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Soldiers Who Would Be President

4/6/2016 • American History Magazine

George Washington was first in war as commander of the Continental Army and reluctantly agreed to become first in peace as president of the new nation. Many other military heroes, including John McCain, right, have been less coy about seeking the highest office in the land. But only a few have proven to be first in the hearts of their countrymen.

Andrew Jackson

  • Democrat
  • Defeated Creek Nation, acquired 23 million acres of Indian land and defended New Orleans from the British
  • Won popular vote in 1824, but lost in the Electoral College. Won in 1828 and reelected in 1832
  • Declared during 1832 Nullification Crisis that no state had the right to secede

William Henry Harrison

  • Whig
  • Defeated the Shawnee at Tippecanoe in Indiana Territory
  • Elected in 1840
  • Died 1 month into term

Zachary Taylor

  • Whig
  • Routed Mexican General Santa Ana at Buena Vista
  • Elected in 1848
  • Died in office, 1850

Winfield Scott

  • Whig
  • Captured Mexico City to end the Mexican War
  • Lost in 1852 to Democrat Franklin Pierce, a former subordinate during the Mexican War
  • First military man since George Washington to receive a brevet promotion to lieutenant general

George McClellan

  • Democrat
  • Major General of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. Removed from command in 1862 for failing to get results
  • Lost in 1864 to Republican Abraham Lincoln when Atlanta fell to Union troops two months before the election, making his promise to more effectively manage the war moot
  • Elected governor of New Jersey in 1877

Ulysses Grant

  • Republican
  • Commander of all the U.S. armies and savior of the Union
  • Elected in 1868 and 1872. Lost an 1880 attempt to win the Republican nomination
  • An ineffective president whose administration was mired in scandal

Winfield Scott Hancock

  • Democrat
  • Commanded Union II Corps at Gettysburg and supervised execution of Lincoln assassination conspirators
  • Lost the popular vote in 1880 by one-tenth of 1 percent despite 12 years of Republican scandal that made the Democrats look like shoe-ins
  • Elected president of the National Rifle Association in 1881

James Garfield

  • Republican
  • Brigade commander at Shiloh and chief of staff to Major General William Rosecrans
  • Elected in 1880
  • Assassinated in 1881 four months after taking office

John “Black Jack” Pershing

  • Republican
  • Acclaimed leader of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I
  • Lost party nomination in 1920 because of his support for Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations
  • Appointed U.S. Army Chief of Staff in 1921

Douglas MacArthur

  • Republican
  • Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the southwest Pacific in World War II
  • Republicans’ 2nd choice in 1948 after Dwight Eisenhower declined the nomination, poor showing in early primaries dashed political hopes
  • Removed from command in 1951 by President Harry Truman for insubordination during the Korean War

Dwight Eisenhower

  • Republican
  • Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe in World War II
  • Won decisively in 1952 and 1956 against Adlai Stevenson
  • The last general to be elected president

 

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