George H. W. Bush

George H. W. Bush

41st President, 1989-1993

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Vice-presidential portrait of George H.W. Bush Courtesy Library of Congress

Vice-presidential portrait of George H.W. Bush
Courtesy Library of Congress

  • Born George Herbert Walker Bush on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts.
  • Parents: Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker. Siblings: Prescott, Jonathan, William “Buck,” and Nancy.
  • Attended Greenwich Country Day School in Greenwich, Connecticut, then Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1936, graduating in 1942.
  • Enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942, becoming its youngest pilot in 1943. He was honorably discharged in September 1945.
  • Married Barbara Pierce on January 6, 1945. Children: George W. (1946–), Robin (1949–1953), John Ellis “Jeb” (1953–), Neil (1955–), Marvin (1956–), and Dorothy “Doro” (1959–).
  • Enrolled at Yale University in 1945 and graduated in 1948.
  • Worked as a salesperson for an oil company in Midland, Texas. He later formed his own oil company in 1950, then moved to Houston, Texas in 1954.
  • Became Chairman of the Republican Party in Harris County in 1964 and ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate but lost. He ran and lost again in 1970.
  • Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1966 and served from 1967 to 1971.
  • Appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations by President Nixon in 1971 and served until 1973.
  • Became Chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973 and asked for President Nixon’s resignation in light of the Watergate scandal.
  • Appointed Chief of the U.S. Liaison’s Office in the People’s Republic of China by President Gerald Ford in 1973 and served until 1975.
  • Appointed Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in January 1976 and served until January 1977.
  • Campaigned for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination to the 1980 election but lost to Ronald Reagan. Reagan then asked Bush to be his Vice Presidential running mate. They won and he served as Vice President from1981 to 1989.
  • Nominated as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate in the 1988 election. He won with 53.4% of the popular vote and the majority of the electoral votes.

Presidency

George Bush with Ronald Reagan, 1981 Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation

George Bush with Ronald Reagan, 1981
Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation

  • Took his oath of office on January 20, 1989 at the West Front, U.S. Capitol.
  • Imposed limited sanctions on China after the government’s violent crackdown of peace demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
  • Signed the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 in August.
  • Signed the Fair Labor Standards Amendments of 1989 in November, which raised the minimum hourly wage.
  • Met with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1989 in Valetta, Malta to discuss nuclear disarmament. They announced the end of the Cold War.
  • Ordered U.S. troops to invade Panama on December 20, 1989 to capture the country’s military dictator, Manuel Antonio Noriega. Noriega was brought to the U.S. in January 1990 to face charges of drug trafficking and was convicted and sent to prison in April 1992.
  • Signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990. The law prohibited the discrimination of people with disabilities in employment, public accomodations, and transportation.
  • Condemned the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1990 and began plans to free Kuwait. After Iraq threatened to invade Saudi Arabia, Bush ordered 400,000 U.S. troops to the country in November.
  • Signed the Immigration Act of 1990 in November. The law increased the admission of aliens to 700,000 a year.
  • Despite promising no new taxes during his term, he signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 on November 5. The law was intended to reduce the budget deficit by raising taxes.
  • On January 17, 1991 Bush gave the go ahead for Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War began with a U.S.-led airstrike on Iraq, followed by the entry of ground troops into Kuwait from Saudi Arabia. On February 27, 1991, after liberating Kuwait, Bush ordered the end of the offensive.
  • Signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) in Moscow with Gorbachev on July 31, 1991. The treaty required the two countries to reduce their nuclear weapons by 35% and for the Soviet Union to reduce its intercontinental ballistic missiles by 50%.
  • Signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 in November. The law gave more rights to employees to sue their employers for discriminiation.
  • To address the rising unemployment, signed the Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 1992 in July. The law extended the unemployment coverage to 52 weeks.
  • Ran for re-election in the 1992 but lost to Democrat William J. Clinton.

