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Presidency of Ronald Reagan

In office
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
Vice President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Jimmy Carter
Succeeded by George H. W. Bush

Born February 6, 1911
Tampico, Illinois, United States
Died June 5, 2004 (aged 93)
Bel Air, California, United States
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) (1) Jane Wyman (married 1940, divorced 1948)
(2) Nancy Davis Reagan
(married 1952)
Alma mater Eureka College
Occupation Actor
Religion Presbyterian

The United States Presidency of Ronald Reagan, also known as the Reagan Administration, was a Republican administration headed by Ronald Reagan from January 20, 1981 to January 20, 1989. Reagan was the first U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower to be re-elected and serve two complete terms in office.

Domestically, the administration favored reducing government programs and introduced the largest across-the-board tax cuts in American history. The economic policies enacted in 1981, known as "Reaganomics," were an example of supply-side economics. Reagan aimed to encourage entrepreneurship and limit the growth of social spending, as well as to reduce regulation and inflation. Economic growth saw a strong recovery in the 1980s, helping Reagan to win a landslide re-election. The national debt increased significantly, however.

Regarding foreign policy, the administration was steadfastly anti-communist, calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and ending 1970s détente. Reagan ordered a massive buildup of the military, including an intervention in Grenada, the first overseas action by U.S. troops since the end of the Vietnam War. The "Reagan Doctrine" controversially granted aid to paramilitary forces seeking to overthrow socialist governments, particularly in war-torn Central America and Afghanistan. Reagan also promoted new technologies such as missile defense systems in order to confront the Soviets and their allies. In diplomacy, Reagan forged a strong alliance with UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and he met with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev four times, aiming to shrink the superpowers' nuclear arsenals.

Reagan's presidency has been termed the "Reagan Revolution," as it was seen to cause a political realignment both within and beyond the US in favor of his brand of American conservatism and free markets. The Reagan administration is often credited with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War after his departure from office, leading to a unipolar world with the U.S. as the world's sole superpower. While the damaging Iran-Contra affair engulfed several administration officials during his second term, Reagan himself left office with a 64% approval rating, one of the higher approval ratings of departing presidents. The Reagan administration's actions and its ideology remain widely debated, even as there is agreement over its influence on US politics and global events in the decades since.



Out-going President Jimmy Carter congratulates Ronald Reagan, the new president, at the Capitol during Inauguration Day.

Reagan was an advocate of free markets and, upon taking office, believed that the American economy was hampered by excessive economic controls and misguided welfare programs enacted during the 1960s and 1970s. Taking office during a period of stagflation, Reagan said in his first inauguration speech, which he himself authored:[1]

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.

His first act as president was to issue an executive order ending certain price controls on domestic oil, which had contributed to the 1973 Oil Crisis and the 1979 Energy Crisis.[2][3] The price of fuel subsequently dropped, and the 1980s did not see the gasoline lines and fuel shortages that the 1970s had.[3]

Reagan focused his first months in office on two goals, tax cuts and military spending, which was viewed as a successful way to tackle issues and echoed by later presidential advisers.[4] Reagan's economic policies, similar to supply-side economics and dubbed "Reaganomics," achieved a 25% cut in the federal personal income tax, moderate deregulation and tax reform, which he believed would remove barriers to efficient economic activity. After a sharp recession, a long period of high economic growth without significant inflation ensued.

Despite Reagan's stated desire to cut spending, federal spending grew during his administration. However, economist Milton Friedman pointed out that non-defense spending as a percentage of national income stabilized throughout Reagan's term, breaking a long upward trend; the number of new regulations added each year dramatically decreased as well.[5]

One of Reagan's most controversial early moves was to fire most of the nation's air traffic controllers who took part in an illegal strike. Reagan also attempted to increase the solvency of Social Security by cutting disability and survivor benefits, and by increasing the FICA payroll withholding tax. He also took tough positions against crime, declared a renewed war on drugs, but was criticized for being slow to respond to the AIDS epidemic.

In foreign affairs, Reagan initially rejected détente and directly confronted the Soviet Union through a policy of "peace through strength," including increased military spending, firm foreign policies against the USSR and, in what came to be known as the Reagan Doctrine, support for anti-communist rebel movements in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua and elsewhere.[6] Reagan later negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, a reformer, and together they contributed greatly to a peaceful end of the Cold War.

Reagan authorized military action in Lebanon, Grenada, and Libya throughout his terms in office. It was later discovered that the Administration also engaged in covert arms sales to Iran in order to fund anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The resulting Iran-Contra Affair became a scandal to which Reagan professed ignorance. A significant number of officials in the Reagan Administration were either convicted or forced to resign as a result of the scandal.

