JOHN F. KENNEDY (1961-1963)
On November 22, 1963, when he was hardly past his first
thousand days in office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed
by an assassin's bullets as his motorcade wound through
Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was the youngest man elected
President; he was the youngest to die.
Of Irish descent, he was born in Brookline, Massachusetts,
on May 29, 1917. Graduating from Harvard in 1940, he
entered the Navy. In 1943, when his PT boat was rammed
and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy, despite grave
injuries, led the survivors through perilous waters to safety.
Back from the war, he became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area, advancing
in 1953 to the Senate. He married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. In 1955, while
recuperating from a back operation, he wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer
Prize in history.
In 1956 Kennedy almost gained the Democratic nomination for Vice President, and four
years later was a first-ballot nominee for President. Millions watched his television debates
with the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon. Winning by a narrow margin in the
popular vote, Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic President.
His Inaugural Address offered the memorable injunction: "Ask not what your country can do
for you--ask what you can do for your country." As President, he set out to redeem his
campaign pledge to get America moving again. His economic programs launched the country
on its longest sustained expansion since World War II; before his death, he laid plans for a
massive assault on persisting pockets of privation and poverty.
Responding to ever more urgent demands, he took vigorous action in the cause of equal
rights, calling for new civil rights legislation. His vision of America extended to the quality
of the national culture and the central role of the arts in a vital society.
He wished America to resume its old mission as the first nation dedicated to the revolution of
human rights. With the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps, he brought American
idealism to the aid of developing nations. But the hard reality of the Communist challenge
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Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy permitted a band of Cuban exiles, already armed and
trained, to invade their homeland. The attempt to overthrow the regime of Fidel Castro was a
failure. Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union renewed its campaign against West Berlin.
Kennedy replied by reinforcing the Berlin garrison and increasing the Nation's military
strength, including new efforts in outer space. Confronted by this reaction, Moscow, after the
erection of the Berlin Wall, relaxed its pressure in central Europe.
Instead, the Russians now sought to install nuclear missiles in Cuba. When this was
discovered by air reconnaissance in October 1962, Kennedy imposed a quarantine on all
offensive weapons bound for Cuba. While the world trembled on the brink of nuclear war,
the Russians backed down and agreed to take the missiles away. The American response to
the Cuban crisis evidently persuaded Moscow of the futility of nuclear blackmail.
Kennedy now contended that both sides had a vital interest in stopping the spread of nuclear
weapons and slowing the arms race--a contention which led to the test ban treaty of 1963.
The months after the Cuban crisis showed significant progress toward his goal of "a world of
law and free choice, banishing the world of war and coercion." His administration thus saw
the beginning of new hope for both the equal rights of Americans and the peace of the world.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON (1963-1969)
"A Great Society" for the American people and their fellow
men elsewhere was the vision of Lyndon B. Johnson. In his
first years of office he obtained passage of one of the most
extensive legislative programs in the Nation's history.
Maintaining collective security, he carried on the rapidly
growing struggle to restrain Communist encroachment in
Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, in central Texas, not
far from Johnson City, which his family had helped settle.
He felt the pinch of rural poverty as he grew up, working his
way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now
known as Texas State University-San Marcos); he learned
compassion for the poverty of others when he taught students of Mexican descent.
In 1937 he campaigned successfully for the House of Representatives on a New Deal
platform, effectively aided by his wife, the former Claudia "Lady Bird" Taylor, whom he had
married in 1934.
During World War II he served briefly in the Navy as a lieutenant commander, winning a
Silver Star in the South Pacific. After six terms in the House, Johnson was elected to the
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Senate in 1948. In 1953, he became the youngest Minority Leader in Senate history, and the
following year, when the Democrats won control, Majority Leader. With rare skill he
obtained passage of a number of key Eisenhower measures.
In the 1960 campaign, Johnson, as John F. Kennedy's running mate, was elected Vice
President. On November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson was sworn in as
First he obtained enactment of the measures President Kennedy had been urging at the time
of his death--a new civil rights bill and a tax cut. Next he urged the Nation "to build a great
society, a place where the meaning of man's life matches the marvels of man's labor." In
1964, Johnson won the Presidency with 61 percent of the vote and had the widest popular
margin in American history--more than 15,000,000 votes.
The Great Society program became Johnson's agenda for Congress in January 1965: aid to
education, attack on disease, Medicare, urban renewal, beautification, conservation,
development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, control and prevention
of crime and delinquency, removal of obstacles to the right to vote. Congress, at times
augmenting or amending, rapidly enacted Johnson's recommendations. Millions of elderly
people found succor through the 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act.
