Monday, April 19, 2010

Pointless Presidential Pfacts #2 - "The Ripples in the Presidency"

The U.S. Presidency under the current Constitution has existed since George Washington took the oath on April 30, 1789. Every four years the people are given the chance to elect a new leader to administer the executive branch and represent the nation. Each man connected by his predecessor can unite the present to the past. But there are moments when the presidency is altered, not by the people but by removal from office through impeachment (which has yet to happen, although we have come close), resignation, and death, either natural or by an assassin.

For 52 years, 14 presidential elections, and 9 presidents, elections occurred keeping or changing the occupant in (the time-before-)the-Oval-Office, from Washington to William Henry Harrison. That all came crashing down on April 4, 1841, one month after Harrison took the oath of office. The Constitution was hardly clear on the matter of succession with words like “the same shall devolve on the Vice President.” Was the vice president a temporary and acting-president until a new election as some saw it? Vice President John Tyler saw it differently and established the precedent of the vice president assuming the duties of the office of president by taking the oath. His Accidency, a nickname given by his opponents, but to every one else he was Mr. President. The longest uninterrupted period for the office of the presidency was from Washington to Harrison, but it would be followed by the shortest period starting with President Tyler.

No caption needed.

It would only be 9 years, 2 presidential elections, and 3 presidents until another death took a president. President Zachary Taylor died due to some kind of gastro problem July 9, 1850. Following the precedent established by Tyler, Millard Fillmore took the oath of office becoming the 13th president. The next length of time, Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, would help establish the average of 22 years between non-election changes in the presidency.

President Zachary Taylor on his death bed in July of 1850.

John Wilkes Booth’s bullet would put an end to 15 years and four presidents from Fillmore to Lincoln. The first assassination would be followed by two more. Andrew Johnson would start 16 undisturbed years until three presidents later James Garfield was killed by Charles Guiteau, with Johnson’s acquittal saving him from being the shortest disruption and the first to be removed by impeachment. Chester Arthur all the way through to William McKinley’s assassination by Leon Czolgosz would be 20 years with 5 presidents and just 4 men serving.

The first 3 Dead Presidential Assassins: John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau, and Leon Czolgosz.

The Roosevelt cousins bookend the next two undisturbed periods. Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency after McKinley and even won an election in his own right in 1904, something no 19th Century vice president following in Tyler’s footsteps was able to accomplish, also none of them were given an opportunity by a political party to even try, except for Fillmore four years later when the Know-Nothings nominated him to run for the presidency in 1856 coming in 3rd with Electoral College votes. Tyler could have run as an independent in 1844 but reconsidered. So for 22 years and just four presidents, Roosevelt to Warren Harding, the presidency was uninterrupted. Harding’s death ended this run, a mid-point between the Roosevelt cousins. Calvin Coolidge succeeded Harding becoming the 30th president. From Coolidge to Franklin Roosevelt, 22 years would also pass until FDR’s death ended the period with only 3 presidents.

Vice President Harry S. Truman is sworn in as the 33rd POTUS following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

Harry Truman through to John Kennedy would be a period of 18 years, but only 3 presidents with Kennedy’s assassination, the last of a form of death while in office. Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon span the next 11 years ending with Nixon’s resignation, the first and only of a president. This was the second shortest period before a disruption and with the next period nicely bookends with the first two periods.

Vice President Gerald Ford is sworn in as the 38th POTUS following the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974.

Since Gerald Ford took over the presidency in 1974 as the 38th president the presidency has not been disrupted making the 36 years since 1974 the longest period second only to the Washington to Harrison 9 period. Both the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton could have disrupted the presidency, but thankfully they did not and just 16 years to beat the streak of 1789 to 1841.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pointless Presidential Pfacts #1 – “The Rematches of the Centuries!!!”

Rematches are an American thing, from Rocky versus Apollo in the first two Rocky films to the United States kicking Germany’s ass in two world wars. Presidential candidates have also had rematches going as far back as the fourth election in 1800 and continuing into the mid-20th Century. But before you can have the rematch you have to have the first match.

In 1796 John Adams became the first of only four incumbent vice presidents to be elected president. He defeated Thomas Jefferson. But seeing that it was a pre-12th Amendment election, the loser became the vice president. Vice President Jefferson would make President Adams’ term a difficult one building to a rematch and the only time the sitting president and vice president competed for the Executive Mansion.

Vice President John Adams vs. former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1796.

The election of 1800 was not going to have the same results as four years prior. President Adams and Vice President Jefferson each ran with a “running-mate” so as to avoid being stuck with an ideological opponent disrupting the administration. Good idea, but it was still a pre-12th Amendment America. The plan sort of worked. Jefferson and his running-mate, Aaron Burr, got the same number of Electoral votes, but without distinguishing between the desired offices, throwing the election to the House of Representatives for the first time.

The 1800 rematch between, now incumbent President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson, quickly became a match-up between Jefferson and his desired pick for the vice presidency, Aaron Burr.

The House couldn’t stand Burr and by the 36th ballot Jefferson won the election. To make sure the election of 1800 wasn’t repeated, the 12th Amendment was amended to the Constitution before the 1804 election. For the first and only time the vice president defeated the president for the presidency, but a House elected president would just be the first of two.