By the end of the Reagan presidency, a high level of public approval (64% of the nation) indicated that the administration had recovered its image among the American public due to the perceived restoration of America's power, prosperity and national pride.

Major issues of Presidency


Reagan's speeches

Major acts as President

Major treaties

Major legislation signed

Major legislation vetoed

Reagan vetoed 78 bills during his two terms in office.[8]

Administration and Cabinet

The Reagan Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Ronald Reagan 1981–1989
Vice President George H.W. Bush 1981–1989
Secretary of State Alexander Haig 1981–1982
George P. Shultz 1982–1989
Secretary of Treasury Donald Regan 1981–1985
James A. Baker III 1985–1988
Nicholas F. Brady 1988–1989
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger 1981–1987
Frank C. Carlucci 1987–1989
Attorney General William F. Smith 1981–1985
Edwin A. Meese III 1985–1988
Richard Thornburgh 1988–1989
Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt 1981–1983
William P. Clark, Jr. 1983–1985
Donald P. Hodel 1985–1989
Secretary of Agriculture John Rusling Block 1981–1986
Richard E. Lyng 1986–1989
Secretary of Commerce Howard M. Baldrige, Jr. 1981–1987
C. William Verity, Jr. 1987–1989
Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan 1981–1985
William E. Brock 1985–1987
Ann Dore McLaughlin 1987–1989
Secretary of Health and
Human Services
Richard S. Schweiker 1981–1983
Margaret Heckler 1983–1985
Otis R. Bowen 1985–1989
Secretary of Education Terrel Bell 1981–1984
William J. Bennett 1985–1988
Lauro Cavazos 1988–1989
Secretary of Housing and
Urban Development
Samuel R. Pierce, Jr. 1981–1989
Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis 1981–1983
Elizabeth Hanford Dole 1983–1987
James H. Burnley IV 1987–1989
Secretary of Energy James B. Edwards 1981–1982
Donald Paul Hodel 1982–1985
John S. Herrington 1985–1989
Chief of Staff James Baker 1981–1985
Donald Regan 1985–1987
Howard Baker 1987–1988
Kenneth Duberstein 1988–1989
Administrator of the
Environmental Protection Agency
Anne M. Burford 1981–1983
William D. Ruckelshaus 1983–1985
Lee M. Thomas 1985–1989
Director of the Office of
Management and Budget
David A. Stockman 1981–1985
James C. Miller III 1985–1988
Joseph R. Wright, Jr. 1988–1989
United States Trade Representative William E. Brock III 1981–1985
Clayton K. Yeutter 1985–1989

Supreme Court nominees

Reagan nominated the following jurists to the Supreme Court of the United States:

The Cabinet of President Reagan

Domestic policy

Foreign policy

Assassination attempt

On March 30, 1981, only 69 days into the new administration, Reagan, his press secretary James Brady, Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty, and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy were struck by gunfire from a deranged would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr.. Reagan was exiting the Washington Hilton Hotel following a speech to the building trades conference of the AFL/CIO when six shots were fired from a roped off area for bystanders.[9] Reagan was pushed into the waiting limousine by Secret Service agent Jerry Parr. Parr described doing what he had learned in his training: "I heard these six shots, actually fired in less than two seconds, and that starts the action for an agent and you simply cover, first, and evacuate."[9] Parr directed the chauffeur to drive to George Washington University Hospital where the president was brought into the emergency room and subsequently operated on.[9] Missing his heart by less than an inch, the bullet instead pierced his left lung, which likely saved his life. Reagan's condition in the hospital room was critical, as his heartbeat was faint and he had a very low blood pressure.[9] Doctor Joseph Giordano, head of the Reagan trauma team, described the president as being "close to death."[9] In the operating room, the bullet which had entered under his left armpit was removed, but Reagan was left with a collapsed lung. After the surgery, the president joked to the surgeons, "I hope you're all Republicans!"[10] Though they were not, Dr. Giordano replied, "Today, Mr. President, we're all Republicans." First Lady Nancy Reagan arrived at the hospital before her husband went into surgery; Reagan famously told her, "Honey, I forgot to duck" (using defeated boxer Jack Dempsey's quip). Reagan was released from the hospital on April 12, and was escorted back to the White House by Mrs. Reagan and their daughter Patti.

Political philosophy

Ronald Reagan's Official Portrait that hangs in the White House.

