Ronald Reagan was an American politician born on February 6, 1911, and served as the 40th president of the United States of America. He was a part of the Republican Party and remained in office from 1981 to 1989.
However, Ronald Reagan was much more than just an American politician. He served as a California governor and led a career as a Hollywood actor and union leader. Reagan was a part of many major productions, and his achievements as an actor led to his becoming the president of the Screen Actors Guild.
During his time as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan worked to root out the alleged communist influence. From there, he moved to television and became a spokesman for General Electric. He returned to his position as the president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1964.
He gained political popularity when he wrote a speech called A Time For Choosing in 1964. This speech was a campaign speech on behalf of the Republican presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater. The nation started recognizing him as a new conservative figure through this speech.
He built a network of supporters, which helped him immensely in becoming the governor of California. Later, Ronald Reagan was successful in becoming the president of the United States for one term and was re-elected for a second term as well.
His Early Life
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911. His parents were Nelle Clyde and Jack Reagan. He was Irish from his father’s side, whose parents were Irish Catholic emigrants from County Tipperary.
His mother was English and Scottish. Ronald also had an older brother called Neil Reagan, who became an advertising executive later on in life.
Reagan’s family moved a lot during his early years. They changed homes throughout the state of Illinois until 1919 when they returned to Tampico and later moved again to Dixon, Illinois, where they finally settled.
Even before the civil rights movements, many recall that Ronald Reagan was entirely against racial discrimination, which was seen as unusual. During his time playing college football, a local hotel refused to house two of his black teammates, and Reagan took them to his parent’s home and invited them to stay the night.
Ronald Reagan’s family, his mother, in particular, was a devout Christians. She attended the Disciples of Christ church regularly and was an active and influential member. It was due to her commitment that Ronald became a Protestant Christian and not a Roman Catholic like his Irish father.
He confessed that she greatly influenced his beliefs, and because of her, he identified himself as a born-again Christian. Due to his involvement in the Church, he was also heavily influenced by the pastor, Ben Hill Cleaver.
Due to his religion and beliefs, Reagan always saw the goodness in people. Many believe that this optimism sprang from his mother and her religious beliefs. When in Hollywood, Reagan became a member of the Hollywood-Beverly Christian Church. He then changed to the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church.
After his graduation in 1932, Reagan took on two jobs to sustain himself. One of those was being a radio announcer at several stations in Iowa. He shifted to WHO radio in Des Moines and became an announcer for the Chicago Cubs baseball games.
Reagan was exceptionally talented at using basic descriptions that the radio received via wire to create a play-by-play account of the game in progress. He traveled with the Cubs for their games, and in 1937, after a screen test with Warner Bros., he was offered a seven-year contract.
During the first few years, he was a part of the B film unit, but he got his break in 1937 when he starred in a movie called Love Is on the Air. This movie earned him his first screen credit. Within two years, he had managed to snag roles in 19 films. These included Dark Victory, Santa Fe Trail, Knute Rockne, Kings Row, Desperate Journey, etc.
In these movies, he got a chance to star alongside Bette Davis, Humphery Bogart, Errol Flynn, etc. However, it was Kings Row that gained Reagan popularity and success. The movie was such a massive success that Warner Bros. tripled his salary.
In 1941, Reagan was one of the first to be elected to the Board of Directors of the SAG, Screen Actors Guild, after he served as an alternate member. He resumed his position in 1946 and became the third vice president.
In March 1947, a special election was held due to the union’s new bylaws on conflict of interests, which Reagan won. He was also re-elected six times from 1947 to 1959.
Reagan also tried his hand at television roles. He was hired as a host of the General Electric Theater, a top-rated series of weekly dramas. He also toured with General Electric and earned an equivalent of $1.1 million from his role. The show ran for ten years and significantly increased Reagan’s national profile.
When Reagan became president, he pursued politics that reflected his own personal beliefs. These beliefs mainly revolved around individual freedom. He brought economic changes, contributed to ending the Cold War, and even expanded the military.
