Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

42nd President, 1993-2001

Early Life and Pre-presidency

White House portrait of Bill Clinton, 1999 Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library

White House portrait of Bill Clinton, 1999
Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library

  • Born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas.
  • Parents: William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. and Virginia Dell Cassidy. Half-brother: Roger Clinton, Jr.
  • His father died before Clinton was born and his mother remarried Roger Clinton in 1950. Clinton adopted his stepfather’s name in 1962.
  • Attended St. John’s Catholic Elementary School, Ramble Elementary School, and Hot Springs High School, graduating from there in 1964.
  • Enrolled at Georgetown University and graduated in 1968 with a degree in Foreign Service.
  • Awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1968 to study at the University of Oxford in England. Although he enrolled in several subjects there, he left early, without receiving a degree, to enter Yale Law School.
  • While at Oxford University, he was drafted to serve during the Vietnam War. He avoided the draft with the help of a senator and the Arkansas Governor.
  • Entered Yale Law School in 1970 and graduated in 1973.
  • Returned to Arkanasa after graduation to take a teaching job as a law professor at the University of Arkansas.
  • Ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974 but lost.
  • Married Hillary Rodham (1947–) on October 11, 1975. Daughter: Chelsea Victoria (1980–).
  • Elected Attorney General of Arkansas in 1976 and served from 1977 to 1979.
  • Elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978 and served from 1979 to 1981. He lost his re-election bid in 1980, but he won again in 1982 and served from 1983 to 1992.
  • Served as Chair of the National Governors Association from 1986 to 1987.
  • Nominated by the Democratic Party as the Presidential candidate in the 1992 election, with Al Gore as his running mate. He won with 43% of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral votes.

Presidency

Clinton in the Oval Office, 1994 Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Clinton in the Oval Office, 1994
Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library

  • Took his oath of office on January 20, 1993 West Front, U.S. Capitol
  • Signed the Family Medical Leave Act in February 1993. The law allowed workers to get up to three months of unpaid leave for family and medical emergencies.
  • Announced his “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in July 1993, which allowed homosexuals to serve in the military but required them not to reveal their sexual orientation.
  • Signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 in August. The law laid out plans for budget deficit reductions through increases in income taxes and cuts in federal spending.
  • Presided over the meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Washington, D.C. on September 13, 1993. The two leaders signed the Israeli–Palestinian Declaration of Principles.
  • Signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on December 8, 1993. The Agreement created a free trade zone between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico by eliminating many trade barriers.
  • Signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in September 1994. The law provided for the hiring of more police officers and the expansion of the death penalty.
  • Signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) with the Presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on December 5, 1994 in Budapest, Hungary.
  • Visited Oklahoma City after a truck bomb exploded in front of a federal building, killing 168 people in April 1995.
  • Some parts of the federal government shut down in December 1995 when Clinton and the House failed to reach an agreement on the 2002 budget. More than 250,000 federal employees were furloughed.
  • Signed the Welfare Reform Bill in August 1996 that overhauled the U.S. welfare system.
  • Ran for a second term as President in the 1996 election and won.
  • On January 20, 1998, various media outlets reported that Clinton may have had a sexual relationship with a former White House intern. Clinton denied the reports. In September, the independent Counsel Kenneth Starr revealed to Congress that he had information that could be grounds for Clinton’s impeachment.
  • On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives filed two articles of impeachment against Clinton: perjury and obstruction of justice. On February 12, 1999, the Senate voted to acquit Clinton.
  • On September 20, 2000, the Whitewater Independent Counsel found that there was not enough evidence to link Clinton and the First Lady to the Whitewater Development Corp. controversy.

