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  #1  
Old 11-03-2011, 02:34 AM
rogerbox rogerbox is offline
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How many presidents of the U.S. had never been elected to public office before?

Pretty much the title. I'm thinking maybe George Washington, but I don't know?

I think it is pretty crazy that someone can be elected to the highest office in the U.S. with no experience at all working for the public... I want to be elected a General without going to bootcamp due to strategic genius.
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Old 11-03-2011, 03:03 AM
Smapti Smapti is online now
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Herbert Hoover - Had been Secretary of Commerce, but never held an elected position before the presidency.

Dwight Eisenhower - Eisenhower was active duty military until May 1952, five months before the election.

Ulysses S Grant - Similarly, was military up until the election.

Zachary Taylor - Also military.

James Madison - Was Secretary of State, but I don't think was elected to anything.

Last edited by Smapti; 11-03-2011 at 03:06 AM..
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  #3  
Old 11-03-2011, 03:38 AM
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James Madison - Was Secretary of State, but I don't think was elected to anything.
He was a Congressman.
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Old 11-03-2011, 04:24 AM
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Originally Posted by rogerbox View Post
Pretty much the title. I'm thinking maybe George Washington, but I don't know?
Washington had been a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congress, but delegates were appointed by the colonial assemblies and not elected in the usual sense. He was chosen as president of the Constitutional Convention, but again, that's not what we usually mean when we speak of an an elected office. So I would say he counts as never having been elected to public office before the Presidency, in spite of a long record of public and military service.
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Old 11-03-2011, 04:55 AM
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Originally Posted by flodnak View Post
Washington had been a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congress, but delegates were appointed by the colonial assemblies and not elected in the usual sense.
Senators weren't elected in the usual sense for a long time. If that doesn't count as being elected, what does that mean for other presidents in regards to this question?
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  #6  
Old 11-03-2011, 06:05 AM
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Washington was elected to multiple terms of the Virginia House of Burgesses starting in his twenties.
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Old 11-03-2011, 07:49 AM
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Taft was Secretary of War under Teddy Roosevelt from 1904-1908, and was then elected President in 1908.

Since the 1896 election, almost every president had been a vice-president or senator or governor at some point prior to that. The only exceptions were cabinet members Taft and Hoover, and military leader Eisenhower.

It is worth noting that in some cases, there was significant time in the private sector mixed in: Nixon was senior partner in a NYC law firm for 8 years between being VP and being President. There were ten years between GHW Bush being the governor of Texas and when he became Reagan's VP.
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Old 11-03-2011, 08:05 AM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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I may be veering into GD territory, but it might be a good idea to discuss which traits are most vital for a good president.

As I see it, both governors and senators must have political savvy, in the sense of an ability to argue the issues and get laws passed. But here's the difference: While a senator is knowledgeable about national issues, all he does is vote on them, without being a leader of subordinates. In contrast, a governor is very much a leader of subordinates, but only on a state level, with little experience in national or international politics.

Eisenhower was very much the anomaly. He was certainly a leader of subordinates, but with only military experience. He is generally regarded as a pretty good president, but I cannot figure out how he did it, with zero experience on national issues, budgets, international affairs, making deals to get laws passed, and all the stuff that a president needs. I can't help but compare him to Michael Bloomberg, a businessman who got elected three times to be NYC's mayor.
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Old 11-03-2011, 09:28 AM
Jonathan Chance Jonathan Chance is offline
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There were ten years between GHW Bush being the governor of Texas and when he became Reagan's VP.
Ur? Was GHWB ever Governor of Texas?

I don't see it on the wiki about him. Congressman, yes, and a lot of other public positions following but I don't see a listing for Governor.

