Presidential Terms of Office

by Mary E. Stuckey
Presidential Terms of Office

Richard Nixon’s resignation captures the Washington Post headline, August 9th, 1974.

Professor, Dept. of Communication Arts & Sciences

According to Article 1 of the Constitution, a presidential term lasts for 4 years, and ever since the Twenty-second Amendment passed in 1947, presidents can serve a maximum of 2 terms.

However, of the 45 people elected to the presidency:

~ 22 served for four years or less (Adams, Adams, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Johnson, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, Taft, Harding, Hoover, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Bush). Five of them (Tyler, Fillmore, Johnson, Arthur, and Ford) were never elected president;

~ 14 served two full terms (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama);

~ 4 (TR, Coolidge, Truman, and Johnson) succeeded to the office on the death of the president and were elected once in their own right, serving almost two full terms;

~ 3 were elected to 2 full terms but were assassinated (Lincoln and McKinley) or resigned (Nixon) before completing their second term;

~ 1 (FDR) was elected 4 times, but served only 12 of them, dying early in his fourth term;

~ 1 (Cleveland) served 2 non-consecutive terms, making him presidents #22 and #24;

~ 1 (Trump) is still serving his first term.

It’s not always routine to serve a full two terms.

Presidents have died in office; they have been assassinated; one has resigned.

Two presidents have been impeached; neither of them was convicted.

Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Congress passed and the states ratified the Twenty-fifth amendment, providing for presidential succession “in case of the removal of the President from office or his death or resignation.” In such an event, the Vice President becomes president. A vacancy in the vice presidency is filled after a presidential nomination is confirmed by majorities of both houses of Congress. The amendment further provides for a temporary cession of executive power to the vice president in case of presidential incapacity. Finally, the amendment allows for the removal of a president without going through the impeachment process. In that case, the Vice President and a majority of Cabinet officers must send, in writing, notification to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, a statement declaring that the president is unfit to discharge the duties of the office. The president may choose to disagree, in which case, the Congress will decide; a two-thirds majority in both houses is required to remove a president from office.

Presidents don’t always serve two full terms; but elections are the easiest and most common way of limiting a president’s time in office.