February 6, 1911
Tampico, Illinois, USA
Died June 5, 2004, age 93
Bel-Air, L.A., California, USA
Political party Republican
Spouse (1) Jane Wyman (married 1940, divorced 1948)
(2) Nancy Davis Reagan (married 1952)
Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was the 40th President
of the United States (1981–1989) and the 33rd Governor of California
(1967–1975). At 69, he was the oldest person ever to be elected
President of the United States. Before entering politics, Reagan was
a successful Hollywood and television actor, head of the Screen Actors
Guild, and a spokesman for General Electric. He was a prominent New
Dealer in the 1940s, but by 1960 Reagan had become a conservative Republican.
He strongly opposed communism and socialism, and as president he sought
a reduction to regulation, free-trade agreements, welfare cutbacks,
and tax cuts.
He married Jane
Wyman in 1940, and they divorced in 1948. In 1952, he married Nancy
Davis, with whom he remained for the rest of his life, fifty-two years.
Reagan is credited
with restoring America's power and prosperity after a period of stagflation
in the wake of the Watergate scandal and the withdrawal from Vietnam.
He rejected Détente and escalated the Cold War with the Soviet
Union through a military build-up and a firm foreign policy of "peace
through strength," but also negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev to
shrink both countries' nuclear arsenals and help bring a peaceful end
to the Cold War.
quotable speaking style earned him the sobriquet "The Great Communicator,"
while his survival of numerous scandals earned him the nickname "The
Teflon President." Notable appointments included Supreme Court
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the first woman appointed to the
Supreme Court, and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
After leaving office,
Reagan wrote a well-received autobiography titled An American Life.
In several recent ratings of American presidents, Ronald Reagan ranked
high. After suffering from Alzheimer's disease for at least a decade,
he died in 2004 at the age of 93 in Bel-Air, California. He is the second
longest-lived president in U.S. history, just behind Gerald Ford by
Reagan was born
on February 6, 1911, in a flat above the local bank in Tampico, Illinois.
He was the second of two sons born to John Edward Reagan (1883–1941),
an Irish American Catholic, and Nelle Clyde Wilson (1883–1962),
who was of Scottish, Canadian, and English descent, and a member of
the Disciples of Christ. Reagan was raised in the Christian Church (Disciples
of Christ) faith. Reagan's father was a problem drinker and sporadically
His paternal great-grandfather,
Michael Reagan, came to the United States from Ballyporeen, County Tipperary,
Ireland, in the 1860s, and the rest of his paternal family also immigrated
from Ireland in the 1800s.  Prior to his immigration, the family
name was spelled Regan. His maternal great-grandfather, John Wilson,
immigrated to the United States from Paisley, Scotland, in the 1840s
and married Jane Blue, a Canadian from Queens, New Brunswick. Reagan's
maternal grandmother, Mary Anne Elsey, was born in Epsom, Surrey, England.
lived in several small Illinois towns and, briefly, Chicago during Reagan's
earliest years. In 1920, when Reagan was nine years old, the Reagan
family settled in the small town of Dixon, Illinois. The midwestern
"small universe" made a lasting impression on Reagan "where
I learned standards and values that would guide me the rest of my life",
Reagan recounted in his autobiography. "I learned that hard work
is an essential part of life - that by and large, you don't get something
for nothing - and that America was a place that offered unlimited opportunity
to those who did work hard. I learned to admire risk takers and entrepreneurs,
be they farmers or small merchants, who went to work and took risks
to build something for themselves and their children, pushing at the
boundaries of their lives to make them better. I have always wondered
at this American marvel."
In Dixon, Reagan
attended Dixon High School, where he developed a gift for storytelling
and acting. In 1926, Reagan's first job was that of a lifeguard at the
Rock River in Lowell Park, near Dixon. He was credited with saving 77
lives during the seven summers he worked there.
After High School,
Reagan attended Eureka College, where he majored in economics and sociology.
He was a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and was very active
From radio announcer
to Hollywood star
From the trailer for Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938), one of Reagan's earliest
films.In 1932, after graduating from Eureka, Reagan worked at radio
stations WOC in Davenport, Iowa, and then WHO in Des Moines as an announcer
for Chicago Cubs baseball games, getting only the bare outlines of the
game from a ticker and relying on his imagination to flesh out the game.
