A friend texted me yesterday. She’s visiting Washington, and wrote “How many Vice Presidents have become President? A friend was wondering in the National Portrait Gallery, and I figured you’d know off-hand.” Well, I did know, but it turns out the answer has changed fairly recently, so I figured it’s time to share with a wider audience.
The most common method for Vice Presidents to reach the Presidency is through succession. Four succeeded upon the deaths of the Presidents they’d been elected with:
John Tyler, when William Henry Harrison died a month into his term, in April 1841.
Millard Fillmore, upon Zachary Taylor’s death in 1850.
Andrew Johnson, when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.
Chester Arthur, when James Garfield finally succumbed to his assassin’s bullet (and his doctors’ ministrations) in September 1881.
Additionally, four other Vice Presidents succeeded to the Presidency, and then were later elected to their own terms as President:
Theodore Roosevelt, who became the youngest President in history (aged 42) when William McKinley was assassinated in September 1901. TR then won the election of 1904.
Calvin Coolidge, when Warren Harding died in 1923 (and Coolidge’s father administered the oath of office). Coolidge won his own term in 1924.
Harry Truman, when Franklin Roosevelt died three months into his fourth term, in April 1945. Truman won the election of 1948, and was the last President eligible to run for a third term (though he chose not to).
Lyndon Johnson, when John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Johnson was elected in 1964, and eligible to run in 1968 (he’d served less than half of Kennedy’s term), but opted not to.
Gerald Ford is the odd man out: the only Vice President to succeed to the Presidency when his predecessor—Richard Nixon—resigned in August 1974. Ford lost the election of 1976 to Jimmy Carter.
Finally, there are the Vice Presidents who were simply later elected President:
John Adams, the first Vice President, who won the election of 1796 to become the second President.
Thomas Jefferson, Adams’ Vice President, who then ran against Adams in 1800 and defeated him.
Martin Van Buren, who was Andrew Jackson’s second Vice President, and then elected President himself in 1836.
George H.W. Bush, the first sitting Vice President to be elected President in a century and a half, when he won the election of 1988 to succeed Ronald Reagan.
And, until recently, the only oddball on this list was Richard Nixon, who was Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President from 1953 to 1961, lost the election of 1960 to John Kennedy, and then won the Presidential election of 1968.
Nixon had been the only former Vice President to be elected President, until just recently, when Joe Biden—Barack Obama’s Vice President from 2009 to 2017—won the election of 2020.
So, that’s 15 Vice Presidents who also served as President. 15 of 49. The Vice Presidency is not nearly the Presidential stepping stone one might think. Actually, the most popular job for future Presidents is (no surprise) lawyer: 23 of the 45 Presidents have been lawyers. 21 were members of state legislatures, 19 were governors, 18 served in the House of Representatives, and 17 served in the Senate.
I was just listening to the talking heads on MSNBC (tuned in late, so I didn’t hear who they were). They exemplified for me, yet again, why the Democratic Party can have more registered voters, can even win elections, and still manage to be its own worst enemy.
The talking heads today were laughing about the Republican Party. In their view, the Republican Party doesn’t stand for anything, so it can’t possibly attract enough votes to win anything. One of them said “I think the Republican Party is going to have to be spanked again — they’re probably going to lose 25 seats in the election of 2022, reversing all historical trends for presidents losing seats in the midterm — before they wake up and realize they don’t stand for anything, and that they have to get rid of Donald Trump.”
And why did this catch my ear? Because I’ve been hearing dyed-in-the-wool Democrats say exactly the same thing for two decades. A political reporter friend of mine, twenty years ago, told me that the Republican Party was dying and would soon be dead. “Look at the last presidential elections,” he said to me then, in the aftermath of the election of 2000. “The last time the Republicans won a majority of the popular vote was in 1988. They’re dying.” It’s now five elections farther on. The Republican candidate won a majority of the popular vote only once more, in 2004. And yet there has been a Republican in the White House 60% of the time since he told me the party was dying.
