More to Explore
Page 2 of 2
1981 Inauguration and Assassination Attempt
Ronald Reagan was sworn into office on January 20, 1981. In his inaugural address, Reagan famously said of America’s then-troubled economy, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem."
After the more informal Carter years, Reagan and his wife Nancy ushered in a new era of glamour in the nation’s capital, which became known as Hollywood on the Potomac. The first lady wore designer fashions, hosted numerous state dinners and oversaw a major redecoration of the White House.
Just over two months after his inauguration, on March 30, 1981, Reagan survived an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. (1955-), a man with a history of psychiatric problems, outside a hotel in Washington, D.C. The gunman’s bullet pierced one of the president’s lungs and narrowly missed his heart. Reagan, known for his good-natured humor, later told his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck." Within several weeks of the shooting, Reagan was back at work.
Ronald Reagan's Domestic Agenda
On the domestic front, President Ronald Reagan implemented policies to reduce the federal government’s reach into the daily lives and pocketbooks of Americans, including tax cuts intended to spur growth (known as Reaganomics). He also advocated for increases in military spending, reductions in certain social programs and measures to deregulate business.
By 1983, the nation’s economy had started to recover and enter a period of prosperity that would extend through the rest of Reagan’s presidency. Critics maintained that his policies led to budget deficits and a more significant national debt; some also held that his economic programs favored the rich.
In 1981, Reagan made history by appointing Sandra Day O’Connor (1930-) as the first woman to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ronald Reagan and Foreign Affairs
In foreign affairs, Ronald Reagan’s first term in office was marked by a massive buildup of U.S. weapons and troops, as well as an escalation of the Cold War (1946-1991) with the Soviet Union, which the president dubbed "the evil empire." Key to his administration’s foreign policy initiatives was the Reagan Doctrine, under which America provided aid to anticommunist movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 1983, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a plan to develop space-based weapons to protect America from attacks by Soviet nuclear missiles.
Also on the foreign affairs front, Reagan sent 800 U.S. Marines to Lebanon as part of an international peacekeeping force after Israel invaded that nation in June 1982. In October 1983, suicide bombers attacked the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans. That same month, Reagan ordered U.S. forces to lead an invasion of Grenada, an island in the Caribbean, after Marxist rebels overthrew the government. In addition to the problems in Lebanon and Grenada, the Reagan administration had to deal with an ongoing contentious relationship between the United States and Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi (1942-).
During his second term, Reagan forged a diplomatic relationship with the reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-), who became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. In 1987, the Americans and Soviets signed a historic agreement to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear missiles. That same year, Reagan spoke at Germany’s Berlin Wall, a symbol of communism, and famously challenged Gorbachev to tear it down. Twenty-nine months later, Gorbachev allowed the people of Berlin to dismantle the wall. After leaving the White House, Reagan returned to Germany in September 1990—just weeks before Germany was officially reunified–and took several symbolic swings with a hammer at a remaining chunk of the wall.
1984 Reelection and Iran-Contra Affair
In November 1984, Ronald Reagan was reelected in a landslide, defeating Walter Mondale and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro (1935-), the first female vice-presidential candidate from a major U.S. political party. Reagan, who announced it was "morning again in America," carried 49 out of 50 states in the election and received 525 out of 538 electoral votes, the largest number ever won by an American presidential candidate.
Ronald Reagan's Later Years
After leaving the White House in January 1989, Ronald Reagan and his wife returned to California, where they lived in Los Angeles. In 1991, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum opened in Simi Valley, California.
In November 1994, Reagan revealed in a handwritten letter to the American people that he had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly a decade later, on June 5, 2004, he died at his Los Angeles home at age 93, making him the nation’s longest-lived president (in 2006, Gerald Ford surpassed him for this title). Reagan was given a state funeral in Washington, D.C., and later buried on the grounds of his presidential library.
Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!
Keep up with the latest History shows, online features, special offers and more.Sign up
Classroom Study Guides
Classroom companion for the new HISTORY series Vietnam in HD.