Once, during the ninth inning of a game, the wire went dead but Reagan
smoothly improvised a fictional play-by-play (in which hitters on both
teams fouled off numerous pitches) until the wire was restored. As a
Headline radio announcer, Reagan took a screen test that led to a seven-year
contract with the Warner Brothers studio. Reagan's clear voice, easy-going
manner, and athletic physique made him popular with audiences; the majority
of his screen roles were as the leading man, beginning with "B"
films and carrying on through "A" films. His first screen
credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie Love Is On the Air. By
the end of 1939, he had appeared in 19 films. Before Santa Fe Trail
in 1940, he played the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in
the film Knute Rockne, All American. From this role he acquired the
nickname the Gipper, which he retained the rest of his life. Reagan
considered his best acting work to have been in Kings Row (1942). He
played the part of a young man whose legs were amputated. He used a
line he spoke in this film, "Where's the rest of me?", as
the title for his autobiography. Other notable Reagan films include
International Squadron, Tennessee's Partner, Hellcats of the Navy, This
Is the Army, The Hasty Heart, Hong Kong, The Winning Team, Bedtime for
Bonzo, Cattle Queen of Montana, Storm Warning, The Killers (1964 remake),
and Prisoner of War movie. His many leading ladies included Jane Wyman,
Priscilla Lane, Ann Sheridan, Viveca Lindfors, Patricia Neal, Barbara
Stanwyck, Rhonda Fleming, Ginger Rogers, Doris Day, Nancy Davis, and
Angie Dickinson. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On May 25, 1937,
Reagan was appointed a second lieutenant in the Officers' Reserve Corps
of the Cavalry. He served with Troop B, 322nd Cavalry. After the
attack on Pearl Harbor, on April 18, 1942, Lieutenant Reagan was ordered
to active duty, but because of his astigmatism was prevented from serving
overseas. He was first assigned to the San Francisco Port of Embarkation
at Fort Mason, California, as a liaison officer for the Port and Transportation
Office. At the request of the Army Air Force, he applied for a transfer
from the Cavalry to the Army Air Force. In June 1942, was assigned
to the First Motion Picture Unit, which made training and education
films for the war effort. Reagan recalled in his first autobiography
Where's the Rest of Me that he witnessed inefficiencies in his Army
department because bureaucrats wanted to protect their own jobs and
budgets. That's when his enthusiasm for government efforts began to
wane and his enthusiasm for free markets - and competition - began to
rise, he recalled. Reagan remained in Hollywood for the duration of
Reagan on the set of her movie Donovan's Brain, 1953.Reagan's film roles
became fewer in the late 1950s; he moved to television as a host and
frequent performer for General Electric Theater. Reagan appeared in
over 50 television dramas. Reagan served as the president of the Screen
Actors Guild (SAG) from 1947 until 1952, and again from 1959 to 1960.
In 1952, a Hollywood dispute raged over his granting of a SAG blanket
waiver to MCA, which allowed it to both represent and employ talent
for its burgeoning TV franchises. He went from host and program supervisor
of General Electric Theater to producing and claiming an equity stake
in the TV show itself. At one point in the late 1950s, Reagan was earning
approximately $125,000 per year ($800,000 in 2006 dollars). His final
work as a professional actor was as host and performer from 1964 to
1965 on the popular Death Valley Days television series. Reagan's final
big-screen appearance came in the 1964 film The Killers, a remake of
an earlier version, based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Reagan
portrayed a mob chieftain. This film, the first made-for-TV movie, was
originally produced for NBC, but the network's censor found it too violent.
Reagan's co-stars were John Cassavetes, Lee Marvin, and Angie Dickinson.
In 1989, after leaving
office, Reagan was contacted by the producers of the Back To The Future
film trilogy about taking the role of the mayor of the fictional town
of Hill Valley, "Mayor Hubert" in the third installment. According
to Reagan's agent Lew Wasserman, he contemplated taking the role before
eventually turning it down.
Reagan married actress Jane Wyman on January 24, 1940; they had a daughter,
Maureen in 1941; an adopted son, Michael in 1945, and a second daughter,
Christine, born and died June 26, 1947. They divorced on June 28, 1948.
Reagan is the only United States President to date to have been divorced.
Reagan married actress
Nancy Davis on March 4, 1952. His best man was William Holden. Their
daughter Patti was born on October 21 of the same year. In 1958, they
had a second child, Ron.
From the very start
of their marriage, Ronald and Nancy Reagan were "soul mates."