It goes farther. We’ve had ten Congresses since the election of 2000, twenty years. In that time, the Senate had a Democratic majority for five Congresses, ten years, half the time, and a Republican majority the other half of the time. In the House of Representatives, there was a Democratic majority for only three Congresses, six years; the Republicans held the majority seventy percent of the time. And in this most recent election, which the staunch Democrats hail as a victory in retaking the Senate, look a little deeper. Consider the popular votes for each of the contested Senate seats in the elections of 2020. You may be as surprised as I was that the popular vote totals in all those elections combined are pretty darn close to 50–50, Republican and Democrat. The 50 Republicans in the Senate are not merely an artifact of two Senators per state regardless of size. There really are almost as many people voting for Republicans as for Democrats. And yes, I know, I’m playing with data. Of the four most populous states, only one had a Senate seat up for election in 2020. But my point remains: laughing off the Republicans is not a winning strategy.
Consider the election of 2016. How did the Republican candidate win the presidency? He won because the Democratic presidential campaign got complacent. They decided the goal was to run up the popular vote total, rather than remembering the rules of the game. Whether you like it or not, we have an electoral college, and the way to be elected President is to win the electoral college. That’s what the Republicans did in 2016.
Yes, the Republicans are acting like both thugs and buffoons. Their massive campaign to make it more difficult to vote is thuggish behavior of the most transparent and abhorrent sort. And their refusal to even adopt a campaign platform for the election of 2020 shows what a joke the party’s leaders think their party has become, that instead of publicly standing for issues, they’ll simply follow their chosen god-figure.
But if the Democrats are serious about enacting good, long-lasting changes, making things better for us all, they’re going to have to do far more than laugh at the Republican Party and demonize its chosen leaders. They’re going to have to be serious, they’re going to have to win over the undecided, middle-of-the-political-spectrum voters who hold our noses each time we vote for a Republican or a Democrat. I’m still ashamed to admit I voted against Donald Trump, rather than for Joe Biden, but both parties are most effective at pushing me toward the other, rather than drawing me to themselves.
And while President Biden does seem to be talking the talk, he’s going to have to get the rest of his supporting cast on board. The laugh fest I saw today is emblematic of one of the Democrats’ main problems. I may agree with them, that Donald Trump is a jerk and Mitch McConnell is a liar, but repeating that is not a reason that will convince voters to go for the Democrat in 2022 or 2024. And they’d better not be deluding themselves that “anyone who thinks can see that.” It’s like commercials advertising the “best-selling whatever”: popularity is not a rational reason to buy something, but people do it because they want to be associated with the winner. Donald Trump is a schmuck, but he presents himself — and a lot of people seem him — as a winner. The Democrats are not going to be able to tear that down with their laughter (though Trump may do it to himself); they’re going to need to show that they are effective winners.
And now, as I’ve finished writing this, MSNBC is starting its 5 o’clock program talking about “A GOP that has gutted itself,” pointing to their loss of the Senate and the White House. Those talking heads are delusional.
The newest edition of my ongoing series, The Complete Book of Presidential Inaugural Speeches, is now available. The book contains the texts of all 60 inauguration day speeches given by the presidents, going back to George Washington’s first, in 1789. In addition, each speech is supplemented by my notes on the election that brought that president to office, and commentary on the day of the speech itself. The book is available in both trade paperback and case laminate (hardcover) versions.
This year, for the first time, I’m also offering an oddball special edition of the book. Owing to a perceived public demand, a separate, “Trump-less Edition” is available. This book, for those who’d rather do their best to forget the 2017–2021 presidential term, contains 59 inaugural speeches and notes, and purposely omits reference to the 45th presidential administration.
Today, we inaugurated a new president. Joseph Robinette “Joe” Biden, Jr., is now the 46th president (the 45th person to hold the office, since Grover Cleveland counts twice). With the coming of a new President (and Vice President, and First Lady) it seems a good time to look at my books and see what needs to be updated.
I’ll start with the first book, The Presidential Book of Lists, and start with an oddity in that.
Chapter 7: Most Common Presidential First Names
The list starts with James, John, William, and George. The US Census Bureau lists the ten most common male first names: James, John, Robert, Michael, William, David, Richard, Charles, Joseph, Thomas. Joseph, Joe, is the ninth most common male first name. But Joe Biden is the first President to be called Joe or Joseph, first or middle name.
