Born in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, he was a brilliant student and speaker, topping the Philippine bar exams after attending the University of the Philippines and placing high as a marksman in the university team. In the 1930's, he successfully defended himself and was acquitted of the assasination of one of his father's political rivals. The promising young lawyer became an aide to Manuel Roxas, the first president of the country after independence, and was elected to congress in 1949, serving in the House of Representatives (1949-1959) and Senate (1959-1965) for Ilocos Norte.
In a landslide victory in 1965, Marcos defeated Diosdado Macapagal after joining the Nationalista party. His first term in office showed promise, building on the relatively robust economy by developing the country's infrastructure. Throughout his 20-year tenure, Marcos maintained a close alliance with the United States, a friend of Ronald Reagan and other American administrators. He launched major military campaigns against Communist and Moro insurgents. He sent forces in Vietnam to assist the Americans. He was reelected in 1969, but his second term was marked by increasing civil strife. After a series of bombings in Manila, Marcos warned of imminent Communist takeover and on September 21, 1972, by virtue of Proclamation No. 1081, he declared martial law. By 1973, he assumed virtual dictatorial control (see President for Life) along with a new constitution.
His regime was marred by widespread corruption and political mismanagement, which culminated with the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr, a major political rival and critic, on his return to the country. In 1986, Marcos called for a snap election and the opposition united behind Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino. Both Marcos and Aquino declared themselves winners, the election being widely suspected of fraud. With the backing of the military and the People's Power movement (see EDSA Revolution), a multisectoral congregation of protesters, Marcos was driven into exile, and Aquino became president.
He and his wife, Imelda Marcos, were exiled in Hawaii and were later indicted for embezzlement in the United States. Marcos died in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1989. His remains is currently interred inside a glass box in Ilocos Norte. Imelda Marcos was found innocent in 1990 of embezzlement by a U.S. court, but she was convicted of graft in a trial in the Philippines in 1993.