Still, even in those years between Congress and VP GHWB was in the public service with his ambassadorship and the CIA, anyway.
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Old 11-03-2011, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Keeve View Post
Eisenhower was very much the anomaly. He was certainly a leader of subordinates, but with only military experience. He is generally regarded as a pretty good president, but I cannot figure out how he did it, with zero experience on national issues, budgets, international affairs, making deals to get laws passed, and all the stuff that a president needs.
His military experience had involved a lot of dealmaking and of getting people who disliked or hated each other pointed in the same direction: those are transferrable skills. I read a minibio (focused on part of his military work) where the author stated that one of the things Eisenhower was best at was choosing the right person for the job: a Number One who's good at that creates the kind of team for which difficult tasks are routine and the impossible takes a bit longer.
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Old 11-03-2011, 10:51 AM
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OTOH, the only diplomacy and political tact called for in the military is knowing how to handle those rivalries with Navy. Otherwise, your suborinates do what they are told - not a great preparation for a civilian career.

One of the biggest problems a president faces is negotiating things through congress (QED) so knowing the internal workings of congress (upper and/or lower) is a definite asset. Governor, of course, is the best of both worlds - executive experience and negotiation with a legslature; however, the question is how much state legislatures differ from congressional workings.

All in all, above all a president must have the political smarts to adapt and learn quickly. This is not something that may or may not be evident in any prior career.
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Old 11-03-2011, 11:00 AM
Simplicio Simplicio is offline
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Originally Posted by Keeve View Post
Eisenhower was very much the anomaly. He was certainly a leader of subordinates, but with only military experience. He is generally regarded as a pretty good president, but I cannot figure out how he did it, with zero experience on national issues, budgets, international affairs, making deals to get laws passed, and all the stuff that a president needs. I can't help but compare him to Michael Bloomberg, a businessman who got elected three times to be NYC's mayor.
Eisenhower is generally considered to be the last President who governed via their cabinet. That is, he basically let the Cabinet officers run their departments with little interference from the executive (I kinda wish we'd go back to this, I dislike the current system where the Cabinet officers are basically just frontmen for their Administrations).

But in anycase, Supreme Allied Commander was at least as much a political position as a military one, and IIRC, he was also the military governor of part of Germany for a while after the war.
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Old 11-03-2011, 11:08 AM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is online now
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Originally Posted by rogerbox View Post
I think it is pretty crazy that someone can be elected to the highest office in the U.S. with no experience at all working for the public... I want to be elected a General without going to bootcamp due to strategic genius.
General? Isn't your whole point that we can elect you straight to Commander-in-Chief?
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Old 11-03-2011, 11:31 AM
friedo friedo is online now
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Originally Posted by Keeve View Post
Eisenhower was very much the anomaly. He was certainly a leader of subordinates, but with only military experience. He is generally regarded as a pretty good president, but I cannot figure out how he did it, with zero experience on national issues, budgets, international affairs, making deals to get laws passed, and all the stuff that a president needs.
I don't know about that. A successful general is basically a politician with a uniform. You have to be, in order to get stuff done.
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  #15  
Old 11-03-2011, 12:01 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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I don't know about that. A successful general is basically a politician with a uniform. You have to be, in order to get stuff done.
You can say the same thing about a successful CEO. But that's wrong, too. That sort of internal, retail, politicking bears no relation to external, wholesale, politicking, which is why generals and business execs generally never rise above the mediocre as politicians.
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Old 11-03-2011, 12:04 PM
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It is worth noting that in some cases, there was significant time in the private sector mixed in: Nixon was senior partner in a NYC law firm for 8 years between being VP and being President. There were ten years between GHW Bush being the governor of Texas and when he became Reagan's VP.
Nixon was also a congressman and US senator between 1947 and 1953.

G.W. Bush was governor of Texas immediately before becoming president, GHW Bush was a two-term congressman (1967-71), not governor.
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  #17  
Old 11-03-2011, 12:34 PM
robert_columbia robert_columbia is offline
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Washington had been a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congress, but delegates were appointed by the colonial assemblies and not elected in the usual sense. He was chosen as president of the Constitutional Convention, but again, that's not what we usually mean when we speak of an an elected office. So I would say he counts as never having been elected to public office before the Presidency, in spite of a long record of public and military service.
And he certainly had a lot of leadership experience - he was an officer in the British Army and then later the Continental Army.
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Old 11-03-2011, 12:56 PM
rogerbox rogerbox is offline
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To define better what I meant by elected office, I meant someone who constituents had voted into office. I didn't know that senators were not voted in this way early on. I am still interested in Presidents who have had very little public experience and have never held public office before.