Chapter 8: Most Popular States Where Presidents Were Born
Joe Biden is the second President born in Pennsylvania (after James Buchanan, 1857-61). Thus, Pennsylvania is now tied for fifth place (the birth state of two Presidents) with North Carolina, Vermont, and Texas.
Chapter 13: Presidents Who Shared Birthdays
Joe Biden was born on November 20, 1942. He doesn’t share his birthday with any other Presidents, but he was born in a very busy week. James Garfield was born November 19, 1831. Franklin Pierce was born November 23, 1804, and Zachary Taylor was born November 24, 1784.
Chapter 17: Presidents Who Were Older than the Greatest Number of Their Predecessors
Ronald Reagan had held the top spot on this list solo until today. Reagan was older than four of his predecessors: John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Biden, too, is older than four of his predecessors: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump (who himself was tied for second on the list, being older than three of his predecessors).
Chapter 19: Presidents Who Had the Most Living Predecessors
Biden joins the top of the list, with five: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Already on top of that list are Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.
Chapter 33: The Five Presidents Who Outlived Their Wives the Longest
Joe Biden is now number one on this list. His first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, died in a car crash in December 1972, more than 48 years ago. He remarried five years later, to the current First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden. Now #2 on the list is Thomas Jefferson, who outlived Martha (and remained unmarried) by almost 44 years. Martin Van Buren is now in third place, having outlived Hannah by 43 and a half years. And at #4 is Theodore Roosevelt, who outlived Alice by almost 35 years. Like Biden, TR remarried a few years after the death of his first wife, and had more children with her.
Chapter 34: The Six Presidents Who Had More Than One Wife
When I wrote the book, five Presidents had been widowed and remarried, and one—Ronald Reagan—was divorced and remarried. Since then, we’ve had Donald Trump, the only President to have married three times (twice divorced), and now Joe Biden is the sixth President to have been widowed once and then remarried.
Chapter 46: Presidents Who Had All Their Siblings Live to See Them Take Office
Joe Biden is now number 10 on this list. He is the eldest of four siblings, including his sister Valerie and brothers Frank and Jim.
Chapter 57: Vice Presidents Who Were Elected President
Joe Biden joins the list of now ten Vice Presidents who were elected President. He is only the second to retire from the Vice Presidency and then return to the political scene to later be elected President, after Richard Nixon (Vice President 1953-61; President 1969-74).
Chapter 75: The Five Oldest Presidents
When I wrote the book, Ronald Reagan was the oldest when counting from their age at inauguration (he was 17 days shy of his 70th birthday). Reagan was followed by William Henry Harrison, James Buchanan, and George H.W. Bush. Counting from their age when they left office, the list was Reagan, then Dwight Eisenhower, Buchanan, and Bush. When Donald Trump took office, he was nearly eight months older than Reagan had been at inauguration. He served one term, and left office at the age of 74 years and 7 months. Joe Biden takes complete control of this list: he is older on inauguration day than Reagan was when he left office: 78 years and 61 days old.
Chapter 86: Presidents Defeated In Their Bids for Re-election
To the twelve who were on this list—from John Adams to George H.W. Bush—we now add Donald Trump.
As Joe Biden was sworn in, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, becomes First Lady: the most consuming unpaid job in the administration.
She, too, will cause me to update Ranking the First Ladies.
Chapter 5: The Most Common Names of First Ladies
Like her husband, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden is the first First Lady to have her first name. But while her husband’s name is the ninth most common in the general population, hers is #159.
Chapter 6: The Most Popular States for First Ladies to be Born
Jill Biden is the third First Lady to be born in New Jersey, elevating that state into a three-way tie for fourth place with Missouri and Illinois.
Chapter 10: First Ladies Who Shared Birthdays
Jill Biden was born on June 3, 1951. She doesn’t share her birthday with any other First Lady, but Martha Washington and Helen Taft were both born on June 2 (1731 and 1861).
