On this day in 1924, future President James Earl Carter is born in Plains, Georgia. Carter, who preferred to be called “Jimmy,” was the son of a peanut farmer and was the first president to be born in a hospital. Carter was raised a devoted Southern Baptist and graduated from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1946. He married Rosalynn Smith later that year.
After graduation, Carter served in the Navy’s new nuclear submarine program and was looking forward to a career in the Navy when his father passed away in 1953. The Carters dutifully returned to Georgia and took over the family farm. Back in Plains, Carter became involved in local politics, serving first on the school board and working his way up to a seat on the George State Planning Commission. In 1962, he was elected to the George Senate and, nine years later, he became governor.
A liberal Democrat, Carter launched a campaign against Republican presidential incumbent Gerald Ford in 1974, when the American electorate was still reeling from the Vietnam War, which ended in 1973, and former President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. Ford, who assumed office immediately upon Nixon’s resignation in 1974, pardoned his former boss, enraging many who thought Nixon should have had to stand trial. Carter’s “Washington outsider” persona helped him win the White House in 1976.
Carter’s tenure as president was most notable for his alternative-energy policies, racial-equality programs and friendly overtures toward Russia. He was instrumental in brokering a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and signed an arms-reduction treaty with the Soviet Union (SALT II). These triumphs, however, were overshadowed by his inability to lead the nation out of a crippling energy crunch caused by the OPEC oil embargo of 1973.
On top of his administration’s failure to effectively combat the energy crisis, which in turn contributed to rapidly rising inflation, Carter’s administration was forced to deal with another crisis. In 1979, an Islamist student group in Iran stormed the U.S. embassy in Teheran, holding 70 Americans hostage for 444 days. Carter’s failure to secure the release of the hostages, the ongoing recession and a growing movement toward conservatism in America contributed to Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential campaign.
The Carters have since stayed active in national and international affairs. In 1982, they founded the Carter Center in Atlanta to advocate for human rights and to alleviate “unnecessary human suffering” around the world. Since 1984, the Carters have given their time each year to build homes and raise awareness of homelessness with the international charitable organization Habitat for Humanity. In 2002, Carter won the prestigious Nobel Prize for his efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights and to promote economic and social development.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter live in Plains, Georgia, where the former president can still sometimes be found teaching a Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church.