This deep relationship was with the Reagans throughout all of their
married life. While President and First Lady, the Reagans frequently
displayed their affection for each other in public, and in private.
Even when the President was debilitated by Alzheimer's Disease, Nancy
Reagan reaffirmed their love for each other, stating: "We were
very much in love, and still are."
TV star Ronald Reagan advertising boraxReagan was originally a Democrat,
a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, and a lifelong
admirer of FDR's leadership skills. In the late 1940s, Reagan was still
a visible speaker defending President Harry S. Truman. But his political
loyalties shifted to the Republican Party.
His first major
political role was as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the
labor union that represented most Hollywood actors. In this position,
he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
on suspected communist influence in the motion picture industry. The
Screen Actors Guild, he claimed, was being infiltrated by communists.
In private he and his first wife, Jane Wyman, met with FBI agents in
1947 to name "suspected subversives". Among those he allegedly
fingered were actors Larry Parks, Howard Da Silva, and Alexander Knox,
each of whom was later called before HUAC and subsequently blacklisted
in Hollywood. (This information was not revealed until a 2002 Freedom
of Information Act request.) FBI files allegedly show that he continually
gave the FBI names of people he suspected of communist ties.
Now a staunch anti-communist,
Reagan supported the presidential candidacies of Dwight D. Eisenhower
(1952;1956) and Richard Nixon (1960), while remaining a registered Democrat.
Through these years, Reagan read about American history, the Founding
Fathers, and free market economics. (Reagan had also majored in economics
in college.) After reading Nobel Prize-winner Friedrich Hayek's The
Road to Serfdom, Reagan came to believe that socialism was a threat
to the American way of life. Witnessing what he believed to be inefficient
and overreaching government programs firsthand, Reagan believed that
liberals were naively leading the country down a road to serfdom.
Following the election
of John F. Kennedy, he formally switched parties to become a Republican
in 1962 — in time to mount the 1964 bandwagon of conservative
Presidential contender Barry Goldwater. Speaking on Goldwater's behalf,
Reagan revealed his ideological motivation: "The Founding Fathers
knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people.
And they knew when a government set out to do that, it must use force
and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing."
"I didn't leave
the Democratic Party", he claimed. "The party left me."
Reagan later explained in his autobiography An American Life that Franklin
D. Roosevelt warned that welfare programs could destroy the work ethic
like "a narcotic" and that Roosevelt liquidated the temporary
welfare programs designed to aid the country through the Great Depression
once the Depression passed (only to be revived after his death), and
Reagan implied that Roosevelt would have also disapproved of the change
in the Democratic Party.
Governor of California
In 1966, he was elected the 33rd Governor of California, defeating two-term
governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, after working with UC Regent
Edwin Pauley to crack down on anti-war protesters at UC Berkeley. He
was re-elected in 1970, defeating "Big Daddy" Jesse Unruh,
but chose not to seek a third term. Ronald Reagan was sworn in as governor
of California on January 3, 1967. In his first term, he froze government
hiring but also approved tax hikes to balance the budget. Reagan quickly
squelched protest movements of the era. During the People's Park protests
in 1969, he sent 2,200 state National Guard troops to the Berkeley campus
of the University of California. In a speech in April 1970, he stated,
"If it's to be a bloodbath, let it be now. Appeasement is not the
He worked with Democratic
Assembly Speaker Robert Moretti to reform welfare in 1971. Reagan also
opposed the construction of a large federal dam, the Dos Rios, which
would have flooded a valley of American Indian ranches. Later, Reagan
and his family took a summer backpack trip into the high Sierra to a
place where a proposed trans-Sierra highway would be built. Once there,
he declared it would not be built. One of Reagan's greatest frustrations
in office concerned capital punishment. He had campaigned as a strong
supporter; however, his efforts to enforce the state's laws in this
area were thwarted when the Supreme Court of California issued its People
v. Anderson decision, which invalidated all death sentences issued in
California prior to 1972, although the decision was quickly overturned
by a constitutional amendment. Despite his support for the death penalty,
Reagan granted two clemencies and a temporary reprieve during his governorship.
As of 2006, no other clemency has been granted to a condemned person
in California. The only execution during Reagan's governorship was on
April 12, 1967, when Aaron Mitchell was executed by the state in San
Quentin's gas chamber. There was not another execution in California
until 1992. When the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patty Hearst
in Berkeley and demanded the distribution of food to the poor, Reagan
suggested that it would be a good time for an outbreak of botulism.
