Where Do Presidents Come From?
 
 

Where do presidents come from? My question is meant professionally rather than geographically. What offices are most often the springboards for successful presidential candidacies? For the past century, the answer to that question is surprisingly narrow. Of the 19 presidents since 1892, 15 were either vice president (7) or governor (8) before they became president.
Highest Office Before Becoming President



 
 
Vice President
Governor
General
Cabinet
Other
1963-
4
4
 
 
 
1929-1960
1
1
1
1
1
1893-1928
2
4
   
1
1893-2000
7
9
1
1
2
1869-1892
1
1
4
 
 
1845-1868
3
 
3
1
2
1809-1844
 
 
1
4
 
1793-1808
2
 
1
 
 
1793-1892
6
1
9
5
2
Total
13
9
10
6
4

 
 
 
 
 

The last person to become president from a background of neither vice president nor governor was John Kennedy, who was a Senator when he won election in 1960. In the 20th century a few other Senators have eventually become president, but only after serving first as vice president. Nixon, Johnson, and Truman fit this pattern. The list of Senators running for president is, of course, quite long, and a few of them have even won a major party nomination. But in the 20th century, only Kennedy went directly from the Senate to the presidency.

Before 1892 the pattern of presidential selection was entirely different. The Mexican-American War and the Civil War produced many political generals who eventually became president. Mexican-American War generals usually went directly on to the presidency. Immediately following the Civil War Ulysses S. Grant followed this pattern. After Grant, there were a string of former Civil War generals who first ran for elective office and then became president. In the 20th century Eisenhower was the only general elected president.

The pattern in the early republic was different. The executive branch was the road to the presidency. Washington, of course, was a general, but his successor was Vice president Adams, who was then defeated by his Vice president Jefferson. Then the Secretary of State became the heir-designate. From 1808-1824, Madison, Monroe, and then John Quincy Adams moved from Secretary of State to the presidency. In the 20th century, only Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover went directly from the Cabinet to the presidency.

So as the next pack presidential candidates emerges, remember history says that only vice presidents or governors have much chance of reaching the finish line.
 
 

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