There are few people in this world that have a profound effect on it. There are even fewer with that can claim they’ve had as great an impact as Ronald Reagan. The 40th president of the United States, Reagan shot from a former Hollywood actor to become arguably one of the greatest politicians of all time. In a time where tensions were possibly never higher between the Soviets and the United States, Reagan was a calming force that provided stability to a world that was severely lacking. Reagan lived a long, and extremely prosperous life, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest presidents of all time.
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Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in an apartment on the second floor of a commercial building in Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911, to Jack and Nelle Reagan. (“Ronald Reagan Biography”) Reagan had one sibling, his older brother, Neil. Reagan and his family moved around often, before eventually settling in the town of Dixon. As a boy, Reagan’s father nicknamed his son “Dutch”, due to his “fat little Dutchman”-like appearance, and his “Dutchboy” haircut. Growing up, Ronald had a particular interest in the goodness of people, and had a strong religious faith. (Kengor) After graduating from Dixon High School, Reagan attended Eureka College, majoring in economics and sociology. (“Ronald Reagan Biography”) Extremely popular among classmates, Reagan was not only captain of the swim team, but was elected student body president. He even ran a revolt against the president of the school when he tried to cut back the faculty.
Following graduation from Eureka, Reagan moved to Iowa, where he was hired as a radio broadcaster for the University of Iowa football team. Shortly after, he was hired as the play-by-play announcer for the Chicago Cubs. Reagan was a traveling announcer with the Cubs, and while traveling in California, attended a screen test with Warner Brothers. Reagan performed so well, he left the Cubs and signed a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. (“Ronald Reagan”) After signing the contract in 1937, Reagan was quickly assigned to the lower, “B” level movies. Ronald once joked by saying, “They didn’t want them good, they wanted them Thursday,” referencing the quality of some of the films he starred in. Often overshadowed by other actors in such movies, his first big role came in the film Love is in the Air. Ronald’s favorite movie was King’s Row, in which he played double amputee Drake McHugh. His most famous line was in the movie comes when he realizes both of his legs are gone, saying, “Where’s the rest of me?” Reagan loved it so much he later used it as the title of his autobiography. Ronald’s film career was cut short when he was ordered for active duty in the United States Army in World War two. (“Ronald Reagan”)
In 1940, Reagan married actress Jane Wyman, and together they had two children, Maureen and Christine, and adopted a third, Michael. Wyman filed for divorce in 948, after several arguments about his future political ambitions. It was in 1949 that Reagan met his true love, Nancy Davis. When asked about their first meeting, Nancy said, “She described their meeting by saying, “I don’t know if it was exactly love at first sight, but it was pretty close.” The Reagans often publicly displayed their affection for one another, as he often called her “Mommy” and she called him “Ronnie.” (“Ronald Reagan”)
After the end of the war, Ronald began a career in what really made him a star; politics. Reagan’s political career was launched when he made his “A Time for Choosing” speech, which supported conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The California republicans were impressed with Reagan, and he announced his intentions to run for California governor in 1966. In Reagan’s campaign, he emphasized two main themes: “to send the welfare bums back to work”, and, in reference to burgeoning anti-war and anti-establishment student protests at the University of California at Berkeley, “to clean up the mess at Berkeley.” He was elected, defeating two-term governor Edmund Brown, and was sworn in on January 2, 1967. Reagan won a second term in 1970, but chose not to run again in 1974. (“Ronald Reagan Biography”)
In 1976, Ronald Reagan moved on from governor of California to challenge for something even bigger; to be the president of the United States. He challenged incumbent Gerald Ford for the republican candidacy. Reagans campaign revolved around the thought of taking early primaries to damage the inevitability of Ford’s likely nomination. At first, the strategy appeared to work, but Ford eventually won out, with Reagan even losing out on his home state of Illinois. In 1980, however, things worked out much better for Reagan, as he not only won the republican nomination, but obliterated Jimmy Carter with 489 electoral college votes to Carter’s 49. (Freidel) His campaign stressed some of his fundamental principles: lower taxes to stimulate the economy, less government interference in people’s lives, states’ rights, and a strong national defense.
Reagan began his presidency on January 20th, 1981, and is the oldest president to ever assume office at 69. (“Ronald Reagan”) Just 69 days into his presidency, Reagan became the first president to survive an assassination attempt. After the event, Reagan’s popularity rose to a high of 73 percent. Perhaps Reagan’s greatest act as president came in his second term, when he helped end the Cold War. Reagan gave a speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987, in which he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, saying, “”General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” In November 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and the Cold War was officially declared over at the Malta Summit on December 3, 1989. On November 5th, at the age of 83, Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, an incurable neurological disorder that destroys brain cells and ultimately causes death. (Library) Letters of well wishes poured into the Reagan’s California home, showing support for the former president and first lady. As the years went on, the disease slowly destroyed Reagan’s mental capacity, and he was only able to recognize a few people, including his wife Nancy. (“Ronald Reagan Biography”) Reagan’s public appearances became much less frequent with the progression of the disease, and as a result, his family decided that he would live in quiet semi-isolation with his wife. On the afternoon of June 5, 2004, Ronald Reagan died at his home at the age of 93. President George W. Bush declared June 11 a National Day of Mourning, and tributes came in from all over the world. (“Ronald Reagan “) Three funerals were held for President Reagan, with his final resting place at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley California.
President Reagan’s legacy is that of a powerful and influential man, yet the most down to Earth, honest man you could possibly meet. Observers rank him as one of the greatest presidents of all time. Many think it was because of his joking and loving manner. President Reagan lived a full and prosperous life, and there are few that can argue they accomplished as much as he did in his time.
1. Freidel, Frank. The Presidents of the United States of America. 13th. Collingdale: Diane Publishing Co., 1994. eBook
2. Kengor, Paul. God and Ronald Reagan. 1st. New York City: Harper Perennial, 2005. Print.
3. “Ronald Reagan Biography.” The Biography Channel website. 2011. 01 March 2011 “Abraham Lincoln Biography.” The Biography Channel website. 2011. 01 March 2011 http://www.biography.com/people/abraham-lincoln-9382540 4. “Ronald Reagan.” History Channel Website. N.p.. Web. 18 Nov 2013. .
5. Library, CNN. “Ronald Reagan Fast Facts.” CNN U.S.. N.p., 10 Sept 2013. Web. 1Dec 2013. .
The Life and Times of Ronald Reagan
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