US Presidents that failed to get re-elected
As of 2020, 44 men have held the office of the President of the United States; but have you ever wondered which of those commanders-in-chief served in the Oval Office for just a single term?
In the article below, World History Edu presents a complete list of all the one-term US Presidents that failed in their bids to get re-elected at the polls:
John Adams, America’s second president and the first vice president of the country, was a colossal figure during the formation of our beloved nation. He was famously part of the five-member committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Other members of the committee included Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson (Virginia delegate), Roger Sherman (Connecticut delegate), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania delegate) and Robert R. Livingston (New York delegate).
John Adams’ term as vice president (1789-1797) came during the presidency of fellow Founding Father and first president of the nation, George Washington. Following the departure of George Washington, John Adams got elected and went on to serve as the 2nd President of the United States.
His tenure as the nation’s commander in chief was not as smooth sailing as his predecessor. The Adams administration was mired by immense opposition – i.e. Federalist versus Antifederalist. Owing to this average showing in office, Adams was defeated by Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson in 1800. The Alien and Sedition acts were just some of the reasons why John Adams failed to get re-elected.
- Major Accomplishments by George Washington
- John Hancock: Biography and Major Facts
- Founding Father William Floyd: Major Achievements
John Quincy Adams
Was it sheer coincidence that the next one-term U.S. President happened to be a descendant of John Adams? Perhaps voters easily get tired of the Adams after four years in the White House. In John Quincy Adams’ case, his administration simply could not shake off the barrage of criticisms and corruption allegations that were thrown his way by the War of 1812 national hero Andrew Jackson and his supporters.
After serving from 1825 to 1829, America’s sixth president John Quincy Adams lost his re-election bid to long-time foe and renowned war hero Andrew Jackson of the Democratic Party.
Martin Van Buren
Nicknamed “Old Kinderhook”, Martin Van Buren was a Democrat and a protégé of Andrew Jackson (America’s seventh president). Van Buren began his political career in his state New York and gradually proceeded to occupy all the top elected jobs in Washington – from U.S. Senator, to Secretary of State (1829) and then Vice President of the United States (1833-1837). The last two offices came in Andrew Jackson’s administration.
Hence, it was not surprising when Martin Van Buren defeated William H. Harrison in the general election of 1836. The van Buren administration performed abysmally in their handling of the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis that wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy.
Therefore, President Van Buren’s dream of securing a second term was eviscerated after Whig Party candidate William Henry Harrison handed the Dutch-decent president a resounding defeat in the 1840 presidential election.
Throughout American history, President Grover Cleveland is the only one to serve two non-consecutive four-year term. This makes him the 22nd (1885-1889) and 24th (1893-1897) president of the United States.
The reason why he is on this list is because he lost a bid to get re-elected in 1888 to Republican Benjamin Harrison. Four years later, in 1892, Grover Cleveland made a comeback and defeated his old rival, incumbent President Benjamin Harrison. He didn’t bother himself contesting for a third term in 1896 as the Silverites completely dominated the Democratic Party.
A grandson of William Henry Harrison (9th president of the United States), Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent president Grover Cleveland in 1888; however, little did he know that he would serve just a single term in Washington.
President Harrison’s term in office – 1889 to 1893 – was characterized by the unpopular high tariffs. By the time he left office, he had used up the nation’s surplus in the Treasury and the nation’s economic health was declining. His challenges were also compounded by the Democrats sweeping victory at the 1890 congressional election.
Going into the 1892 presidential election, many of his Republican Party members were not confident about him wining; so, Benjamin Harrison lost to former president Grover Cleveland.
To be fair to him, he probably lost his bearings and interest after his world was turned upside down with the passing of his wife just a few weeks before the election.
William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft is usually described as the only American who served as president of the United States (27th president) and then later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (10th Chief Justice).
Taft’s presidency, which was from 1909-1913, was viewed as too conservative by Progressives in his own political party. Owing to that the Republican president lost to Woodrow Wilson of the Democratic Party In 1912.
His defeat was partly due to the disagreement he had with former president Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt broke away from the Republicans and took his fellow progressive Republicans to form the Progressive Party. Interestingly, Roosevelt performed better than Taft in the 1912 presidential election. In effect, Roosevelt’s actions handed the Democrats and Woodrow Wilson an easy win.
It is interesting to note that majority of these one-term U.S. presidents appear frequently whenever lists of worst or forgettable U.S. presidents are made. One such president was Herbert Hoover – a man who performed brilliantly well prior to entering the White House.
Perhaps due to the immense responsibilities of the office, President Hoover somehow lost his touch. The Republican’s term of office (1929-1933) was besieged by a number of grand problems. The most notable of those problems came in the form of the Great Depression – an economic calamity so dire it still remains fresh in the collective memory of historians to this day.
President Hoover was completely overwhelmed by the stock market crash and the resulting hyper unemployment. Right from the get go it was obvious that he was never going to get re-elected. Hoover was booted out of office by the American public; and his replacement, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, went on to become America’s longest-serving president and one of the most influential US presidents of all time.
Not many people in America today remember President Gerald Ford. The reason being that this 38th president of the United States had to grapple with the raging Cold War against the Soviets. Throw in a depressed economy, an energy crisis and a number of geopolitical crisis, into the mix, and you instantly realize that there was no way President Ford could have gotten re-elected in 1976. The Republican was defeated by Jimmy Carter from the Democratic Party. To be fair to President Ford, he was not really elected in the first place. He was simply elevated to the nation’s highest office after his boss President Nixon resigned in 1974.
After taking the presidential oath in 1977, Jimmy Carter and his administration struggled to keep inflation down to a reasonable digit. Confidence in Jimmy Carter also faded with each passing day that Iran held 52 Americans hostage. In the end, the Democrat was not given a second term in 1980; he was defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan.
Read More: 10 Major Accomplishments of Jimmy Carter
George H.W. Bush
Before becoming the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush (also known as George Bush Sr.) served as the vice president (1981-1989) to President Ronald Reagan. His election victory in 1988 meant that the nation was handing the Republicans 12 years in the White House. Such continuation was rare in that era. That is not to say that Americans factored that into consideration when they snubbed Bush and elected Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992. The major issue was that President George H.W. Bush struggled to find antidotes to America’s sluggish economy and the violence that erupted in many cities across the nation.
To this day, he remains the most recent US president who failed to win a re-election*. Will his position soon be occupied by another defeated president? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
* Following his loss in November, 2020, Donald J. Trump is currently the last U.S. president to to serve one term in office.