Post-presidency

Clinton near the end of his second term as president Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Clinton near the end of his second term as president
Courtesy William J. Clinton Presidential Library

  • Retired to Chappaqua, New York where Hillary Clinton, then a U.S. Senator, was based.
  • Established the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2001 soon after his Presidency. The Foundation works “to alleviate poverty, improve global health, strengthen economies, and protect the environment.”
  • Published his autobiography My Life in June 2004.
  • Dedicated the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas on November 18, 2004.
  • Underwent a quadruple bypass surgery in September 2004 and had two coronary stents implanted in his heart in February 2010.
  • Appointed by then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to be the U.N. special envoy to head the relief effort for the Asian tsunami disaster in 2004. President George W. Bush also appointed Clinton and his father, George H.W. Bush, to head a private fundraising effort. The two would create the Bush–Clinton Tsunami Fund in January 2005.
  • Campaigned for his wife Hillary during the Democratic Party’s presidential primary campaign in 2008. Hillary Clinton lost the Party’s nomination to Barack Obama.
  • Traveled to North Korea in August 2009 to secure the release of two American journalists who had been imprisoned for illiegally entering the country through China. The journalists were released after being pardoned by Kim Jong-Il.
  • After the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, President Barack Obama asked Clinton and former President George W. Bush to head the fundraising efforts for Haiti’s recovery.
  • Clinton continues to travel within the U.S. and abroad to deliver keynote speeches and support the initiatives of his foundation.

 

Detailed Biography

Born on 19 August 1946 in Hope, Arkansas, William Jefferson Clinton is a published writer and politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States of America from 1993-2001. He is also the husband of politician Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2016 Presidential candidate.

Parents & Grandparents

Bill Clinton’s father, William Jefferson Blythe Jnr. was born on 27 February 1918 in Sherman Texas. He was one of nine children and led a small-town, simple upbringing.

His father, William Jefferson Blythe Snr. was born in 1885 and was a farmer in the small town of Sherman whose family had been in North America since the days of the early colonies. He was married to Lou Birchie Ayers and together they had nine children of which the eldest son was named William Jefferson Blythe Junior.

Not much is known about the early life of William Jefferson Blythe Junior until his marriage to Virginia Cassidy, Bill Clinton’s mother in 1943, but the information came to light in the early 1990’s during Bill’s presidential campaign, about his father’s relationships and marriages, of which there were four.

William Jefferson Blythe Jnr. was a travelling salesman, and it is whilst he was travelling for work he met the women that would subsequently become his wives. He first married at the age of seventeen in December 1935 to Virginia Adele Gash, known by friends and family as Adele, however, the relationship lasted only thirteen months before the couple divorced. In the following years, the couple continued to meet regularly, Adele coming to visit William in Sherman. The couple had a son together, Henry Leon Blythe who was born in June 1938 and is thought to have been conceived during one of their rendezvous. Whilst it is possible that William was involved in his son’s life in the first two years of his life, Adele and William lost contact around 1940. Henry later took the name Ritzenthaler after his stepfather, and until the early 90’s was unaware of his connection to William Blythe and therefore Bill Clinton.

In December 1940 William married Adele’s sister Minnie Faye Gash, which could be the reason that William and Adele lost contact due to a disagreement or the like. This second marriage lasted only four months before it was annulled in April 1941. The reason for the annulment could be due to the fact that around September of the previous year, William had gotten another woman pregnant, Wanetta Ellen Alexander of Kansas City Missouri. The annulment allowed William to marry Wanetta on 3 May 1941 just eight days before the birth of their child Sharon Lee Blythe, who was born on 11 May. They were married for three years, although it is unknown how much of this time was spent together. We do know that they were divorced in April of 1944 and that the couple lost touch immediately afterwards.

In an unusual twist, whilst in the final months of his marriage to Wanetta, William bigamously married Virginia Dell Cassidy. Virginia was born in 1923 in Bodcaw Arkansas but was raised mostly in Hope, twelve miles away from where her father worked as a grocer and her mother worked as a nurse. When she graduated from high school, she moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where she began studies to train as a nurse, like her mother. It is whilst she was studying in Louisiana that she met travelling salesman William Blythe. They married on 4 September 1943 and officially lived together as of April 1944 when William’s marriage to Wanetta was settled in court.

Not long after his marriage to Virginia, he was sent to serve in the military during World War Two. He was stationed in Egypt and Italy where he worked as an engineer, fixing vehicles such as jeeps and tanks.

William apparently returned from Europe after the war with the intention to settle down with his wife, and shortly after his return, he purchased a house in Chicago which he hoped to move the family to, as by this time Virginia was expecting their first child. He also returned to work as a travelling salesman around the Chicago area, saving money to move his family, and readying the new house for their arrival. In the meantime, Virginia moved back to her parents’ house whilst she waited for their home to be readied.

However, his plans were cut short in May 1946 when he lost control of his Buick car on Route 60 after one of his tyres blew out. Whilst he was thrown from the car as it careered off the road, he subsequently drowned as he struggled to get out of a drainage ditch. Three months later, on 19 August 1946, Virginia gave birth to their son whom she named William Jefferson Blythe III, after his father and grandfather.

 

Childhood, Upbringing and Education

Virginia, now a young widow aged twenty-three, moved back to her parents’ home again and left her baby son in their care whilst she returned to studying anaesthesiology in New Orleans so that she could earn more money and have a solid career. Whilst he was only with his grandparents for four years, they were a vital grounding for his education and upbringing as they taught him to read and write and fostered a lifelong passion for reading. His grandmother was the strict disciplinarian whilst his grandfather was easier going, but they both doted on their grandson. Eldridge and Edith owned a small grocery store and, despite the segregation laws of the time, they allowed people of all races to purchase goods on credit. They taught that everyone is created equal and that people should not be treated differently because of the colour of their skin. This was a vital lesson to the young Bill and one that he never forgot.

Virginia returned to Arkansas in 1950, when Bill was just four years old, and soon after she married Roger Clinton Snr. a car salesman. Three years later, when Bill was seven years old the family moved to Hot Springs in Arkansas where both Roger and Virginia were able to get better paid jobs. Half-brother Roger Clinton Junior was born into the family in 1956 when Bill was ten years old. We don’t know exactly what year Bill’s surname was changed from Blythe to Clinton, but it was probably in the years just after his brother’s birth.

During these young years in his new family, Bill spent much of his time nurturing a religious faith which had been instilled in him by his grandparents and which he continued to build on his own. He practised as a Baptist and took himself to Church on his own most Sundays. One reason for this may have been to do with the unhappy nature of his home life. Virginia and Roger divorced in 1962, but then reconciled and remarried in the same year. Roger Clinton Snr. was an alcoholic who frequently turned abusive towards Virginia and Roger Junior. Bill withdrew from the situation as much as he could as a child but eventually, at the age of fourteen, he could stand it no longer, and he stood up to his stepfather saying, “if you want them, you’ll have to go through me.” Presumably, Roger was concerned about Bills maternal grandparents and wider family becoming involved and so the domestic abuse stopped, but Roger continued to drink.

In 1962 Bill began to focus more on his education and his future, fostering his passion for politics and government at Hot Springs High School which at the time was a segregated all-white school. He played the saxophone, excelled in his studies, and was a member of Boys State, a programme designed to introduce students to government service. In 1963 he was elected as the representative from Arkansas to Boys Nation, which meant he was invited to Washington DC to meet President John F Kennedy. He had a photograph taken with the President and many people have said that this image symbolised the passing of the baton between generations of modern democratic leadership. It was an event which would stick with Bill all his life, especially when just four months later, the President was assassinated. In the same year, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I have a dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Bill watched the speech and was deeply moved, so much that he memorised the speech and spoke to many of his friends and family about how much he admired Dr King’s gift for communicating a clear vision and bringing people together to work towards a common goal.

He was inspired to work as hard as he could to get the best education to allow him to work towards his goal of making a difference in people’s lives. He knew that University would be expensive, but knew it was also essential for his personal development and so he worked really hard in school and was offered a number of scholarships through his musical ability as well as his academics. With the combination of government loans and scholarships, he was able to attend Georgetown University in 1964, studying International Affairs. He was another step closer in his political ambitions and was thrilled to be living in the nation’s capital where he could be close to political affairs.

