russia likewise refused to attend the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Putting the Soviet Union aside, Carter also cut all federal aid to foreign countries whose governments he viewed as human rights violators, including Argentina and Uruguay. Carter’s biggest foreign policy president Anwar al-Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Carter, resulted in a “Framework for Peace” between Israel and Egypt after years of hostile relations.

Despite accomplishments on the world stage, Carter’s presidency was indelibly impacted by the Iranian hostage crisis in which 52 American diplomats were held captive in the U.S. Embassy in Iran for 444 days.

Pop Quiz!

Do you remember what SALT stands for? It stands for Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The first SALT negotiations took place under President Nixon.

Reelection Failure

Perceived as weak and incapable of addressing the challenges facing the country economically and globally, Carter was not in the best position politically. Carter did seek reelection, but lost to Republican candidate Ronald Reagan.


Fun Fact!

President Carter was the first president to have two African-American women in his cabinet.



During his retirement, Carter revealed his prolific writing skills, writing more than twenty books. They included Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President, published in 1982 and again in 1995; Talking Peace: A Vision for the Next Generation, published in 1993; Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, published in 2005; Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope, published in 2008; and We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work, published in 2009.

Most of Jimmy Carter’s legacy occurred after his leave from office. In one of the most active post-presidential careers of any president, Carter has worked to promote civil rights in dozens of countries worldwide. He as served as a human rights spokesman under several presidents, and worked as the mediator between foreign countries during international disputes, supervised foreign elections to lower corruption and fraud, and formed various organizations dedicated to solving social problems. Carter is also an active member and spokesman for Habitat for Humanity and the founder of the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The Carter Center promotes freedom, democracy, health, and agriculture. For his unending service to America, Carter won the Hoover Medal in 1998 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.


Congressional Corner

International Emergency Economic Powers Act: This act was passed in 1977 and gave the president the authority to regulate the U.S. economy and commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to a foreign attack or threat.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: This act, passed in 1978, established the guidelines for the physical or electronic surveillance of foreign nations and the collection of foreign intelligence information.

Presidential Records Act: This act, passed in 1978, declared all presidential papers as public property available for public viewing.

Panama Canal Act of 1979: This act implemented the Panama Canal Treaty, which gave the Panamanian government control of the Panama Canal.


Thoughts on the Constitution

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our Nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else – public, institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States.


Presidential Times

The Camp David Accords

March 26, 1979 – The Camp David Accords were officially signed today by Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel. The document was unofficially agreed upon by the two leaders under the supervision of President Carter on September 17, 1978. In a thirteen-day-ling meeting at Camp David, Jimmy Carter organized negotiations between the leaders of the two opposing, belligerent Middle Eastern countries. Carter refused to let either of the leaders leave the Presidential Ranch before negotiations for peace were outlined. President Carter is hoping that this peace treaty will help restore stability in a region that has seen war for decades.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Seeks Refuge In The U.S.

November 4, 1979 – President Jimmy Carter allowed exiled Iranian dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to seek refuge in the United States today. Upon entering the country, he was admitted to a New York hospital, where he will receive treatment for cancer. The action has enraged Iranians in the Middle East, who recently ousted Pahlavi during their revolution. The Iranian Revolution is resulting in a drastic radicalization of the country as the Iranian people move to break away from foreign occupation or influence and return to their religious and cultural heritage.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis

April 25, 1980 – An attempt by the Carter Administration to rescue the American hostages in Iran has failed miserably. The operation, dubbed Operation Eagle Claw, began yesterday, but half of the helicopters sent into Iran to rescue hostages experienced technical difficulty and another helicopter crashed into a transport plane, killing eight Americans. The hostage crisis began last year after Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was allowed to seek refuge in the United States. In November of last year, a group of Iranian radicals stormed the U.S. embassy, capturing fifty-two Americans. The hostages were held in the embassy for twenty days under the supervision of the Iranians before being transferred to makeshift holding cells. He prisoners were transported bound, blindfolded, and covered in blankets to conceal their identity from onlookers. While imprisoned, the Americans were forced to stand, blindfolded, as mock firing squads fired blank rounds at their heads. The prisoners were repeatedly beaten and humiliated by their jailers. President Carter has announced he will now be enforcing economic sanctions on Iran by limiting trade in an effort to coerce the Iranians to free the hostages.


State of the Union

(1) States: 50

(2) U.S. Population: (1977) 221,303000

(3) U.S. Debt (1977) $717, 016, 000,000

(1981) $1,033,899, 750. 000

(4) Value of the Dollar: $1 in 1977 would be worth $3.86 today. $1 in 1981 would be worth $2.57.


  • 1977 – Jimmy Carter pardons all Vietnam War draft evaders
  • 1977 – Bing Crosby dies
  • 1977 – The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is signed by over a dozen countries, including the U.S.S.R. and U.S.
  • 1977 – Elvis Presley dies
  • 1978 – The Camp David Accords meeting takes place
  • 1978 – Pope John Paul II becomes pope
  • 1979 – President Carter and Leonid Brezhnev sign SALT-II
  • 1979 – Diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China are officially established
  • 1979 – Saddam Hussain becomes president of Iran
  • 1980 – The U.S. boycotts the Moscow Summer Olympics
  • 1980 – Eight Americans die in the failed Operation Eagle Claw mission in Iran
  • 1980 – The U.S. breaks diplomatic ties with Iran


What Has He Done for Me Lately?

Constantly working to increase human rights awareness worldwide Carter has often entered dangerous countries to help secure safety and liberty for the oppressed. One example is Carter’s work in North Korea. Under President Bill Clinton, Carter negotiated with North Korea to try to limit their nuclear testing facilities and their nuclear weapons creation. In 2010, Carter traveled to North Korea a second time on his own accord and successfully negotiated the release of American Christian missionary Aijalon Mahli Gomes.

Platform Speech

In ancestry, color, place of origin, and cultural background, we Americans are as diverse a nation as the world has ever seen. No common mystique of blood or soil unites us. What draws us together, perhaps more than anything else, is a belief in human freedom. – Jimmy Carter

In a commencement speech given by Carter at Notre Dame University in 1977, he noted that America is not unite by race or ancestry. Though America is often called the “melting pot of the world,” citizens are united in our belief in the value of freedom and equality for all people.

Juliette Turner is the National Youth Director of Constituting America, and the author of three books: Our Constitution Rocks, Our Presidents Rock and the novel, based on life at her ranch with her mom, actress Janine Turner, That’s Not Hay In My Hair (all published by HarpersCollins/Zondervan).

Our Presidents Rock, HarpersCollins/Zondervan, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

1 reply
  1. Publius Senex Dassault
    Publius Senex Dassault says:

    Juliette, another excellent, balanced summary and highlights of one our Presidents. Thank you.



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