During his Presidency, Ronald Reagan pursued policies that reflected his optimism in individual freedom, expanded the American economy, and contributed to the end of the Cold War.[11] The "Reagan Revolution", as it came to be known, aimed to reinvigorate American morale, and reduce the people's reliance upon government.[11] As President, Reagan kept a series of leather bound diaries, in which he talked about daily occurrences of his presidency, commented on current issues around the world (expressing his point of view on most of them), and frequently mentioned his wife, Nancy. The diaries were recently published into the bestselling book, The Reagan Diaries.[12]

As a politician and as President, Ronald Reagan portrayed himself as being a conservative, anti-communist, in favor of tax cuts, in favor of smaller government in the economic sphere while actively interventionist in the social and foreign policy spheres, and in favor of removing regulations on corporations. Ronald Reagan is credited with increasing spending on national defense and diplomacy which contributed to the end of the Cold War, deploying U.S. Pershing II missiles in West Germany in response to the Soviet stationing of SS-20 missiles near Europe, negotiating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) to substantially reduce nuclear arms and initiating negotiations with the Soviet Union for the treaty that would later be known as START I, proposing the Strategic Defense Initiative, a controversial plan to develop a missile defense system, re-appointing monetarists Paul Volcker and (later) Alan Greenspan to be chairmen of the Federal Reserve, ending the high inflation that damaged the economy under his predecessors Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, lowering tax rates significantly (under Reagan, the top personal tax bracket dropped from 70% to 28% in 7 years [2]) and leading a major reform of the tax system, providing arms and other support to anti-communist groups such as the Contras and the mujahideen, selling arms to foreign allies such as Taiwan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq (see Iran–Iraq War), greatly escalating the "war on drugs" with his policies and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign, ordering the April 14, 1986 bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in retaliation for an April 5 bombing of a West Berlin nightclub frequented by U.S. servicemen, in which the Libyan government was deemed complicit, and signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which compensated victims of the Japanese American Internment during World War II.


Other matters

Although Reagan's second term was mostly noteworthy for matters related to foreign affairs, he supported significant pieces of legislation on domestic matters. In 1982, Reagan signed legislation reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another 25 years, even though he had opposed such an extension during the 1980 campaign.[13] This extension added protections for blind, disabled, and illiterate voters.

Other significant legislation included the overhaul of the Internal Revenue Code in 1986, as well as the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which compensated victims of the Japanese-American internment during World War II. As well as those, Reagan signed legislation authorizing the death penalty for offenses involving murder in the context of large-scale drug trafficking; wholesale reinstatement of the federal death penalty did not occur until the presidency of Bill Clinton.[citation needed]

Reagan's position on gay rights has been a subject of controversy. In the late 1970s he wrote a response in his LA Herald-Examiner column to the organization backing the California Briggs Initiative, stating that he opposed the proposed ban on gay public school teachers or anyone who supported gay rights.[14] He opposed efforts to repeal the criminal laws against homosexuality and generally opposed gay rights legislation as eroding traditional moral values.[citation needed] Yet his daughter, Patti Davis, wrote in article in the New York Times where she recalled her father talking about Rock Hudson's homosexuality in an accepting and tolerant manner.[15] He also never publicly made any specificaly condeming remarks against homosexuals.

The oldest president

As Reagan was the oldest person to be inaugurated as president (age 69), and also the oldest person to hold the office (age 77), his health, although generally good, became a concern at times during his presidency. His age even became a topic of concern during his re-election campaign. In a debate on October 21, 1984 between Reagan and his opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale, panelist Henry Trewhitt brought up how President Kennedy had to go for days on end without sleep during the Cuban Missile crisis. He then asked the President if he had any doubts about if or how he could function in a time of crisis, given his age. Reagan remarked, "I am not going to make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," generating applause and laughter from the audience. Mondale (who was 56 at the time) said years later in an interview that he knew at that moment he had lost the election.

On July 13, 1985, Reagan underwent surgery to remove polyps from his colon, causing the first-ever invocation of the Acting President clause of the 25th Amendment. On January 5, 1987, Reagan underwent surgery for prostate cancer which caused further worries about his health, but which significantly raised the public awareness of this "silent killer."