Post-presidency

Bush with Barack Obama, 2010

Bush with Barack Obama, 2010

  • Retired to their home in Houston, Texas.
  • Although he was a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, he resigned his membership after losing his re-election bid due in part to a lack of support from the NRA over his decision to halt the importation of semi-automatic rifles in 1989, and because the NRA had maligned the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1992.
  • Serves as honorary Chairman of Points of Light, a non-profit organization established in 1990 whose name was inspired by Bush’s 1989 inaugural address in which he talked about “a thousand points of light.”
  • Awarded an honorary knighthood, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993.
  • Served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Eisenhower Fellowships from 1993 to 1999.
  • When Bush visited Kuwait in 1993 to commemorate the success of the Gulf War, a plot to assassinate him using a car bomb was discovered. Seventeen suspects were arrested, and when the investigation revealed that the plot originated from Baghdad, Iraq, then President Clinton retaliated by firing 23 cruise missiles at the country’s intelligence service headquarters in Baghdad.
  • Dedicated the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum on November 6, 1997. The building is on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.
  • His eldest son George Bush was elected President of the United States in 2000. They are only one of two fathers and sons to become U.S. President. The first one was John Adams (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825 to 1829).
  • Delivered a eulogy at the state funeral of President Reagan on June 11, 2004. He served as Reagan’s Vice President prior to being elected President.
  • Appeared with former President Clinton on television in 2004 and 2005 to appeal for donations for the tsunami that hit Indonesia and Thailand and for Hurricane Katrina, respectively.
  • Awarded the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in February 2007.
  • Visited the People’s Republic of China with his son and then-President George Bush in August 2008. They met with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
  • Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on February 15, 2011.
  • Awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Dartmouth College in 2011.
  • Bush and his wife Barbara are the longest married Presidential couple in U.S. history. They celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary in January 2013.

 

Detailed Biography

 

Born on 12th June 1924 in Milton Massachusetts, George Herbert Walker Bush, known as George HW Bush or George Bush Senior was the 41st President of the United States of America, serving from 1989 – 1993. He was preceded by President Reagan and followed by Bill Clinton. His son George Walker Bush is known as the 43rd President (for more details see his page).

George Bush was born into a family of politicians and businessmen.

 

George’s Father and Grandfather

George Bush’s father, Prescott Bush was an investment banker, Republican politician, and US State Senator. He was born on 15 May 1895 in Columbus, Ohio and died on 8 October 1972 in NYC.

His father and George H W’s grandfather, Samuel Prescott Bush was born in 1863 and was one of the most noted industrialists of his time, having initially worked on the railroad before working his way up the career ladder through the roles of master mechanic, superintendent, and eventually becoming general manager for Buckeye Steel Castings which was run by Frank Rockefeller. He also forged a relationship with E.H. Harriman, a noted financier, and this spawned an association between the two families that would last almost a century. Eventually Samuel became President of Buckeye upon the retirement of Rockefeller – a position that he held until his own retirement, and one which made him very rich.

Samuel married Flora Bush (nee. Sheldon) in 1894 and together they had five children, of which the eldest, a son, was named Prescott Sheldon Bush. Prescott attended St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island, before attending Yale University (then known as Yale College) from 1913-1917. He excelled at Yale, playing in several of the school teams, as well as singing for the Whiffenpoof Quartet, and serving as a member of the infamous Skull and Bones secret society. The society is known for having a number of famous alumni and as well as Prescott, his son George HW and grandson George W were members.

After his graduation, and in the midst of the First World War, Prescott signed up for the US Military, serving as a Captain and fighting in the last years of the war. When he returned in 1918 he found work at a hardware company where he met his future wife Dorothy Walker. Dorothy was from another prominent American family; whilst her lineage traced back to Maryland slave owners, her recent family had made their fortune in the financial sector. In 1920 her father was the President of W. A. Harriman & Co. bank. They had a number of properties and mansions and were a wealthy and influential family. In August 1920 Prescott and Dorothy married and they settled in Connecticut where in 1924 he joined her father working for W. A. Harriman & Co. as Vice President. The company went through a merger in 1931 to become Brown Brothers & Harriman & Co. for which Prescott was made a partner in the new company.

The Second World War is a controversial time for Prescott Bush as he was one of a number of founding members of the Union Banking Corporation, an investment bank that, it was suggested, operated as a “cleaning house” for many financial assets held by German steel magnate Fritz Thyssen. In July 1942, the bank was suspected of holding gold on behalf of Nazi leaders. Whilst these allegations were ultimately proved wrong, the US government did seize control of the bank until the end of the war, thereby freezing its activity during that time.

Following the war, Prescott moved into political circles, eventually becoming Republican Senator for Connecticut from 1953-1963 when he retired, aged 67. He died nine years later in 1972 at the family residence in NYC.

 

George HW’s Childhood and Siblings

Dorothy and Prescott had five children together, and surprisingly, it was the second son, George Herbert Walker who was to excel in politics and business. His older brother Prescott Sheldon Junior was born with only the use of one eye and whilst he was a moderately successful businessman in his adult life, seemed to live mostly in the shadow of his younger brother George. Prescott Junior and George HW attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Prescott being two years ahead of George HW.

