Thinking About Presidents’ Day

Posted February 11, 2010 in On the Lighter Side by

On Monday the nation celebrates George Washington’s Birthday, though the holiday is often informally referred to as Presidents’ Day. Did you know that 26 presidents were also lawyers? For today’s post, I thought it would be fun to share some presidential trivia.

Presidents as Lawyers

Twelve of our presidents were also military generals, but overwhelmingly we elect lawyers to serve as president. Do you know who was the first lawyer elected as U.S. president? It’s our second president, John Adams. Here are the others:

  • Thomas Jefferson
  • James Madison
  • James Monroe
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Andrew Jackson
  • Martin Van Buren
  • John Tyler
  • James Polk
  • Millard Fillmore
  • Franklin Pierce
  • James Buchanan
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Rutherford Hayes
  • Chester Arthur
  • Grover Cleveland
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • William McKinley
  • William Taft
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Calvin Coolidge
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Richard Nixon
  • Gerald Ford
  • William Clinton
  • Barack Obama

Presidents as Judges

Here’s a trick question: Two of our presidents served as judges. Both worked as judges before being elected president and one returned to the bench after leaving office. Can you name the two presidents?

If you answered Presidents Taft and Truman, you’re correct. Both of these are interesting, each for different reasons.

President Taft left office in 1913 and, eight years later, was appointed to serve as U.S. Supreme Court Justice, a seat he held until his death in 1930. Among his fellow justices, Taft served on the Supreme Court with two he originally nominated to the court.

If you glance back at the list of president-lawyers, you may have noticed that President Truman wasn’t on that list. It’s not a mistake. Although Truman served as judge of the County Court of the eastern district of Jackson County, Mo., he wasn’t a lawyer. The position was administrative, not judicial.

Harvard Rules, Sort of

Harvard can claim more presidents as alums than any other college or university in the country, though Yale is close behind. Eight of our presidents have an undergraduate or graduate degree from Harvard, but Harvard Law can only take credit for two of those alums: Presidents Obama and Hayes. Yale has five presidential alums, including President Clinton (who attended Harvard Law) and both Presidents Bush.

Lawyer Candidates in Recent Years

Can you guess which political party has overwhelmingly selected lawyers as presidential candidates in more recent years? If you answered the Democrats, you’re correct. Since 1980, 10 of 12 Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates have been lawyers. (That tally omits Al Gore, who attended law school, but never graduated.) The Republicans, in comparison, have only nominated two of nine presidential and vice presidential candidates who were lawyers.

Interested in more presidential trivia? and USA Today have some fun and interesting facts about our nation’s leaders. And if you have an interesting piece of presidential trivia, why don’t you share it with us on Twitter.

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