The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

November 16, 2012

The two-term era

Over the past six weeks, this column has been concentrating on presidential elections, since it only happens every four years.

In fact, all presidential elections are singular in our relatively short history as a nation — there have only been 57 presidential elections since the first in 1778-79.

And since that date, when George Washington became our first leader and began a journey from colonies and revolution up to this date in 2012, there have been exactly 44 presidents.

And, with Barack Obama’s re-election to a second term in office, he becomes the third consecutive president to win re-election.

While that may sound a bit common, it actually is extremely uncommon in U.S. history.

In fact, it’s the first time it has happened since the very earliest days of the republic, when Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all were elected to second terms in office.

It’s a reasonably singular accomplishment to be re-elected to the highest office in the land, and no small feat.

It’s only happened 14 times in history, starting with the most famous of all — General George.

Andrew Jackson was a famous two-term president, but was the last in the pre-Civil War era, as the next eight were fairly nondescript as presidents go, and all served but a single term in office.

An expanding America had something to do with that, but the biggest stumbling block was the specter of slavery, which set the tone and tenor for every single political debate until Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in the spring of 1865.

Settling the slavery question in blood and death finally turned America toward becoming an economic and world power.

While Abraham Lincoln was re-elected to office in 1864, the pistol shot of assassin John Wilkes Booth tragically ended his life and his second term in office.

Grant won two terms in office, but his second had to endure the Panic of 1873. Grover Cleveland served two terms as president, but not consecutively, the only president to ever accomplish that feat. But that was in the middle of nine more presidential terms after Grant that saw one-term presidents.

The assassinations of William McKinley and James A. Garfield cut short two more presidential terms. And, a fair number of U.S. presidents served presidential terms after the sitting president died in office or in one case resigned office, and you don’t count them as having been twice elected as president.

After the turn of the century, Americans elected another two-term president in Woodrow Wilson, and the nation soon was drawn into World War I. He was followed by a string of three more one-term presidents in Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

The Great Depression, as much as the Civil War, had a tremendous bearing on the nation’s highest office.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office, besting incumbent President Hoover in the election of 1932, the epic events of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl were followed by the Second World War, which propelled the New York Democrat into an unprecedented four terms in office — the last cut short by his untimely death.

The next two-term president was Dwight D. Eisenhower, war hero and political moderate.

His relatively quiet period in office, as far as history goes, was followed by John F. Kennedy, who was cut down by an assassin’s bullet in my lifetime.

Lyndon Johnson served out his term and was elected in a landslide in 1964, followed by Richard Nixon’s back-to-back presidential victories in 1968 and 1972. His second term was destroyed by the Watergate scandal and his subsequent resignation as president — and the short fill-in term of Gerald Ford.

After Jimmy Carter’s single term, the election of Ronald Reagan began the post-Cold War stretch we now see ourselves in — two terms the rule rather than the exception.

Reagan’s vice president, George H.W. Bush, was elected to a single term, but logically could be called an extension of the Reagan years and his influence on American politics.

With the ascendancy of Bill Clinton as a two-term American president, when he denied the elder Bush a second term in office, it began this current period we see ourselves in — when George W. Bush won two close, hotly contested elections to become a second straight two-term president.

Add to that the re-election of President Barack Obama — the first African-American to lead this nation — on Nov. 6, and the United States now has shown as much stability in selecting its presidents as at any time in our history.

And, starting with Reagan, four of the last five presidents have been two-term chief executives — an American milestone, historically speaking.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid news.com/histori callyspeaking

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