Ranking Presidents By Length of Tenure

Today is a big day in the Trump Administration. For today, September 16, Donald Trump’s presidency is 969 days long, moving him into the 38th longest presidency. But who did he pass? And who are the six men to rank lower than Trump’s 2 years and 8 months? And who does he have to catch for 37th? And when will that be?

These are all questions of no consequence, but PPFA is nothing if not inconsequential. Here is a list of presidential administrations in order of length of tenure in office.

Tier 1: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd president, 1933-1945: You probably knew this one. Our only president elected to a third — to say nothing of fourth! — term, FDR had a little over 12 years in office before dying three months into his fourth term. In total, Roosevelt, our 32nd president, sat in office for 4,422 days, dwarfing the field.

Tier 2: The Complete Two-Termers — these 12 presidents had two complete terms — including two leap years — for a total of 2,922 days in office. They all tie for the second longest tenure.

2. Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president, 1801-1809
2. James Madison, #4, 1809-1817
2. James Monroe, #5, 1817-1825
2. Andrew Jackson, #7, 1829-1837
2. Ulysses S. Grant, #18, 1869-1877
2. Grover Cleveland, #22 & #24, 1885-1889; 1893-1897
2. Woodrow Wilson, #28, 1913-1921
2. Dwight D. Eisenhower, #34, 1953-1961
2. Ronald Reagan, #40, 1981-1989
2. Bill Clinton, #42, 1993-2001
2. George W. Bush, #43, 2001-2009
2. Barack Obama, #44, 2009-2017

Notice that between Jackson and Reagan, only three presidents were re-elected. (Cleveland lost re-election before earning a fresh term four years later.) Before and since, however, it’s much more common.

Tier 3: The Nearly Eight Full Years Presidents — these presidents appear to have had eight years… until you take a closer look.

14. George Washington, #1, 1789-1797: A delayed initial election put Washington into office on April 30, 1789, but presidential terms ended on March 4 (until 1933, when the 20th Amendment switched inauguration day to our familiar January 20). Therefore, unlike the Tier 2 presidents, he had only 2,865 days.
15. Harry S Truman, #33, 1945-1953: Truman took over after FDR’s death three months into his fourth term. Truman went on to win a term of his own, therefore giving him about 7 years, 9 months on the job, or 2,840 days.
16. Theodore Roosevelt, #26, 1901-1909: Similarly, Roosevelt succeeded the assassinated William McKinley about six months into McKinley’s second term and then won four more years of his own. In total, he had about seven-and-a-half years in office for a total of 2,728 days.

It’s worth noting that each of the Tier 3 presidents could have run for a third term but chose not to (though it’s worth nothing Roosevelt tried a third party bid four years after he left office). It’s not until the Truman Administration where the 22nd Amendment, which limited presidential terms, was passed, and Truman was grandfathered in. Starting with his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, presidents have been term-limited.

Tier 4: The One-Term-Plus Presidents — These presidents served more than one term, but they didn’t get into an eighth year.

17. Calvin Coolidge, #31, 1923-1929: Coolidge completed Warren G. Harding’s first term after his death about two-and-a-half years into his presidency, then served a term of his own for a total of 2,041 days.
18. Richard Nixon, #37, 1969-1974: Nixon was re-elected in 1972 before voluntarily leaving office halfway through his second term, on his 2,027th day, without a hint of controversy whatsoever.
19. Lyndon Johnson, #36, 1963-1969: LBJ took over after JFK’s assassination then was elected to his own term, ultimately leaving office with 1,886 days under his Texas-sized belt.
20. William McKinley, #25, 1897-1901: The aforementioned McKinley was re-elected then assassinated six months into his second term, raising Teddy Roosevelt into the White House. McKinley finished with 1,654 days as commander-in-chief.
21. Abraham Lincoln, #16, 1861-1865: Lincoln was also assassinated shortly into his second term — only about one month into it — finishing with 1,503 days.

Tier 5: One-Termers Who Had a Leap Year — These 11 one-termers served 1,461 days.

