On this day in 2008, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona to become the 44th U.S. president. Barack Obama was just 47 years old when he became president of the United States, and the first African American elected to the White House. He was the first sitting U.S. senator to win the White House since John Kennedy in 1960.
On the night he won the election, Barack Obama delivered a historic speech before a crowd at Chicago’s Grant Park. His victory came 143 years after the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. He said: “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. […] It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America.”
Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother was from Kansas and his father was from Kenya. Growing up as a mixed-race child was difficult. He said: “I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog […] and that Santa was a white man. I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me.”
He played basketball, studied hard, earned a place at the Harvard Law Review, passed the bar, and worked for a time as a lawyer and community activist in Chicago before pursuing politics.
When Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States on January 20, 2009, more than 1.8 million people watched from the grounds of the National Mall. During his two terms as president, he began a tradition of pardoning not just one, but two turkeys at Thanksgiving. His daughters gave the annual turkeys names like Tater, Tot, Mac, Cheese, Gobbler, and Cobbler.
He is the first president to have been born in Hawaii. During his first two years in office, he oversaw landmark reforms like the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which gave millions of Americans health insurance they desperately needed. On the day he signed the bill in 2010, he said, “The bill I’m signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see. Today we are affirming that essential truth, a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself, that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations.”
President Barack Obama promised: “We’re going to have a woman president. We’re going to have a Latino president. And we’ll have a Jewish president, a Hindu president. You know, who knows who we’re going to have? I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.”