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. :slight_smile:

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.

He was a Congressman.

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.

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?

Washington was elected to multiple terms of the Virginia House of Burgesses starting in his twenties.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

General? Isn’t your whole point that we can elect you straight to Commander-in-Chief? :wink:

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.

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.

And he certainly had a lot of leadership experience - he was an officer in the British Army and then later the Continental Army.

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.

My bad. Thanks for the correction.

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.