Ronald Wilson Reagan

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Reagan, Ronald Wilson

(rā`gən), 1911–2004, 40th president of the United States (1981–89), b. Tampico, Ill. In 1932, after graduation from Eureka College, he became a radio announcer and sportscaster. On a 1937 trip to California he was screen-tested and that year he acted in his first motion picture. Although never a major star, Reagan appeared in 50 films, including Knute Rockne—All-American (1940), King's Row (1941), The Hasty Heart (1950), and Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). He became interested in politics during his six terms as president of the Screen Actors Guild (1947–51, 1959). He was a liberal Democrat and a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt's New DealNew Deal,
in U.S. history, term for the domestic reform program of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; it was first used by Roosevelt in his speech accepting the Democratic party nomination for President in 1932.
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 in the 1930s; later, he was among those Democrats who supported Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon.

After joining the Republican party in 1962 he began to champion conservative causes and enthusiastically endorsed presidential candidate Barry GoldwaterGoldwater, Barry Morris,
1909–98, U.S. senator (1953–65, 1969–87), b. Phoenix, Ariz. He studied at the Univ. of Arizona, but left in 1929 to enter his family's department-store business.
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 in 1964. In the California gubernatorial election of 1966 he defeated the Democratic incumbent, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown. As governor of California for two terms (1967–75), he cut state welfare and medical services and aid to public schools and higher education. He also signed a series of tax increases aimed at ending the state's deficit. Nonetheless, during his tenure California's budget more than doubled and the number of state employees increased significantly. Reagan made unsuccessful bids for the 1968 and 1976 Republican presidential nominations, losing to Richard Nixon and Gerald FordFord, Gerald Rudolph,
1913–2006, 38th president of the United States (1974–77), b. Omaha, Nebr. He was originally named Leslie Lynch King, Jr., but his parents were divorced when he was two, and when his mother remarried he assumed the name of his stepfather.
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, respectively. Four years later he won the 1980 nomination and, with his running mate, George H. W. BushBush, George Herbert Walker,
1924–2018, 41st President of the United States (1989–93), b. Milton, Mass., B.A., Yale Univ., 1948. Career in Business and Government
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, resoundingly defeated incumbent President Jimmy CarterCarter, Jimmy
(James Earl Carter, Jr.), 1924–, 39th President of the United States (1977–81), b. Plains, Ga, grad. Annapolis, 1946.

Carter served in the navy, where he worked with Admiral Hyman G. Rickover in developing the nuclear submarine program.
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Reagan's presidency had barely begun when he was shot by a would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., on Mar. 30, 1981; he recovered completely and quickly. Advocating a balanced budget to combat inflation, he reversed long-standing political trends by successfully pursuing his supply-side economic program of tax and non-defense budget cuts through Congress (see supply-side economicssupply-side economics,
economic theory that concentrates on influencing the supply of labor and goods as a path to economic health, rather than approaching the issue through such macroeconomic concerns as gross national product.
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). Adopting a hardline stance against the Soviet Union and other Communist countries, Reagan advocated and oversaw the largest peacetime escalation of military spending in American history; in 1983 he proposed the controversial and expensive space-based defense system known as the Strategic Defense InitiativeStrategic Defense Initiative
(SDI), former U.S. government program responsible for research and development of a space-based system to defend the nation from attack by strategic ballistic missiles (see guided missile).
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After a recession in 1982, the economy picked up between 1983 to 1986, spurred largely by the tax cuts and deficit financing; on the strength of the economic rebound, the successful invasion of the Marxist-controlled island of Grenada, and his personal popularity, he defeated Democratic nominee Walter MondaleMondale, Walter Frederick
(Fritz Mondale), 1928–, Vice President of the United States (1977–81), b. Ceylon, Minn., LL.B., Univ. of Minn., 1956. A liberal Democrat, he was active in the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and served as state attorney general (1960–64).
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 in 1984 by a landslide. Economic growth, however, remained relatively modest, although the rate of inflation dropped below 4% during his tenure. The tax cuts and the sharp increase in military expenditures resulted in a series of huge budget deficits and consequently more than doubled the size of the national debt.

Beginning in 1985, Reagan began to soften his stance toward the Soviet Union in response to signals of a new openness (see glasnostglasnost
, Soviet cultural and social policy of the late 1980s. Following his ascension to the leadership of the USSR in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev began to promote a policy of openness in public discussions about current and historical problems.
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) in foreign relations under Soviet leader Mikhail GorbachevGorbachev, Mikhail Sergeyevich
, 1931–, Soviet political leader. Born in the agricultural region of Stavropol, Gorbachev studied law at Moscow State Univ., where in 1953 he married a philosophy student, Raisa Maksimovna Titorenko (1932?–99).
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. The two leaders met four times between 1985 and 1988, when they concluded the Intermediate-Range Nuclear-Force Missile Treaty (INF treaty) which sharply reduced intermediate nuclear forces. The last years of Reagan's presidency were disrupted by the Iran-contra affairIran-contra affair,
in U.S. history, secret arrangement in the 1980s to provide funds to the Nicaraguan contra rebels from profits gained by selling arms to Iran. The Iran-contra affair was the product of two separate initiatives during the administration of President Ronald
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, which broke in late 1986 and involved the White House's complicity in the illegal diversion of profits from arms-for-hostage deals with Iran to the U.S.-supported contra guerrillas fighting the Sandinista government in NicaraguaNicaragua
, officially Republic of Nicaragua, republic (2015 est. pop. 6,082,000), 49,579 sq mi (128,410 sq km), Central America. Nicaragua is bordered on the north and northwest by Honduras, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, on the south by Costa Rica, and on the southwest by
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. In 1994, Reagan disclosed that he had Alzheimer's diseaseAlzheimer's disease
, degenerative disease of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex that leads to atrophy of the brain and senile dementia and, ultimately, death. The disease is characterized by abnormal accumulation of plaques and by neurofibrillary tangles (malformed nerve
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 in hope of increasing public awareness of the illness; he died of complications from the disease a decade later.

Reagan's second wife, Nancy Davis Reagan, 1921–2016, b. New York City as Anne Frances Robbins, was a Hollywood actress in the 1940s and 50s. She married Ronald Reagan in 1952, and was a trusted and influential adviser to him throughout his political career. As first lady (1981–89) she became known for her "Just Say No" campaign against drugs and alcohol. Later, she devoted herself to the struggle against Alzheimer's disease. Her memoir, My Turn, was published in 1989.


See his writings collected in K. K. Skinner et al., ed., Reagan, in His Own Hand (2000); D. Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries (2007); memoir by R. Reagan, his son (2011); his autobiography (with R. Lindsey, 1990, repr. 1999); biographies by L. Cannon (1982), K. T. Walsh (1997), E. Morris (1999), R. Reeves (2005), M. Schaller (2010), H. W. Brands (2015), and B. Spitz (2018); P. Boyer, ed., Reagan as President (1990); L. Cannon, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (1991) and Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power (2003); D. H. and G. S. Strober, Reagan: The Man and His Presidency (1998); P. Noonan, When Character Was King (2001); T. W. Evans, The Education of Ronald Reagan (2007); M. Eliot, Reagan: The Hollywood Years (2008); S. Wilentz, The Age of Reagan (2008); W. Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World (2009); J. Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan (2009); S. F. Hayward, The Age of Reagan (2009); R. Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge (2014).

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