Has there EVER been a president who ONLY has held private sector experience before though? The thought seems insane to me.
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Old 11-03-2011, 01:00 PM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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GHW Bush was a two-term congressman (1967-71), not governor.
My bad. Thanks for the correction.
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Old 11-03-2011, 01:18 PM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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Has there EVER been a president who ONLY has held private sector experience before though? The thought seems insane to me.
Sounds like you want to even exclude cabinet members and foreign ambassadors, such as Jefferson. (Hmm, he was also Governor of Virginia from 1779-1781.)

The most recent person who might even be close to meeting what you're looking for is Chester Arthur. He was quite active in the Republican party, but his highest position prior to VP seems to have been a tax and tarriff assesor with the title of "Collector of the Port of New York".

to find someone who was really an outsider to organized politics we'll have to go back even further. But I have to get back to work now.
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Old 11-03-2011, 01:21 PM
The Other Waldo Pepper The Other Waldo Pepper is online now
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Has there EVER been a president who ONLY has held private sector experience before though? The thought seems insane to me.
AFAICT, Hoover arguably comes closest by aforementionedly neither holding elected office nor serving in the military before getting the big job.
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  #22  
Old 11-03-2011, 01:26 PM
Romeo and Whatsherface Romeo and Whatsherface is offline
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To define better what I meant by elected office, I meant someone who constituents had voted into office. I didn't know that senators were not voted in this way early on. I am still interested in Presidents who have had very little public experience and have never held public office before.

Has there EVER been a president who ONLY has held private sector experience before though? The thought seems insane to me.
Thanks for the clarification. If you were only asking about those not elected to public office, than I'm with Derleth: since senators were appointed by state legislatures until 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified, presidents whose only political office had been as Senators, they wouldn't count. If you limit it to private sector and no prior public office, then I think the answer is no, there hasn't been one US president who fits the bill. Even Secretary of Commerce is a public office.

Of course, the 2012 election could change all that, but right now, it's not looking too likely.
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Old 11-03-2011, 01:57 PM
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His military experience had involved a lot of dealmaking and of getting people who disliked or hated each other pointed in the same direction: those are transferrable skills.
Eisenhower had to deal with the English. That's all the experience he needed to deal with the fractious children in Congress.
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Old 11-03-2011, 03:45 PM
Nava Nava is offline
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Eisenhower had to deal with the English. That's all the experience he needed to deal with the fractious children in Congress.
With the English and with a bunch of other nationalities, and with newborn services, and with Churchill (who seems to have held family relationships with steamrollers), and Patton (who I understand did "subordination" about as well as a succesful celebutante does "modesty"), and... ; those who think his dealings were "internal" and involving only "subordinates" before he got into politics may wish to read up on WWII.

Last edited by Nava; 11-03-2011 at 03:46 PM..
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Old 11-03-2011, 03:53 PM
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My previous posts were about recent presidents, and now I've done some research (entirely on Wikipedia) about the older ones. My conclusion is that if you want someone who was not in politics at all, the only two presidents you'll have are the military men Dwight Eisenhower and Zachary Taylor. Even Washington was a delegate to the Continental Congress (both First and Second).

