List of Presidents of the United States by previous experience
Although many paths may lead to the Presidency of the United States, the most common job experience, occupation or profession of U.S. presidents has been lawyer. This sortable table enumerates all holders of that office, along with major elective or appointive offices or periods of military service prior to election to the Presidency. The column immediately to the right of the Presidents' names shows the position or office held just before the Presidency. The next column to the right lists the next previous position held, and so on. Note that the total number of previous positions held by an individual may exceed four; the number of columns was limited to what would fit within the page width. The last two columns on the right list the home state (at the time of election to the Presidency) and primary occupation of each future President, prior to beginning a political career.
By the numbers
- 26 Presidents had previously been lawyers.
- 22 Presidents had previous military experience; 9 were generals in the US Army.
- 18 Presidents previously served as U.S. Representatives; 6 of 18 held this office prior to the four 'previous positions' shown in this table. Only one - James A. Garfield - was a Representative immediately before election as President. Only John Quincy Adams served as a U.S. Representative after being President. Additionally, after being president, John Tyler served in the Provisional Confederate Congress and was later elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, but he died before taking his seat.
- 17 Presidents previously served as Governors; 16 were State Governors; 9 were Governors immediately before election as President. Only one, William Howard Taft, served as a Territorial Governor.
- 16 Presidents previously served as U.S. Senators; only 3 immediately before election as President. Only one president, Andrew Johnson, ever served as a U.S. Senator after his presidency.
- 14 Presidents previously served as Vice President. All except Richard Nixon were Vice Presidents immediately before becoming President; 9 of the 14 succeeded to the Presidency because of the death or resignation of the elected President; 5 of those 9 were not re-elected.
- 8 Presidents were out of office (for at least one year) immediately before election as President.
- 8 Presidents previously served as Cabinet Secretaries; 6 as Secretary of State; 5 of the 8 served immediately before election as President.
- 7 Presidents had previous experience in foreign service.
- 5 Presidents had never been elected to public office before becoming President: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Donald Trump. Most of these had, however, been appointed to several prominent offices. Hoover's contributions toward the Treaty of Versailles preceded his appointment as Secretary of Commerce. Taylor, Grant and Eisenhower led U.S. forces to victory in the Mexican–American War, American Civil War and World War II, respectively, each occupying the highest-ranking command post of their time. Donald J. Trump is the group's sole exception, having never held any public office nor any military position.
- 2 Presidents served as Party leaders of the House of Representatives, James A. Garfield and Gerald Ford.
- 1 President served as an ordained minister, serving as a pastor in the Disciples of Christ (Christian) Church. James A Garfield.
- 1 President had never served in elected public office, the military, or government before becoming President: Donald Trump was a real estate developer, businessman, and television personality who was the chairman of the Trump Organization.
- 1 President served as Speaker of the House of Representatives, James K. Polk.
- 1 President served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate, John Tyler.
- 1 President served as Party leader of the United States Senate, Lyndon B. Johnson.
- 1 President served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Howard Taft. He did so after his presidency.
- 1 President served as President of the United States for two non-consecutive terms, Grover Cleveland.