Under Johnson, the country made spectacular explorations of space in a program he had
championed since its start. When three astronauts successfully orbited the moon in December
1968, Johnson congratulated them: "You've taken ... all of us, all over the world, into a new
era . "
Nevertheless, two overriding crises had been gaining momentum since 1965. Despite the
beginning of new antipoverty and anti-discrimination programs, unrest and rioting in black
ghettos troubled the Nation. President Johnson steadily exerted his influence against
segregation and on behalf of law and order, but there was no early solution.
The other crisis arose from Viet Nam. Despite Johnson's efforts to end Communist aggression
and achieve a settlement, fighting continued. Controversy over the war had become acute by
the end of March 1968, when he limited the bombing of North Viet Nam in order to initiate
negotiations. At the same time, he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for reelection
so that he might devote his full efforts, unimpeded by politics, to the quest for peace.
When he left office, peace talks were under way; he did not live to see them successful, but
died suddenly of a heart attack at his Texas ranch on January 22, 1973.
RICHARD M. NIXON (1969-1974)
Reconciliation was the first goal set by President Richard M. Nixon. The Nation was
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painfully divided, with turbulence in the cities and war
overseas. During his Presidency, Nixon succeeded in ending
American fighting in Viet Nam and improving relations
with the U.S.S.R. and China. But the Watergate scandal
brought fresh divisions to the country and ultimately led to
His election in 1968 had climaxed a career unusual on two
counts: his early success and his comeback after being
defeated for President in 1960 and for Governor of
California in 1962.
Born in California in 1913, Nixon had a brilliant record at Whittier College and Duke
University Law School before beginning the practice of law. In 1940, he married Patricia
Ryan; they had two daughters, Patricia (Tricia) and Julie. During World War II, Nixon served
as a Navy lieutenant commander in the Pacific.
On leaving the service, he was elected to Congress from his California district. In 1950, he
won a Senate seat. Two years later, General Eisenhower selected Nixon, age 39, to be his
As Vice President, Nixon took on major duties in the Eisenhower Administration. Nominated
for President by acclamation in 1960, he lost by a narrow margin to John F. Kennedy. In
1968, he again won his party's nomination, and went on to defeat Vice President Hubert H.
Humphrey and third-party candidate George C. Wallace.
His accomplishments while in office included revenue sharing, the end of the draft, new
anticrime laws, and a broad environmental program. As he had promised, he appointed
Justices of conservative philosophy to the Supreme Court. One of the most dramatic events of
his first term occurred in 1969, when American astronauts made the first moon landing.
Some of his most acclaimed achievements came in his quest for world stability. During visits
in 1972 to Beijing and Moscow, he reduced tensions with China and the U.S.S.R. His summit
meetings with Russian leader Leonid I. Brezhnev produced a treaty to limit strategic nuclear
weapons. In January 1973, he announced an accord with North Viet Nam to end American
involvement in Indochina. In 1974, his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, negotiated
disengagement agreements between Israel and its opponents, Egypt and Syria.
In his 1972 bid for office, Nixon defeated Democratic candidate George McGovern by one of
the widest margins on record.
Within a few months, his administration was embattled over the so-called "Watergate"
scandal, stemming from a break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee
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during the 1972 campaign. The break-in was traced to officials of the Committee to Re-elect
the President. A number of administration officials resigned; some were later convicted of
offenses connected with efforts to cover up the affair. Nixon denied any personal
involvement, but the courts forced him to yield tape recordings which indicated that he had,
in fact, tried to divert the investigation.
As a result of unrelated scandals in Maryland, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in
1973. Nixon nominated, and Congress approved, House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford as
Faced with what seemed almost certain impeachment, Nixon announced on August 8, 1974,
that he would resign the next day to begin "that process of healing which is so desperately
needed in America."
In his last years, Nixon gained praise as an elder statesman. By the time of his death on April
22, 1994, he had written numerous books on his experiences in public life and on foreign
GERALD R. FORD (1974-1977)
When Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974,
he declared, "I assume the Presidency under extraordinary
circumstances. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds
and hurts our hearts."
It was indeed an unprecedented time. He had been the first Vice
President chosen under the terms of the Twenty-fifth Amendment
and, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, was succeeding the
first President ever to resign.
Ford was confronted with almost insuperable tasks. There were the
challenges of mastering inflation, reviving a depressed economy,
solving chronic energy shortages, and trying to ensure world
The President acted to curb the trend toward Government intervention and spending as a
means of solving the problems of American society and the economy. In the long run, he
believed, this shift would bring a better life for all Americans.
Ford's reputation for integrity and openness had made him popular during his 25 years in
Congress. From 1965 to 1973, he was House Minority Leader. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in
1913, he grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He starred on the University of Michigan
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football team, then went to Yale, where he served as assistant coach while earning his law
degree. During World War II he attained the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy. After
the war he returned to Grand Rapids, where he began the practice of law, and entered
Republican politics. A few weeks before his election to Congress in 1948, he married
Elizabeth Bloomer. They have four children: Michael, John, Steven, and Susan.