Chapter 22: First Ladies Who Were College Graduates
Dr. Jill Biden is the 14th First Lady with a college degree. But she went farther… much farther. Pat Nixon and Laura Bush continued on to earn masters degrees. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama earned JD degrees, and worked as lawyers. Jill Biden earned a bachelors degree, two masters, and, in 2007, a doctorate of education.
Chapter 24: The Five Oldest First Ladies
Based on their age when their husbands took office, the list was topped by Anna Harrison, who was 65 years 222 days old when William Henry Harrison became President. Based on their age when they moved out of the White House, Bess Truman was three weeks shy of her 68th birthday, followed by Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan. Jill Biden is 69 years 231 days old today, and thus, #1.
Chapter 26: The First Ladies Who Were the Greatest Number of Years Older Than Their Predecessors
Jill Biden leaps to number 2 on this list. She is 18 years 327 days older than her predecessor, Melania Trump (President Trump’s third wife, she is 24 years younger than her husband). Caroline Harrison, in 1889, was 31 years 293 days older than France Cleveland, who married President Grover Cleveland during his first term, when she was 21.
Chapter 41: The Presidential Wives Who Missed Their Husbands’ Presidencies
Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, who was born in 1942, died in a car crash in December 1972, six years after marrying Joe. She is the sixth woman to have died before her husband became President.
Chapter 47: The First Ladies Who Had All Their Siblings Live to See Them Become First Lady
Jill Biden is the oldest of five sisters. She is the ninth First Lady to have all her siblings alive when she became First Lady.
Which brings us to my third book, Ranking the Vice Presidents. And Kamala Harris.
Sure, she’s the first woman to be Vice President. Sure, she’s only the second Vice President to be in a long-term relationship with a man (see William R.D. King). Sure, she’s the second Vice President of non-European heritage (see Charles Curtis). Sure, she’s the first Vice President to use a different last name than her spouse (Douglas Craig Emhoff, who is seven days older than she is).
But those are all the obvious differences. Let’s see what her inauguration does to modify my book. (Surprisingly, the answer is “not too much.” In other words, other than physical characteristics, Kamala Harris looks pretty much like her predecessors: age, family, work experience, and so on.)
Chapter 5. The Tallest and Shortest Vice Presidents
Kamala Harris is now the shortest Vice President. She’s 5’2″ tall. John Adams, Martin Van Buren, and Hubert Humphrey were all 5’6″.
Chapter 6. The Most Common Vice Presidential First Names
Yeah, this one’s a gimmee for anyone who has been paying attention. No previous Vice Presidents have been named Kamala. On the US Census Bureau list of most common first names, Kamala ranks #3,559, with about 1,518 people sharing that name. (For comparison, #1 on the list is Mary, which adorns 3,991,060 people.)
Chapter 7. The Most Popular States for Vice Presidents to be Born
Kamala Harris is the second Vice President born in California (joining Richard Nixon).
Chapter 11. The Vice Presidents Who Shared Birthdays
Kamala Harris was born October 20, 1964, so she doesn’t share a birthday with any of her predecessors. But she was born during a popular week. Richard M. Johnson (1837-41) was born October 17, 1780. Adlai Stevenson (1893-97) was born October 23, 1835. James Sherman (1909-12) was born October 24, 1855. And Theodore Roosevelt (1901) was born October 27, 1858.
However, October 20, 1964, was the day former President Herbert Hoover died, at the age of 90, 31 years after he retired from the Presidency.
Chapter 17. The Vice Presidents Who Had the Greatest Number of Living Predecessors
Kamala Harris joins Al Gore (1993-2001) at the top of the list, with six living former Vice Presidents: Walter Mondale (1977-81), Dan Quayle (1989-93), Al Gore (1993-2001), Dick Cheney (2001-09), Joe Biden (2009-17), and Mike Pence (2017-21).
Chapter 23. The Vice Presidents Who Had the Fewest Children
Kamala Harris is the fourth Vice President to have no natural children, joining William King, William Wheeler, and Thomas Marshall.
A couple of numbers you haven’t heard much of, regarding this year’s presidential election.
The 2020 election of Joe Biden to the presidency is the 59th election in US history (is, not was, because it’s ongoing; the electoral college has yet to cast its ballots, which will be counted by Congress on January 6, 2021, to determine the winners of the election).
