40th President, 1981–89 Party Affiliation: Republican

Chief 1980 Opponent: Jimmy Carter (Democrat) Chief 1984 Opponent: Walter Mondale (Democrat)


Where and when was Reagan born?

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, to John Edward and Nelle Wilson Reagan on February 6, 1911.

What did his father do for a living?

John Edward Reagan worked as a shoe salesman, a boot store operator, and a director of public works projects in Dixon, Illinois. He had some success with his boot store until the Great Depression forced him to close it.

What was Reagan’s early education?

Reagan attended local grade schools in Illinois. His family moved to Dixon, Illinois, when he was nine, where he also attended public schools. He graduated from Dixon High School in 1928. At Dixon, he served as president of the student body and played football, basketball, and track.

Did he have any siblings?

Yes, Reagan had one older brother named John Neil Reagan. He worked in the advertising business in California.

Did he marry?

Yes, Reagan had two marriages. He married actress Jane Wyman on January 26, 1940, in Hollywood, California. The couple divorced in 1948. Reagan married a second time to actress Nancy Davis on March 4, 1952, in San Fernando Valley, California.

Did he have any children?

Yes, Reagan had two children—one biological and one adoptive—with Jane Wyman. He also had two children with Nancy Davis. From his first marriage, he had a biological daughter named Maureen and an adoptive son named Michael. Maureen, who died in 2001, was active in Republican politics just like her famous father. Michael Reagan worked in business and as a radio talk show host. He also appeared on Fox News as a political consultant.

From his second marriage, Reagan had a daughter named Patti and a son named Ronald Jr. Patti worked as an actress and has written several books. She created controversy when she posed in Playboy in 1994. Ronald Reagan Jr. dropped out of Yale University to become a ballet dancer. He later became involved in journalism and politics, serving as a political pundit for MSNC News, and had his own radio show. Ronald advocates liberal political views that are opposite to his famous father.


Where did he go to college?

Reagan attended Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois. He earned a partial scholarship for football. He played for the Eureka Golden Tornadoes football, swimming, and track teams. He also served on the debating team and joined the drama club. He performed in school plays and reported for the school newspaper. He graduated in June 1932.

After graduating college, what did he do?

Reagan worked as a radio announcer. He worked for WOC in Davenport, Iowa, and then WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa, where he broadcast Chicago Cubs baseball games and Big Ten football games. He became a popular regional announcer.


What was his acting career like?

Reagan decided to use his radio broadcasting career as a launching pad into acting. While covering spring training for a baseball team in California, he auditioned for a screen test and was signed as an actor. He appeared in more than fifty movies in his career, which lasted for nearly thirty years from 1937 to 1965. He starred as football player George Gipp in the popular film of Notre Dame football Knute Rockne: All American. He also starred in the comedy Bedtime for Bonzo with a chimpanzee as his leading costar. He appeared in the movie Hellcats of the Navy with his wife Nancy. He served as president of the Screen Actors Guild for six years.

What interrupted Reagan’s acting career?

He served in the U.S. Army from April 1942 to July 1945, starting as a second lieutenant and finishing as a captain. Because of his poor eyesight, he did not see combat duty.

When did he become interested in politics?

He became more interested in politics in the early 1960s. Previously, he was a registered Democrat, but he gradually moved to the right. He served as a co-chairman for California Republicans for Goldwater, supporting Republican 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. He gave a rousing speech for Goldwater that was televised. People began to take notice of Reagan as a possible political force.


What was his first political office?

Reagan’s first political office was as governor of California. He won his first term in 1966 with a win over Democratic incumbent Pat Brown. He won reelection in 1970 with a win over Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, who had sparred with Reagan from his position in the California legislature. He declined to seek a third term, leaving the office in 1975. Reagan cracked down on student protestors in his first term and pushed through welfare reform in his second term.

What other races did he enter?

Reagan sought the presidency in both 1968 and 1976. In 1968, he presented himself as a compromise candidate between Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller. He finished third. In 1976, he nearly pulled an upset, almost unseating incumbent Gerald Ford. He carried out a strong campaign and told his supporters after the race: “I shall rise and fight again.”



Whom did Reagan defeat to win the 1980 Republican presidential nomination?

Reagan won the 1980 Republican presidential nomination over his future vice president George H. W. Bush. There were other contenders initially, including Bob Dole, U.S. senator from Kansas; Howard Baker, U.S. Senator from Tennessee; and John Anderson, a U.S. Representative from Illinois, who later ran as an independent. Bush won a few primaries, but Reagan was nominated and the field had dropped out of the race by the time of the convention.

Whom did Reagan defeat in the 1980 general presidential election?

Reagan defeated incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, who was beset with a struggling economy, hostages in Iran, and other problems. During one of the debates, Reagan famously asked Americans to consider something before they voted for their next president: “I think when you make that decision it might be well if you could ask yourself, are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Many Americans were worse off and it showed at the polls. In a landslide, Reagan tallied 489 electoral votes to only 9 for Carter.

Whom did Reagan defeat in 1984 to win reelection?

Reagan defeated Walter Mondale, Carter’s former vice president. Mondale made history by announcing that he had chosen a woman as his vice presidential candidate— Geraldine Ferraro of New York, a U.S. representative. Reagan dominated the election, winning 525 electoral votes to only 13 for Mondale. Reagan’s 525 electoral votes remain a record in American presidential election history.

Who was his vice president?

Reagan chose as his vice president his former rival from the primaries, George H. W. Bush, who served as his second-in-command for all eight years. Reagan initially considered former President Gerald Ford as his running mate, but Ford wanted an arrangement similar to a co-presidency. Bush loyally served as Reagan’s vice president and then later became Reagan’s ultimate successor.