|President||Previous 1||Previous 2||Previous 3||Previous 4||Occupation||State|
|1||George Washington||out of office||Constitutional Convention||out of office||military||planter, land surveyor||Virginia|
|2||John Adams||Vice-President||foreign service||Continental Congress||State legislator||lawyer, farmer||Massachusetts|
|3||Thomas Jefferson||Vice-President||Secretary of State||foreign service||Congressman||planter, lawyer, land surveyor, architect||Virginia|
|4||James Madison||Secretary of State||U.S. Representative||Constitutional Convention||State legislator||planter||Virginia|
|5||James Monroe||Secretary of State||foreign service||State governor||U.S. Senator||planter, lawyer||Virginia|
|6||John Quincy Adams||Secretary of State||foreign service||U.S. Senator||State legislator||lawyer||Massachusetts|
|7||Andrew Jackson||out of office||U.S. Senator||military||U.S. Senator||lawyer, soldier||Tennessee|
|8||Martin Van Buren||Vice-President||Secretary of State||State governor||U.S. Senator||lawyer, political organizer||New York|
|9||William Henry Harrison||Local government||foreign service||U.S. Senator||State legislator||military||Ohio|
|10||John Tyler||Vice-President||State legislator||U.S. Senator||State governor||lawyer||Virginia|
|11||James K. Polk||out of office||State governor||Speaker of the House||State legislator||lawyer, planter||Tennessee|
|13||Millard Fillmore||Vice-President||State office||out of office||U.S. Representative||lawyer||New York|
|14||Franklin Pierce||out of office||military||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||lawyer||New Hampshire|
|15||James Buchanan||foreign service||out of office||Secretary of State||U.S. Senator||lawyer||Pennsylvania|
|16||Abraham Lincoln||out of office||U.S. Representative||State legislator||Military||lawyer, land surveyor||Illinois|
|17||Andrew Johnson||Vice-President||military governor||U.S. Senator||State governor||tailor||Tennessee|
|18||Ulysses S. Grant||military||----||----||----||military||Illinois|
|19||Rutherford B. Hayes||State governor||out of office||State governor||U.S. Representative||lawyer||Ohio|
|20||James A. Garfield||U.S. Representative||military||State legislator||----||Ordained minister, lawyer, teacher||Ohio|
|21||Chester A. Arthur||Vice-President||out of office||Federal office||out of office||lawyer, teacher, tariff collector||New York|
|22||Grover Cleveland||State governor||Local office||----||----||lawyer||New York|
|23||Benjamin Harrison||out of office||U.S. Senator||out of office||military||lawyer||Indiana|
|24||Grover Cleveland||out of office||President of the U.S.||State governor||Local office||lawyer||New York|
|25||William McKinley||State governor||U.S. Representative||military||----||lawyer||Ohio|
|26||Theodore Roosevelt||Vice-President||State governor||military||Federal office||military historian, rancher||New York|
|27||William Howard Taft||Secretary of War||Territorial governor||judicial||Federal office||lawyer, dean||Ohio|
|28||Woodrow Wilson||State governor||----||----||----||academic||New Jersey|
|29||Warren G. Harding||U.S. Senator||out of office||State legislator||----||journalist, publisher||Ohio|
|30||Calvin Coolidge||Vice President||State Governor||State office||State legislator||lawyer||Massachusetts|
|31||Herbert Hoover||Secretary of Commerce||out of office||Federal office||----||mining engineer||California|
|32||Franklin D. Roosevelt||State governor||out of office||Federal office||State legislator||lawyer||New York|
|33||Harry S. Truman||Vice President||U.S. Senator||County commissioner (County court)||military||businessperson, farmer||Missouri|
|34||Dwight D. Eisenhower||military||----||----||----||military, University President||Kansas|
|35||John F. Kennedy||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||military||----||journalist, military officer||Massachusetts|
|36||Lyndon B. Johnson||Vice-President||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||Federal office||teacher, military officer||Texas|
|37||Richard Nixon||out of office||Vice-President||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||lawyer||California|
|38||Gerald Ford||Vice-President||U.S. Representative||military||----||lawyer||Michigan|
|39||Jimmy Carter||out of office||State governor||State legislator||military||farmer||Georgia|
|40||Ronald Reagan||out of office||State governor||----||Military||actor||California|
|41||George H. W. Bush||Vice-President||out of office||Federal office||foreign service||businessman, military pilot||Texas|
|42||Bill Clinton||State governor||State Attorney General||----||----||lawyer, teacher||Arkansas|
|43||George W. Bush||State governor||out of office||military||----||businessperson, military pilot||Texas|
|44||Barack Obama||U.S. Senator||State legislator||----||----||lawyer, teacher, community organizer||Illinois|
|45||Donald Trump||----||----||----||----||businessman, real estate developer, television personality||New York|
- Grover Cleveland was elected to two nonconsecutive terms, and as such is considered the 22nd and 24th President of the United States; only 44 people have served.