On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021, Biden take office as the 46th president in US history (since the State Department has told us that Grover Cleveland’s two non-consecutive terms mean we should count him as both the 22nd and 24th presidents).
Biden’s first term will be the 68th presidential administration (since each president’s term counts as a separate administration). January 3, 2021, will mark the end of the 116th Congress and beginning of the 117th Congress.
At the moment, Biden is the 37th president-elect in US history. The term “president-elect” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and is relatively new (historically speaking). The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (Public Law 88-277) says “The terms ‘President-elect’ and ‘Vice-President-elect’ as used in this Act shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the office of the President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained by the Administrator following the general elections held to determine the electors of the President and Vice-President in accordance with title 3, United States code, sections 1 and 2.”
Joe Biden just made a brief speech about the election. He said he expects to win enough states to win the electoral college and claim victory. He did not claim the election is over, so that’s good. He also mentioned that he expects his ticket to have won the greatest number of popular votes in history, which, while true, is somewhat trite; vote totals always increase, as the population increases.
And there was one throw-away line which caught my ear: he said “Only three presidential campaigns in the past have defeated an incumbent president. We expect to be the fourth.” I said, “No way, Joe. Why did you say that?”
1992: Bill Clinton defeated George W. Bush, with H. Ross Perot also in the mix.
1980: Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. Blame the Iran hostage crisis.
1976: Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. After Watergate, and the pardon of Richard Nixon, the biggest surprise was how close Ford came to winning.
1932: Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover. The Great Depression. Need we say more?
1912: Woodrow Wilson defeated William Taft. Actually, Wilson beat Theodore Roosevelt, who came back from Africa, didn’t like what his successor Taft was doing, and got in the race himself. Taft is the only incumbent president to come in third in his bid for re-election.
1892: Grover Cleveland defeated Benjamin Harrison, to become the only former president to win the election.
1888: Benjamin Harrison defeated Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was the only Democrat to win the White House between the Civil War and the election of Woodrow Wilson.
1840: William Harrison defeated Martin Van Buren. After the mad scramble of 1836, where four Whig candidates couldn’t win, the party unified and Harrison won.
1828: Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams. Perhaps the first negative presidential campaign, marked by mud-slinging, two former party-mates faced off as Jackson became the first Democrat.
1800: Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, and we discovered why presidential and vice presidential candidates need to run as a ticket.
[Editing several hours later to add the following:]
After posting that, I was talking with my father later in the day, and he said he’d heard one of the pundits say that only three times in the last hundred years had an incumbent president been defeated. I said that was wrong, and gave him the list (above). Then I realized that pundit and Joe Biden probably had the same (incorrect) source.
But thinking about it further, I realized it’s not quite so rare an occurrence as at first it appears to be. Of those four times in the last hundred years, how many times was there even a chance to defeat an incumbent?
In 1920, Woodrow Wilson retired after two terms, so no incumbent was on the ballot.
In 1924, Calvin Coolidge ran for his own term as president after succeeding to the office upon Warren Harding’s death. He won.
In 1928, Calvin Coolidge retired. No incumbent.
In 1932, incumbent Herbert Hoover ran and lost to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In 1936, incumbent FDR ran and won.
In 1940, incumbent FDR ran and won.
In 1944, incumbent FDR ran and won. Then he died in 1945, and Harry Truman succeeded.
In 1948, Truman ran for his own full term and won.
In 1952, Truman retired. No incumbent.
In 1956, incumbent Dwight Eisenhower ran and won.
In 1960, Eisenhower retired.
In 1964, LBJ (who’d succeeded to the presidency upon JFK’s assassination in 1963), ran for and won his own term.
In 1968, LBJ retired. No incumbent.
In 1972, incumbent Richard Nixon ran and won.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford, who’d succeeded to the office upon Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter.
In 1984, incumbent Reagan ran and won.
In 1988, Reagan retired.
In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated incumbent George H.W. Bush.
In 1996, incumbent Clinton ran and won.
In 2000, Clinton retired.
In 2004, incumbent George W. Bush ran and won.
In 2008, Bush retired.
In 2012, incumbent Barack Obama ran and won.