As President, Ford tried to calm earlier controversies by granting former President Nixon a
full pardon. His nominee for Vice President, former Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New
York, was the second person to fill that office by appointment. Gradually, Ford selected a
cabinet of his own.
Ford established his policies during his first year in office, despite opposition from a heavily
Democratic Congress. His first goal was to curb inflation. Then, when recession became the
Nation's most serious domestic problem, he shifted to measures aimed at stimulating the
economy. But, still fearing inflation, Ford vetoed a number of non-military appropriations
bills that would have further increased the already heavy budgetary deficit. During his first 14
months as President he vetoed 39 measures. His vetoes were usually sustained.
Ford continued as he had in his Congressional days to view himself as "a moderate in
domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in
foreign affairs." A major goal was to help business operate more freely by reducing taxes
upon it and easing the controls exercised by regulatory agencies. "We...declared our
independence 200 years ago, and we are not about to lose it now to paper shufflers and
computers," he said.
In foreign affairs Ford acted vigorously to maintain U. S. power and prestige after the
collapse of Cambodia and South Viet Nam. Preventing a new war in the Middle East
remained a major objective; by providing aid to both Israel and Egypt, the Ford
Administration helped persuade the two countries to accept an interim truce agreement.
Detente with the Soviet Union continued. President Ford and Soviet leader Leonid I.
Brezhnev set new limitations upon nuclear weapons.
President Ford won the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 1976, but lost the
election to his Democratic opponent, former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia.
On Inauguration Day, President Carter began his speech: "For myself and for our Nation, I
want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land." A grateful people
JIMMY CARTER (1977-1981)
Jimmy Carter aspired to make Government "competent and compassionate," responsive to
the American people and their expectations. His achievements were notable, but in an era of
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rising energy costs, mounting inflation, and continuing
tensions, it was impossible for his administration to meet
these high expectations.
Carter, who has rarely used his full name--James Earl
Carter, Jr. was born October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia.
Peanut farming, talk of politics, and devotion to the Baptist
faith were mainstays of his upbringing. Upon graduation in
1946 from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland,
Carter married Rosalynn Smith. The Carters have three
sons, John William (Jack), James Earl III (Chip), Donnel
Jeffrey (Jeff), and a daughter, Amy Lynn.
After seven years' service as a naval officer, Carter returned to Plains. In 1962 he entered
state politics, and eight years later he was elected Governor of Georgia. Among the new
young southern governors, he attracted attention by emphasizing ecology, efficiency in
government, and the removal of racial barriers.
Carter announced his candidacy for President in December 1974 and began a two-year
campaign that gradually gained momentum. At the Democratic Convention, he was
nominated on the first ballot. He chose Senator Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota as his
running mate. Carter campaigned hard against President Gerald R. Ford, debating with him
three times. Carter won by 297 electoral votes to 241 for Ford.
Carter worked hard to combat the continuing economic woes of inflation and unemployment.
By the end of his administration, he could claim an increase of nearly eight million jobs and a
decrease in the budget deficit, measured in percentage of the gross national product.
Unfortunately, inflation and interest rates were at near record highs, and efforts to reduce
them caused a short recession.
Carter could point to a number of achievements in domestic affairs. He dealt with the energy
shortage by establishing a national energy policy and by decontrolling domestic petroleum
prices to stimulate production. He prompted Government efficiency through civil service
reform and proceeded with deregulation of the trucking and airline industries. He sought to
improve the environment. His expansion of the national park system included protection of
103 million acres of Alaskan lands. To increase human and social services, he created the
Department of Education, bolstered the Social Security system, and appointed record
numbers of women, blacks, and Hispanics to Government jobs.
In foreign affairs, Carter set his own style. His championing of human rights was coldly
received by the Soviet Union and some other nations. In the Middle East, through the Camp
David agreement of 1978, he helped bring amity between Egypt and Israel. He succeeded in
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obtaining ratification of the Panama Canal treaties. Building upon the work of predecessors,
he established full diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and completed
negotiation of the SALT II nuclear limitation treaty with the Soviet Union.
There were serious setbacks, however. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caused the
suspension of plans for ratification of the SALT II pact. The seizure as hostages of the U. S.
embassy staff in Iran dominated the news during the last 14 months of the administration.
The consequences of Iran's holding Americans captive, together with continuing inflation at
home, contributed to Carter's defeat in 1980. Even then, he continued the difficult
negotiations over the hostages. Iran finally released the 52 Americans the same day Carter