Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III
on August 19, 1946, in the small town of Hope, Arkansas. He was named after his father, William Jefferson Blythe II, who had been killed in a car accident just three months before his son was born. Needing to find a way to support herself and her new child, Bill Clinton’s mother, Virginia Cassidy Blythe, moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, to study nursing. Bill Clinton stayed with his mother’s parents in Hope. There he was surrounded by many relatives who gave him love and support and who played a significant role in his upbringing.
Bill Clinton’s grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, taught him strong values and beliefs. They owned a small grocery store just outside of Hope, and despite the segregation laws of the time, they allowed people of all races to purchase goods on credit. They taught their young grandson that everyone is created equal and that people should not be treated differently because of the color of their skin. This was a lesson Bill Clinton never forgot.
His mother returned from New Orleans with her nursing degree in 1950, when her son was four years old. Later that same year, she married an automobile salesman named Roger Clinton. When Bill Clinton was seven years old, the family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Known for its natural mineral hot springs, its scenic beauty, and its racetrack, Hot Springs was bigger than Hope and offered better employment opportunities. Roger received a higher paying job as a service manager for his brother’s car dealer-ship and Virginia was able to find a better job as a nurse anesthetist. In 1956. Bill Clinton’s half-brother, Roger Clinton, Jr., was born. When his brother was old enough to enter school, young Bill had his last name legally changed from Blythe to Clinton.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected President. Two years later, when Bill Clinton was a senior in high school, he was selected to go to Washington, D.C., to be a part of Boys Nation, a special youth leadership conference. The young men of Boys Nation and the young women of Girls Nation were invited to the White House to meet President Kennedy. Bill Clinton was one of the first in line to shake President Kennedy’s hand in the Rose Garden. That event was one of the most memorable, important experiences of his youth. After that, he knew he wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people of America by becoming President.
That same year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Bill Clinton watched the speech on television and was so deeply moved by Dr. King’s words that he memorized them. He admired Dr. King’s gift for communicating a clear vision and his ability to pull people together to work toward a common goal. Dr. King became one of Bill Clinton’s heroes.
Inspired by the success of these leaders, young Bill thrived on the hard work that his academic and extracurricular activities required. As an active member of his church, he raised money and organized charity events. Most important, he learned about working with people and being a good citizen. In his spare time, he enjoyed reading. Some of his favorite books were The Silver Chalice, The Last of the Mohicans, The Robe, and Black Beauty.
Playing the saxophone was his favorite pastime. He loved music, practiced every day, and played in jazz ensembles. Each summer, he attended a band camp in the Ozark Mountains. His hard work paid off when he became a top saxophone player at his school and won first chair in the state band’s saxophone section.
Bill Clinton recognized that although college would be expensive, it would give him the education he needed to accomplish his goals. His hard work in school, combined with his musical ability, earned him many academic and music scholarships. With the help of those scholarships and loans from the government, he was able to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He chose Georgetown because it had an excellent foreign service program; he was also excited about going to school in the nation’s capital.
While earning his Bachelor of Science degree in International Affairs he worked as an intern in the office of Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. There he learned how government worked and what it was like to be a politician. He admired Senator Fulbright for his accomplishments and beliefs.
When Bill Clinton finished college in 1968, he won a Rhodes Scholarship, which allows select students to study at Oxford University in England. While at Oxford, he studied government and played rugby. Upon his return to the United States, he began law school at Yale University. At Yale, he continued to work hard. He maintained his interest in government by campaigning for a Senate candidate in Connecticut. He also met Hillary Rodham, whom he would later marry.
When he graduated from law school in 1973, Bill Clinton returned to Arkansas to teach law at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. There he could concentrate on his goal of running for political office. In 1974, he had his first opportunity when he ran for Congress against Republican incumbent John Paul Hammerschmidt. Although he lost the race, Bill Clinton learned much about politics and met people who have remained his lifelong friends. Hillary had joined him in Arkansas and helped him campaign. She also began teaching at the University of Arkansas. They were married on October 11, 1975.
In 1976, Bill Clinton was elected Attorney General of Arkansas. Two years later, at the age of thirty-two, he became the youngest governor in the United States. As governor of Arkansas, he concentrated on improving the state’s educational system and building better roads. On February 27, 1980, the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea Victoria, was born. The Clintons describe this day as the happiest one of their lives.
Later that year, in a close election, Governor Clinton lost the race for a second term to Republican Frank White. Feeling that he had not accomplished all that he wanted to do, he ran as the Democratic candidate in the next gubernatorial election. Campaigning throughout the state, he assured the voters that he would address their needs, and he was re-elected in November 1982.
Again, his most important goal as governor was to enhance the quality of education in the state. He raised teachers’ salaries and began a program of testing students after the third, sixth, and eighth grades. He also encouraged parents to participate in their children’s education. His new educational standards ensured that every child in Arkansas, regardless of the size or wealth of his or her community or of family income level, would receive a quality education.
From August 1986 to August 1987, Governor Clinton served as chairman of the National Governors’ Association. During that time, he led the governors’ efforts to reform the welfare system and the educational systems of the states.
By the fall of 1991, Governor Clinton believed that the country needed someone with a new vision and plan, and he decided to run for President. He also felt that he had the experience and the best ideas for changing our country for the better. He wanted to strengthen the health care system, to improve the school system, and, most of all, to bolster the economy and create new jobs. He brought his message to the country by going door to door, holding one-on-one talks with people in town hall meetings, and appearing on various talk shows.
After a long primary process, Governor Clinton was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate. He chose Senator Al Gore, of Tennessee to be his vice-presidential running mate. Together, Bill Clinton and Al Gore set out by bus to meet the people of America and to hear about their concerns and their hopes for the future. They campaigned on the concept of “putting people first’—preserving the American Dream, restoring the hopes of the middle class, and reclaiming the future for the nation’s children.
When election day arrived on November 3, 1992, voters turned out in record numbers to cast their ballots. Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd President of the United States and Al Gore the 45th Vice President. They had succeeded in bringing the people together in their efforts to change our country.
Throughout his life, President Clinton has worked to make a difference in the lives of others. To him, Hope means more than a small town in Arkansas; it means working to ensure that each American has the opportunity to fulfill his or her dream.