In 2016, Obama retired.
So in the last hundred years, incumbent presidents running for re-election are 12 and 4. Yes, incumbency is worth a chunk of votes, but defeating an incumbent is not so rare an event as one might think.
And, for the sake of completeness: in the years before 1920, incumbents ran for and won re-election ten times. Incumbents ran for and lost re-election six times. And there was no incumbent on the ballot sixteen times.
[Editing again at 3:00am on November 5:]
I just heard Douglas Brinkley on CNN quote that stat: “Since FDR, only three incumbents have lost.” So I guess he’s the source Biden used, and the source my father heard.
So, wow, that’s a shocker. <end sarcasm mode>
But since FDR, incumbents running for re-election have won eight times and lost three times. If Donald Trump loses, that means that, since FDR, incumbents running for re-election are only batting .667. Suddenly, it’s a bit less of a shock.
I delivered my absentee ballot today to a nearby early voting location. As I’ve said several times, my vote probably doesn’t matter, because of where I live. Yours may be far more important.
Something odd about this ballot, for me: this is the first time that I’ve voted a straight party ticket. I voted for the candidate representing the Democratic Party in every single race. And this ballot is my response to the actions (and inactions) of President Donald Trump, and to the leaders of the Republican Party who have rolled over and allowed the president’s nonsense and villainy to run rampant and unchecked through the government and the country. (Yes, villainy: he frequently seems to think he’s still playing the villain on a reality television show, rather than realizing that he is the President of the United States, and that his words and actions have very great impact on the planet.)
I regret that my votes are against candidates, rather than for candidates (and this is also notice to the Democratic Party not to take my action in this election as an indicator of my future votes), but I’ve decided that a continuing Trump Presidency is a danger to the continued health and well-being not only of the country, but of each one of us individually. Joe Biden is not my ideal choice for President, but he is a much better choice in this election, and my vote for him and the rest of the Democratic ticket is my attempt to emphasize how much I think Donald Trump is the wrong choice in this election.
On Tuesday, September 29, the two oldest people ever are going to square off in a debate as candidates for President of the United States of American.
Before Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan was the only person to pass his 70th birthday before being inaugurated as president, and at that, it was Reagan’s re-election (he first took office 17 days before his 70th birthday, in 1981). But now, we’re looking at an election in which whoever wins (ignoring the chance of a third-party candidate winning),
we’ll be inaugurating the oldest person ever to take the oath of office. On Inauguration Day 2021, Donald Trump will be 74 years 220 days old. That same day, Joe Biden will be 78 years 61 days old. And yes, Reagan is—at the moment—still the oldest president ever, having retired at the age of 77 years 348 days.
And the combined ages of the major party candidates so far outstrips any other election that it’s truly remarkable. Before 2020, the oldest combined ages of a two-candidate race was… well, in 2016, when 70-year-old Donald Trump defeated 69-year-old Hillary Clinton. But before that, we have to go back to 1984, when 73-year-old Reagan defeated 57-year-old Walter Mondale, and 1848, when 64-year-old Zachary Taylor (who died in office) defeated 66-year-old Lewis Cass.
In fact, the only candidates who’ve run for the presidency in their seventies were Trump, Reagan, Bob Dole (who lost the election of 1996 at the age of 73), and John McCain (who lost the election of 2008 at the age of 72). That’s it. Out of 57 elections, more than 75 major party candidates, and only four (now five) candidates more than 70 years old.
At the other end of the scale, everyone remembers that John Kennedy was the youngest president to be elected (he took office at the age of 43 in 1960), and all you trivia mavens also remember to correct that record, because Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency at the age of 42, upon William McKinley’s death in 1901.
But how many of you remember that the youngest major party candidate was actually 36 years old? Had William Jennings Bryan won the election of 1896 (the first of three in which he was the Democratic nominee), he would have taken office 15 days before his 37th birthday (he was born March 19, 1860). Instead, he lost to William McKinley, who was born January 29, 1843, and took office 34 days after his 54th birthday. (McKinley won the popular vote, 51.0% to 46.7%, and the electoral vote, 271 to 176.) So the election of 1896 was the youngest campaign in history. Bryan went on to run again in 1900, again losing to McKinley, and then suffering a further defeat, against William Howard Taft in 1908. Bryan died at the age of 65, in 1925.