George had a younger sister, Nancy and two younger brothers Jonathan James and William Henry Trotter. The two younger boys attended Hotchkiss School, but it is unknown where Nancy spent her childhood education. The family lived together in Connecticut but for a significant time in the late 30’s and early 40’s there may have only been a daughter living at home whilst the four boys were attending boarding school.

Whilst Nancy attended and graduated from Vassar College in New York, all four sons followed in the steps of their father Prescott and attended Yale University. George H W and Jonathan James were recruited for the Skull and Bones Society, whilst Prescott Junior was overlooked. This may be due to the fact that the society recruited based on a set check list of achievements that a prospective member would have to meet. Usually the nominee was considered a leader at the college, this often meant they were part of a sports team, were president of the Yale Daily News, a member of the Whiffenpoof singing group, but also included other more “radicals” such as political activists, playboys, or religious persons. Prescott Junior with his eyesight problems was not on any school teams and did not lead any societies and so it is likely the reason he was not “tapped”, the name for the ritual where new members were selected.

George HW, having already served in the Navy during WW2, excelled at Yale, becoming President of his class, captain of the baseball team. Prescott Junior in contrast, having most likely been exempted from conscription due to his eyesight, dropped out of Yale in 1943 and moved to South America where he worked for Pan American Airways for almost ten years. He returned to New York in 1952 where he moved into the banking industry, gaining a job on Wall Street for the insurance brokerage firm, Johnson & Higgins which he later became partner in.

In later years, whilst George HW was serving as Vice President under President Reagan, Prescott dabbled in politics himself. Despite some early success in challenging the Connecticut Senator during re-election, he eventually dropped out amid accusations that he was only getting involved in politics because it was what he Bush family did. However, it is much more likely that with the rising star of George HW, the family wanted to focus more on his success and so urged Prescott to step away from the political limelight, leading the way for George HW. Prescott moved back into the world of business continuing a moderately successful career and working mainly in overseas trade. He established a not-for-profit company in China as well as the Shanghai Country Club. He died in June 2010 aged 87.

George HW’s sister Nancy Walker Bush Ellis was two years his junior and was probably the more radical member of the family. She spent most of her youth with a more Democratic outlook than the rest of her Republican family and was a keen activist on matters such as the environment. She married Alexander Ellis II in October 1946. Ellis was the son of a well-known insurance broker. He worked for his father’s company for over 30years and served as a Republican state committeeman. The couple had four children together, a daughter Nancy, and sons Alexander III, John and Josiah. In 1988, when her brother George was running for President, she surprised many people by joining the Republican Party and campaigning for him. She also campaigned for her nephew George W in 2004, by travelling to Europe to persuade American ex-pats to vote for Bush in the upcoming re-election. Throughout her life she has also been involved in a number of charitable organisations. She volunteered for Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New England Conservatory of Music and was a board member of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, as well as being a member of the organisation PACT.

George HW’s two younger brothers both worked in finance, Jonathan James, founded the investment bank J. Bush & Co. which provided discreet banking services for the Washington DC embassies of foreign governments. From 1997-2013 he worked as CEO for Riggs Investment which had bought his company, and then since 2013 he has been working as a Senior Officer for the Investment firm Fairfield, Bush & Co.

William Henry Trotter Bush followed into the world of finance and investment following his own time at Yale University. Initially though, he served in the United States Army as an engineer before joining the Hartford National Bank in Connecticut where he worked his way up the company to the role of Executive Vice President in charge of corporate and commercial banking. He then became President and Director of another company, Boatmen’s Bancshares based in St. Louis, before establishing his own company in 1986 called Bush O’Donnell. He worked there as CEO until his death in February 2018.

 

George’s early career, marriage and service in the US Military

 In 1941, at a Christmas dance, George, who was in his final year at Phillips Academy, met Barbara Pierce, a 16-year-old New Yorker who had been educated at Ashley Hall boarding school in South Carolina and whose father Marvin Pierce would later become president of McCall Corporation. They enjoyed a brief courtship before becoming engaged, however their marriage was delayed by the war.