The following list includes ambassadorships and cabinet posts, but I did not bother mentioning vice-presidential service.
  • George Washington - Senior Officer of the Army 1775-83, Delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia 1775, First Continental Congress from Virginia 1774
  • John Adams - Ambassador to Great Britain 1785-88, Ambassador to the Netherlands 1782-88, Delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Massachusetts 1775-78, Delegate to the First Continental Congress from Massachusetts Bay 1774
  • Thomas Jefferson - Secretary of State 1790-93, Ambassador to France 1785-89, Delegate to the Congress of the Confederation from Virginia 1783-84, Governor of Virginia 1779-81, Delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia 1775-1776
  • James Madison - Secretary of State 1801-09, Congressman from Virginia 1789-97, Delegate to the Congress of the Confederation from Virginia 1781-83
  • James Monroe - Secretary of War 1814-15, Secretary of State 1811-17, Governor of Virginia 1799-1802, Ambassador to UK 1803-08, Ambassador to France 1794-96, Senator from Virginia 1790-94, Delegate to the Congress of the Confederation from Virginia 1783-86
  • John Quincy Adams - Congressman from Mass 1831-48, Sec'y of State 1817-25, Senator from Mass 1803-08, Ambassdor to UK, Russia, Prussia, and Netherlands
  • Andrew Jackson - Military Governor of Florida 1821, Senator from Tennessee 1823-25, Congressman from Tennessee 1796-97
  • Martin Van Buren - Ambassador to UK 1831-32, US Secretary of State 1829-31, Governor of New York 1829, Senator from New York 1821-28
  • William Henry Harrison - Senator from Ohio 1825-28, Congressman from Ohio 1816-19, Governor of the District of Louisiana 1804-05, Governor of Indiana 1801-1812, Secretary of Northwest Territory 1798-99, Congressman from Northwest Territory 1799-1800
  • John Tyler - Senator from Virginia 18271836, Governor of Virginia 182527, Congressman from Viginia 1816-21
  • James Polk - Governor of Tennessee - 1839-41, Congressman from Tennessee 1825-1839
  • Zachary Taylor - Commander of the southern division of the United States Army 1841-1848
  • Millard Fillmore - Comptroller of New York January 1, 1848 February 20, 1849, Congressman from NY March 4, 1837 March 3, 1843
  • Franklin Pierce - Senator from New Hampshire March 4, 1837 February 28, 1842, Congressman from NH 18331837
  • James Buchanan - Ambassador to the U.K., Secretary of State, Senator from PA, Amb. to Russia, Cong'man from PA
  • Abraham Lincoln - Congressman from Illinois - March 4, 1847 March 3, 1849
  • Andrew Johnson - Senator from Tennessee - 1857-62 and 1875, Governor of Tennessee 18531857
  • Ulysses Grant - Commanding General of the Army - March 9, 1864 March 4, 1869
  • Rutherford Hayes - 29th and 32nd Governor of Ohio - January 10, 1876 March 2, 1877
  • James Garfield - Congressman from Ohio - March 4, 1863 March 3, 1881
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Old 11-03-2011, 04:34 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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With the English and with a bunch of other nationalities, and with newborn services, and with Churchill (who seems to have held family relationships with steamrollers), and Patton (who I understand did "subordination" about as well as a succesful celebutante does "modesty"), and... ; those who think his dealings were "internal" and involving only "subordinates" before he got into politics may wish to read up on WWII.
Please. Read some politics and what's involved with dealing with the public. The history of generals who were elected president is dismal at best. Twelve generals were presidents at some point: Washington, Jackson, W. Harrison, Taylor, Pierce, A. Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, B. Harrison, and Eisenhower. After Washington that's a list filled with mediocrities, although that's somewhat unfair to the three who died in office.

Eisenhower is actually a good example of the problem. Who was Chief of Staff during WWII and should get all the credit for running the services? George C. Marshall. Eisenhower was Marshall's Chief of Staff. He ran operations but Marshall oversaw all policy and grand decisions. Eisenhower finally got out of Washington in 1942 and headed various campaigns but he was equal in rank, stature, and responsibilities to a number of other military men during the war. Yes, he had to deal with opposite numbers at a high level. But he never ran anything. Marshall did.

Same for after the war. Eisenhower finally became Army Chief of Staff in November 1945. Marshall, however, moved up to become one of the greatest Secretaries of State in history. From the end of the war to 1952, Eisenhower did little of any lasting value, except maneuver himself to be drafted for the presidency.

After leaving office he held a fairly low spot in historians' rankings of presidents, although he climbed higher with time. However, there is now a backlash to the backlash building, so to speak, and his reputation is dipping again. (For a fun if probably biased trashing read Stanley Weintraub's 15 Stars: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Marshall: Three Generals Who Saved the American Century.) He presided over three recessions during the greatest boom the country ever saw, allowed meddling in Iran, Vietnam, and a number of Latin American countries that haunted the U.S. for 50 years, and allowed Richard Nixon - Richard Nixon! - to become Vice President. His mishandling of civil rights was an immediate tragedy for the nation and can be directly attributed to his lack of understanding of the political issues and players.

