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Two-Term Presidencies Becoming The Rule

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Two-Term Presidencies Becoming The Rule

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In all of American history, there’s never been a better time to be an incumbent president. For only the second time ever, three consecutive presidents have been re-elected.

The first trio served in the early days of the republic: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. All were members of the Democratic-Republican Party -- the predecessor of today’s Democrats -- which was so dominant that the United States was basically a one-party nation. Monroe ran unopposed in the 1820 election, winning all but one electoral vote, which went to John Quincy Adams, who would be elected president in 1824.

In fact, between 1820 and the modern era, we had only one pair of back-to-back re-elected presidents -- Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. And Lincoln, of course, didn’t serve his second term.

Now that Barack Obama has joined Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as two-term presidents, it’s worth asking why the presidency has become so stable.

Two-term presidencies haven’t always been seen as desirable. In the 19th Century, several presidents willingly left office after four years: James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester Arthur. In the 20th, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Lyndon Johnson all stepped aside rather than run for another term. Now, every president runs for re-election.

Better health care and presidential protection are two other reasons. Between 1841 and 1963, eight presidents died in office -- four of natural causes, four by assassination. Now, most presidents live into their 90s, and the Secret Service has built an impenetrable security shield around chief executives.

In our era, neither party is politically dominant, so they’ve been swapping the presidency every eight years. The last one-term president, George H.W. Bush, succeeded two-term Ronald Reagan, and lost because the country was tired of Republicans after 12 years.  

That’s why I’m betting we elect a Republican in 2016 -- and again in 2020.

 

This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

Related Topics Barack Obama
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