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Early life and career of Bill Clinton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Clinton in Hot Springs High School's 1963 yearbook.
Clinton in Hot Springs High School's 1963 yearbook.

William Jefferson Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States, serving from 1993 to 2001. Despite winning two elections with landslide margins in the Electoral College in 1992 and 1996, he failed to win a majority of the vote both times as there was a third party candidate, Ross Perot, who set numerous records for his performances in both elections. His childhood and young adulthood were spent in his home state of Arkansas, where he was born and raised. He served in multiple political offices in the state including as the state's Attorney General for two years and as Governor of Arkansas for a total of almost twelve nonconsecutive years.

Early years

Clinton's birthplace in Hope, Arkansas
Clinton's birthplace in Hope, Arkansas


Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas.[1][2] He was the son of William Jefferson Blythe Jr. (1918–1946), a traveling salesman who had died in an automobile accident three months before his birth, and Virginia Dell Cassidy (later Virginia Kelley: 1923–1994).[3] His parents had married on September 4, 1943, but this union later proved to be bigamous, as Blythe had never divorced his third wife and was therefore still married to her.[4]

Clinton's childhood home in Hope, Arkansas
Clinton's childhood home in Hope, Arkansas


Soon after Bill was born, Virginia traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to study nursing. She left her son in Hope with her parents Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, who owned and ran a small grocery store.[2] At a time when the southern United States was racially segregated, Clinton's grandparents sold goods on credit to people of all races.[2] In 1950, Bill's mother returned from nursing school and married Roger Clinton Sr., who co-owned an automobile dealership in Hot Springs, Arkansas with his brother and Earl T. Ricks.[2] The family moved to Hot Springs in 1950.[5]

Although he immediately assumed use of his stepfather's surname, it was not until Clinton turned 15[6] that he formally adopted the surname Clinton as a gesture toward his stepfather.[2] Clinton said that he remembered his stepfather as a gambler and an alcoholic who regularly abused his mother and half-brother, Roger Clinton Jr., to a point where he often had to threaten violence against Roger to protect them.[2][7]

Clinton with his saxophone at the White House in 1996. He began playing the saxophone in elementary school. At one point, Clinton considered pursuing a career in music.
Clinton with his saxophone at the White House in 1996. He began playing the saxophone in elementary school. At one point, Clinton considered pursuing a career in music.


As a student in Hot Springs, Clinton attended several schools, including St. John's Catholic Elementary School, Ramble Elementary School, and Hot Springs High School. There, he was an active student leader, an avid reader, and a musician.[2] 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 instead of politics, 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.[2]

Interest in law and politics

Clinton began an interest in taking a career path in law at Hot Springs High when he took up the challenge to argue the defense of the ancient Roman Senator Catiline in a mock trial in his Latin class.[8] 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".[9]

Clinton meeting President John F. Kennedy in 1962.
Clinton meeting President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

Decision to become a public figure

Clinton has identified two influential moments in his life, both occurring in 1963, that contributed to his decision to become a public figure. The first was his visit as a Boys Nation senator to the White House to meet then-President John F. Kennedy.[2][7] The second moment he has identified was watching Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 I Have a Dream speech on television, impressing him so much that he ended up memorizing it.[10] In 1998, during an address commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington, Clinton stated his belief that watching the march on television "had a more profound impact" on his life than his meeting with President Kennedy.[11]

Meeting Hillary

Bill Clinton met his future wife, Hillary, at Yale University and married her in 1975. They moved to Arkansas, where Clinton began to pursue a career in politics by running for and eventually being elected to the position of Attorney General of Arkansas. He was sworn into office in 1977. Had he not decided to study law, he may have never met Hillary at Yale.

Tenure as Governor

He eventually decided to run for Governor of Arkansas two years later. He was sworn in as Governor for the first time in 1979. At the time, the Governor and Attorney General served only two-year terms. He lost his 1980 election, but ran again in 1982, and was therefore sworn in for the second time in 1983. During his tenure, the Arkansas General Assembly changed the constitution to have the Governor serve four-year terms.[12] He subsequently ran again in 1984, 1986, and 1990. He resigned in the middle of his last term after being elected President.


  1. ^ "Directory of Irish Genealogy: American Presidents with Irish Ancestors". March 23, 2004. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Clinton, Bill (2004). My Life. Random House. ISBN 1-4000-3003-X.
  3. ^ "Biography of William J. Clinton". The White House. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  4. ^ Andrews, Edmund (June 21, 1993). "Clinton Reported to Have A Brother He Never Met". New York Times.
  5. ^ Gormley, Ken (2010). The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr. New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0-307-40944-7.
  6. ^ "Oprah Talks to Bill Clinton". O, The Oprah Magazine. August 2004. Retrieved December 18, 2011.
  7. ^ a b Maraniss, David (1996). First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton. Touchstone. ISBN 0-684-81890-6.
  8. ^ Soni, Jimmy (June 25, 2013). "10 Things You Definitely Didn't Know About Bill Clinton". The Huffington Post.
  9. ^ Maraniss, David (1996). First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton. Touchstone. p. 43.
  10. ^ "It All Began in a Place Called Hope (Archived Article)". The White House. Archived from the original on July 19, 2011. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  11. ^ Clinton, Bill (August 28, 1998). "Remarks on the 35th Anniversary of the March on Washington in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts". Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. The summer of 1963 was a very eventful one for me, the summer I turned 17. What most people know about it now is the famous picture of me shaking hands with President Kennedy in July. It was a great moment. But I think the moment we commemorate today--a moment I experienced all alone--had a more profound impact on my life.
  12. ^,_Arkansas_Constitution#Amendment_63
This page was last edited on 6 May 2020, at 19:43
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