Syngman Rhee

Syngman Rhee (Korean: 이승만, pronounced [i.sɯŋ.man];[note 1] 26 March 1875 – 19 July 1965) was a South Korean politician[1] who served as the first President of South Korea from 1948 to 1960. Rhee was also the first and last president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea from 1919 to his impeachment in 1925 and from 1947 to 1948. As President of South Korea, Rhee's government was characterised by authoritarianism, limited economic development, and in the late 1950s growing political instability and public opposition. Authoritarianism continued in South Korea after Rhee's resignation until 1988, except for a few short breaks.

Syngman Rhee
Official portrait, 1948
1st President of South Korea
In office
24 July 1948  26 April 1960
Prime MinisterLee Beom-seok
Shin Sung-mo
Chang Myon
Yi Yun-yong
Chang Taek-sang
Baek Du-jin
Byeon Yeong-tae
Vice PresidentYi Si-yeong
Kim Seong-su
Ham Tae-young
Chang Myon
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byYun Posun
Speaker of the National Assembly
In office
31 May 1948  24 July 1948
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byShin Ik-hee
Chairman of the State Council of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
In office
3 March 1947  15 August 1948
DeputyKim Gu
Preceded byKim Gu
Succeeded byOffice abolished
President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
In office
11 September 1919  23 March 1925
Prime MinisterYi Donghwi
Yi Dongnyeong
Sin Gyu-sik
No Baek-rin
Park Eunsik
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byPark Eunsik
Personal details
Rhee Syngman

(1875-03-26)26 March 1875
Neungnae-dong, Daegyeong-ri, Masan-myeon, Pyeongsan County, Hwanghae, Joseon
(now North Hwanghae, North Korea)
Died19 July 1965(1965-07-19) (aged 90)
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Resting placeSeoul National Cemetery, Seoul, South Korea
NationalityKorean (1875–1910)
Stateless (1910–1945)
South Korean (1945–1965)
Political partyLiberal
(m. 19341965)
Alma materGeorge Washington University (B.A.)
Harvard University (M.A.)
Princeton University (PhD)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationI Seung(-)man / Ri Seung(-)man
McCune–ReischauerYi Sŭngman / Ri Sŭngman

Born in Hwanghae Province, Joseon, Rhee attended an American Methodist school, where he converted to Christianity. He became involved in anti-Japanese activities after the 1894–95 First Sino-Japanese War and was imprisoned in 1899. Released in 1904, he moved to the United States, where he obtained degrees from American universities and met President Theodore Roosevelt. After a brief 1910–12 return to Korea, he moved to Hawaii in 1913. From 1918 to 1924, he was promoted to several high positions in some Korean provisional governments and served as a representative of these to Western powers. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1939. In 1945, he was returned to US-controlled Korea by the US military, and on 20 July 1948 he was elected President of the Republic of Korea with 92.7% of the vote, beating Kim Gu.

Rhee adopted a hardline anti-communist and pro-American stance as president. Early on in his presidency, his government put down a communist uprising on Jeju Island, and the Mungyeong and Bodo League massacres were committed against suspected communist sympathisers, leaving at least 100,000 people dead.[2] Rhee was president during the outbreak of the Korean War (1950–1953), in which North Korea invaded South Korea. He refused to sign the armistice agreement that ended the war, wishing to have the peninsula reunited by force.[3][4]

After the fighting ended, the country remained at a low level economically, lagging behind North Korea, and was heavily reliant on U.S. aid. After being re-elected in 1956, the constitution was modified to remove the two-term restriction, despite protests from the opposition. He was elected uncontested in March 1960, after his opponent Cho Byeong-ok died before voting day. After Rhee's ally Lee Ki-poong won the corresponding vice-presidential election by a wide margin, the opposition rejected the result as rigged, which triggered protests. These escalated into the student-led April Revolution when police shot demonstrators in Masan, which forced Rhee to resign on 26 April and ultimately led to the establishment of the Second Republic of Korea. On 28 April, as protesters converged on the presidential palace, the CIA covertly flew him out to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he spent the rest of his life in exile. He died of a stroke in 1965.