Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December 26, 1972 & 2006:

Harry Truman and Gerald Ford Die

Today is the first anniversary of Gerald Ford's death, and the 35th anniversary of the passing of Harry Truman. Ford lived longer than any other person who held that office, besting old intramural rival Ronald Reagan only about six weeks before his (Ford's) death. Ford also was the third-oldest vice president; only Levi P. Morton (96) and John Nance Garner (98) lived longer. Truman didn't do so badly in terms of longevity, either. He lived to be 88, and as such is number five among presidents in lifespan, after Ford, Reagan, John Adams and Hoover.

Ford was also a member of that informal club, presidential short-timers. In fact, among all holders of the office, he was president for less time than all but four others: William Henry Harrison, whose famously abbreviated term lasted about a month in 1841; the unlucky James Garfield, who died that the spoils system might end, after 199 days as president in 1881; Zachary Taylor (one year, 128 days), who withstood bad army food much of his adult life but not bad cherries on the Fourth of July, 1850; and Warren Harding, who shocked the nation in 1923 by dropping dead before the enfeebled former President Wilson, serving only two years and 151 days.

Gerald Ford was president a little longer than Harding, two years and 164 days, and among presidents who survived their time in office, his was the shortest service. Millard Fillmore, who lived on after his presidency to be the first citizen of Buffalo and a Know-Nothing besides, was in office a little longer than Ford, occupying the White House for two years and 236 days.

Short time is actually fairly common in the rough-and-tumble of the US presidency. Among the 41 individuals who were president in the past – not counting the current officeholder, since history isn’t done with him yet, and counting Grover Cleveland only once for this purpose – only 11 have held the office eight years or longer (FDR being the obvious “or longer” in this category), 12 if you count George Washington. The time between Washington’s inauguration on April 30, 1789, and the end of his presidency on March 4, 1797, was only seven years and 308 days, but the government was new and things couldn’t be ready in time for an on-time swearing in, so I’m inclined to credit him the full eight years. Another seven men held the office for less than eight but more than four years; a dozen held office exactly four years; and ten didn’t even get a full term.

Eight years or more (in order, including Washington): Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton.

Between four and eight years: Lincoln, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon.

Four years exactly: John Adams, John Q. Adams, Van Buren, Polk, Pierce, Buchanan, Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, Taft, Hoover, Carter, George H.W. Bush.

Less than four years: William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Garfield, Arthur, Harding, Kennedy, Ford.

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