Today is a somber Presidential anniversary, one fraught with connections focusing on Harry Truman.
Harry Truman’s death is doubly remarkable among the Presidents. He is one of two Presidents who died on the same date, and he is one of the two Presidents who died closest in time to each other (excepting John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who died on the same day).
When Harry Truman died on December 26, 1972, he was 88 years 232 days old (at the time, he was number three on the list of longest-lived Presidents, but he was since been knocked down to seventh), and had been a retired President for just under twenty years.
Born in Missouri in 1884, Truman worked a variety of clerical and farming jobs before enlisting in the Army and serving in the artillery during World War I. After the war, he took night classes at the Kansas City Law School while serving as a county judge (it was more of an administrative position than judicial), but he dropped out after losing a campaign for re-election (he is the last President to have not earned a college degree). In 1934, he was elected to the US Senate, and in 1944, he was elected the 34th Vice President of the United States (the only man to be a President’s third Vice President). He served in that post a scant 82 days, before Franklin Roosevelt died in office and Truman became the 33rd President.
During Truman’s Presidency, the 22nd Amendment was adopted, limiting Presidents to two terms, but specifically exempting Truman. However, he chose not to run again in 1952, and retired when Dwight Eisenhower took office.
The nation had just finished mourning Truman’s death when, on January 22, 1973, Lyndon Johnson died, four years and two days after leaving office. Johnson (born in Texas in 1908) represented Texas in the House (1937-49). Like Truman before him, Johnson also served in the military (in his case, the Navy during World War II, while he was a sitting Representative [his wife managed the office for him, serving constituent needs]) and the Senate (1949-61) before being elected Vice President with a President who would later die in office. And like Truman, Johnson went on to win election to his own term as President.
On December 26, 2006—the 34th anniversary of Harry Truman’s death—Gerald Ford died, at the age of 93 years 164 days. Ford was the longest-lived President (born in Nebraska in 1913, he’d eclipsed Ronald Reagan’s record 44 days before his death). Ford lost that record to George H.W. Bush on November 25, 2017. Like Truman and Johnson before him, Ford succeeded to the Presidency while serving as Vice President. Unlike Truman and Johnson (indeed, unlike any other President) Ford became President when his predecessor, Richard Nixon, resigned in August 1974. Unlike Truman and Johnson, Ford did not win his own term as President. And unlike any other earlier Vice President, Ford had come to that office by means of a mid-term appointment (per the dictates of the 25th Amendment, following Spiro Agnew’s resignation). Ford, too, had served in the Navy during World War II. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1948, and served there until Nixon tapped him to be Vice President.
There are two other dates on the calendar that commemorate the deaths of more than one President. March 8: Millard Fillmore (1850-53) died in 1874. William Howard Taft (1909-13) died in 1930.
July 4: John Adams (1797-1801) and Thomas Jefferson (1801-09) died within hours of each other in 1826 (the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). James Monroe (1817-25) died in 1831.
Ian Randal Strock (www.IanRandalStrock.com) is the author of The Presidential Book of Lists (Random House, 2008), Ranking the First Ladies (Carrel Books, 2016), and Ranking the Vice Presidents (Carrel Books, 2016). He earned his degree in Political Science from Boston University.
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