The changes he made were termed the Reagan Revolution, and it overall boosted the morale of the American public. The US economy saw a huge boom and reduced reliance upon the government.
Reagan was also known to keep a diary where he commented on the daily occurrences when he was in office. He also wrote down his own views on the issues he faced. These diaries were published in May 2007 in The Reagan Diaries, and this book became a bestseller.
When Reagan was sworn into office for his first term, he was almost 70 years old, and thus, he was the most senior first-term president of the time. He held this record until 2017, when Donald Trump was inaugurated at 70 and 220 days.
In his inaugural address, Reagan addressed the economic malaise of the US and claimed that the government was the problem, not the solution. In his first few years as president, Reagan campaigned to have organized prayer restored at school.
In 1981, Reagan became the first president to propose a constitutional amendment to make school prayers compulsory. However, it was an uphill battle, and even in 1987, he was calling for Congress to support voluntary prayers in schools.
Reagan’s presidency was not relatively as smooth sailing as he had hoped. There was an assassination attempt on both Reagan and his press secretary James Brady. However, they were saved by officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy. They were both struck by the gunfire.
The assassin John Hickley Jr. was outside Washington Hilton Hotel when he fired his shots. Reagan had also been struck and was close to death when he arrived at the George Washington University Hospital but was stabilized. The doctors performed an emergency explorative surgery, after which he recovered and was released on April 11. Thus, Reagan is the first serving US president to survive an assassination attempt.
In his first term as president, Reagan and the Reagan administration were criticized for inadequately enforcing the civil rights legislation. Due to the criticism, he signed a bill in 1982 to extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years.
He also signed legislation establishing a federal holiday for Martin Luther King. In March 1988, he attempted to veto the Civil Rights Registration but was overridden by Congress.
Reagan managed to secure his second term in office when he was sworn in on January 20, 1985. The ceremony was private and held at the White House. He was now 73 years old and the oldest person at the time to take the presidential oath, and his record remained till Joe Biden took the presidential oath at 78 years in 2021.
During his second term, he raised a war on drugs after concerns about the crack epidemic. The campaign started in 1982 and was led by the federal government, which aimed to reduce the illegal drug trade.
Reagan’s policies on drugs were a lot more aggressive as he aimed to make schools and workplaces drug-free. He enforced stronger laws and made more drug interdiction efforts to do so. He also sought to increase public awareness of this issue.
There was also an AIDS epidemic in America that the government was largely ignoring. When Reagan finally got around to addressing the issue, over 36,000 Americans had been diagnosed.
Due to this neglect, the public met the Reagan administration with criticism. To deflect the negative attention, they noted that federal funding set aside for AIDS-related programs was much higher than his presidency funds by a considerable amount.
During his administration, in 1986, Reagan also signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. This act made it illegal to hire or recruit illegal immigrants knowingly. Furthermore, it made it so that the employees had to attest to their employee’s immigration status. The government also granted amnesty to over three million immigrants who had entered the US before January 1, 1982.
After Reagan left office in 1989, he purchased a home in Los Angeles where he could quickly attend the Bel Air Church. He also managed to give speeches for the Republican party and occasionally made appearances too.
However, President Reagan was growing old and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 83 in August 1994. In November, he announced his diagnosis to the world. After his announcement, many well-wishers poured out support.
On June 5, 2004, Reagan died of pneumonia which was complicated by his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. He was 93 years of age and had suffered from the neuro-generative disease for ten years.
Ronald Reagan was a hugely influential figure in the world of Hollywood and politics. He was one of the very few self-made men in history who managed to reach an office as high as the presidential office and maintain it for two terms. Many point out that his reign was prosperous and efficient as the economy prospered and foreign policy triumphed as the Cold War ended peacefully.
Despite the continued debate around his presidency, he was one of the most capable men in history. He was one of the most influential presidents alongside George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He left a considerable impact on American culture, economics, diplomacy, and culture.