Who were his U.S. attorneys general?

Reagan had three U.S. attorneys general: William French Smith, who served from 1981-85; Edwin Meese, who served from 1985 to 1988; and Richard Thornburgh, who served from 1988 to 1989. Smith opposed affirmative action and aggressively fought crime. Meese was the most controversial of the three attorneys general. A strong advocate for interpreting the Constitution pursuant to the Founders’ original intent, he was not bashful about criticizing Supreme Court justices when he thought they interpreted the Constitution according to their personal preferences. He resigned after a report cleared him of wrongdoing in the Iran-Contra affair— something for which he took much criticism. Richard Thornburgh, a former Pennsylvania governor, stayed on when George H. W. Bush became president.

What was the “War on Drugs”?

The War on Drugs was the catchphrase used by the Reagan administration to define their efforts to combat what many saw as a crack epidemic in the country— a drug that devastated many urban communities particularly. Reagan signed into law a 1986 criminal law that imposed mandatory minimums and created greater sentences for drug traffickers. First Lady Nancy Reagan participated actively in the fight against drugs with her national campaign: “Just Say No.”

What assassination attempt did Reagan survive?

On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. shot President Reagan at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan—who had been in office only a short time—suffered an injured arm and a punctured lung, but survived the attack. Hinckley shot White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head, leaving him disabled. He also shot Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and District of Columbia Metropolitan police officer Tom Delahanty.

Hinckley, who came from a wealthy family, acted irrationally out of an obsession for actress Jodie Foster, who had starred in the film Taxi Driver as a child prostitute. Hinck- ley identified with the protagonist in the movie, Travis Bickle, who tries to assassinate a United States senator; Bickle is convinced that violence is the answer to the social ills he feels have caused the downfall of Foster’s character. A jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity and he remains confined in a mental hospital to this day.

What was Reaganomics?

Reaganomics is the name given to Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, which included broad tax cuts, cuts in social programs, and increases in defense spending. Reagan came into office with the mantra: “government isn’t the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” He believed in supply-side economics, reducing government taxes on business that would allow the private sector to grow the economy. Critics charged that Reaganomics favored the rich to the detriment of the poor and constituted a form of “trickle-down” economics.

What small military action did the United States win in 1983?

Reagan ordered the deployment of American troops to the island of Grenada. Reagan deployed more than seven thousand troops to support the government from a left-wing military coup by a Cuban-supported regime. It was the United States’s first major military operation since Vietnam and led to an easy American victory. President Rea- gan kept his promise to remove American troops by the end of the year.

What was the Iran–Contra Affair?

This was a scandal that plagued the later years of the Reagan administration. It was alleged that, despite an embargo, the American government traded arms to Iran. It was conjectured that Reagan was motivated by a desire to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon, even though he publicly denied an arms-for-hostage agreement. In addition, it became known that some of the funds from the arms sales in Iran were funneled to an insurgent group in Nicaragua called the Contras, which the United States supported over the Communist Sandanista government despite the fact that further funding of the Contras had been prohibited by Congress. The plan was carried out by National Security Advisor John Poindexter and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. Reagan appointed a commission headed by U.S. Senator John Tower to investigate. The Tower Commission found no evidence that Reagan knew of the diversion of the funds but criticized him for failing to be more involved.

Who were Reagan’s U.S. Supreme Court appointees?

Reagan elevated one associate justice to chief justice and named three individuals as associate justices to the Supreme Court. In 1981, Reagan made history by nominating the first woman to the U.S. Supreme Court—Sandra Day O’Connor. Reagan had pledged during the campaign to nominate a woman to the Court and he kept his word. A former Arizona state legislator, O’Connor served on the Court from 1981 to 2006. She crafted many important decisions on religious freedom and served as a key swing vote in many cases. She supported the right to abortion for women.

In 1986, Reagan pulled a coup for conservatives when he elevated sitting associate justice William H. Rehnquist to chief justice. That left an open spot for associate justice, and Reagan nominated Antonin Scalia, a firebrand conservative serving as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate focused on the nomination of Rehnquist, allowing Scalia to skate through with a ninety-eight to zero-confirmation vote. Rehnquist served on the Court until his death in 2005. He was regarded as an excellent administrator of the Court. Scalia, who is still on the Court, changed the culture of oral argument, asking more questions of attorneys than any previous justice. He is a powerful voice on the Court.

In 1988, Reagan nominated Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is still on the Court. Reagan originally chose former Nixon solicitor general Robert Bork as his nominee, but the Senate rejected (or “borked”) him because of his ultraconservative views. Rea- gan then nominated Douglas Ginsburg, who withdrew after allegations surfaced of past marijuana usage.

What terrorist leader did the Reagan administration target?

Reagan targeted Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi for his sponsorship of terrorists who attacked the United States. Reagan referred to Gaddafi, who became the leader of Libya in 1969, as the “mad dog of the Middle East.” U.S. air forces targeted several areas near Tripoli, Libya’s capital, on April 15, 1986. Reagan justified the attack after learning that Gaddafi was responsible for the bombing of a West Berlin disco that left two Americans dead. Reagan also believed that Gaddafi had sponsored attacks on the airports in Rome and Vienna in 1985.

What was Reagan’s policy on abortion?

Reagan publicly stated his opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to an abortion. He issued an executive order that prohibited the use of federal funds to advocate on behalf of abortion.



What disease afflicted Reagan in his retirement period?

In 1994, the eighty-three-year-old Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, a neurological disorder that has no known cure. Reagan’s last public appearance was at former President Nixon’s funeral in April 1994.

When did he die?

Reagan died at the age of ninety-three on June 5, 2004

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