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.

Historically, however, has previous military service really mattered in the White House? Read about the 15 U.S. presidents who have held office but never served, then decide for yourself.

1. Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald J. Trump (C) delivers his first address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress

Trump is the first president to have zero experience. | Jim Lo Scalzo – Pool/Getty Images

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

Barack Obama in a dark suit against a black background

He served as a senator but did not have military experience. | Pablo Gasparini /AFP/Getty Images

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

president bill clinton giving his inaugural address

Clinton avoided the draft, but did participate in government. | Pool/AFP/Getty Images

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

President John Adams

He was a lawyer and a diplomat — not a soldier. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

Thomas Jefferson

Another founding father who didn’t have military experience. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the US

He had plenty of other experience to make up for it. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

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

Martin Van Buren

He was the first natural born U.S. president. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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

President Millard Fillmore

Thankfully he had experience as vice president, because he didn’t have military experience. | National Archive/Newsmakers

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

Grover Cleveland portrait

He was drafted, but paid a substitute to go to war. | The White House Historical Association

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

William Taft

He was Secretary of War without ever being in the military. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

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

Woodrow Wilson

He won the Nobel Prize for his peace treaty. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

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

Warren G. Harding

He was a newspaperman before becoming a politician. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

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

Calvin Coolidge

He tried to clean up Harding’s mess, but probably caused the Great Depression. | National Archives/Getty Images

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

Herbert Hoover in a coat and tie

He was blamed for a lot of the problems that led to the Great Depression. | Central Press/Getty Images

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

United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt

He didn’t serve in the military unlike his cousin. | Central Press/Getty Images

Term: 1933-1945

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.

Read more: These Are the Biggest Lies Told by Other U.S. Presidents and How Donald Trump Compares

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