- International Law, US Power: The United States' Quest for Legal Security, p 10, Shirley V. Scott - 2012
- George Washington was commanding general of the Continental Army, the pre-independence equivalent of the US Army. The 9 US Army generals were Jackson, W. H. Harrison, Taylor, Pierce, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, B. Harrison and Eisenhower. Others with military experience were Monroe, McKinley, T. Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, L. B. Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Ford, Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, G. W. Bush.
- Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861–1865 Volume 1. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1904. pp. 303, 658.
- Martin van Buren's brief foreign service is not counted since, although he was appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom, the appointment was rejected by the U.S. Senate
- The Preacher President http://punditwire.com/2012/03/03/the-preacher-president/
- The Singular Humility of America's Only Ordained President https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2016/april-web-exclusives/singular-humility-of-americas-only-ordained-president.html
- "State" refers to the state generally considered "home", not necessarily the state where the president was born
- This designation is used whenever the subject was out of public office for more than one year
- Washington was first chosen by the Virginia State Legislature to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Then he was elected by the delegates to be president of the convention.
- Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War
- This is a general designation for any appointive position representing the United States to a foreign government
- This is a general designation for any elected state legislator
- Van Buren served just over two months of his term as Governor of New York before President Jackson appointed him Secretary of State
- Tyler succeeded President Harrison, who died in office. He was not elected.
- Fillmore succeeded President Taylor, who died in office. He was not elected.
- Lincoln was born in Kentucky, but moved to Indiana, then Illinois at an early age
- Johnson succeeded President Lincoln, who was assassinated. He was not elected.
- President Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee during the Civil War
- Grant was born and raised in Ohio. He rose to prominence as a Civil War general from Illinois and Illinois was his residence for his political career."The Congressional Globe". Library of Congress. 1868. p. 1063.
- McFeely, William S. (1981). Grant: A Biography. Norton. pp. 232–233. ISBN 0-393-01372-3.
- Arthur succeeded President Garfield, who was assassinated. He was not elected.
- This is a general designation for appointive domestic Federal offices below cabinet level
- This is a general designation for local elective offices
- Roosevelt succeeded President McKinley, who was assassinated. He was elected once (1904), chose not to run again in 1908, and ran unsuccessfully in 1912.
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy
- President McKinley appointed Taft Governor-General of the Philippines
- United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
- Solicitor General of the United States
- Coolidge succeeded President Harding, who died in office. He was elected to a second term.
- Born and raised in Vermont and spent time in Vermont politics. Permanently moved to Massachusetts to attend college.
- Following World War I, Hoover was involved with several humanitarian organizations.
- Director of United States Food Administration
- Truman succeeded President Roosevelt, who died in office. He was elected to a second term.
- Johnson succeeded President Kennedy, who was assassinated. He was elected to a second term.
- head of the National Youth Administration in Texas
- Ford succeeded President Nixon, who resigned. He was not elected. Previously, Ford was appointed Vice-President after Spiro Agnew resigned. Currently only President not to have been elected to the Executive Branch.
- Ford was born in Nebraska, but moved to Michigan at an early age
- Reagan was born, raised and educated in Illinois; he moved permanently to California after graduation from college.
- Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
- Bush was born in Massachusetts, and raised in Connecticut, but moved to Texas after graduation from college.
- P.O. Box 400406. "George W. Bush: Life Before the Presidency—Miller Center". Millercenter.org. Retrieved 2016-12-27.
- York, Byron. "Byron York on George W. Bush & National Guard on National Review Online". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2008-08-30. Retrieved 2016-12-27.
- Obama was born in Hawaii and mostly raised there. His career was based in Illinois