WHEN JIMMY CARTER was elected the 39th president in 1976, his Democratic victory over incumbent Gerald Ford seemed to symbolize the end of a political episode dominated by Republicans and tainted by the Watergate scandal. But Carter's one-term administration, regarded by some scholars as a considerable failure, became just an interruption in an extended period of conservative rule. Nevertheless, his post-presidency commitment to international peace and human rights recast his legacy as a well-respected humanitarian and diplomat across the globe.

Born on October 1, 1924, in the small community of Plains, Georgia, Carter was the eldest son of Lillian Gordy and James Earl Carter, a Georgia landowner and businessman. Carter was exposed to politics early in his life: his father had served on the school board ...

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