Six months later in June 1942 on his 18th birthday, and in the midst of the Second World War, George enlisted in the US Navy, becoming the youngest pilot of the war. As he did in most areas of his life, George excelled in the army, serving as a combat pilot. He was almost killed in action when his plane was hit during one of the 58 combat missions that he ran during his service, but he was lucky enough to be able to eject from his craft and then be picked up from the water by a Navy submarine. For his service in the war he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. George and Dorothy were married on 6 January 1945 whilst George was in America on leave.

After the war, George studied at Yale, graduating in 1948 with a degree in economics. The young family, which by then included the first of six children, George Walker, born in 1946, moved to Texas to establish a life and career together. He benefitted from the business connections forged by his father and joined Dresser Industries which was a subsidiary company of Brown Brothers Harriman where his father had worked as a partner since 1931. The family moved around the area over the next 18years as George worked his way up the business career ladder within the oil and petroleum industry. In 1951 he founded the company Bush-Overbey Oil Development, and in 1953 he co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation before a year later becoming president of a subsidiary company called Zapata Offshore. In 1959 the company became independent and he moved the company and his family from Midland to Houston. By this time George and Dorothy had welcomed five more children into the family, a daughter Pauline born in 1949, and 3 sons Jeb born in 1953, Neil born in 1955, and Marvin born in 1956. Their youngest child and second daughter Dorothy was born in August of 1959 in Houston sometime soon after the move. George continued to work for the company until 1966 when he moved into political circles.

 

Political Beginnings, UN, CIA and Watergate

George HW’s political career began in 1963 when he was elected as the Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. A year later he unsuccessfully ran for the state senate seat but two years later in 1966 he was elected to a seat in the United States House of Representatives, the lower chamber of congress, representing the 7th district of Texas. His voting record was considered conservative, although he did vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 even though this was an unpopular move in his district.

In 1969 Richard Nixon became the 37th President of the United States and during this time, George supported his policies regarding Vietnam, but did not agree with Republican policies on birth control, which he supported. He was elected to a second term in the House of Representatives in 1968. In 1970 Nixon persuaded him to try out for a State Senator position, relinquishing his position in the House, which was ultimately unsuccessful and temporarily dampened his political aspirations.

In the years that followed George HW held several important positions in key governmental organisations. In 1971 he was appointed as US Ambassador to the United Nations, before becoming the head of the Republican National Committee between 1973 and 1974 during the Watergate Scandal involving the Nixon administration [see Nixon’s Presidency for more details]. Whilst not directly involved in the scandal, he was reportedly shocked by the news of the President’s involvement. His son, George wrote in a 2015 book about his father, “The tapes [the infamous secret recordings that Nixon’s administration arranged] revealed that Nixon had spoken to one of his aides about thwarting the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate break-in. That was proof that he knew about the cover up and that he had lied to the country. The revelation shattered Dad’s trust in Nixon.” George wrote a letter to Nixon in August of 1974 in his capacity as Chairman of the committee, stating that resignation was really his only option and the next day the President resigned his position.

After this, George briefly appointed as US envoy to China for one year, before becoming the director of the CIA from 1976–77.

 

Vice Presidency under Ronald Reagan

In 1980, Bush ran a campaign for the presidency, having decided some years earlier that he would like to run, however he lost out at the nomination stage to Ronald Reagan. Despite the initial disappointment, he was named as Reagan’s Vice-Presidential running mate, which Bush accepted and helped to campaign for Reagan’s presidency. He was successful, becoming the 40th President in 1981 and he made George HW his Vice President in his administration. He served Reagan for the two terms of his presidency, during this time living with his family in the official residence of the Vice-President at Number One Observatory Circle.

In March 1981, President Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt [for more details see Reagan’s Presidency], and Bush as the next in line for the Presidency was prepped in case the President didn’t survive. He was told to take a helicopter to the White House but refused stating, “only the President lands on the South Lawn”. This greatly strengthened the relationship between himself and Reagan.

In July 1985, during his second term as Vice President, Bush acted up into the position of President whilst Reagan underwent surgery for removal of polyps on his colon. It was the first time a VP had acted up into the position and lasted for just 8 hours until the President was safely back in recovery.

In 1988, in the last months of Regan’s second term in office, Bush announced his intention to run for the Presidency again.

 

Presidency

 In 1988, he campaigned for the presidency, sometimes begin criticised for a lack of eloquence in his speeches. He did however speak very successfully at the Republican National Convention in 1988 in a speech that has since been dubbed the “thousand points of light speech,” endorsing capital punishment and gun rights, and opposing abortion.

