Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
Concord Learning Systems


Presidents and their other federal service

More has been written and said about George W. Bush's (Jr.) lack of experience than any Presidential candidate in history. Why? During Clinton's first campaign the press literally gushed with excitement over his overseas experiences, meaning I suppose that he had spent time in England's Oxford University smoking pot (but not inhaling). It is clear that NONE of the Presidents in recent years except George H. W. Bush had any experience beyond military and elective office. It is more clear after examining the record that an incoming President doesn't need experience as we have come to expect of a truck driver, machinist, or carpenter.

It is well known that George H. W. Bush, the 41st President, served as Director of the CIA before becoming President. In what federal capacity did other Presidents serve (not counting Congress, VP, and military?)

Most Presidents of recent years have had purely political backgrounds of elective office rather than public service work. Early in the republic it was just the opposite with such figures as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe and others having extensive experience in non-elected federal offices.

Working backwards from the present, George W. Bush had no previous formal experience although he helped in the White House with various chores when his father was President. Bill Clinton had none. George H. W. Bush served as Director of the CIA, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations(1971-72), and as special Envoy to China. Reagan had none and neither did Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford. Richard Nixon served as Attorney for the U.S. Office of Emergency Management in 1942. Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy had none. Dwight Eisenhower was a great general but had no other federal government experience and Harry Truman had no federal experience (except U.S. Senator and VP) before becoming President.

Franklin Roosevelt once served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1913-20) and Herbert Hoover served two terms as Secretary of Commerce, 1921-23 under Harding and 1923-28 under Coolidge.

Continuing back from Hoover, neither Coolidge, Harding, or Wilson had any non-elective experience.

William H. Taft served as U.S. Solicitor General (1890-92), U.S. Circuit Court Judge (1892-1900), Governor of the Philippines (1901-04), Secretary of War (1904-08 under Teddy Roosevelt), and was an absolute disaster as President. He was then rewarded with appointment as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1921-30).

Teddy Roosevelt served as Member, Civil Service Commission (1889-95), and Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1895-97) and was one of the great Presidents.

William McKinley had no experience. Grover Cleveland had served as Sheriff in upstate New York where he actually sprang the trap door to hang condemned men. How's that for qualifications?

Prior to Cleveland, there was Benjamin Harrison, Arthur, Garfield, Hayes, Grant, Andrew Johnson, and Lincoln. All without experience.

James Buchanan (1857-1861) was the most experienced since the early years having served as Minister to Russia (1832-34), Secretary of State (1845-49 under Polk), and Minister to England (1853-56). It can very well be said that Buchanan's experience started the Civil War because his major contribution to the office of President was gross incompetence and negligence.

Before Buchanan, there was Pierce, Fillmore, Taylor, Polk (who had served as Speaker of the House), and Tyler, all with no experience. Then there was William Harrison who was Secretary of the Northwest Territory (1798) and Minister to Colombia (1828-29) but he died one month after taking office.

Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) was Secretary of State (1829-1831 under Jackson) and Minister to England (1831). He was also Jackson's VP and had vast state government experience but he is given no accolades for service as President.

Andrew Jackson served as appointed Governor of the Florida Territory if that can be counted. He certainly is counted among the great Presidents.

John Quincy Adams was probably the most experienced President in history using the above definition. He was Secretary to U.S. Minister to Russia (1781), Minister to the Netherlands (1794), Minister to Prussia (1797-1801), Minister to Russia (1809-11), Peace Commissioner for Treaty at Ghent (1814: War of 1812), and Secretary of State (1817-25 under Monroe). He is regarded as a good President and is the only one to serve in the House (1831-48) after leaving the Presidency.

James Monroe is a close second to John Quincy Adams in experience. He was Minister to France (1794-96), Minister to France and England (1803-07), Secretary of State (1811-17 under Madison), and Secretary of War (1814-15 under Madison).

James Madison was a member of the Constitutional Convention (1787) which wrote the Constitution and served as Secretary of State (1801-1809 under Jefferson).

Thomas Jefferson was Minister to France (1785-89) and Secretary of State (1790-93 under Washington) but that was his only federal government experience before becoming a great President in 1801. He was in France during the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

John Adams served as Commissioner to France (1778), Minister to the Netherlands (1780), and Minister to England (1785).

First but not least, George Washington had little experience by the definition used here except he served as President of the Constitutional Convention. He was moderator, keeping order in the chamber while others debated the issues. He deliberately abstained from participation until the last day when he joined in to stop efforts to weaken the document and to help write the letter of transmittal to Congress. If we redefine 'experience' to include service in state houses, congress, and the Vice-Presidency, Washington still gets very little credit for experience because he served mostly in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was a member of the Continental Congress for one year (1774-75). Yet, his peers considered him the best qualified for the job of President. They didn't have a press corp defining experience for them. They relied on their own knowledge, instincts, and judgements: It worked well then, it will work now.

Philosophos Historia


1999-2001 Concord Learning Systems, Concord, NC. All rights reserved.