Join the Club
Forty-three men have held the office of President of the United States. President Obama is counted as the 44th American president because Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms – the only president to do so – and is therefore counted as the 22nd and the 24th presidents.
Whether 43 or 44, that’s a pretty exclusive club – smaller than a professional baseball or football team roster. Even more exclusive is the club of two-term presidents.
Only 17 presidents have been elected twice. At the beginning of the Republic, re-election was the rule, not the exception. Five of our first seven presidents served two full terms – only the Adams family, father and son, lost re-election. Between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, we ran a string of eight presidents who served one term or less: Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan; eight Presidents in 24 years.
We only did somewhat better after Lincoln, from Reconstruction to the First World War. During that stretch of 48 years, 10 presidents served, but only three were elected twice: Grant, Cleveland and McKinley. We had ten presidencies during the 60 years from Woodrow Wilson to Richard Nixon, but only four presidents won re-election – including FDR, who won re-election three times.
In light of this history, it is somewhat unexpected that we are now in a stretch of presidential stability unmatched since the presidencies of our Founding Fathers. Four of the last five presidents have won re-election – five presidents have served during the last 32 years.
Of course, three presidents won re-election but didn’t finish their second terms. Lincoln and McKinley died in office, and Nixon resigned. If President Obama serves a full second term, he will be one of only 13 who have served two full consecutive terms.
Not surprisingly, it is our two-term presidents who tend to rank among the best-regarded: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Wilson and FDR. (Let’s wait a couple more decades until we decide on Reagan and Clinton.) The one-termers don’t generally do all that well in history, with some exceptions like Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, maybe John Adams.
So if Barack Hussein Obama serves out his second term, for that reason alone the odds are good that history will remember his presidency well – only 12 other men have done it, in 224 years.