Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Long Line of Short-Termers

In the past, we’ve discussed how if you were president in a Tom Clancy novel or in the television series 24, you may not be in office long enough to reupholster the Oval Office furniture. I’d say that I felt sorry for the kids of the future in these worlds who have to study history and keep their presidents straight, except people in this world don’t really need to name all of the presidents except to show off how much of a know-it-all they are.

This week, we’ve pit our current president up against Andrew Johnson, who was the last of a long line of short-termers. For a 32-year period, we only had one president who had served longer than a four-year term, and he served 4 years and 42 days. Who were these guys, and how do we keep them straight?

8) Martin Van Buren — (1837-1841) Served after the very popular Andrew Jackson. Jackson turned out to be a tough act to follow. As a result, Van Buren was unable to get re-elected in 1840. He lost to:

9) William Henry Harrison — (1841) Probably the most well-known of the unknown presidents because he’s famous for only serving for a month. Important lesson learned — if you’re going to make the longest inaugural speech in history during a blustery day, wear a coat. He was the first person to die in office. Since there was nothing officially in the books about what to do in this case, there was some question as to what should happen. A lot of people assumed the job would fall to Harrison’s vice president:

10) John Tyler — (1841-1845) A lot of other people were not down with Tyler being president. They referred to him as “His Accidency.” He didn’t get all that much respect in office. Even his own party didn’t nominate him for the 1844 election, which was eventually won by:

11) James K. Polk — (1845-1849) He was actually a pretty successful president. He added essentially the entire Western third of the U.S., lowered tarriffs, and other fun stuff like that. He got so much done that he didn’t even seek another term. Good thing, too, because he died three months after leaving office. Instead, the 1848 election went to:

12) Zachary Taylor — (1849-1850) Old Rough and Ready was a general during the Mexican-American War. He died after getting sick from eating a bowl of cherries and drinking a pitcher of milk. This made way for his vice president:

13) Millard Fillmore — (1850-1853) Another Whig vice president who became president, only to have his party tell him that they’d be going in a different direction in the next election. Not that it helped any because, again, the Whigs lost the general election. This time, to:

14) Franklin Pierce — (1853-1857) By this point, the whole slavery issue had split the nation. The U.S. needed a strong president to get through this tough time, and Pierce wasn’t it.

15) James Buchanan — (1857-1861) Nope, it wasn’t him either. In fact, he just kind put off making a decision on how to handle the situation and then he twiddled his thumbs while states in the South seceded.

16) Abraham Lincoln — (1861-1865) Clearly, he’s not one of the forgotten presidents. In fact, ask any schmoe on the street to name a president from before World War II, they’ll probably say Washington, Jefferson or Lincoln. He’s in this list because he’s part of the long string of short-termers. That being said, he was the only one on this list to have won re-election. Unfortunately, he was assassinated six weeks after taking office for his second term, which led to:

17) Andrew Johnson — (1865-1869) People couldn’t wait to be rid of this guy. They tried kicking him out of office twice, but neither time worked. Finally, his term ran out and Ulysses S. Grant took office, giving us our first two-term president in decades.

There you have it, 10 our our 44 presidents, packed into 32 years of history. That’s still not as bad as the 24 series, which had seven presidents serve their terms in half that time.

On the flipside, I could point out that it took us almost twice that to have 10 presidents from 1933 to 1993. Not that any of this actually means anything.

If you’d like to throw some support (or opposition) to short-termers like Andrew Johnson, why not vote in this week’s poll?

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