Bill did not waste any time whilst he was at college; he acted as President of his freshmen and Sophomore classes and worked as a clerk for one of his political heroes, J. William Fulbright, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright taught Bill how government worked and gave him a solid foundation in politics. He was venomously opposed to the Vietnam War, a view which Bill came to share, believing the war was immoral and against the interests of the US as a whole.

In 1968 his hard work paid off again when he was awarded a highly prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study for two years at Oxford University. It was whilst he was at Oxford studying government, politics and playing rugby, that his draft came through at home for him to serve in the Vietnam War. It has been claimed that he avoided being drafted by enrolling at Arkansas Law School but then actually returning to Oxford, therefore avoiding being drafted into the military. It has also been suggested that Bill felt guilty for avoiding the draft and voluntarily placed his name into the lottery but was given a high enough number to avoid being drafted.

When he left Oxford and returned to the US, Bill began studying at Yale University Law School where he maintained an interest in government and politics. It was whilst he was studying at Yale in 1971 that he met an intelligent young Wellesley College graduate, Hillary Rodham who also shared his political ambitions. Bill graduated from Yale in 1973 and returned to Arkansas where he began to teach law at the University of Arkansas and used his home state as a political jumping off point.

 

Marriage & Political Beginnings

By 1974 Hillary had moved to Arkansas and the couple were officially dating, with Hillary helping him to campaign for an election for a seat in the House of Representatives in the same year. He lost the election, but the fact that it was a very close race, marked him out as a rising political star. Hillary and Bill were married on 11 October 1975 and the couple settled into life together in Arkansas.

In 1976 he was elected State Attorney General and in 1978 he was elected Governor. For a man of just thirty-two it was a distinct achievement and made him the youngest Governor in the country, however his first term as Governor was blighted by his youth and inexperience and he made a number of errors including poor handling of riots by Cuban refugees at Fort Chafee, although he did invest a lot into the states’ education programmes and invested money in the maintenance of public roads and highways. He lost the re-election but felt he had not achieved everything he wanted to and decided to campaign for the position again in the near future.

It was during this time, on 27 February 1980 that the Clinton’s welcomed their daughter, Chelsea Victoria Clinton into the family, an event which both Hillary and Bill have said was one of the happiest days of their lives.

His second stint as Governor from 1983 until 1992 – was much more successful and this time he held the position for four consecutive years. During this time, he championed both liberal and conservative causes, but focused on education, and in creating equality in the government of the state by appointing a number of African American politicians to key positions. During this time, he also served as the Chairman of the National Governor’s Association, leading the efforts to reform the welfare system and educational systems. He also became Chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats seeking to move the party in a new centrist direction.

 

First Term as President

By 1991, Bill made the next move in his political career when he decided that he wanted to run for the Presidency. He used a unique campaign strategy in the primary election period, choosing to meet with candidates one on one, going door to door to ask their opinions on his policy and to garner public needs and wishes. He was quickly nominated as the Democratic nominee for the upcoming Presidential election, choosing Al Gore are his presidential running mate. Clinton took advantage of George HW Bush’s decreasing popularity to boost his own chances against him, using the slogan, “it’s the economy, stupid.”

On election day, November 1993, voters turned out in record numbers to cast their votes, and Bill Clinton was elected as the 42ndPresident of the United States of America.

Clinton had a number of successes in his first years as President, including the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 which required large employers to allow employees to take unpaid leave for pregnancy or a serious medical condition. He also passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and a law increasing the national minimum wage, as well as reversing restrictions on domestic and international family planning programmes that had been introduced by previous administrations. Bill Clinton was quoted as saying that abortion should be kept “safe, legal and rare.”

Despite his successes, President Clinton also suffered several failures and criticisms. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy introduced for LGBTQ military personnel faced heavy criticism, as did the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also worked towards trying to implement a massive health care reform which would have given universal coverage to citizens, however, the bill failed to pass through Congress and was therefore seen as a massive failure. He did, however, manage to pull back in time for the elections in 1996.

