For the first time, the cumulative tenures of living ex-presidents has eclipsed 30 years

It is unclear to what extent Donald Trump imagined the transition from candidate to president would be seamless and uncomplicated as he watched the election returns come in last November, but the first fortnight of his presidency has been met with an unusual amount of protests, criticism, and opposition to his nominees.

Should Trump ever find himself in need of guidance as leader of the free world, one resource available to the 45th president is the vast experience of his predecessors.

There are now five living ex-presidents for just the fourth time in U.S. history: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Five former presidents were also still alive when the following victors were sworn into office:

  • Abraham Lincoln (1861-1862): Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. [Van Buren and Tyler both died in 1862].
  • Bill Clinton (1993-1994): Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush. [Nixon passed away in April 1994].
  • George W. Bush (2001-2004): Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. [Reagan died in 2004 and Ford in 2006].

There have never been more than five living ex-presidents at any point over the last 200+ years with the historical average (2.5) at just half the current number.

Not only does Trump have a historically large number of predecessors from whom to seek advice, but at no point in U.S. history have those living former presidents logged in more years on the job.

A Smart Politics study finds that Donald Trump was sworn into office able to seek counsel from five living ex-presidents with 32 years of collective experience under their belts – more than any president in U.S. history.

Prior to Trump, the most on-the-job experience tallied by living ex-presidents came after the inauguration of John Quincy Adams: John Adams (4), Thomas Jefferson (8), James Madison (8), and James Monroe (8) were in office for 28 years in total.

Seven other presidents took office with predecessors collectively serving 20 or more years as the nation’s commander in chief:

  • George W. Bush (26.5 years): Ford (2.5), Carter (4), Reagan (8), George H.W. Bush (4), Clinton (8)
  • Bill Clinton (24 years): Nixon (5.5), Ford (2.5), Carter (4), Reagan (8), George H.W. Bush (4)
  • Barack Obama (24 years): Carter (4), George H.W. Bush (4), Clinton (8), George W. Bush (8)
  • Richard Nixon (21 years): Truman (7.8), Eisenhower (8), Johnson (5.2)
  • James Monroe (20 years): John Adams (4), Jefferson (8), Madison (8)
  • Andrew Jackson (20 years): Madison (8), Monroe (8), John Q. Adams (4)
  • George H.W. Bush (20 years): Nixon (5.5), Ford (2.5), Carter (4), Reagan (8)

As of Tuesday, it has been 10 years, 1 month, and 12 days since the most recent passing of a former president (Gerald Ford on December 26, 2006).

That is the eighth longest stretch in U.S. history behind:

  • George Washington (December 14, 1799) and Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1826): 26, years, 6 months, 20 days
  • Lyndon Johnson (January 22, 1973) and Richard Nixon (April 22, 1994): 21 years, 2 months, 25 days
  • Franklin Roosevelt (April 12, 1945) and John Kennedy (November 22, 1963): 18 years, 7 months, 10 days
  • Calvin Coolidge (January 5, 1933) and Franklin Roosevelt (April 12, 1945): 12 years, 3 months, 7 days
  • Zachary Taylor (July 9, 1850) and John Tyler (January 18, 1862): 11 years, 6 months, 9 days
  • Grover Cleveland (June 24, 1908) and Teddy Roosevelt (January 6, 1919): 10 years, 6 months, 13 days
  • Richard Nixon (April 22, 1994) and Ronald Reagan (June 5, 2004): 10 years, 1 month, 14 days

The average time between presidential deaths in U.S. history has been approximately five and one-half years.

The last president to serve with no living ex-presidents was Richard Nixon after the death of LBJ in January 1973.

John Adams, Ulysses Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover also served the last part of their terms with no living predecessors after the deaths of George Washington (1799), Andrew Johnson (1875), Grover Cleveland (1908), and Calvin Coolidge (1933) respectively.

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1 Comment

  1. Nikoli Orr on February 7, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    1. Nixon “passed away” but Van Buren, Tyler, Reagan, and Ford merely “died”?
    2. Quite a few people around the globe would -and do, with a straight face- argue that, with the departure of BHO, the Leader of the Free World is German Chancellor Merkel (Fuhrur Drumpf and UKPM Theresa “Maybe” both lack ‘popular mandate’. Also, each seems more preoccupied with turning her respective nation into an impenetrable fortress, with border walls and/or travel bans).
    3. With the apparent recovery of “41” the current POTUS shall have 5 exes with 32+ yrs of collective experience for the forseeable future, though, in his case, the “resource” he most covets -though perhaps not openly- is likely to be that of the former Prime Minister and current (2- or 3-term) President of the Russian Federation!

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