1952 Presidential Election and Two+ Term Presidents

My understanding is that Harry Truman ran for President in 1952, didn’t do well and dropped out, and the Democrats ran Adlai Stevenson. But I thought that Truman would not have been eligible to run for President a second time, since he had already served more than half of FDR’s last term…?

A president can serve a maximum of two 4-year terms…

I don’t know whether he ran or not, but the 22nd Amendment specifically did not apply to Truman. It said in part, “But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress.”

Not exactly. He can serve two and a half four year terms. If his partial term is more than two years, he can only serve one more. As was already pointed out, Truman was exempt from the 22nd Amendment anyway.

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.


Truman didn’t “run” per se. He looked for several candidates to replace him (as he knew that he was extremely unpopular) and none were either interested or interested the Democratic party. He opposed Estes Kefauver who had investigated his political allies and he wouldn’t endorse him The party entered Truman’s name on the ballot of 1952 New Hampshire primary where he lost to Kefauver and Truman decided then that he indeed had no intention running for President. He convinced Adlai Stevenson to do so and Stevenson lost to Eisenhower by a wide margin

Had Truman indeed run (which as everyone has stated he was legally able to do) he almost certainly would have faced a humiliating defeat against Eisenhower himself.

So if for example Reagan had died in 1983, then Bush could have run in both 1984 and 1988 (assuming he’d won in 1984)?

As long as he died after January 20th, 1983, yes.

Things were run differently back then. Run the way they are now Kefauver would probably of been the Democratic candidate.

He was a good man, but WOW! Was that guy boring! He makes Al Gore look like Mr. Hyperactive!

Yes. A historical example was Lyndon Johnson. He became President in 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated and completed the final year of Kennedy’s term. He was elected in 1964. And he was eligible to run again in 1968. But he decided to withdraw when it became clear he’d be challenged for the nomination.

To make it perfectly clear, Truman was specifically exempted in the last clause of the amendment.

1952 was the last year that a candidate was picked by the convention. Truman did talk to Stevenson and Stevenson might have said yes. But publicly he vacillated and hemmed and hewed and refused to campaign and went into the convention still saying he wasn’t a candidate after winning none of the handful of primaries. He gave a great big speech, though, and finally got what he wanted: the convention “forced” him to accept the nomination.

Eisenhower behaved pretty much the same way, wanting to get the nomination by acclaim. He did win some primaries, after getting a write-in win in New Hampshire since he wouldn’t declare earlier, but never campaigned in the way we take for granted today.

1952 was the last of the old-time elections. It’s profoundly and weirdly different from today’s political world. Truman would serve 7 years and 9 months, a shade less than two full terms, and the world was looking at him in the past tense. He wanted to be swept back into office by acclaim as well, but the acclaim wasn’t there. He would have lost badly. Any and every Democrat would have lost badly. For all practical purposes, Truman never seriously took any steps to run.

Note that the high school in “National Lampoon High School Yearbook” was Estes Kefauver High. So even as late as the 1970’s the name itsself plus the political reputation seem to ahve been open to ridicule. Of course, National Lampoon in 1970 or so was not above taking gratuitous potshots at Adlai Stevenson either.