On this day in 1946, William Jefferson Blythe III is born in Hope, Arkansas. His father died in a car accident before he was born, and young Bill later took the last name of his stepfather, Roger Clinton. In 1992, Bill Clinton would be elected as the 42nd president of the United States.
By his own account, Clinton was inspired to enter politics after meeting President John F. Kennedy at the White House as a high school student. He attended Georgetown University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in 1968, then received a law degree from Yale. In 1974, Clinton lost a bid for Congress in Arkansas’ Third District. He married fellow Yale Law graduate Hillary Rodham the following year; their daughter Chelsea was born in 1980.
Clinton was elected Arkansas attorney general in 1976. In 1978, at the age of 32, he became the youngest governor to be elected in the United States in four decades. Though he lost his first reelection campaign in 1980, he regained the office four years later and was reelected comfortably three more times. In 1992, he won the Democratic nomination for president. In a campaign that revolved largely around economic issues, Clinton’s youth and the promise of change won over many voters, propelling him to victory over the incumbent George H.W. Bush and upstart third-party candidate Ross Perot.
Issues that arose during the first two years of his administration–including an ethics investigation into the Clintons’ involvement with the Whitewater housing development in Arkansas and a bitter debate in Congress over Clinton’s health care initiative–helped fuel a Republican takeover of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the midterm elections of 1994. Nevertheless, the improving economic climate during Clinton’s presidency resulted in a low unemployment and inflation rate and a balanced budget (even a budget surplus), and in 1996 he became the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term in office.
In 1998, scandal erupted over Clinton’s alleged involvement with a young female White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. On the basis of an investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Clinton was accused of perjury and obstruction of justice over his repeated denials of the affair; he eventually apologized to his family and to the American public for his dishonesty. He became only the second U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives, but was acquitted of the charges by the Senate in 1999.
Even throughout the tumult surrounding the Lewinsky affair, Clinton enjoyed high approval ratings at home. He was also popular on the world stage, confronting foreign policy challenges including war in Bosnia and Herzegovina; continuing hostility between Israelis and Palestinians; and Iraq’s refusal to comply with United Nations weapons inspections. He was praised for his peacemaking efforts in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and became the first U.S. president to visit Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam War.
After leaving the White House, Clinton remained active in global affairs and as a public speaker. He heads up the William J. Clinton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has addressed issues such as HIV/AIDS and the environment. Meanwhile, his wife launched her own political career, winning election to the U.S. Senate from New York in 2000 and running her own presidential campaign in 2008 before accepting the position of secretary of state in the administration of Barack Obama.