The second youngest candidate was West Point graduate George B. McClellan, who was the commanding general of the Union Army early in the Civil War, and governor of New Jersey from 1878 to 1881. But when he lost to Abraham Lincoln’s re-election campaign of 1864, he was only 38 years old (he was born December 3, 1826). McClellan died at the age of 58, in late 1885.
The youngest campaigns were the elections of 1896, 1960, and 1860. In 1896, as I said, 54-year-old William McKinley defeated 36-year-old William Jennings Bryan. In 1960, it was the youngster John Kennedy defeating Vice President Richard Nixon, who was four years older than Kennedy.
On March 4, 1861 (Inauguration Day was March 4th, until the 20th Amendment changed it to January 20th, effective in 1937), Abraham Lincoln was 22 days past his 52nd birthday. In the election of 1860, he had defeated Vice President John C. Breckinridge (and also 64-year-old John Bell and 47-year-old Stephen Douglas—all four received electoral votes).
Breckinridge accomplished a great deal very early in life. Born January 16, 1821, he represented Kentucky in the House of Representatives from 1851 to 1855. In 1855, President Franklin Pierce appointed Breckinridge US Minister to Spain (and the Senate confirmed him), but he declined the appointment, and returned home to resume his law practice. In 1856, he was elected the youngest Vice President in US history, on James Buchanan’s ticket (he took office just after his 36th birthday). He lost the election of 1860 to Lincoln, but was elected to the Senate at the same time. He took his seat on March 4, 1861, but that summer, Kentucky seceded from the Union, and Breckinridge went with it. He was declared a traitor and expelled from the Senate on December 4, 1861. He served as a general in the Confederate army, and was the fifth (and final) Secretary of War of the Confederacy for a few months in 1865. After the war, he went into exile in Europe and Canada, and returned home in 1869, following President Johnson’s proclamation of amnesty. He died May 17, 1875.
The second youngest vice president to take office was Richard Nixon (he celebrated his 40th birthday 11 days before taking the oath of office). After serving two terms as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon lost the very close presidential election to John Kennedy in 1960, and then became the only former vice president to be elected president in 1968 (and the only president to resign, in 1974).
The Five Oldest Presidents
Considered by age at inauguration, the list runs as follows:
1. Donald Trump was 70 years 220 days old when he was inaugurated on January 20, 2017. If Joe Biden wins this year’s election, he will break that record at the age of 78 years 61 days.
2. Ronald Reagan was 17 days shy of his 70th birthday when he was inaugurated on January 20, 1989, and 17 days shy of his 78th birthday when he retired eight years later.
3. William Henry Harrison was 68 years 23 days old when he was inaugurated on March 4, 1841. The president who served the shortest term (31 days), he was the first to die in office, so he was only 68 years 54 days old when he left office.
4. James Buchanan was 65 years 315 days old when he was inaugurated in 1857, and 69 years 315 days old when he retired from office.
5. George H.W. Bush was 64 years 222 days old when he succeeded Reagan, in 1989, and 68 years 222 days old when he left office.
Considering age at the time the President left office, Dwight David Eisenhower moves into third place. He was only 62 years 98 days old when he was inaugurated in 1953, putting him seventh on the list, but serving two full terms (he and Reagan are the only two on this list to have served eight years as president), he was 70 years 98 days old when he retired.
The Five Youngest Presidents:
Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution requires a president to be at least 35 years old.
1. Theodore Roosevelt. Born on October 27, 1858, he was 42 years 322 days old when he was inaugurated on September 14, 1901, after William McKinley was assassinated. To beat Roosevelt’s record as the youngest president in the election of 2024, the newly elected president will have to have been born after March 4, 1982.
2. John F. Kennedy. Born on May 29, 1917, he was 43 years 236 days old when he took the oath of office on January 20, 1961, after winning the election of 1960. To beat Kennedy’s record as the youngest president elected, the winner of the election of 2008 will have to have been born after May 29, 1981.
