William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III; August 19, 1946), is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. He previously served as Governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 and 1983 to 1992, and as the state’s Attorney General from 1977 to 1979. A member of the Democratic Party, ideologically Clinton was a New Democrat, and many of his policies reflected a centrist Third Way philosophy of governance.
Clinton was born and raised in Arkansas, and is an alumnus of Georgetown University, where he was a member of Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Beta Kappa and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford. He is married to Hillary Clinton, who served as United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 and who was a Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009. Both Clintons earned law degrees from Yale Law School, where they met and began dating. As Governor of Arkansas, Clinton overhauled the state’s education system, and served as Chair of the National Governors Association.
Clinton was elected president in 1992, defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush. Aged 46, he was the third-youngest president and the first from the baby boomer generation. Clinton presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history, and signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement. After failing to pass national health care reform, the Democratic House was ousted when the Republican Party won control of the Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. Two years later, Clinton became the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected president twice. He passed welfare reform and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health coverage for millions of children. In 1998, he was impeached for perjury before a grand jury and obstruction of justice during a lawsuit against him, both related to a scandal involving White House (and later Department of Defense) employee Monica Lewinsky. He was acquitted by the U.S. Senate and served his complete term of office. The Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus between the years 1998 and 2000, the last three years of Clinton’s presidency.
Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II. Since then, he has been involved in public speaking and humanitarian work. Clinton created the William J. Clinton Foundation to address international causes such as the prevention of AIDS and global warming. In 2004, he published his autobiography My Life. He has remained active in politics by campaigning for Democratic candidates, including his wife’s campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, and then Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. In 2009, he was named United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, and after the 2010 Haiti earthquake he teamed with George W. Bush to form the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. Since leaving office, Clinton has been rated highly in public opinion polls of U.S. presidents.
Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. His father, William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. (1918–1946), was a traveling salesman who died in an automobile accident three months before Clinton was born. His mother, Virginia Dell (née Cassidy; 1923–1994), traveled to New Orleans to study nursing soon after he was born. She left Clinton in Hope with her parents Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who owned and ran a small grocery store. At a time when the Southern United States was segregated racially, Clinton’s grandparents sold goods on credit to people of all races. In 1950, Bill’s mother returned from nursing school and married Roger Clinton, Sr., who owned an automobile dealership in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his brother and Earl T. Ricks. The family moved to Hot Springs in 1950.
Although he immediately assumed use of his stepfather’s surname, it was not until Clinton turned fifteen that he formally adopted the surname Clinton as a gesture toward his stepfather. Clinton says he remembers his stepfather as a gambler and an alcoholic who regularly abused his mother and half-brother, Roger Clinton, Jr., to the point where he intervened multiple times with the threat of violence to protect them.
In Hot Springs, Clinton attended St. John’s Catholic Elementary School, Ramble Elementary School, and Hot Springs High School – where he was an active student leader, avid reader, and musician. Clinton was in the chorus and played the tenor saxophone, winning first chair in the state band’s saxophone section. He briefly considered dedicating his life to music, but as he noted in his autobiography My Life:
Sometime in my sixteenth year, I decided I wanted to be in public life as an elected official. I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz. I was interested in medicine and thought I could be a fine doctor, but I knew I would never be Michael DeBakey. But I knew I could be great in public service.
Clinton’s interest in law also began in Hot Springs High, when in his Latin class he took up the challenge to argue the defense of the ancient Roman Senator Catiline in a mock trial. After a vigorous defense that made use of his “budding rhetorical and political skills”, he told the Latin teacher Elizabeth Buck that it “made him realize that someday he would study law.”
Clinton has named two influential moments in his life that contributed to his decision to become a public figure, both occurring in 1963. One was his visit as a Boys Nation senator to the White House to meet President John F. Kennedy. The other was listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 I Have a Dream speech, which impressed him enough that he later memorized it.
With the aid of scholarships, Clinton attended the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., receiving a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service (B.S.) degree in 1968. In 1964 and 1965 he won elections for class president. From 1964 to 1967 he was an intern and then a clerk in the office of Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. While in college, he became a brother of co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Clinton was also a member of the Order of DeMolay, a youth group affiliated with Freemasonry, but he never became a Freemason. He is a member of Kappa Kappa Psi honorary band fraternity
Upon graduation, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to University College, Oxford where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics, though because he had switched programs and had left early for Yale University, he did not receive a degree there. He developed an interest in rugby union, playing at Oxford and later for the Little Rock Rugby club in Arkansas.