One Term Presidents Who Lose Reelection Reassessed

The historical image of One Term Presidents is that it is the worst thing imaginable to lose reelection, and that their historical image is damaged.

Actually, though, it could be argued that a one term Presidency often is a blessing in disguise in the long run.

Let’s examine what happened to the lives of Presidents defeated for a second term.

John Adams lost reelection to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, but went on to live another 25 years, see his son John Quincy Adams be elected and inaugurated President, and die at the age of 90 years and seven months, the all time record until the 21st century, when four other Presidents surpassed him in age.

John Quincy Adams lost reelection to Andrew Jackson in 1828, but went on to live another 19 years, and be elected to nine terms as a Congressman from Massachusetts, engaged in the fight against slavery as the only President elected by popular vote to an elected office after being President.

Martin Van Buren lost reelection to William Henry Harrison in 1840, but went on to live another 21 years, and be the Presidential nominee of the Free Soil Party in 1848, winning about 10 percent of the national popular vote, the first such third party to have an impact on a national election.

Grover Cleveland lost reelection to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, but came back to the White House by election in 1892, and later served on the Princeton University Board of Trustees after his retirement.

William Howard Taft lost reelection to Woodrow Wilson in 1912, but went on to become the only President also to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1921-1930.

Herbert Hoover lost reelection to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, but went on to the longest retirement of more than 31 years, only surpassed by Jimmy Carter in 2012, and Hoover having growing respect for his post Presidential activities, and dying at the age of 90 in 1964, only five months less lifespan than John Adams, and the second President to reach that age.

Gerald Ford lost election to Jimmy Carter in 1976, after succeeding Richard Nixon under the 25th Amendment, but went on to growing recognition and respect in his nearly 30 years after his Presidency, setting the record for longevity until 2018, dying at the age of 93 and five months.

Jimmy Carter lost reelection to Ronald Reagan in 1980, but went on to become the most outstanding former President in his activities and commitments to public service, and has had the longest retirement of any President, nearly 38 years, and has just reached the age of 94, being 111 days younger than George H. W. Bush.

George H. W. Bush lost reelection to Bill Clinton in 1992, but went on to see his son, George W. Bush be inaugurated and serve two terms in the Presidency, and growing respect as he set the all time record of age 94 in June 2018.

3 comments on “One Term Presidents Who Lose Reelection Reassessed

  1. D October 2, 2018 6:23 pm

    One-term U.S. presidents are, so often, treated like they are failures. It is a mindset. Win—or you are a loser! But, I think that doesn’t give it enough thought.

    What tends to happen, more than anything else explaining it, is a bad economy and/or massive unemployment strikes on the watch of an incumbent U.S. president. That incumbent U.S. president, still in his first term and approximately a year from the next scheduled presidential election, ends up on the wrong side of a tide that will go against him.

    I was born in 1971. Two of the unseated presidents—Democrat Jimmy Carter, in 1980, and Republican George Bush, in 1992—experienced this big time. The country really turned on them. The voters wanted them gone. After carrying 23 states, plus District of Columbia, and 297 election votes, from 1976, Carter’s unseating by Ronald Reagan saw 17 of those states and their 248 electoral votes flip to the 1980 Republican pickup column for Reagan. After carrying 40 states and 426 electoral votes, from 1988, Bush”s unseating by Bill Clinton saw 22 of those states and their [the 1990s allocated] 265 electoral votes flip to the 1992 Democratic pickup column for Clinton.

    I happened to come across this video from Election Night 1992. It was uploaded to YouTube by videoholicULTIMATE. (It may or may not have originally been uploaded by that member.) It starts just minutes from 08:00 p.m. The date was Tuesday, November 3, 1992. At the mark of 05:45, CBS’s Dan Rather begins announcing new projections, at 08:00 p.m. ET, of how that election is progressing. District of Columbia and Massachusetts, the home state of losing 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, naturally carry as Democratic holds for Clinton. The rest of the projections, for Clinton, are Democratic pickups—illustrating well (and credit to Rather on his delivery) for what a wave had been building. (And the election had not yet been called. It was called after 10:30 p.m. ET.) My thoughts of it are not only about the incredible wave toward Clinton, yes, but also how dramatically and seemingly swiftly the voters ushered out of the presidency of the senior Bush.

    It was quite something.

  2. Ronald October 2, 2018 6:34 pm

    Thanks, D, for your comment.

    In the cases of Van Buren, Hoover, Carter, and Bush, indeed, it WAS bad economic times, panics, depression, recession, that helped to defeat those Presidents.

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