After the media reported on the comment, he apologized.
the dismantling of the public psychiatric hospital system, proposing
that community-based housing and treatment replace involuntary hospitalization,
which he saw as a violation of civil liberties issue. The community
replacement facilities have never been adequately funded, either by
Reagan or his successors. Reagan was strongly influenced
by the classical liberals. When asked in an interview in 1975 which
economists were influential on him, he replied: "Bastiat and von
Mises, and Hayek and Hazlitt–I’m one for the classical economists."
Reagan was the first
governor to use a corporate business jet for official travel. California
received one of the first Cessna Citation jets manufactured. His pilot,
Bill Paynter, changed his Democratic voting registration to Republican
within six months of meeting Reagan. Paynter often told listeners the
Reagan on TV was the same Reagan in person, a man who walked his talk.
Reagan would often ask his flight crew if it would be any inconvenience
to change the published flight schedule because he did not want to keep
his support staff from being with their families and any family planned
on the cover of Time as "Man of the Year," 1980.
1976 presidential campaign
Reagan first tested the Presidential waters in 1968 as part of a "Stop
Nixon" movement which included those from the party's left led
by then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Reagan managed to win
the pledges of some 600 delegates, but Nixon quickly steamrolled to
the nomination; Reagan urged the convention to nominate Nixon unanimously.
In 1976, Reagan
challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford, a moderate. Reagan soon
established himself as the conservative candidate; like-minded organizations
such as the American Conservative Union became the key components of
his political base. He relied on a strategy crafted by campaign manager
John Sears of winning a few primaries early to seriously damage the
liftoff of Ford's campaign, but the strategy quickly disintegrated.
Poor management of expectations and an ill-timed speech promising to
shift responsibility for federal services to the states without identifying
any clear funding mechanism caused Reagan to lose New Hampshire and
later Florida. Reagan found himself cornered, desperately needing a
win to stay in the race.
Reagan's stand in
the North Carolina primary was a do-or-die proposition. Hammering Ford
on the Panama Canal, detente with the Soviet Union, busing of school
children, and Henry Kissinger's performance as Secretary of State, Reagan
won 53% to 47%. He used that bit of momentum to add the major states
of Texas and California, but then fell back from losing efforts in Ohio,
Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan. As the party's convention in Kansas
City neared, Ford appeared close to victory, thanks to New York, New
Jersey, and Pennsylvania delegates ostensibly under the control of Ford's
liberal Vice President Rockefeller. Acknowledging the strength of his
party's moderate and liberal wing, Reagan balanced his ticket by choosing
as his running mate moderate Republican Senator Richard Schweiker of
Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, Ford squeaked by with 1,187 delegates to
Reagan's 1,070. Reagan's concession speech was a stirring exhortation,
emphasizing the dangers of nuclear war and the moral threat posed by
the Soviet Union. Although Reagan lost the nomination, he received 307
write-in votes in New Hampshire, 388 votes as an Independent on Wyoming's
ballot, and an electoral delegate from Washington voted for him in the
1980 presidential campaign
Main article: United States presidential election, 1980
In 1980, Reagan won the Republican nomination for President. He received
67% of the Popular vote while his opponent only received 33%, handily
winning most of the primaries after an early defeat in the Iowa caucuses.
During the convention, Reagan proposed a complex power-sharing arrangement
with Gerald Ford as Vice President, but nothing came of it. Instead,
Reagan selected his opponent in the primaries, George H. W. Bush, who
had extensive international experience.
On August 4, 1980,
Ronald Reagan, as a candidate, delivered a speech near Philadelphia,
Mississippi at the annual Neshoba County Fair. Reagan excited the crowd
when he announced, "I believe in states' rights. I believe we have
distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that
were never intended to be given in the Constitution to that federal
establishment." He went on to promise to "restore to states
and local governments the power that properly belongs to them."