22. John Quincy Adams, #6, 1825-1829
22. Martin Van Buren, #8, 1837-1841
22. James K. Polk, #11, 1845-1849
22. Franklin Pierce, #14, 1853-1857
22. James Buchanan, #15, 1857-1861
22. Rutherford B. Hayes, #19, 1877-1881
22. Benjamin Harrison, #23, 1889-1893
22. William Howard Taft, #27, 1909-1913
22. Herbert Hoover, #31, 1929-1933
22. Jimmy Carter, #39, 1977-1981
22. George HW Bush, #41, 1989-1993

Tier 6: The One-Termer Who Did NOT Have a Leap Year

33. John Adams, #2, 1797-1801: According to the quirks of the Gregorian Calendar explained by the misleadingly named MathIsFun.com, leap years occur every four years except in years divisible by 100 unless the year divisible by 100 is divisible by 400. (I’ll give you a second.) Adams, who was president during the year 1800, therefore did not have the benefit of a leap year in his single term, and he served only 1,460 days. Only two other presidents served during years that have a relationship to the weird leap year rule, but they do not provide company to the lonely Adams in Tier 6.

  1. President McKinley was president during the leap-year-less 1900, but he was re-elected to a second term. (See Tier 4.)
  2. President Clinton was in office during 2000, but that was his second term and, remember, years divisible by 400 do have leap years. As a result, Clinton served the full 2,922 days. (See Tier 2.)

Tier 7: More Than a Half Term

34. John Tyler, #10, 1841-1845: Tyler followed William Henry Harrison’s one-month presidency.  (More on that in Tier 8.) He finished with a nearly complete 1,430-day term.
35. Andrew Johnson, #17, 1865-1869: Johnson finished Lincoln’s tragically abbreviated second term in a 1,419-day presidency.
36. Chester Arthur, #21, 1881-1885: Arthur completed the term of James Garfield. (See Tier 8.) He totaled 1,262 days in the process.
37. John F. Kennedy, #35, 1961-1963: Kennedy was struck down by several hundred bullets fired from dozens of angles and assassins 1,036 days into his term.
38. Millard Fillmore, #13, 1850-1853:
38. Donald Trump, #45, 2017-????: And here we arrived at the 38th longest presidency. Today, Donald Trump matches Millard Fillmore’s forgettable 969 days in the White House, finishing the term of Zachary Taylor. (Say what you want about the Trump Administration, but it will not be forgettable.) Next up for Trump will be passing Kennedy on the anniversary of JFK’s assassination — November 22.
40. Gerald Ford, #38, 1974-1977: Finishing Nixon’s post-resignation term took 895 days.
41. Warren G. Harding, #29, 1921-1923: By two weeks, Ford’s presidency lasted longer than that of President Harding, who died nearly 30 months into office, or 881 days.

Tier 8 — We Barely Knew Ye

42. Zachary Taylor, #12, 1849-1850: Taylor celebrated his second July 4 in office by eating bad fruit and milk, which brought about gastroenteritis. In 1850, that was apparently a death sentence. He died less than a week later, 492 days into his presidency. Tier 7’s Millard Fillmore completed his term.
43. James Garfield, #20, 1881: Garfield, the only incumbent member of the House ever elected president, was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Though not immediately life-threatening, the bullet remained inside him as doctors with unsterilized hands poked around for it unsuccessfully. Over the next two months, infection did the rest. Garfield died on September 18 with just a 199-day presidency. Arthur completed his term.
44. William Henry Harrison, #9, 1841: If tragedy plus time equals comedy, then Harrison’s story has been hilarious for a while now. Winning the Election of 1840 at 67 years of age — our oldest elected president until Ronald Reagan — he wanted to prove his vigor with the longest inaugural address in the country’s history, which would also help dispel his characterization as an unlearned military man from back-country Ohio. So, during a cold, wet Washington day on March 4, 1841, he insisted on delivering his entire two-hour speech without a coat or a hat. Then he got sick. Then he died. The date was April 4, 1841 — just one month into his presidency. Vice President Tyler became the first VP to ascend to the presidency mid-term (if we can even call it “mid”), and his 3 years and 11 months in office landed him at the top of today’s seventh tier.

May the countdown to November 22 commence!

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