3. Bill Clinton. Born on August 19, 1946, he was 46 years 154 days old when he was inaugurated on January 20, 1993.
4. Ulysses S. Grant. Born on April 27, 1822, he was 46 years 311 days old when he was inaugurated on March 4, 1869.
5. Barack Obama. Born August 4, 1961, he was 47 years 169 days old when he was inaugurated on January 20, 2009.
In order to join this list (and knock Obama off), the president who wins the election of 2024 will have to have been born after August 4, 1977.
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I had the television on in the background while I was working today, and eventually realized I was listening to CNN talking about the article in The Atlantic which claims President Donald Trump said nasty things about American soldiers. They spent half an hour talking about it. Half an hour wasting their time and efforts, talking about something absolutely meaningless. Then I heard similar discussions on other news programs, read headlines pointing to several articles on line, and even my mother mentioned it to me on the phone.
If he said those things the article claims, no one’s opinion of him is going to change. No staunch Trump supporter is going to read that and say “Oh, well, that changed my mind. I can’t support him.” Neither will it change the mind of anyone who disagrees with him. And it’s doubtful such a comment—reportedly from an anonymous source—will have any effect on those who are undecided.
But what all that half hour of talk, all those articles, Joe Biden’s commentary in today’s speech, as well as every other pundit talking about it… what all of that did was make the Trump re-election campaign chortle with glee. Now, all they have to do is say “no, he didn’t say that.” They don’t have to say anything about what Donald Trump is actually doing, don’t have to talk about the fact that he is not only a bad president, but is actually malfeasant in office. They don’t have to talk about the fact that rather than uniting the United States of America, he is actively trying to divide us. They don’t have to talk about the fact that rather than leading the drive to minimize the damage of the pandemic, he’s leading the drive to ignore it and let it run rampant. Heck, they don’t have to do anything positive for as long as this distracting story lasts.
It’s part of an ongoing theme, Donald Trump’s entire presidential strategy: “What can I do to distract people from reality, so they’ll waste all their time and effort on irrelevancies?” It’s just the latest irrelevancy.
I can’t really fault the news media: their job is to sell advertising, and they do it by attracting viewers and readers. And we are weak-willed enough to truly lap up this nonsense, each time it appears.
But we, the consumers, the citizens, the people who truly matter in this country: we are failing. We are failing by allowing ourselves to be distracted by this nonsense. I came to this realization, and I turned the channel. I didn’t bother reading those news articles. I tried to point out this campaign of diversion to my mother.
Donald Trump babbles. He talks and talks, throwing out whatever nonsense he can in a never-ending attempt to distract and appall his viewers. The more appalled we are, the more we’ll watch. And the more distracted we are, the less we’ll pay attention to the things that matter.
What matters? Treating each other with dignity, the way we wanted to be treated.
What matters? Working together to keep each other safe from a deadly virus, while our scientists work to find a cure and a vaccine.
What matters? Treating the environment with the same dignity with which we should treat each other, so that our children have a healthy world in which to live.
What doesn’t matter? Whether or not Donald Trump said something that insulted some people. Take it as a given: he insults people. How many other adults continue to use insulting nicknames for people they don’t like, after they leave high school?
What matters? Voting in this year’s election. Not just for president, but also for Congress.
I’m not a big fan of Joe Biden, but you can bet your ass I’m going to vote for him. Because I think he understands what it truly means to be the President of the United States of America, rather than Donald Trump’s position as president of doing whatever he wants for the people he likes and flipping off everyone else.
I live in New York’s ninth Congressional district, so my vote matters not at all. The straight Democratic ticket is going to take far more than 50% of the votes in this district. The votes that matter are the votes of the people who live in Florida, in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin… Are you one of those voters? Seriously consider your options. Do you know someone who lives in one of those states? Tell them why their vote is important.
But stop falling for the sleight-of-hand that is Donald Trump’s way of life. Stop being distracted by his theatre meant to grab your attention. Instead, keep your attention where it needs to be: on his never-ending campaign to divide and conquer his own country, his never-ending campaign to enrich himself and his friends, his blatant incompetence, and his villainy in the face of a major crisis that would have caused any other president to rise to the challenge.