Philadelphia was the scene of the June 21, 1964 murder of civil rights
workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Black leaders
charged Reagan was signaling a racist message to his audience. When
Carter tried to accuse Reagan of racism because of his record, it largely
backfired against Carter, who failed to stir up enthusiasm among black
Democrats. When one of Carter's main black supporters Andrew Young
tried to whip up black anger by stating to an Ohio audience that if
Reagan were elected, it would be "okay to kill niggers" the
strident language alienated voters and had to be repudiated by Carter.
campaign, led by William J. Casey, was conducted in the shadow of the
Iran hostage crisis; every day during the campaign the networks reported
on Carter's unavailing efforts to free the hostages. Most analysts argue
this weakened Carter's political base and gave Reagan the opportunity
to attack Carter's ineffectiveness. On the other hand, Carter's inability
to deal with double-digit inflation and unemployment, lackluster economic
growth, instability in the petroleum market leading to gasoline shortages,
and the perceived weakness of the U.S. national defense may have had
a greater impact on the electorate. Adding to Carter's woes was his
use of the term "misery index" during the 1976 election, which
he defined as the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates. This
so-called "misery index" had considerably worsened during
his term, which Reagan used to his advantage during the campaign. With
respect to the economy, Reagan said, "I'm told I can't use the
word depression. Well, I'll tell you the definition. A recession is
when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose your job.
Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."
in the televised debates boosted his campaign. He seemed more at ease,
deflecting President Carter's criticisms with remarks like "There
you go again." His most influential remark was a closing question
to the audience, during a time of skyrocketing prices and high interest
rates, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
(a phrase he would successfully reuse in the 1984 campaign).
In the 1984 presidential
election, Reagan was re-elected over former Vice President Walter Mondale,
winning 49 of 50 states. Mondale carried only his home state of Minnesota
(by 3800 votes) and the District of Columbia. Reagan received nearly
60% of the popular vote. His chances of winning were not harmed when,
at the Democratic National Convention, Mondale accepted the party nomination
with a speech that was regarded as a self-inflicted mortal wound to
his presidential aspirations. In it, Mondale remarked "Mr. Reagan
will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did."
During the campaign,
Reagan jokingly said "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell
you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.
We begin bombing in five minutes," as a sound check prior to a
radio address. Samples of the recording of the quotation were later
turned into the dance record "Five Minutes" by Jerry Harrison
and Bootsy Collins.
the Republican nomination in Dallas, Texas, on a wave of good feeling
bolstered by the recovering economy and the dominating performance by
the U.S. athletes at the Los Angeles Olympics that summer. He became
the first American President to open a summer Olympic Games held in
Despite a weak performance
in the first debate[original research?], Reagan recovered in the second
and was considerably ahead of Mondale in polls taken throughout much
of the race. Reagan's landslide win in the 1984 presidential election
is often attributed by political commentators to be a result of his
conversion of the "Reagan Democrats," the traditionally Democratic
voters who voted for Reagan in that election.
Vice President George H. W. Bush 1981–1989
Reagan was an advocate
of free markets and believed that the American economy was hampered
by excessive economic controls and misguided welfare programs enacted
during the 1960s and 1970s. In his first inauguration speech, Reagan
said, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to
our problem; government is the problem." His first act as president
was to issue an executive order ending certain price controls. His supply-side
economics policies, or "Reaganomics," achieved a 25% cut in
the federal personal income tax, moderate deregulation and tax reform,
which he believed would remove barriers to economic activity and lead
to increased investments in the economy.
He also supported
and strengthened Social Security for the elderly, disabled and orphans
to make it solvent longer. He wrote in his memoir "An American
Life" that he was not trying to undo the New Deal. Instead, Reagan
said he was trying to undo Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.
The economy recovered
robustly from the 1981-82 recession, and economic growth between 1982
and 1989 was an impressive 9.7% GDP without inflation. Reagan held an
optimistic view of the American worker and economy. Despite his large
tax cuts, spending grew unabated, resulting in a dramatic increase in
federal budget deficits and the national debt.
Reagan was skeptical
of federal government programs to remedy socioeconomic problems. He
was an advocate of individual initiative, and Reagan’s approach
to America’s economic problems was to lower taxes and limit government
controls, allowing the self-correcting "invisible hand"
of the free market to assert itself.
Speaking in front
of the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987 Ronald Reagan challenged reformist
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to go further with his reforms and "tear
down this wall."Many political and social commentators have credited
Reagan with restoring a new optimism to the American psyche that had
been mired in sullen negativity following the aftermath of the Watergate
Scandal, the American withdrawal from Vietnam, and a 1970s economy plagued
by spiraling inflation, unemployment and subsequent high interest rates.
