The many quirks of the presidency throughout history

At its founding, the United States may well have been the first nation ever to have a president.  Presiding over the federal government, the president has somewhat limited veto authority over acts of the Legislature and is commander-in-chief of the military.

Of the forty-six presidencies thus far, only thirteen lasted two full consecutive terms or more (thanks to FDR; Grover Cleveland is another story).  Most one-termers failed to physically survive for the duration.  Lincoln was the first to be murdered while in office.  McKinley's death was part of an international anarchist rising that also claimed King Humbert of Italy and several members of the French parliament.

Senators are particularly inclined to run for president since their six-year term allows them to hold onto their seat should they fail in their quest for higher office...which they usually do, since only three senators have succeeded: Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama.  Americans seem to prefer electing governors to the presidency.  Donald Trump is the only person who's ever reached the top of the food chain without ever previously holding public office or being a famous general.  Herbert Hoover managed to be appointed secretary of commerce, and Wendell Willkie would've been first, instead of Trump, had he beaten FDR in 1940.

Five presidential surnames have been repeated.  Four pairs were actually related to each other: the Adamses, Harrisons, Roosevelts, and Bushes.  Andrew and Lyndon Johnson had no connection to each other.  The founders were particularly opposed to allowing dynasties to emerge in our political structure, and they have been reasonably successful — thus far.

One might suppose that the vice presidency would be a great stepping stone to the presidency...which is mostly true in cases where the president dies in office.  Martin Van Buren and George H.W. Bush, however, are the only two vice presidents to get elected president while being vice president at that time.  Bush made it a point in his acceptance speech to acknowledge Van Buren as his predecessor.  Our current president and Richard Nixon were both former vice presidents who eventually won the top spot, though not while currently being in office.

And, speaking of our current situation, the possibility of a president's disability was addressed in 1967 by the 25th Amendment...which has yet to be evoked.  Back then, my U.S. government teacher was staunchly opposed to what was called the Bayh Amendment, named after its primary sponsor, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana.  Her argument was that Congress could address the same issue by statute, which could be more easily changed than a constitutional amendment, should a defect be discovered in practice. 

Later I learned that the U.S. faced a rather serious presidential disability situation — during a particularly crucial moment in world history.  Shortly after the end of World War 1, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke.  Five months of deception concealed this fact, while Mrs. Wilson forged his signature on official documents.

Also, burrowing like a termite into our means of presidential selection is the National Popular Vote movement.  Rather than having each state choose its electors individually, thus far, 15 state legislatures plus D.C. have passed statutes granting their electoral votes to whichever candidate receives a majority of the national popular vote...regardless of how their own citizens voted.  It is unlikely that the current Supreme Court would bless this violation of both state and voter sovereignty.

On only one occasion in the entire history of the nation did the Electoral College fail to pick a winner.  As a result, the House of Representatives was tasked with settling the issue — as specified by the Constitution, with each state getting only one vote.  As a result, Rutherford B. Hayes became president, and Samuel J. Tilden had some streets and parks named after him.  Also, as part of the deal that was apparently struck in the Capitol cloakroom, the federal government put an end to Reconstruction, and the U.S. army was withdrawn from what had once been the Confederacy — thus commencing the era of Jim Crow.  Who said elections don't have consequences?

Image via Picryl.

If you experience technical problems, please write to