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The Tentacle


January 6, 2003

History Tells Members Of Congress Not To Run For President

John W. Ashbury

They are already lining up to run against President George W. Bush next year; five, maybe six, United States senators and one governor. Bet you canít name the governor who is seeking the Democratic nomination! But he has the best chance of victory, if history teaches any lessons.

Ever since George Washington came out of the Revolutionary War as Americaís strongest leader, politicians have been chomping at the bit to challenge whomever sits in the exalted seat now located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But since Washington rode to near unanimous selection as our first president in 1788, only three men have been elected to that high office while serving in the U. S. Congress.

To be fair, congressional service was not considered nearly as important as it is today. For example, Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a U. S. Senator for Maryland in 1792 when a new law went into effect that forbade anyone from serving in a stateís legislature and Congress at the same time. He resigned as a senator and was replaced by Richard Potts of Frederick.

This will take some time, but here is a listing of all the U. S. Presidents, their years in office, their age at election, and the position they held at the time of election, and if they had previously served in Congress.

George Washington (1789-1797) -- 56, chairman of Constitutional Convention;

John Adams (1797-1801) -- 61, vice president when elected president;

Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) -- 57, vice president when elected president;

James Madison (1809-1817) -- 57, secretary of state when elected president; House from 1787-97;

James Monroe (1817-1825) -- 58, secretary of state when elected president; Senate from 1790-94;

John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) -- 57, secretary of state when elected president; Senate from 1803-08; House from 1831-48;

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) -- 61, served as U.S. Senator from 1797-98 and 1823-25, private citizen when elected president in 1828;

Martin VanBuren (1837-1841) -- 54, vice president when elected president; Senate 1821-29;

William Henry Harrison (1841) -- 67, no previous elected or appointed position when elected president in 1840;

John Tyler (1841-1845) -- 51, was vice president when Harrison died and he assumed office; House from 1816-21; Senate 1827-36;

James K. Polk (1845-1849) -- 49, private citizen when elected, former governor of Tennessee 1839-41; House 1825-39; Speaker of The House 1835-39;

Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) -- 64, no previous elected or appointed position when elected in 1848;

Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) -- 50, vice president when Taylor died in office and he assumed office; House 1833-35 and 1837-45;

Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) -- 48, had been a U.S. Senator from 1837-42; House 1833-37;

James Buchanan (1857-1861) -- 65, minister to England when elected; House 1821-31; Senate 1834-35;

Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) -- 51, House 1847-49;

Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) -- 57, vice president when Lincoln assassinated; House 1843-45; Senate 1857-62 and 1875(died as Senator);

U. S. Grant (1869-1877) -- 46, never held elected or appointed position previously;

Rutherford B. Hayes 1877-1881) -- 54, governor of Ohio 1868-73 and 1876-77; House 1865-67;

James A. Garfield (1881) -- 49, House 1863 -1880; elected U. S. Senator in 1880 in same election he was elected president;

Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) -- 51, was vice president when Garfield assassinated; no congressional service;

Grover Cleveland (1885-1889; 1893-1897) -- 47, Governor of New York when elected in 1884; no congressional service;

Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) -- 55, was a U. S. Senator from 1881-1887, but held no elected position when elected president in 1888;

Grover Cleveland -- see above;

William McKinley (1897-1901) -- 53, was governor of Ohio when elected in 1896; House 1877-91;

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) -- 43, was governor of New York when he became vice president, became president when McKinley was assassinated; no congressional service;

William Howard Taft (1909-1913) -- 51, was Secretary of War when elected president in 1908; no congressional service;

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) -- 56, was Governor of New Jersey when elected president in 1912; no congressional service;

Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) -- 55, was a U. S. Senator 1915-21 when elected president;

Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) -- 51, was vice president when Harding died in office; no congressional service;

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) -- 54, was Secretary of Commerce when elected president; no congressional service;

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) -- 50, was governor of New York when elected president; no congressional service;

Harry S Truman (1945-1953) -- 61, was vice president when Roosevelt died in office; Senate 1935-45;

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) -- 62, never held elected or appointed position outside the military prior to election as president; no congressional service;

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) -- 43, was U. S. Senator (1953-61) when elected in 1960; House 1947-53;

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) -- 55, was vice president when Kennedy was assassinated; House 1937-49; Senate 1949-61;

Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) -- 55, private citizen when elected president in 1968; House 1947-51; Senate 1951-53;

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977) -- 61, served as appointed vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned, and became president when Nixon resigned; House 1949-73;

James E. Carter, Jr. (1977-1981) -- 53, served as governor of Georgia from 1971-75, but was private citizen when elected president; no congressional service;

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) -- 69, was governor of California from 1966-1974, but was private citizen when elected president; no congressional service;

George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) -- 64, was vice president when elected in 1988; House 1967-71;

William J. Clinton (1993-2001) -- 46, was governor of Arkansas when elected president; no congressional service; and

George W. Bush (2002 - ) -- 54, was governor of Texas when elected president; no congressional service.

(All this information came from the Internet Public Library - POTUS Web Site.)

Thus, 24 of the 43 presidents of The United States served in Congress, while 18 never did. Only three were serving in Congress when elected to the highest office in the land. And those three men accomplished little while president. Of course, Kennedy showed great promise, but his term was cut far short of great accomplishments.

Hardingís administration was an unmitigated disaster, what with the Tea Pot Dome scandal. Garfield was assassinated so soon after he took office that no one would attempt to estimate the historical significance of his term.

In the 20th Century, including the election of 2000, only two men who had served in Congress became president while there. Eleven of the 19 men who became president from McKinley to George W. Bush never were sworn to office on Capitol Hill.

But count the number of governors who have been elected. There are seven, more than twice as many as members of Congress. Two of the last five men elected president have been governor at the time of election to the presidency. A third left the governorís mansion to run for president.

Recent history would say that the governor of Vermont has a far better chance than do the several Democratic U. S. Senators already jumping into the fray and at least one House member who is making noises.

Perhaps the reason so few men have been elected president while serving in Congress is the partisanship that rankles the public as well as their fellow congressmen.

What is really scary about the rapid-fire announcements of all these candidates for the Democratic nomination for next yearís race are the polls which indicated that the most popular choice for the nomination is none other that Hillary Clinton, U. S. Senator from New York, who said while campaigning for that post just two years ago that she would not run for president in 2004.

But, then again, promises are made to be broken. However, you must like President Bush's chances against her.

Postscript: Howard Dean is the governor of Vermont who is presently seeking the Democratic Party nomination to challenge President Bush in the 2004 election.



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