His ability to escape blame for numerous scandals that plagued his presidency
earned him the nickname "The Teflon President". During his
first term, Reagan wrote Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation,
in which he advocated greater respect for human life.
Reagan was reelected
in a 49-state landslide in 1984. He did not succeed in substantially
changing social policies, but he did change the way Americans viewed
government and the economy. He is credited with achieving a less activist
federal judiciary through conservative appointments to the United States
Supreme Court and other federal courts.
In foreign policy,
his administration was noted for its boldness against communism and
then skillful diplomacy in embracing the reformer Gorbachev.
Reagan and Gorbachev
built a close relationship and peacefully ended the Cold War. Gorbachev
was awarded the first Ronald Reagan Freedom Award, Nobel Peace Prize,
and Time Magazine’s Man of the Decade
Dubbed "The Great Communicator", Reagan was known for his
ability to express ideas and emotions in an almost personal manner,
even when making a formal address. Reagan honed these skills as a radio
host, actor, live television host, and politician. As a young man he
was inspired by FDR's bashing of Nazi Germany and spirited defense of
democracy. He emulated FDR's speaking style, even swinging around a
cigarette holder as he talked.  In his autobiography, Reagan warmly
recounted FDR's fireside chats, and he wrote that he borrowed from FDR's
playbook when he took his case directly to the American people.
Reagan as president
used his communication skills to challenge the legitimacy of the Soviet
Union, calling it "the evil empire," and to restore America's
national pride. He hired skilled speechwriters who could capture his
folksy charm. In 1985, Professor Max Atkinson who was to advise the
British politician Paddy Ashdown on his speeches ran a seminar on speech
writing in the White House.
style varied. He used strong, even ideological language to condemn communism
during his first term, but he could also evoke optimistic ideals of
the United States as a defender of liberty. His October 27, 1964, speech
entitled "A Time for Choosing" borrowed a phrase "rendezvous
with destiny" made famous by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Other speeches
recalled America as the "shining city on a hill," "big-hearted,
idealistic, daring, decent, and fair," whose citizens had the "right
to dream heroic dreams."
On January 28, 1986,
after the Challenger accident, he postponed his State of the Union address
and addressed the nation on the disaster. In a speech written by Peggy
Noonan, he said, "We will never forget them, nor the last time
we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved
good-bye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of
God'." (quotations in this speech are from the famous poem
"High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr..)
It was perhaps Reagan's
humor, especially his one-liners, that disarmed his opponents and endeared
him to audiences the most. Discussion of his advanced age led him to
quip in his second debate against Walter Mondale during the 1984 campaign,
"I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going
to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."
On his career he joked, "Politics is not a bad profession. If you
succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always
write a book."
Vice President Bush, and President Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier
Mikhail Gorbachev in New York City in 1988Both opponents and supporters
noted his "sunny optimism", which was welcomed by many in
comparison to his presidential predecessor, the often smiling, but serious,
Carter. Reagan once said "The lessons of leadership were the same:
hard work, a knowledge of the facts, a willingness to listen and be
understanding, a strong sense of duty and direction, and a determination
to do your best on behalf of the people you serve."
In response to being
dubbed the Great Communicator, he said in his Farewell Address: "I
never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference:
It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated
Main article: Reagan assassination attempt
On March 30, 1981, Reagan, his press secretary James Brady, and two
others were struck by gunfire from a deranged would-be assassin, John
Hinckley, Jr.. Missing Reagan’s heart by less than one inch, the
bullet instead pierced his left lung, which likely spared his life.
Reagan joked to the surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans"
(though they were not, Dr. Joseph Giordano replied, "Today, Mr.
President, we're all Republicans"). Reagan later famously told
his wife, "Honey, I forgot to duck" (borrowing Jack Dempsey's
line to his wife the night he was beaten by Gene Tunney for the heavyweight
championship). Reagan had been scheduled to visit Philadelphia on the
day of the shooting. He quipped to a nurse, "All in all, I'd rather
be in Philadelphia", referring to the W.C. Fields tagline. .
