Donald Trump Isn’t the First President Who Didn’t Serve in the Military
If a presidential candidate didn’t serve in the military — or had a distinguished military career — it’s often a much talked about issue during presidential campaigns. This can work both ways, of course. For example, President George H.W. Bush was a decorated navy pilot during World War II, but President Bill Clinton clearly didn’t want any part of the Vietnam War except to oppose it.
1. Donald Trump
Term: 2017 to present
Previous experience: Trump is the first president with zero previous experience in the government or military, according to History. A New York real estate mogul, Trump was also a reality TV star on the show The Apprentice, which spawned an offshoot show, The Celebrity Apprentice.
Next: No barracks for Barack
2. Barack Obama
Term: 2009 to 2017
Previous experience: Barack Obama was not in the military, but he was president of the Harvard Law Review, according to Biography. In addition, Obama put in time as a U.S. senator representing Illinois. As the first U.S. African-American president, he served two terms.
Next: Draft dodger?
3. Bill Clinton
Term: 1993 to 2001
Previous experience: Clinton served from 1993 to 2001, but the Democrat never spent time in the military — in fact, he avoided the Vietnam-era draft — according to The New York Times. Clinton was, however, the governor of Arkansas, his home state, from 1979 to 1981, and again from 1983 to 1992.
Next: A leader of a war, but not a soldier
4. John Adams
Term: 1797 to 1801
Previous experience: John Adams was another president who did not serve in the military, according to The New York Times. As the leader of the American Revolution you would think Adams would have done battle, but you’d be wrong.
He did, however, work as a lawyer and diplomat in Europe in the 1780s to help negotiate the end to the American Revolution, the Treaty of Paris. In addition, he served as America’s first vice president under Thomas Jefferson.
Next: Military service — absent
5. Thomas Jefferson
Term: 1801 to 1809
Previous experience: Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, served in the Virginia Legislature and Continental Congress during the American Revolutionary War, and was governor of Virginia. But he never served in the military, according to The New York Times.
Under Jefferson’s tenure, the U.S. purchased the Louisiana Territory and Lewis and Clark explored it. After Jefferson left office, the concentrated on helping to establish the University of Virginia and lived the rest of his life his Virginia plantation, Monticello.
Next: Definitely not a military man
6. John Quincy Adams
Term: 1825 to 1829
Previous experience: John Quincy Adams was not a military man, according to The New York Times, but he brought a wealth of experience to the presidency. He served in the Massachusetts State Senate and the U.S. Senate, according to History, and as secretary of state under James Monroe. He served only one term as president and afterwards was elected to the House of Representatives in 1830, where he served until he died in 1848.
Next: No battle-rattle for this president
7. Martin Van Buren
Term: 1837 to 1841
Previous experience: According to The New York Times, Martin Van Buren was not a member of the military. He did, however, win a U.S. Senate seat in 1821 and he helped form the new Democratic Party, which consisted of Jeffersonian Republicans who backed military hero Andrew Jackson. Fun fact: Van Buren was the first U.S. president who was born a U.S. citizen instead of a British subject.
Next: No fighting for Fillmore
8. Millard Fillmore
Term: 1850 to 1853
Previous experience: When Millard Fillmore assumed the presidency after Zachary Taylor died, he was responsible for the Treaty of Kanagawa, which forced Japan to trade, according to Biography. Fillmore did a lot before he became vice president under Taylor.
Fillmore helped establish the University at Buffalo and was its first chancellor, In 1847, he was elected as New York comptroller, a prestigious position in which he revised the banking system in New York. The one thing Fillmore didn’t do, however, is serve time in the military.
Next: This is truly shocking.
9. Grover Cleveland
Term: 1885 to 1889 and 1893 to 1897
Previous experience: Grover Cleveland was drafted during the Civil War, according to The New York Times, but he chose not to leave his law practice. Instead, he paid a substitute $150 to go for him. Disclaimer: this was a perfectly legal option back then under the Conscription Act of 1863
Cleveland is the only president to date who served two nonconsecutive terms, according to History. Apparently, his draft dodging was not an issue with his constituents.
Next: Secretary of War, but not a soldier
10. William Howard Taft
Term: 1909 to 1913
Previous experience: Taft served as Secretary of War, but never went to war — or served in the military — according to The New York Times. He brought significant experience to the White House, however.
Taft served as a judge in Ohio Superior Court and in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to History. In addition, he became the first civilian governor of the Philippines in 1900. After his presidency, Taft became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served until he died in 1930.
Next: This president negotiated a peace treaty.
11. Woodrow Wilson
Term: 1913 to 1921
Previous experience: Woodrow Wilson led the U.S. through World War I but never served in the military, according to The New York Times. In 1920, he was elected governor of New Jersey and then nominated for president in 1912. He might not served in the military, but Wilson won the Nobel Prize for the peace treaty he negotiated, which ended the war in 1918.
Next: No service for this leader
12. Warren G. Harding
Term: 1921 to 1923
Previous experience: According to History, prior to becoming president Warren G. Harding was a newspaper publisher who served in the Ohio legislature and the U.S. Senate. American’s 29th president, however, was not a member of the military.
Unfortunately, Harding’s presidency was marred by his cabinet members’ criminal activities, even though he was not involved in the goings-on. After he died, the Teapot Dome Scandal was revealed, which involved the secretary of the interior, Albert Bacon Fall, leasing federal oil reserves.
Next: White House duty
13. Calvin Coolidge
Term: 1923 to 1929
Previous experience: Calvin Coolidge had to step into the presidency after Warren G. Harding died suddenly in 1923, according to History. Coolidge accomplished a lot during his presidency, but he never served in the military.
The former governor of Massachusetts cleaned up the mess Harding left — the administration was rampant with scandal and corruption — and he favored tax cuts and limited government spending. Unfortunately, experts agree that some of his policies caused the economic issues that plunged the country into the Great Depression.
Next: This president waged war on the Depression.
14. Herbert Hoover
Term: 1929 to 1933
Previous experience: Although Herbert Hoover never served in the military, according to The New York Times, he had to wage war on the Great Depression when he took office in 1929. Unfortunately, many Americans blamed Hoover for the Depression because he never leveraged the federal government’s power to put an end to it.
Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt soundly defeated Hoover when Hoover ran for reelection. Fun fact: Prior to serving as president, Hoover became a multimillionaire by traveling around the world identifying and getting mineral deposits mined.
Next: Definitely not all in the family
15. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Previous experience: The New York Times reports that Franklin D. Roosevelt never served in the military, unlike his cousin, Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt. He did, however, serve two terms as governor of New York before he was elected in 1932.
Roosevelt restored public confidence during the Depression through his ambitious New Deal programs — and he redefined the federal government’s role in Americans’ lives. He is the only U.S. president who has been elected four times.
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