Presidential Tenure

This year’s presidential election had a minor significance to it. As it turned out, Donald Trump and his supporters were anything but pleased, and it is no secret where this writer stands in that regard. Nevertheless, it put Trump in a category with 12 of his predecessors. Let me explain.

Since the Constitution took effect, there have been 46 Presidencies not counting the one that will commence in January with 45 individuals as president. (Grover Cleveland served two terms, but they were split; he lost his reelection bid in 1888, but returned in 1892). During the 228 years, 12 elected incumbents were re-elected and served two full terms. These were: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, Wilson, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama.

During the same time, not counting Trump, 12 incumbents either did not run for reelection, or were defeated and turned out of office. It appears that Trump is the 13th, who broke the tie of that group with the two-termers. Maybe an unlucky number. The other initially elected one-term presidents were: Adams, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Taft, Hoover, Carter, and George H. W. Bush.

Of course, that only adds up to 24. What about the others? Five presidents did not finish the first terms they were elected to. William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Garfield, Harding, and Kennedy died in office (two were assassinated). Three did not finish a second term. Lincoln and McKinley were assassinated; Nixon resigned, the only President to do so. Franklin Roosevelt was re-elected three times, but died three months into his fourth term. The “accidental presidents” who took over upon the incumbents’ deaths or resignation were Tyler, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Ford. Four were subsequently elected to one term each in their own right.

As mentioned above, Cleveland and Franklin Roosevelt were outliers because of Cleveland’s split terms; and Roosevelt’s election to four terms.

A four-termer will never occur again, or course, per the Constitution’s 22nd Amendment. There has been speculation that Trump might run in 2024 to become another split term President. This may be because some supporters believe Biden will screw up everything, if he lasts, but the chance is negligible. Trump’s age will be against him; the boomers have had their day.

An interesting note: When William Henry Harrison, died after barely a month in office in 1841, vice-president John Tyler insisted that he then became the President. Article II of the Constitution at the time stated that “In the Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolved on the Vice President….” Some argued that Tyler was only an “acting President,” the “powers and duties” were his only temporarily, and a new President should be chosen in a special election. This mainly a partisan reaction. Harrison was elected as a Whig, but Tyler was a Democrat chosen as Vice Presidential candidate to “balance the ticket” and attract disgruntled members of his party. Many Whigs referred to Tyler derisively as “His Accidency.” As it turned out, this distinction had no practical difference and went nowhere. Tyler was accepted by everyone who matters as President. The precedent was established.

After President Kennedy was assassinated, the 25th Amendment was passed and ratified. It explicitly stated that upon the President’s removal, death, or resignation “the Vice President shall become President,” thus putting the rest any controversy in that regard.

The 25th Amendment also provided for filling a consequent Vice Presidential vacancy and standards and procedures to be followed in the event a President becomes disabled or otherwise unable to perform his duties. At least one commentator suggested that, given the virulence among certain factions his party and the apparent popularity of his future Vice President with those factions, future President Biden should watch his back. Not sure this writer buys into that concern, but we do live in interesting times.

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