Twenty-four years after that election came the first match-up between the son of the 2nd president, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, and Tennessean and former war hero Andrew Jackson. But these were not the only two running in an era of good feelings. After the Federalist Party ceased existence post-War of 1812, the Democratic-Republicans were the party of the United States and in the election of 1824 produced four candidates. Speaker of the House Henry Clay and Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford were the other two contenders. In the end Jackson had the most number of popular and Electoral votes in the first election where a number of the States counted the popular vote. Adams was in second with Crawford and Clay in third and fourth, respectively.

Andrew Jackson ran against John Quincy Adams twice, once in 1824 and the rematch in 1828. In the year 2000, a Democrat from Tennessee will get more votes but not the presidency, when he runs against another presidential son.

But a plurality of votes doesn’t get you the highest office in the land. Without a majority of Electoral votes, the presidency, for a second time, was decided by the House. This meant that the top three vote getters would be decided on, but Clay was the leader of the body to decide the presidency. The Senate did not have to perform its Constitutional duty of selecting a vice president since John C. Calhoun received a majority of Electoral votes both thanks to the 12th Amendment which separates the voting for both president and vice president, but also because he was on two tickets, Adams and Jackson. Crawford had a stroke and the contest in the House ends up being between Jackson and Adams. Adams wins and Jackson believes that a corrupt bargain was struck between Adams and Clay, who would go on to be the secretary of state, the stepping stone office to the presidency. Over the next four years Jackson would essentially run for the presidency, with the support of a new grassroots party calling themselves Democrats, and in a rematch in 1828 Jackson would again get more votes than Adams, but this time with the needed majority to become the 7th president.

President Jackson's handpicked successor, Martin Van Buren, became the last incumbent vice president to win the presidency until 1988. But in the 1836 election Vice President Van Buren easily won election against William Henry Harrison...this time. Four years later, a united Whig Party mimicked the president they despised by running on Harrison's war record just as Jackson had. The 1840 election is the first to have a campaign tune: "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!" Just as Jackson was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, Harrison was the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 against a confederacy of native peoples led by Tecumseh in the Territory of Indiana. "Tyler" referenced John Tyler of Virginia, and a former Democrat nominated by the Whigs. Four years prior, Harrison obviously had problems with the campaign slogan: "Tippecanoe and Granger Too!"

Harrison-9's victory in 1840 was short lived once he took office on March 4, 1841 and died thirty days later. Forty-eight years later, President Grover Cleveland, the 22nd president, goes up against Harrison-9's grandson, Benjamin Harrison. Cleveland wins the popular vote, but not the Electoral vote and Harrison becomes the 23rd president. Upon leaving the Executive Mansion in March of 1889, outgoing First Lady Frances Cleveland wanted the staff to keep things in order because the Clevelands would be returning in four years. Four years later the former president was re-nominated and defeated Harrison in both the popular and Electoral votes going on to become the 24th president and the only former president to win an election.

Unlike the 1824, 1876 and 2000 Presidential Elections, the 1888 established a popular vote winner, President Grover Cleveland and the Electoral College winner, Benjamin Harrison. No House of Representatives, no commission, and no Supreme Court. But there like in 1828 to 1824, there was a rematch between President Harrison and former President Cleveland. Cleveland would become the first former president to be reelected non-consecutively, of course, in 1892.

Following the Cleveland-Harrison-23 rematch in 1892 would be the first round for the next match-up, but gone were the match-ups of the popular vote winner returning to reclaim the people’s wish as Jackson and Cleveland did. The next match-up pitted Republican Ohio Governor William McKinley and the Democratic former member of the House William Jennings Bryan, at 36 years old the youngest man to run for president. The winner of the 1896 election would be McKinley and four years later the rematch. In 1896 Bryan became the first presidential candidate to actively campaign for the election traveling the country speaking directly to the people, while McKinley continued the tradition of not actively seeking the sacred office. However in their rematch in 1900, McKinley’s young vice presidential candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, would emulate Bryan’s campaign style. 1900 would be McKinley’s win over Bryan, again.

Fifty-two years after that rematch came the last match-up in presidential General Elections, so far. The 1952 and 1956 elections mirrored the 1896 and 1900 elections in that the two presidential candidates were the same and so were the victors and losers, and coincidentally the same political parties. The Democratic Governor from Illinois, Adlai Stevenson went up against the commander of D-Day and Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, twice. And lost both times.

While not a rematch it is somewhat of a proxy rematch between President Ronald Reagan and the previous administration, this time former Vice President Walter F. Mondale in for the 1980 Democratic candidate President Jimmy Carter.

It has been over fifty years since there was a presidential rematch. There have been proxy rematches like Ronald Reagan versus former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984 instead of Mondale’s running-mate four years earlier, President Jimmy Carter and then there’s George W. Bush versus Al Gore in 2000 essentially Clinton versus George H.W. Bush but with their political heirs instead. Since there probably won’t be a Barack Obama-John McCain rematch in 2012, we’ll probably be waiting a long time before we experience another presidential rematch or we may get a proxy rematch with Obama versus Sarah Palin in 2012.