Gilbert: A Short History of Presidents

Print More

(HOST) A look at presidential history reveals some interesting things – according to commentator and Vermont Humanities Council executive director
Peter Gilbert.

(GILBERT) Our last two presidents – Bush and Clinton — both served two full terms as president, but that’s far from typical. The only other presidents to serve two full terms in the twentieth century were Reagan, Eisenhower, FDR, and Wilson. Indeed out of a total of 43 presidents, only 12 have served two or more consecutive terms. That includes FDR, who served three full terms and a fraction of a fourth, but not Grover Cleveland , who served two terms, but not consecutively. Three others were elected twice, but didn’t finish their second term – Lincoln, McKinley, and Nixon. Surprisingly, the other 28 presidents served just one term or even just part of one term.

Eight presidents died in office – that’s almost 19 percent. Four were assassinated – more than nine percent; and six others survived assassination attempts: both Roosevelts, Truman, Ford, Reagan, and Bush Senior.

When McKinley was assassinated, he was succeeded by his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, who at 42, became the youngest president we’ve ever had. Kennedy was 43 and the youngest president ever elected. Grant and Clinton were both 46. At 47, Obama will be the fifth youngest.

Ronald Reagan was the oldest president when he came to office; he was two weeks shy of his 70th birthday. Because he was one of the few presidents who served two full terms, he was also, when he left office at nearly 78, seven and a half years older than any other president has ever been. Eisenhower came closest; he was seventy when he left office.

Eight presidents have been related to another president. John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, was the son of our second president, John Adams. Of course George W. is the son of George H. W. Bush; at least at the outset of the son’s administration, the father jokingly called him Quincy, an allusion to the other father-son presidential duo. The twenty-third president, Benjamin Harrison, a one-term president who took office in 1889, was the grandson of our ninth president, William Henry Harrison, who died of a cold after only 32 days in office. And Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt were fifth cousins.

Up to the present, of course, all the presidents have been male, and all have been Caucasian, but the remarkable variety of names suggests how each president has his own story. There’ve been six presidents named James, four Johns and four Williams, three Georges, two Andrews and two Franklins, but just one each of Thomas, Martin, Zachary, and Millard; Abraham, Ulysses, Rutherford and Chester; Grover, Benjamin, Theodore and Woodrow; Warren, Calvin, Herbert and Harry; Dwight and Lyndon; Richard and Gerald; Ronald, and soon Barack.

Comments are closed.