I know I wrote this some time ago but I have had so many hits on this blog I decided to repost it again. I will remove the older post.
The last time, I did not really explain why I was interested in this topic. I have heard it before that it is historically against those who are already in office to be elected to President. So I wanted to verify that point. It holds true. Only three people have ever been elected President from being an elected sitting Senator, Representative, or Governor. It just doesn’t happen. So the odds are against McCain, Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Biden, Hunter, Paul, and more. The odds are in favor of those who have been out of office for some time. That tends to point an affirmative finger at Thompson, Romney, Huckabee, Gilmore, and others. I am not trying to come out for one group or another just wanted to know the historical trend.
I finally got around to doing some homework. I was curious to how many senators in the past have made it to become the President of the United States. Only 2 have ever succeeded to become President while still a Senator; John Kennedy and Warren Harding.
Only one representative made it to become President while still a representative: James Garfield.
Looking at these three individuals all three died while in the office as President. Obama, Clinton, and McCain do not appear to have odds in their favor for becoming President and living out their term.
I went on to do some more homework. We are on our 43rd President. Five of those Presidents were not elected to office: Chester Arthur, Millard Fillmore, Gerald Ford, Andrew Johnson, and John Tyler. That drops our number of elected Presidents to 38.
Looking at those 38 Presidents, 13 served in the Senate previously. Two of those Senators became President while acting as Vice President: Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman. We do not know if they would have been elected President in their own right had they not served as President before. The history of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson does not appear that they would have ever become President or would have sought to. Accordingly, only 34.2% (13 of 38) of elected Presidents have served previously as a Senator. If you were to rule out Truman and Johnson, that would give us 30.6% (11 of 36). Here is the time frame for those Senators who would become elected President (Truman and Johnson at their elected date). Andrew Johnson and John Tyler also served as a Senator, but were never elected to the Presidency.
Senators elected to the Presidency
Benjamin Harrison – 2 years
Andrew Jackson – 4 years
Lyndon Johnson – 4 years
Harry Truman – 4 years
Martin Van Buren – 9 years
Franklin Pierce – 11 years
James Buchanan – 12 years
William Henry Harrison – 13 years
Richard Nixon – 16 years
John Quincy Adams – 17 years
James Monroe – 23 years
Looking at elected President’s who entered the Presidency within 10 years of their leaving the Senate we have only 18.4% (7 of 38).
Looking back at the 38 Presidents, 14 of them served in the US House of Representatives. The same case applies here to Lyndon Johnson as it did above in the Senator category. 36.8% (14 of 38) of elected Presidents served in the US House of Representatives. If you exclude Johnson, 35.1% (13 of 37). I have listed below the time frame for people entering the Presidency after serving in the House of Representatives. Millard Fillmore, Gerald Ford, Andrew Johnson, and John Tyler served as members of the House but were not elected President. Johnson is listed at his elected date.
US Representatives elected to Presidency
William McKinley – 6 years
James Polk – 6 years
John Kennedy – 8 years
Rutherford Hayes – 10 years
Abraham Lincoln – 12 years
James Madison – 12 years
Lyndon Johnson – 16 years
Franklin Pierce – 16 years
George H W Bush – 18 years
Richard Nixon – 19 years
William Harrison – 22 years
James Buchanan – 26 years
Andrew Jackson – 32 years
Looking at elected President’s who entered the Presidency within 10 years of their leaving the House we have only 10.5% (4 of 38). Looking at the historical information, it has been a good while since anyone has gone from the House to the President. Those on the list that are more recent had other positions between the House and Presidency. Johnson, Nixon and GHW Bush were Vice President and Kennedy served as a Senator.
Previous Presidents who served as an elected Governor of a state are the next order of criteria. Only two Presidents were sitting elected Governors when elected: Rutherford Hayes and Woodrow Wilson. There are a few who were appointed governors or military governors of territories but I did not include those. Two governors would become President and later elected in their own right: Calvin Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt. Calvin Coolidge most likely would never have become President. Theodore Roosevelt may have. At any rate, 39.5% (15 of 38) of Presidents were Governors. If you remove Roosevelt and Coolidge, 36.1% (13 of 36). Here is the timeline of Governors who would become President later. John Tyler also served as a Governor but was not elected President. Coolidge and T Roosevelt are listed at their elected dates.
Elected Governors elected to the Presidency
George W Bush – 1 year
Grover Cleveland – 1 year
Bill Clinton – 1 year
William McKinley – 1 year
Jimmy Carter – 3 years
Calvin Coolidge – 4 years
James Polk – 4 years
Theodore Roosevelt – 5 years
James Monroe – 6 years
Ronald Reagan – 6 years
Martin Van Buren – 8 years
Thomas Jefferson – 22 years
34.2% of Presidents served in the Senate.
36.8% of Presidents served in the House.
39.5% of Presidents served as an elected Governor
For other information, John Adams, George H W Bush, Thomas Jefferson, and Martin Van Buren went directly to become President after their Vice Presidency. Richard Nixon is the only one who would have time off before becoming President. This is not a good indicator, only one person ever went from Vice President to President of their own accord.
Here is a list of all President’s and their positions before the Presidency.
Washington – Virginia House of Burgesses, Continental Congress, Commander-in-Chief of Continental Army, President of Constitutional Convention
J Adams – Continental Congress, Minister to Netherlands, Minister to Great Britain, Vice President
Jefferson – Governor, Minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President
Madison – Continental Congress, Representative from Virginia, Secretary of State
Monroe – Continental Congress, Senator, Minister to Great Britain, Governor, Secretary of State, Secretary of War
JQ Adams – Minister to Netherlands, Minister to Prussia, Senator, Minister to Russia, Minister to Britain, Secretary of State
Jackson – Representative, Military Governor, Senator
Van Buren – Senator, Governor, Secretary of State, Minister to Britain, Vice President
W Harrison – Appointed Governor, Representative, Senator, Minister to Colombia
Tyler – Representative, Governor, Senator, Vice President
Polk – Representative, Governor
Taylor – No previous office
Fillmore – Representative, State Comptroller, Vice President
Pierce – Representative, Senator
Buchanan – Representative, Minister to Russia, Senator, Secretary of State, Minister to Britain
Lincoln – Representative
A Johnson – Representative, Governor, Senator, Vice President
Grant – Army General
Hayes – Representative, Governor
Garfield – Representative
Arthur – No previous office
Cleveland – Mayor, Governor
B Harrison – Senator
Cleveland – Mayor, Governor, President
McKinley – Representative, Governor
T Roosevelt – Governor, Vice President
Taft – Solicitor General, Judge, Secretary of War, Appointed Governor
Wilson – Governor
Harding – Lieutenant Governor, Senator
Coolidge – Lieutenant Governor, Governor, Vice President
Hoover – Secretary of Commerce
F Roosevelt – Governor
Truman – Senator, Vice President
Eisenhower – Army Chief of Staff, Allied Supreme Commander
Kennedy – Representative, Senator
L Johnson – Representative, Senator, Vice President
Nixon – Representative, Senator, Vice President
Ford – Representative, Vice President
Carter – Governor
Reagan – Governor
G H W Bush – US Ambassador to UN, Representative, Director of CIA, Vice President
Clinton – Attorney General of Arkansas, Governor
G W Bush – Governor