Much more attention is paid to longevity of retirement of America’s Presidents, or those who died in office, than those who died within less than a term after leaving the Presidency.
So it is generally well known that some Presidents have had long retirements, including Jimmy Carter (who keeps on adding to his record of retirement, presently 32 years, seven months and two weeks as of today), Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, and John Adams.
And eight Presidents died in office (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy).
But it is also a fact that five Presidents who retired, died within the next Presidential term, and one died just two days after that next Presidential term ended, so we could have had at least five more Presidents die in office, and likely, due to the stress of the job, a sixth one, as well!
So who are these Presidents who would have died in office had they served another term?
James K. Polk, who died just 103 days after leaving the White House.
Chester Alan Arthur, who died 624 days after leaving the White House.
George Washington, who died 1015 days after leaving the Presidency (The White House was not yet built).
Woodrow Wilson, who died 1066 days after leaving the Presidency.
Calvin Coolidge, who died 1403 days after leaving the Presidency.
Lyndon B. Johnson, who died 1463 days after leaving the Presidency (two days after the next term of office ended).
Try to imagine Washington dying in office, our first President, and a Vice President having to challenge, earlier than John Tyler had to do in 1841, the issue of whether the Vice President could have all the Presidential authority by succeeding to the office, instead of being elected! Also, the reality that Washington would have set a precedent for a third term, which might have affected the views and attitudes of future Presidents on a third term!
Imagine James K. Polk dying in the midst of the controversy over the territories gained in the Mexican War, and how that might have affected the debates which led to the Compromise of 1850!
Imagine Chester Alan Arthur, having succeeded the assassinated James A. Garfield in office, being the second successive President who died in office!
Imagine Woodrow Wilson dying in office, after the American people had decided to elect him to an unprecedented third term, and how it might have affected the political realities of what became the conservative 1920s!
Imagine Calvin Coolidge having to deal with the Great Depression, as compared to Herbert Hoover, and the reality that he would have died just about two months before the end of his term, with his Vice President likely only serving those two months!
Imagine Lyndon B. Johnson in declining health in his extra term, and maybe dying earlier than two days after the end of that term, and his Vice President likely serving only a very short time in the Presidency, had Johnson died from the stresses of that extra term in office!
This is all theory, of course, what is known as “What If”, but it is food for thought regarding the short retirement of six of our Presidents!
Having stated all of the above, the odds are that Polk would not have been reelected due to the controversy over the Mexican War; that Arthur was denied the nomination in 1884, due to the civil service reform bill he signed into law (The Pendleton Act); that Wilson was still recovering from a stroke in 1920, and would unlikely have been reelected, had he been the nominee of his party; and that Johnson would have had trouble being reelected, due to the Vietnam War. Only Washington and Coolidge probably would have had another term, had they sought it, but even there, Washington might have had opposition to a third term on the basis that it would be creating an image of a monarchy for him to have more than two terms in office. So only Coolidge would have been likely to have had smooth sailing for another term in the White House!