 

Second Term as President

In 1996 President Clinton, Hillary and Al Gore began to campaign to re-elect Bill to the Presidency for a second term. He won the election with 49.2% of the vote to become the first Democratic incumbent since Lyndon B. Johnson to be elected to a second term and the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected President more than once.

During his second term as President, Bill Clinton introduced a period of increasing economic prosperity, the country saw its lowest unemployment figures in decades, a surge in median income and a rise in home ownership. President Clinton also had a number of international successes including presiding over the signing of the Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, during which the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat occurred. However, the failure of the US military mission in Somalia and inaction during the genocide in Rwanda was heavily criticised.

“I judge my presidency primarily in terms of its impact on people’s lives”

However, one of the events during this second presidency which Bill Clinton will be mostly remembered for is the Lewinsky Scandal which occurred in 1998 when investigator Kenneth Starr exposed the President for having sexual relations with his White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. He initially denied the rumours, stating “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” but eventually the affair was confirmed. He was impeached as a result by the House of Representatives in December 1998, but not by the Senate and so in February 1999, he was reinstated after being acquitted on both charges of impeachment.

 

Post-Presidency

Following his two terms as President, Bill and Hillary settled in Chappaqua, New York where Hillary was a junior member of the United States Senate. Bill spent the immediate years after his presidency creating his presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas as well as writing a number of books including a memoir entitled My Life which was published in 2004 and Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World which was published in 2007. He also founded the Clinton Foundation which tackled issues of climate control and global issues including combatting AIDS/HIV, fostering racial and ethnic reconciliation, and promoting the economic empowerment of poor people.

However, from 2001 onwards, whilst Bill did still involve himself in politics, focus shifted to Hillary who had been so involved in Bill’s political career, and now began to work on her own. She served as US Senator for New York from 2001 to 2009, was 67th United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, and she was the Democratic nominee in the 2016 Presidential Campaign which she narrowly lost to Donald Trump in a shocking election result. She had also campaigned in the Democratic primaries in 2008 but lost to Barack Obama. Bill initially campaigned for Hillary in the primaries, and when she lost, threw his support behind Obama and campaigned on his behalf also. When Hillary became the first female Presidential candidate in 2016, Bill again campaigned for his wife, stating, “For this time, Hillary is uniquely qualified to seize the opportunities and reduce the risks we face, and she is still the best darn change maker I have ever known.”

Bill and Hillary’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, spent the majority of her teenage years growing up in the White House, and when her father became President, her life changed. Whilst the Clinton’s lived in Arkansas she attended public schools where she excelled and even skipped the third grade, however when the family moved to the White House, she was moved to the Sidwell Friends School, a private school in Washington DC. The main reason for this was due to the fact that Chelsea did not like the press attention that she was receiving and so at a private school this contact could be limited.

She then attended Stanford University from 1997 – 2001, studying history and gaining a BA degree with highest honours in the subject. In July 2001, Bill announced that Chelsea would be attending University College, part of the University of Oxford to study for a Master’s Degree. This college was the same one that Bill had attended between 1968-70 as part of his Rhodes Scholarship. She graduated in 2003 with an MPhil in international relations. She initially worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, but then moved to work for the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2011 she received a DPhil in international relations from Oxford University in partnership with New York University.

In 2010 Chelsea married husband Marc Mezvinsky, the Jewish son of friends of her parents. The couple had spent much time together growing up and were reported to be dating as early as 2005. They have two children together, a daughter called Charlotte born in 2014 and a son called Aiden, born in 2016.

 

In 2018, Bill Clinton co-authored a book called The President is Missing with thriller writer James Patterson. The book has been highly lauded by critics and may well suggest a new career direction for the former President.

 

Bibliography

https://www.biography.com/people/bill-clinton-9251236

https://www.nytimes.com/1994/01/07/obituaries/virginia-clinton-kelley-70-president-s-mother-is-dead.html

https://clintonwhitehouse4.archives.gov/WH/EOP/OP/html/Hope.html

https://millercenter.org/president/clinton/life-after-the-presidency