Saturday, June 05, 2004

Former presidents blog.

On days like today, I turn to my invaluable Presidential Fact Book by Joseph Nathan Kane, which is an amazing trove of facts about Presidents of the United States. My edition was published in 1998, so it’s already out of date in some ways, but that’s the nature of a reference of this kind. But it has enabled me to put the following facts together faster than any other source would have.

Something that probably hasn’t been mentioned in many of the many obituaries of Ronald Reagan being written and published now: his passing marks the end of only the third time in the history of the United States in which there were five living former presidents. This time it was Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. As it happens, it was also the longest such period -- January 20, 2001 until today, well over three years.

There were five -- Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush -- from January 20, 1993, until April 22, 1994, when Nixon died. Before that, you have to go back quite a ways to find five exes living at the same time. But the antebellum years, which were full of one-term presidents, made the first such period possible. When Lincoln took office, March 4, 1861, Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan were still alive. It didn't last long, however, with Van Buren and Tyler -- the latter had been elected to the Confederate Congress -- both dying in '62. (The U.S. government took no notice of Tyler's death until 1911, when Congress appropriated some money to build a memorial to him at his cemetery.)

By the way, I’m talking about Presidents of the United States here – the acknowledged 42 men who’ve held that office, not including Sam Houston, Jeff Davis, Sanford Dole or any other sorts of former presidents who happened to be Americans. Non-president David Rice Atchison's right out of there too.

At the other end of the spectrum, it turns out there have been only five spans in which there were no former presidents alive. The first was after Washington died, in December 1799. It didn't happen again until Andrew Johnson died in 1875, when Grant was president. The third time was when Cleveland died, in 1908, during TR's term. In 1933, there was a brief time between the death of Calvin Coolidge (January 5) and the inauguration of FDR (March 4).


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