A frequent objection by his critics was that his personal charm also
permitted him to say nearly anything and yet prevail, a quality that
earned him the nickname "The Teflon President" (nothing sticks
to him). His denial of awareness of the Iran-Contra scandal belied his
signing a secret presidential "finding" describing the deal
as "arms-for-hostages". Critics objected to his comparison
of the contras to the Founding Fathers and to the French Resistance,
which suggests that he viewed the Sandinistas as Communists who were
akin to an occupying power. The United States was found guilty of
having supported terrorism in Nicaragua by the International Court of
Justice (Nicaragua v. United States) during Reagan's presidency. Despite
a United Nations General Assembly resolution demanding compliance,
the U.S. never paid the required fine and since 1991, relations with
Nicaragua were friendly.
was increasing steadily after 1973 as the New Deal goal of egalitarianism
faded from the political agenda. Reagan's efforts to cut welfare
and income taxes became common flashpoints between critics who charged
that this primarily benefited the wealthy in America, branding these
policies as "Trickle-down economics," and the business community
that said it penalized all American job seekers.
In order to cover
Reagan' federal budget deficits, the United States borrowed heavily
both domestically and abroad, and by the end of Reagan's second term
the national debt held by the public rose from 26 percent of Gross Domestic
Product in 1980 to 41 percent in 1989, the highest level since 1963.
By 1988, the debt totaled $2.6 trillion. The country owed more to foreigners
than it was owed, and the United States moved from being the world's
largest international creditor to the world's largest debtor nation.
of the banking industry before Reagan took office, meant savings and
loan associations were given the flexibility to invest their depositors'
funds in commercial real estate. Many savings and loan associations
began making risky investments. As a result, the Federal Home Loan Bank
Board, the federal agency that regulates the industry, tried to clamp
down on the trend. In so doing, however, the Board clashed with the
policy of permitting the deregulation of many industries, including
the thrift industry. The resulting savings and loan scandal bailout
ultimately cost the government $150 billion.
See also: Savings
and Loan crisis
Reagan was criticized for the slow response of his Administration to
the HIV-AIDS epidemic, until after the illness of movie star and national
icon Rock Hudson became public news in late July 1985, by which time
12,067 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS, and 6,079 had died..
The White House was accused of ignoring an epidemic that had primarily
affected gay men; many believing that it took Hudson's death to legitimize
the need for action.
Some Jewish leaders
criticized Reagan for deciding to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany,
after they discovered that 49 Waffen SS men are buried, and for stating
that young Waffen SS men, who were drafted into services in the later
years of the war, were victims, just as were the Jews murdered in Nazi
policy drew criticism as a war-monger. In Britain, though Reagan had
the strong support of Margaret Thatcher, he was routinely attacked for
his foreign policies. Left-wing critics denounced his opposition to
Castro's dictatorship in Cuba and complained that he was ignoring human
rights in Central and South America, and South Africa. Although Reagan
sought an end to apartheid and liberalization of South Africa, he opposed
economic sanctions "on grounds that it would diminish influence
on the South African government and create economic hardship for the
very people in South Africa that the sanctions were ostensibly designed
In 1983 and again
in 1984, Reagan told prominent Israelis and American Jews -- notably
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel and by Simon Wiesenthal and
Rabbi Martin Hier of Los Angeles -- that he personally filmed the Auschwitz
death camps; he was in a film unit in Hollywood that processed raw footage
for newsreels, but he was not in Europe during the war.
public speech was on February 3, 1994, during a tribute in Washington,
D.C.. His last public appearance was at the funeral of fellow Republican
President Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994.
The Ronald Reagan
Presidential Library and Museum
Main article: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
On November 4, 1991, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was opened
to the public. At the opening ceremonies, four former presidents, Richard
Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Reagan, and the current president,
George H. W. Bush, were all in attendance, as well as five former first
ladies, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, and
Nancy Reagan, plus the current First Lady, Barbara Bush. Currently,
the library is the largest of all of the Presidential Libraries. Notable
exhibits include ones on the Reagan's Ranch, a full scale replica of
the Oval Office, and the actual Boeing 707, Air Force One, that served
President Reagan during his eight years in office. President Reagan
is buried on the property.
On November 5, 1994, Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with
Alzheimer's disease. He informed the nation of his condition via a hand-written
letter. With his trademark optimism, he stated in conclusion: "I
now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life.
I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank
you, my friends. May God always bless you." 
As the years went
on, the disease slowly destroyed his mental capacity, forcing him to
live in quiet isolation. On February 6, 2001, Reagan reached the age
of 90 and was, at the time, only the third former U.S. president to
reach that age - the other two being John Adams and Herbert Hoover (Gerald
Ford later becoming the fourth). Since the former president had a hip
operation just three weeks earlier and had been suffering from Alzheimer's
disease for seven years, his 90th birthday was a low-key celebration
with his family at his home in Bel-Air. Nancy Reagan, the wife of the
former president, told CNN's Larry King that very few visitors were
allowed access to her husband because she felt that "Ronnie would
want people to remember him as he was."
