William Jefferson Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe IV on August 19, 1946, in Hope, Arkansas, three months after his father died in a traffic accident. When he was four years old, his mother wed Roger Clinton, of Hot Springs, Arkansas. In high school, he took the family name.
Clinton excelled as a student and as a saxophone player and once considered becoming a professional musician. As a delegate to Boys Nation while in high school, he met President John Kennedy in the White House Rose Garden. The encounter led him to enter a life of public service.
Clinton graduated from Georgetown University and in 1968 won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He received a law degree from Yale University in 1973 and returned to Arkansas to entered politics.
In 1973, Clinton was defeated in his campaign for Congress in Arkansas’s Third District. In 1974, he married Hillary Rodham, a graduate of Wellesley College and Yale Law School. In 1976, Clinton was elected Arkansas Attorney General. In 1978, he was elected governor. In 1980, Chelsea, the Clintons’ only child, was born. In 1982, Clinton lost a bid for a second term as governor, but won in 1986 and 1990, serving until 1992, when he defeated incumbent George Bush and third party candidate Ross Perot in the Presidential race.
Clinton and his running mate, Tennessee’s Senator Albert Gore Jr., then 44, represented a new generation in American political leadership. For the first time in 12 years, both the White House and Congress were held by the same party. Despite Democratic Party control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, Clinton failed in his second year to get approval of a huge program of health care reform. Clinton then shifted emphasis, declaring “the era of big government is over.” Instead of sweeping national change, he sought legislation to upgrade education, to protect jobs of parents who must care for sick children, to restrict handgun sales, and to strengthen environmental rules.
The Democratic Party political edge was brief; the Republicans won both houses of Congress in 1994, resulting in an impasse of new legislation and and era of limited government. Time Magazine called it “The Incredible Shrinking President.”
Nonetheless, during the Clinton administration, the U.S. enjoyed more peace and economic well-being than at any time in its history. In 1996, Clinton became the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term, defeating Republican candidate Robert Dole. The U.S. enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate in modern times, the lowest inflation in 30 years, the highest home ownership in the country’s history, dropping crime rates in many places, reduced welfare roles, and all-time stock market highs, sparked in part by a technology boom. Clinton proposed the first balanced budget in decades and achieved a budget surplus. As part of a plan to celebrate the millennium in 2000, Clinton called for a great national initiative to end racial discrimination.
In 1998, as a result of issues surrounding an affair with a young woman White House intern, Clinton was the second U.S. president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. He was tried in the Senate and found not guilty of the charges brought against him. He apologized to the nation for his actions and continued to have unprecedented popular approval ratings for his job as President.
In the world, Clinton successfully dispatched peace keeping forces to war-torn Bosnia and bombed Iraq when Saddam Hussein stopped United Nations inspections for evidence of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. He became a global proponent for an expanded NATO, more open international trade, and a worldwide campaign against drug trafficking. He drew huge crowds when he traveled through South America, Europe, Russia, Africa, and China, advocating U.S. style freedom.
In 2000, Hillary Clinton made history by becoming the first First Lady to seek public office, running for and winning a Senate seat from New York.
While at the White House, the Clintons shared time and the public limelight with their cat, Socks, and a chocolate Labrador retriever they named Buddy.
When Clinton left office in January 2001, the U.S. was in the longest period in history of economic expansion, although technology-related companies had begun to feel the strain of over-expansion, and stock market prices had fallen off their historic highs, a presage of coming recession.