Former White House correspondent Lesley Stahl later wrote that she and other reporters noticed what might have been early symptoms of Reagan's later Alzheimer's Disease.[16] She said that on her last day on the beat, Reagan spoke to her for a few moments and didn't seem to know who she was, before then returning to his normal self.[16] However, Reagan's primary physician, Dr. John Hutton, said the president "absolutely" did not "show any signs of dementia or Alzheimer's."[17] His doctors noted that he began exhibiting Alzheimer's symptoms only after he left the White House.[18]

Close of the Reagan era

In 1988, Reagan's Vice President, George H. W. Bush, was elected to succeed Reagan as President of the United States. On January 11, 1989, Reagan addressed the nation for the last time on television from the Oval Office, nine days before handing over the presidency to Bush. On the morning of January 20, 1989, Ronald and Nancy Reagan met with the Bushes for coffee at the White House before escorting them to the Capitol Building, where Bush took the oath of office. The Reagans then boarded a Presidential helicopter, and flew to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. There, they boarded the Presidential Jet (in this instance, it was not called Air Force One), and flew home to California—to their new home in the wealthy suburb of Bel Air in Los Angeles. Reagan was the oldest president to serve (at 77), surpassing Dwight Eisenhower, who was 70 when he left office in 1961.

See also


  1. ^ Murray, Robert K. and Blessing, Tim H. 1993. Greatness in the White House. Penn State Press. p. 80
  2. ^ Brandly, Mark (2004-05-20). "Will We Run Out of Energy?". Ludwig von Mises Institute. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  3. ^ a b Lieberman, Ben (2005-09-01). "A Bad Response To Post-Katrina Gas Prices". Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  4. ^ Baker, Peter (2008-11-08). "Obama Team Weighs What to Take On First". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  5. ^ Friedman, Milton. Letter to the editor of Liberty Magazine. August 5, 2004 [1] AND Friedman, Milton. Freedom's Friend. Wall Street Journal. June 11. 2004
  6. ^ "Reagan Doctrine," United States State Department.
  7. ^ Pear, Robert (November 10, 1984). "Reagan Signs Measure Tightening Rules for Disposal of Toxic Waste". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  8. ^ "Veto". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2008-06-26. 
  9. ^ a b c d e "Remembering the Assassination Attempt on Ronald Reagan". CNN. 2001-03-30. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  10. ^ "March 30, 1981". Techsure LLC. Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  11. ^ a b Freidel, Frank (1995), p. 84
  12. ^ "The Reagan Diaries". Harper Collins. Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  13. ^ "Reagan Weighs In On Social Issues." U.S. News & World Report, May 12, 1982
  14. ^ Reagan, Ronald (1978-11-01). "Editorial: Two Ill-advised California Trends". Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. p. A19. 
  15. ^ Deroy Murdock on Ronald Reagan & AIDS on National Review Online
  16. ^ a b Rouse, Robert (March 15, 2006). "Happy Anniversary to the first scheduled presidential press conference - 93 years young!". American Chronicle. 
  17. ^ Altman, Lawrence K (October 5, 1997). "Reagan's Twighlight – A special report; A President Fades Into a World Apart". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  18. ^ Altman, Lawrence K., M.D (June 15, 2004). "The Doctors World; A Recollection of Early Questions About Reagan's Health". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-11. 


  • Appleby, Joyce; Alan Brinkley, James M. McPherson (2003). The American Journey. Woodland Hills, California: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0078241294. 
  • Beschloss, Michael (2007). Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How they Changed America 1789-1989. Simon & Schuster. 
  • Cannon, Lou (2000). President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. New York: Public Affairs. ISBN 1891620916. 
  • Cannon, Lou; Michael Beschloss (2001). Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio: A History Illustrated from the Collection of the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1891620843. 
  • Diggins, John Patrick (2007). Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History. New York: W. W. Norton. 
  • Freidel, Frank; Hugh Sidey (1995). The Presidents of the United States of America. Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association. ISBN 0912308575. 
  • Gaddis, John Lewis (2005). The Cold War: A New History. The Penguin Press. 
  • Hertsgaard, Mark. (1988) On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency. New York, New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux.
  • LaFeber, Walter (2002). America, Russia, and the Cold War, 1945-1971. New York: Wiley. 
  • Matlock, Jack (2004). Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. New York: Random House. ISBN 0679463232. 
  • Morris, Edmund (1999). Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. Random House.  includes fictional material
  • Reagan, Nancy (1989). My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan. New York: Harper Collins. 
  • Reagan, Ronald (1990). An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0743400259. 
  • Reeves, Richard (2005). President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0743230221. 
  • Regan, Donald (1988). For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington. New York: Harcourt. ISBN 0151639663. 
  • Walsh, Kenneth (1997). Ronald Reagan. New York: Random House Value Publishing, Inc.. ISBN 0517200783. 

Further reading

External links


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