Generals and the U.S. Presidency
How have former generals fared in U.S. politics? Our best facts on generals who made it to the White House.
January 27, 2004
The New Hampshire primary on January 27, 2004, was the first big test to see whether Wesley Clark — NATO’s former supreme commander — can find broad support among the American electorate. If he were to make it all the way to the White House, he would be far from the first general to do so. Our Globalist Factsheet takes a look at other former generals — and their bids for the U.S. presidency.
How many generals have gone on to become president?
Of America's 43 presidents, 12 have been former generals.
How does this stack up to other occupations?
Being a general is second only to being a lawyer in terms of the most common occupation of those who become president.
When entering politics, which party have generals tended to chose?
Of the 12 generals who became president, eight were of the Republican persuasion — William H. Harrison (Whig), Zachary Taylor (Whig), Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Harrison and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
And how many Democrats were there?
Of the generals elected to the presidency, only three were Democrats — Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson.
What about the one remaining former general?
The only general to become president without being a member of a particular party was George Washington. He transcended political parties.
What else is curious about this trend?
The last Democratic president to have been a general was Andrew Johnson, who lost the presidency in 1869. Since that year, there have been six Republican presidents who were former generals.
When was the last time the Democrats nominated a general for president?
The last former general nominated by the Democrats was Winfield Scott Hancock in 1880. He lost to another former general, James Garfield, in the 1880 presidential election.
What role did military success play in some of these generals coming into the White House?
George Washington came into office directly after winning the War of Independence. Andrew Jackson was elected after defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Zachary Taylor came into office after defeating Mexico in the U.S.-Mexican War. Ulysses Grant became President soon after forcing three Confederate armies to surrender. And Dwight Eisenhower was elected soon after the defeat of Germany in World War II.
Of these generals, how many have become president during the last century and a half?
Since the 1850s, only two former generals who waged successful military campaigns were able to ride this momentum into the White House — Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
How many former generals who became president were professional soldiers?
Of all the generals to become president, only three — George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower — were professional soldiers who spent their entire lives in the military before becoming president.
And how many generals had left the military long before they became president?
Six of the 12 presidents — Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison — had all been out of the military for some time before becoming president. The memory of their military success hardly contributed to their election.
Finally, overall, how many presidents have served in the military?
Of the 43 men who have been president, all but 12 have had some sort of military service.