Syngman Rhee

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The first president of both South Korea and the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was Syngman Rhee. He served as president for three terms, and the Cold War hostilities on the Korean Peninsula had a significant impact on his administration. He was authoritarian and believed himself to be irreplaceable to his nation despite being anti-communist. He sided with the US and, as a young nationalist, railed against the influence of Japan and Russia on Korea, vehemently defending its independence by recruiting other young, nationalistic Koreans to his Independence Club. He was a strong leader who implemented important and forward-thinking improvements, yet he frequently used controversial measures to hold onto power. His attempts as a three-term president were frequently focused on changing the constitution to reassume his position as leader. As the public’s understanding of his government’s oppressive and fraudulent methods expanded, his government was repeatedly singled out in the media for its corruption, ultimately pushing him to leave.

Early Childhood and Life

Syngman Rhee was the lone child of a typical, rural family and was born on April 18, which corresponds to the lunar date of March 26, 1875, in Pyongyang, North Korea.

He relocated to Seoul with his family and began his elementary schooling there. He was first known as Su-ng-yong. He first attended neighborhood schools where Chinese classics were taught before switching to a Methodist mission school called “Paejae Haktang.”

After completing his high school education in 1894, he started teaching English there and became interested in western concepts of enlightenment and reform. He took part in a number of campaigns against the Korean regime’s outdated and ineffectual rule.

Together with other young Korean activists, he founded the Independence Club in 1896. Fighting for Korean independence from Japan was the club’s major objective.
He was imprisoned from 1899 to 1904 after being detained during one of his earliest political demonstrations. During this time, he converted to Methodism.

He relocated to the United States to pursue higher education after being released from prison. He earned his bachelor’s degree in the arts from George Washington University in 1907, his master’s degree in the arts from

Harvard University in 1908, and his doctorate in the arts from Princeton University in 1910.
In 1910, he went back to Korea and joined an anti-Japanese occupation campaign.

Syngman Rhee’s Career

Syngman Rhee pursued his goals for an independent Korea using all of the resources at his disposal with a strong nationalist sense and purpose. He was chosen to lead the Korean Provisional Government in exile in Washington, DC, in 1919 as a result of his activity, as his actions at home had led to his persecution by the country’s then-existing government.

His great reputation from his continued strong leadership during WWII allowed him to gather resources and mobilize strong-arm squads to create a vast political organization to overthrow the moderate authorities of Korea. His party won the South Korean elections after the key leaders were assassinated, and he was elected as the country’s first president in 1948.

During the early years of Rhee’s administration, there was an uncomfortable peace on the Korean Peninsula, but it was soon challenged when Communist forces from North Korea invaded the weaker South Korea across the 38th parallel in 1950. Due to the sudden and intense invasion, South Korea was compelled to flee and request aid from the UN, which was given by 15 countries.

In order to unseat Syngman Rhee in the 1952 elections, opposition members of the National Assembly disclosed numerous scandals involving financial theft and the death of innocent villagers in Kochang when he was in office.

Domestic politics, however, took a back seat as all efforts were focused on the need to stave off North Korea’s onslaught and safeguard South Korea’s territory on the peninsula. The three-year conflict resulted in the deaths of about 5 million people.

After the war, Rhee mounted his efforts to unite Korea and even disagreed with the United Nations’ decision that South Korea had no authority beyond the 38th parallel.

In the North’s liberated regions, he started appointing governors. He asserted that the UN had already recognized South Korea in 1948 in opposition to the UN’s request that elections in Korea be held under its supervision. He was successful on this front, but the UN kept control of the parts of North Korea that were freed.

He maintained his grasp on power by squeaking through the 1952 elections through dictatorial control, forced votes in the National Assembly, and coercing supporters into inciting anti-communist panic.

He disobeyed the Armistice that the UN and the US had drafted at the end of the war and that was scheduled to take effect in 1953, even though he considered a relationship with the US as essential to the growth and security of the Republic of Korea.

Syngman Rhee maintained his autocratic rule over the following years until he was forced to quit on April 27, 1960, as a result of deadly civil unrest brought on by multiple accusations of election fraud and corruption as well as the killing of 142 students by police during a student uprising. He left his position and relocated to Hawaii as an exile.

Rhee’s Bigger Works

Rhee brought about major social change in Korea by expanding secondary and tertiary education options, which helped the country’s youth.

He put into effect the Land Reform Act in June 1949, which assisted millions of sharecroppers in becoming small landowners and decreased socioeconomic inequality.

Personal Legacy & Life

At a League of Nations convention in Geneva, Syngman Rhee first met Francesca Donner, an Austrian delegate, and the two were wed in October 1933.
In Honolulu, Hawaii, on July 19, 1965, he passed away from a stroke at the age of 90.

Estimated Net Worth

One of the wealthiest and most well-liked world leaders is Syngman. According to our research, Syngman Rhee has a net worth of $5 million, as reported by Forbes, Wikipedia, and Business Insider.


Rhee and Francesca Donner exchanged vows during their marriage ceremony in both German and Korean.