Quote: “Read my lips: no new taxes”

In the general election, Bush won with 53.4% of the popular vote and 426 electoral college votes, against his opponent Michael Dukakis. He became the 41st President of the United States of America, and the first sitting Vice President to be elected President since 1837.

Bush served for four years in that time there were a number of key overseas political matters which he dealt with, some with huge success and praise, and others with criticism. In 1989, just months into his Presidency the Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred and Bush responded with a suspension of the sale of American weapons to China.

In November of the same year, the Berlin Wall fell, marking the symbolic ending of communist rule in Eastern Europe. Throughout the 80’s the influence of the Soviet Union had been waning and underneath the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev underwent significant restructuring, working with Presidents Reagan and Bush to thaw the cold war. The fall of the wall signified the ending of the cold war, with the German states being reunited in October 1990.

In 1991, the Persian Gulf War officially begins when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait. America quickly became involved in the invasion, mainly because Kuwait had vast oil reserves and with Saddam controlling them, he could manipulate the US energy and oil prices. Bush was incredibly successful in negotiating with leaders from several countries an international coalition to counter the Iraqi aggression, including a clause that allowed Israel to stay neutral and thereby not cause further conflict in surrounding countries. The United Nations initially advised the coalition to use deterrents rather than force to dissuade Hussein from his cause and force him to leave Kuwait, however when this was unsuccessful it sanctioned the use of “any means necessary” to remove Hussein and the Iraqi military from Kuwait. Thus, the implementation of Operation Desert Storm, as the war was code-named, began and the US-led coalition quickly overpowered the Iraqi military and by 28th February a cease-fire was declared.

Whilst Bush’s negotiation of the coalition and international diplomacy was praised by many US people, many also thought that Saddam Hussein should have been removed from power, and the Iraqi military should have been dissolved entirely, however this did not happen.

A number of times during his presidency Bush met with leaders of Russia to make agreements regarding the reduction of nuclear weapons in both countries including the signing of START-I agreement in July 1991.

Despite his success with foreign affairs, he was criticised for his handling of domestic affairs including his indecision over the Civil Rights Act, and the fact that unemployment was at its highest in 7years. Whilst the Republican party did nominate George HW Bush for a second term as President, he lost out in November 1992 to Bill Clinton.

 

Post Presidency

When he left the White House in 1993 he was 69 years old. He moved with his wife Dorothy back to Houston where he planned to live out his retirement.

In 1993 George HW Bush was awarded an honorary Knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II. He was the third US President to receive the honour as well as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Also, in 1993 he was the focus of an assassination plot in Kuwait during a commemorative Gulf War visit, however the plan was foiled and the Iraqi suspects, angry at his part in the conflict, were arrested and dealt with.

In the early 90’s he also worked on preserving his legacy through the establishment of The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum which was dedicated in 1997 and which holds the official documents and private papers from Bush’s career including his presidential years.

Between 1994 and 1998 he saw his two elder sons George W and Jeb run for Governorships in Texas and Florida respectfully, in moves that he claimed made him a very proud father. He campaigned for his son George W Bush in the late 90’s during his presidential campaign, and again for his re-election in 2004.

In 2005, George HW founded the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund alongside former President Bill Clinton to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast region. The fund raised $100million in donations in its first few months.

In 2011 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barak Obama.

In later years, despite a number of health problems, including a diagnosis of lower-body Parkinsonism which confines him to a wheelchair, George has completed a number of sky dives, including ones on his significant birthdays. His most recent one was in 2014 on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

On 25 November 2017 George HW Bush became the longest living President in American history at 93 years and 166 days old.

 

Sources:

Prescott Bush Jr. Biography in NYTimes
https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/25/us/politics/25bush.html

Prescott Bush Jr. Biography in the Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062504491.html??noredirect=on

Alexander Ellis II – Obituary:
http://articles.latimes.com/1989-12-30/news/mn-742_1_alexander-ellis-ii

William Bush – Obituary:
https://www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/news/2018/02/28/william-bucky-bush-chairman-of-bush-odonnell-dies.html#i/10813767

Biography.com – George H W Bush biography:
https://www.biography.com/people/george-hw-bush-38066

George H W Bush Timeline of Presidency & life after the Presidency:
https://millercenter.org/president/george-h-w-bush/key-events
https://millercenter.org/president/bush/life-after-the-presidency

Article about George W Bush’s book 41, Portrait of My Father from The Telegraph:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11218323/George-Bush-Seniors-key-role-in-Watergate-crisis-revealed-by-son-for-first-time.html