Bill Clinton (1946-), the 42nd U.S. president, served in office from 1993 to 2001. Prior to that, the Arkansas native and Democrat was governor of his home state. During Clinton’s time in the White House, America enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity, marked by low unemployment, declining crime rates and a budget surplus.
Clinton appointed a number of women and minorities to top government posts, including Janet Reno, the first female U.S. attorney general, and Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of state. In 1998, the House of Representatives impeached Clinton on charges related to a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern. He was acquitted by the Senate. Following his presidency, Clinton remained active in public life.
Bill Clinton: Early Life and Education
Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas. He was the only child of Virginia Cassidy Blythe (1923-94) and traveling salesman William Jefferson Blythe Jr. (1918-46), who died in a car accident three months before his son’s birth. In 1950, Virginia Blythe married car dealer Roger Clinton Sr. (1908-67) and the family later moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas. As a teen, Bill Clinton officially adopted his stepfather’s surname. His only sibling, Roger Clinton Jr., was born in 1956.
In 1964, Clinton graduated from Hot Springs High School, where he was a musician and student leader. (In 1963, as part of the American Legion Boys’ Nation program, he went to Washington, D.C., and shook hands with President John Kennedy at the White House, an event he later said inspired him to pursue a career in public service.) Clinton went on to earn a degree from Georgetown University in 1968. Afterward, he attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship. In 1973, he received a degree from Yale Law School.
At Yale, Clinton started dating fellow law student Hillary Rodham (1947-). After graduating, the couple moved to Clinton’s home state, where he worked as a law professor at the University of Arkansas. In 1974, Clinton, a Democrat, ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives but lost to his Republican opponent.
Bill Clinton: Family, Arkansas Political Career and First Presidential Campaign
On October 11, 1975, Clinton and Rodham were married in a small ceremony at their house in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The following year, Bill Clinton was elected attorney general of Arkansas. In 1978, he was elected governor of the state. The Clintons’ only child, Chelsea, was born in February 1980. That fall, Clinton lost his bid for re-election as governor. Afterward, he joined a Little Rock law firm.
In 1982, he won the governorship again and would remain in that office through 1992. While serving as Arkansas’ first lady, Hillary Clinton also worked as an attorney.
The American Presidency with Bill Clinton
Explore the history of the U.S. presidency across six themed episodes: race, extremism, the struggle for rights, presidential vision and global power.
After winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, Clinton, along with vice-presidential nominee Al Gore (1948-), a U.S. senator from Tennessee, went on to defeat the incumbent, President George H.W. Bush (1924-), by a margin of 370-168 electoral votes and with 43 percent of the popular vote to Bush’s 37.5 percent of the vote. A third-party candidate, Ross Perot (1930-), captured almost 19 percent of the popular vote.
Bill Clinton: First Presidential Term: 1993-1997
Clinton was inaugurated in January 1993 at age 46, making him the third-youngest president in history up to that time. During his first term, Clinton enacted a variety of pieces of domestic legislation, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Violence Against Women Act, along with key bills pertaining to crime and gun violence, education, the environment and welfare reform.
He put forth measures to reduce the federal budget deficit and also signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated trade barriers between the United States, Canada and Mexico. He attempted to enact universal health insurance for all Americans, and appointed first lady Hillary Clinton to head the committee charged with creating the plan. However, the committee’s plan was opposed by conservatives and the health care industry, among others, and Congress ultimately failed to act on it.
Clinton appointed a number of women and minorities to key government posts, including Janet Reno (1938-), who became the first female U.S. attorney general in 1993, and Madeleine Albright (1937-), who was sworn in as the first female U.S. secretary of state in 1997. He appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-) to the Supreme Court in 1993. She was the second female justice in the court’s history. Clinton’s other Supreme Court nominee, Stephen Breyer (1938-), joined the court in 1994.
On the foreign policy front, the Clinton administration helped bring about the 1994 reinstatement of Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (1953-). In 1995, the administration brokered the Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia.
Clinton ran for re-election in 1996 and defeated U.S. Senator Bob Dole (1923-) of Kansas by a margin of 379-159 electoral votes and with 49.2 percent of the popular vote to Dole’s 40.7 percent of the vote. (Third-party candidate Ross Perot garnered 8.4 percent of the popular vote.) Clinton’s victory marked the first time since Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) that a Democrat was elected to a second presidential term.
Bill Clinton: Second Presidential Term: 1997-2001
During Clinton’s second term, the U.S. economy was healthy, unemployment was low and the nation experienced a major technology boom and the rise of the Internet. In 1998, the United States achieved its first federal budget surplus in three decades (the final two years of Clinton’s presidency also resulted in budget surpluses). In 2000, the president signed legislation establishing permanent normal trade relations with China.
Additionally, the Clinton administration helped broker a peace accord in Northern Ireland in 1998. That same year, America launched air attacks against Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. In 1999, the United States led a NATO effort to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
In the midst of these events, Clinton’s second term was marred by scandal. On December 19, 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached him for perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with a sexual relationship he had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky (1973-) between late 1995 and early 1997. On February 12, 1999, the U.S. Senate acquitted the president of the charges and he remained in office. Clinton was the second American president to be impeached. The first, Andrew Johnson (1808-75), was impeached in 1868 and also later acquitted
Bill Clinton: Post-Presidency
After leaving the White House, Clinton remained active in public life, establishing the William J. Clinton Foundation to combat poverty, disease and other global issues.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas, opened in 2004. That same year, Clinton released his autobiography, “My Life,” which became a best-seller. He also campaigned for his wife, who was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York in 2000. In 2008, Hillary Clinton ran for the Democratic presidential nomination but lost to Barack Obama (1961-), who named her secretary of state when he became president.