Winfield Scott, George McClellan, and Winfield S. Hannock were also generals were headed major party tickets while never having served in politics. Wendell Wilkie was a utility company head when he ran in 1940. Ross Perot is a special but interesting case.

The notion that generals or CEOs could make good presidents has always been with us, but it's bad politics. The fields are utterly unlike one another. It's been our good fortune that most people understand this and have given the office to the best politician running for most of the last century. You can argue that the sheer awfulness of some good politicians who did make it to the presidency - Richard Nixon! - shoots down this theory, but I maintain that overall any non-politician would be a disaster as soon as any crisis hit. See Hoover, Herbert for example A.
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Old 11-03-2011, 04:34 PM
Freddy the Pig Freddy the Pig is online now
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Has there EVER been a president who ONLY has held private sector experience before though?
There has not been. However, one such person was nominated by a major party--Wendell Willkie, Republican, in 1940. He had never held political office, and other than brief military service during World War I, had a career (before 1940) entirely in private industry.

Oddly enough, Willkie was nominated at a time of extreme international danger, and was nominated precisely because of the danger. The Republican Party was desperate for an internationalist in the aftermath of the fall of France, and Willkie was the best available.
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Old 11-03-2011, 04:44 PM
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Quoth Keeve:
My conclusion is that if you want someone who was not in politics at all, the only two presidents you'll have are the military men Dwight Eisenhower and Zachary Taylor.
If Eisenhower counts, why doesn't Grant?
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Old 11-03-2011, 04:55 PM
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I figured the only men who hadn't held office of any kind before president were military men. I would count military men (even though I am almost completely anti-military) as at least ostensibly having a career with the public interest in mind.

Thanks guys.
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Old 11-03-2011, 07:27 PM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is online now
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How did Eisenhower mishandle civil rights? This was a man who used federal power to enforce school integration and who pushed through the first civil rights legislation in nearly a century.
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Old 11-03-2011, 07:40 PM
Richard Parker Richard Parker is offline
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How did Eisenhower mishandle civil rights? This was a man who used federal power to enforce school integration and who pushed through the first civil rights legislation in nearly a century.
True. Regardless of the rest of his record on the issue, sending the 101st Airborne to escort kids into school is pretty fucking awesome.
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Old 11-03-2011, 09:56 PM
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Eisenhower had at best a mixed record on civil rights. He certainly never pushed the issue and it was clear he was more sympathetic to the opposition side.

But Eisenhower was also a strong advocate of the supremacy of the federal government. While he may not have liked the law that Congress had passed, he was not going to allow any state to defy Congress. (In this respect, Andrew Jackson would be a good comparison.)
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Old 11-04-2011, 12:29 AM
Keeve Keeve is offline
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If Eisenhower counts, why doesn't Grant?
How did I miss that?

My bad! Thanks!
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  #34  
Old 11-04-2011, 06:47 AM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is online now
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Eisenhower had at best a mixed record on civil rights. He certainly never pushed the issue and it was clear he was more sympathetic to the opposition side.

But Eisenhower was also a strong advocate of the supremacy of the federal government. While he may not have liked the law that Congress had passed, he was not going to allow any state to defy Congress. (In this respect, Andrew Jackson would be a good comparison.)
Eisenhower pushed the 1957 civil rights legislation, which would have been much stronger had that great future civil rights president, Lyndon Johnson, determine that the bill would split his party and deliberately work with segregationist committee heads to gut the thing.

The civil rights movement was going to take some time. Without Eisenhower it would have taken longer.
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Old 11-04-2011, 06:48 AM
flodnak flodnak is offline
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Senators weren't elected in the usual sense for a long time. If that doesn't count as being elected, what does that mean for other presidents in regards to this question?
You've got a point. The two Continental Congresses were indirectly elected, as was the Senate for most of the existence of the United States.

And either I never learned about Washington's service in the House of Burgesses or I have managed to completely wipe it from my mind. Maybe that'll teach me to double-check things before I go posting them here
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