Main article: Death and state funeral of Ronald Reagan
's grave at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
's casket, on a horse-drawn caisson, being pulled down Constitution
Avenue to the Capitol Building.Reagan died of pneumonia on June 5, 2004
at 1:09 PM PDT at his home in Bel-Air, California. After a major state
funeral in Washington that drew leaders from around the world, he was
buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
The state funeral was presided over by President George W. Bush, whose
father was vice-president under Reagan and followed Reagan to the White
Reagan had an easy-going but deep Christian faith. Reagan's mother,
an active Protestant, taught Reagan lasting values at an early age,
such as a strong sense of personal responsibility and Christian tolerance
for other people. Reagan recalled in his autobiography An American Life
that "my mother always taught us: 'Treat thy neighbor as you would
want your neighbor to treat you,' and 'Judge everyone by how they act,
not what they are.'" He was appalled when he witnessed discrimination
and was taught repeatedly that racism and was one of the worst sins
possible. "My parents constantly drummed into me the importance
of judging people as individuals", Reagan recalled.
As an adult, Reagan
was a member of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, but didn't attend regularly
during his presidency, due to the inconvenience his presence caused
the parishioners. In a March 1978 letter to a Methodist minister
who was skeptical about Christ's divinity—and accused Reagan of
a "limited Sunday school level theology"—Reagan argued
strongly for Christ's divinity, using C.S. Lewis's Trilemma.
By the time he became
president, Reagan held a few simple but firm convictions about God and
life, and he believed that living by these basic principles would solve
many personal and society problems. Reagan warmly looked back to his
childhood in Dixon where "you prayed side by side with your neighbors,
and if things were going wrong for them, you prayed for them - and knew
they'd pray for you if things went wrong for you," he wrote in
An American Life. "Every individual is unique, but we all want
freedom and liberty, peace, love and security, a good home, and a chance
to worship God in our own way; we all want the chance to get ahead and
make our children's lives better than our own." French President
François Mitterrand, who very much liked Reagan (but disagreed
on issues), reflected that Reagan "has two religions: free enterprise
and god - the Christian God." 
Reagan formed his
general policies around these views and then left the details to others
to handle. Reagan believed that his presidency had a higher meaning
to be treated as a temporary gift of responsibility. As president, Reagan
spoke to numerous Christian groups and naturally attracted voters with
traditional values. However, his son Ron Reagan said at his father's
memorial service that he did not blatantly "wear his faith on his
sleeve to gain political advantage."
reflected in their memoirs that President Ronald Reagan was personally
one of the kindest men they had ever met. Even his political enemies
found it hard to hate him, since he was so sincere and charming.
site is inscribed with words that President Reagan said at the opening
of his presidential library: "I know in my heart that man is good.
That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s
purpose and worth to each and every life."
The noted presidential biographer Richard Reeves (Kennedy, Nixon) summarized
in President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination that Reagan understood
"how to be President, who knows that the job is not to manage the
government but to lead a nation. In many ways, a quarter century later,
he is still leading. As his vice president, George H.W. Bush, said after
Reagan was shot and hospitalized in 1981: 'We will act as if he were
here.' He is a heroic figure if not always a hero. He did not destroy
communism, as his champions claim, but he knew it would self-destruct
and hastened the collapse. No small thing. He believed the Soviet Union
was evil and he had contempt for the established American policies of
containment and détente. Asked about his own Cold War strategy,
he answered: 'We win. They lose!' Like one of his heroes, Franklin D.
Roosevelt, he has become larger than life." 
Today, Ronald Reagan
is one of America's most popular presidents. In several recent ratings
of American presidents, Ronald Reagan ranked high. 
The Gallup Organization took a poll in 2005 and asking respondents to
name the greatest president in U.S. history. Ronald Reagan took the
top spot with 18% of Americans polled. He ranked fifth in an ABC poll
of the public in 2000. He was named the greatest president since World
War II by a Quinnipiac poll of the public in 2006, and he ranked six
in a C-SPAN poll of viewers in 1999. On the Discovery Channel's show,
The Greatest American, Reagan was named The Greatest American.