TOMORROW is John Adams' birthday. Don't expect George Bush...

THEO LIPPMAN JR.

October 29, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

TOMORROW is John Adams' birthday. Don't expect George Bush to celebrate it. John started a tradition George hates.

Our first president, You Know Who, had voluntarily stepped down after serving two terms. This established the no third term tradition. Then John Adams got beat in his bid for re-election. This established the no second term tradition.

There have been fewer followers of the George Washington tradition than you might imagine. There was Washington, of course. There was Jefferson. There was James Madison. There was James Monroe. Four out of five. It looked like not only a tradition but an imperative. Then John Adams' boy, John Q., was elected. He lost after one term, too. (Genes? Upbringing?) Then Andrew Jackson won and served out two full terms. Then a string of eight one-term (at most) presidents.

It was not till Abraham Lincoln in 1864 that a president was re-elected again, and they shot him. U. S. Grant was elected and re-elected in 1868 and 1872 and served out his second term.

Next president to win two consecutive terms was William McKinley in 1896 and 1900, and darned if they didn't shoot him, too.

Woodrow Wilson won two terms in 1912 and 1916, and he served eight years, though he was a little out of touch the last 18 months in office, after suffering a stroke.

Franklin D. Roosevelt won a second term in 1936, a third in 1940 and a fourth in 1944. So much for tradition. Dwight Eisenhower won two terms and served them out (1961-1969). Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 and re-elected in 1972, but he was forced to resign halfway through his second term for malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, unfeasance, afeasance and five o'clock shadow.

Ronald Reagan won in 1980 and 1984, serving out both terms.

I count only nine men (including Washington) who did a Full Washington -- eight full, active consecutive years in the job -- and only four others who got re-elected while incumbents but didn't make eight years (Semi-Washington).

The following 21 presidents were denied or knew better than to seek re-election to a second (or in some cases first) term: the Adamses, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland (who did win two terms but not consecutively), Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

That compares to the 13 presidents who were renominated as incumbents. The Adams Tradition beats the Washington Tradition.

* * *

In a recent column on Admiral Stockdale I asked if anyone could name the only president who had been a prisoner of war.

Monday: The answer. In fact, two answers.

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