William Jefferson Clinton

Early Life

President William Jefferson (Blythe) Clinton was born on August 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas to Virginia Cassidy Blythe. Blythe was a young, recently widowed mother. Her husband, William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. had died a few months before Clinton’s birth in a car accident on his way from Chicago to Arkansas. Billy (Blythe) Clinton spent the first four years of his life living in Hope, Arkansas with his grandparents while his mother studied nursing in New Orleans.

In 1950, Virginia married Roger Clinton and the family of three moved to Hot Springs. Roger Clinton struggled with alcoholism and would become physically violent. As a fifteen-year-old, Clinton intervened after a violent fight and warned his stepfather to never hit his mother or half-brother, Roger Jr., again. “That was a dramatic thing,” Clinton recalled years later in his Time Magazine interview. Despite his rocky relationship with his stepfather, Clinton took his last name when he was a teenager so that he and his brother Roger Jr. would share their last name.

In June 1963, a sixteen-year-old Clinton was selected to be a delegate to Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. On that trip, Clinton met and shook hands with President John F. Kennedy. Clinton describes the moment as having a profound impact on him and his political aspirations.

College Years

Clinton began his collegiate education at Georgetown University in 1964 and graduated with a degree in International Affairs at Georgetown University in 1968. A Rhodes Scholar, Clinton continued his education in England at Oxford University and then in 1970, he entered Yale University Law School. In 1971, a young woman named Hillary Rodham boldly strolled up to Clinton and introduced herself. She said that she had seen Clinton stare at her from across the room and since he wasn’t introducing himself, she would introduce herself to him. The two started dating and they both graduated in 1973.

Clinton Returns to Arkansas

After graduating, Clinton accepted a teaching position in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas School of Law Law School while Rodham served on the Watergate Impeachment Inquiry committee. Clinton convinced Rodham to move to Fayetteville in 1974, and Rodham joined Clinton as faculty at the law school.

In 1974, Clinton embarked on his first campaign for public office and entered the congressional race against John Paul Hammerschmidt, an extremely popular Republican incumbent. Hammerschmidt had dominated every congressional race for over twenty years. Despite being only 28 years old and a newcomer to the 3rd District, Clinton won the primary election and only narrowly lost to Hammerschmidt, 48 to 52 percent. Clinton came the closest to beating Hammerschmidt of any Democrat in 23 years.

Clinton Proposes

In June 1975, Clinton took Rodham to the airport and on the way, they passed a small brick house for sale near the university. Rodham remarked that the house was pretty. Clinton purchased the house while Rodham was out of town for $17,200. When Rodham returned from her trip, Clinton proposed to her with the house, saying, “Remember that little house you liked so much? I bought it. You have to marry me now because I can’t live there alone.” Rodham accepted his brash proposal, and on October 11, 1975, they married in the living room of the little brick house.

Clinton Becomes Attorney General, Then Governor

In 1976, Clinton decided to run for Attorney General. He easily defeated his Democratic primary opponents and did not have a Republican contender in the general election. Jimmy Carter, the Democratic presidential nominee, invited Clinton to chair his campaign in Arkansas. The Carter campaign also invited Hillary to campaign for them in Indiana. That November, the people of Arkansas elected Clinton as Attorney General. In December, Clinton and Rodham moved from their little house in Fayetteville to Little Rock, though they owned the Fayetteville home until 1983.

In 1978, Clinton ran for Governor of Arkansas and became the nation’s youngest governor in forty years. When he ran for re-election in 1980, Clinton was defeated by Republican Frank White. Voters were dissatisfied with Clinton’s decision to raise the tax for vehicle tags and the fact that Rodham had not taken Clinton’s name when she married him. Clinton re-grouped and Rodham legally changed her name to Hillary Rodham Clinton by 1982. In 1982, Clinton sought re-election for Governor. He was re-elected and served as Arkansas’ governor until 1992, when he was elected President of the United States.

The Clinton Presidency

As Governor of Arkansas, Clinton pushed for the reform of schools, health care, and welfare. In 1991, he was voted Most Effective Governor and became the head of the Democratic Leadership Conference. That same year Clinton announced that he was entering the 1992 presidential race. Critics felt that his lack of experience in national government gave him little understanding of foreign policy.

Clinton countered that his track record in Arkansas with the economy, education, and employment gave him plenty of experience. Clinton became the Democratic nominee, selecting Senator Albert Gore as his running mate. Clinton focused his campaign on economic issues, specifically unemployment and health care. In November of 1992, America elected Clinton as the 42nd President of the United States.

Clinton’s presidential accomplishments include:

  • the North American Free Trade Agreement which made the United States, Canada, and Mexico a single trading unit
  • the long awaited e-signatures bill, which gave online electronic signatures the same legal status as those handwritten
  • a bill giving China permanent, normal trade status
  • a bill that set the blood-alcohol limit for driving at 0.08 percent
  • a reserve of heating oil for the Northeast for use in emergencies
  • his visit to Vietnam, the first American President to do so since the Vietnam War in order to improve relations between Vietnam and the United States
  • the emergency meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in an effort to end ongoing violence between countries
  • elimination of the budget deficit and creating a surplus

In 1998 Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives. A trial in the Senate found the president not guilty of the charges brought against him. President Clinton apologized for his conduct and vowed to keep working as hard as he could for the American people. As a result, Bill Clinton left office with historically high approval ratings as the 42nd President of the United States.

After the White House

President Clinton has dedicated his time to leading the development of global initiatives through the William J. Clinton Foundation. The staff and volunteers focus on programs of community service, drug acquisition for HIV/AIDS treatment, and fighting childhood obesity in the United States. The Clinton Global Initiative garners the expertise of leaders from around the world in addressing global issues of health care, education, clean energy and environment, job training, and entrepreneurship in under-developed countries.

Outside of his foundation, President Clinton has worked alongside former Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush in disaster relief efforts for the tsunami in South Asia, Hurricane Katrina in the United States, and the earthquake in Haiti.

Clinton has also had a prolific career as a writer and author of numerous memoirs, non-fiction books, and a novel.