For some Presidents of the United States, the title “Commander-in-Chief” was their first association and affiliation with the military, but the majority of our country’s leaders have had the opportunity of earning the title of being a Veteran.
Out first President George Washington, set an important and profound precedent by entering the Presidency as a civilian, rather than as a commanding general with military forces at his disposal. Washington voluntarily resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army in December 1783 before re-entering public service four years later. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and became the only President in American history to receive a vote from every elector.
The prevalence of Presidential Veterans often corresponded with America’s military engagements time spent on the battlefield. Until World War II, a majority of our Presidents had served in the Army; since then, most served in the Navy.
Our ninth President, William Henry Harrison, embarked on his military career at age 18, enlisting 80 men off the streets of Philadelphia to serve in the Northwest Territory. Harrison quickly rose through the ranks and distinguished himself in battle during the Indian campaigns in what is now the Midwest. His strategies where questioned but his valiant wins quickly became the talk of the nation.
Civil War Veteran Ulysses S. Grant also gained buzz and prestige for his military service. Grant was a West Point graduate who fought in the Mexican War, but it was his calm, stout command of Union troops during the Civil War that earned Lincoln’s confidence. The Civil War produced seven Veteran Presidents in the post-war period, all of them having served in the Union Army.
Past Presidents did not use military experience solely as a step to have to gain power. In the Spanish-American War Veteran Theodore Roosevelt was a man of action, a man with a plan. In 1902, he was the first to call upon the services of the international Court of Arbitration at The Hague to resolve the differences between the United States and Mexico. He also served as mediator between Japan and Russia, leading them to a 1905 peace treaty.
The First and Second World Wars ushered in another series of Veteran Presidents, starting with Harry Truman and West Point graduate General Dwight Eisenhower. Both men where dynamic leaders with Trumans Doctrine, pledging American support for “free peoples” around the world, followed by Eisenhower’s enforcement of desegregation in U.S. schools these men shaped America’s foreign and domestic policies that we have in place today.
The nation’s most recent Veteran President was George W. Bush, who served with the Texas Air National Guard. Bush presided over the most dramatic reorganization of the federal government since the beginning of the Cold War, reforming the intelligence community and establishing new institutions like the Department of Homeland Security in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Internationally, Bush commanded the U.S. military in a new type of battle: the ‘War on Terror.’
Other Presidents who have served:
- James Monroe – served in American Revolution
- Andrew Jackson – American Revolution, War of 1812, First Seminole War
- John Tyler – War of 1812
- Zachary Taylor – War of 1812, Black Hawk, Second Seminole, and Mexican wars
- Franklin Pierce – Mexican War
- James Buchanan – War of 1812
- Abraham Lincoln – Black Hawk War
- Andrew Johnson – Civil War
- Rutherford Hayes – Civil War
- James Garfield – Civil War
- Chester Arthur – Civil War
- Benjamin Harrison – Civil War
- William McKinley – Civil War
- John Kennedy – WWII
- Lyndon Johnson – WWII
- Richard Nixon – WWII
- Gerald Ford – WWII
- George Bush – WWII
Presidents who were in the military but who saw no action
- James Madison
- James Polk
- Millard Fillmore
- Jimmy Carter
- Ronald Reagan – kept out of combat due to bad eyesight
It seems to be the general consensus that the American people prefer a man to that has served his country to now be leading it. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the hardships they have endured, Veterans will most likely be among the next generation of Veteran Presidents to serve in America’s highest military office: Commander-in-Chief.
Air Force District of Washington, 2/15/2013
Lorenz, Brenna 1998
All photos provided by Google.