Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com

While a stint in the United States House of Representatives is a fairly common job that you will find on the resumes of our Presidents and Vice Presidents, it usually is not a stepping stone directly into the Presidency or Vice Presidency.  In fact, if the Republican ticket featuring Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan win in November, Ryan will be the first incumbent member of the House in 80 years to take office as President or Vice President.

Only one incumbent House member has been elected President: James Garfield of Ohio in 1880.  Five incumbent members of the House of Representatives have been elected Vice President: Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky (1836), Schuyler Colfax of Indiana (1868), William Almon Wheeler of New York (1876), James Schoolcraft Sherman of New York (1908), and John Nance Garner of Texas (1932).  Colfax and Garner are also the only incumbent Speakers of the House to be elected President or Vice President.

Overall, 18 Presidents served in the U.S. House of Representatives at one point in their career, including James K. Polk, who remains the only Speaker of the House to serve as President.  John Quincy Adams served in the House AFTER he was President.  John Tyler, who served in the U.S. House early in his career, was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death.

Although we haven’t had an incumbent House member elected Vice President since 1932, Paul Ryan might take some comfort in the fact that, throughout our history, a whopping 24 Vice Presidents served in the House at some point in their lives (25 if you count Daniel D. Tompkins who was elected to the House but resigned before taking office in order to accept an appointment to the New York State Supreme Court).  Not only that, but four of our last five Vice Presidents (Bush 41, Quayle, Gore, and Cheney) were House alumni.

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