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40th President

Terms: 1981-1989
Political Party: Republican
First Lady: Nancy Davis Reagan
Vice President: George H. W. Bush 

Highlights from the Reagan website include:


Born: February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois... Barely three months into his presidency, Ronald Reagan was wounded during an assassination attempt outside of a Washington, DC hotel... Boldly declaring that "government is the problem," Reagan took advantage of the electoral mandate he had won to craft an agenda that stood in stark contrast to the philosophies of the New Deal and the Great Society. Unabashedly in favor of deregulation and lower taxes, he nevertheless vastly increased the military budget and swelled the national deficit. Despite charges that he was little more than an out-of-touch mouthpiece for conservative policies, he enjoyed a level of public affection not seen since FDR and Eisenhower.

Did you know? - Read some fun facts about Ronald Reagan

The Era

  • Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) first diagnosed (1981)
  • Equal Rights Amendment fails to win ratification (1982)
  • 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles
  • Geraldine Ferraro becomes first woman to run for vice presidency on major party ticket (1984)
  • TV program thirtysomething portrays babyboomers as adults (1987)
  • Rhodesia is renamed Zimbabwe (1980)
  • South African archbiship Desmond Tutu receives Nobel Peace Prize (1984)
  • Corazon Aquino leads the Phillippines (1986)

World Timeline - See a timeline of world events during Ronald Reagan's administration.

Domestic Politics

In the more than fifty motion pictures that Ronald Reagan appeared in during his acting career, he was cast as the bad guy only once. Reagan felt more comfortable, and was more believable, as the well-intended hero. Yet two years into his first presidential term, as the country endured the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Reagan found himself increasingly viewed as the black-hatted villain. The recession of 1981-82 resulted in record unemployment, bank failures, and farm foreclosures. Critics charged that such dire circumstances were the result of "Reaganomics" -- substantial reductions in government assistance and services, coupled with tax cuts. For his part, Reagan maintained that the faltering economy was the legacy of excessive government growth and spending on the part of his predecessors. He urged the nation to "stay the course," and promised that better days were just around the corner.

Read the page on Ronald Reagan's Domestic Politics to learn more.

Foreign Affairs

Like many of his contemporaries, Ronald Reagan formed his opinions about America's role in the world based on the experiences and outcome of World War II. As the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as dominant, and opposing, forces, Reagan shared the view that communism posed a legitimate threat to free people everywhere. His anti-Communist outlook had not softened any by the time he was elected president. Less than ten days into his first term, Reagan characterized the Kremlin as being committed to "the promotion of world revolution and a one-world Socialist or Communist state..." He insisted that efforts at détente undertaken by previous administrations had resulted in a "one-way street" favoring the Soviets.

Read the Foreign Affairs page to learn more about Ronald Reagan's fight against communism.

Presidential Politics

In the summer of 1984, America was awash in patriotic fervor. At the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, American athletes, dressed in uniforms bearing the stars and stripes, dominated the games, thanks in part to a Soviet boycott. Against this vibrant backdrop of nationalistic pride, Ronald Reagan campaigned for re-election. In the eyes of many voters, Reagan was synonymous with a newly invigorated America. Just four years removed from the days when American hostages were in Iran and Jimmy Carter spoke of the nation's "crisis of confidence," the Reagan team confidently declared, "America's Back."

Read the page on Ronald Reagan's Presidential Politics.

Extended Biography
Access in-depth biographical materials for Ronald Reagan.

Additional Resources
Explore bonus materials for Ronald Reagan, including primary sources, audio interviews, television program transcripts, and in-depth teacher's guides

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

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  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH