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Presidents Day

Feb 18, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The 44 chief executives have an unendingly interesting group bio

Presidents Day arrives Monday. It's a federal holiday established in 1971 and based loosely on the February birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays (Feb. 22 and Feb. 9) were unofficial holidays for more than a century before the federal holiday was set for the third Monday in February. (Two other presidents have February birthdays, William Henry Harrison (Feb. 9) and Ronald Reagan (Feb. 6).)

There have been 44 presidents, with enough accompanying facts and figures to engage a trivia buff for a full four-year term, at least. What follows is our more or less annual sampling of that data, some repeated from previous years, some not.

Zachary Taylor was the first man to be elected president having held no other office prior to the presidency. (He died in office the following year.) Neither Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhower nor Ronald Reagan held any elected government position before the presidency either.

No one in his 30s or his 80s has ever been president. The minimum age is 35, and there is no constitutional upper age limit. Most presidents are in their mid-50s when taking office. Three of the first four, in fact, were the same age -- 57 -- when they were sworn in: Washington, Jefferson and Madison. The exception was John Adams, who was 61.

President Barack Obama was among the youngest men ever elected president at 46, and if he serves out his second term he'll be the third-youngest ex-president at age 54. Only Theodore Roosevelt (50) and James Polk (53) left the presidency -- alive -- at a younger age.

No one 70 or older has ever been elected to a first term as president, although Reagan was re-elected at age 73. Dwight Eisenhower was 70 when he left office in early 1961. The first man younger than 50 to be elected president was James K. Polk, who defeated Henry Clay in 1844 at age 49. He served one term and died just three months after leaving office. He was just 53, and to this day remains the shortest-lived president to die of natural causes. Only James Garfield, assassinated in 1881 at age 49, and John F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1963 at age 46, lived shorter lives.

We tend to think of the presidency as a proposition covering eight straight years, but that has happened in only 12 of the 44 presidencies to date. Five of the first seven presidents served two full terms but it was pretty rare in the century after Andrew Jackson left office in 1831.

Only about one president in four serves two full, consecutive terms. Obama now gets his chance to become the 13th president to do it, and the modern-day odds are good. Only one president has ever resigned (Nixon in 1974), just two have been impeached -- and neither had to leave office after the Senate trial -- and it's been 50 years since a president died in office (Kennedy in 1963).

Of the five youngest men ever to hold the presidency, two have served in recent history: Bill Clinton (46 years and seven months old upon taking office in 1993) and Barack Obama (47 years and six months old in 2009). The other three youngest: Ulysses Grant (46 years, 11 months), Kennedy (43 years, four months in 1961) and Theodore Roosevelt (42 years, one month in 1901).

A record-setting president is still among us. Jimmy Carter, who left office in 1981 at age 56, has survived after office longer than any U.S. president. Now 88, he has been out of office for 32 years. The only other presdient to live as long as 30 years after office was Herbert Hoover, who left office in 1933 and died in 1964.

The president who lived the longest life was Gerald Ford, who died in 2006 at age 93, 29 years after leaving office.

Three presidents re-entered government after leaving the presidency. John Quincy Adams served 17 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, with great distinction, after leaving the White House, dying in office at age 80. Andrew Johnson served out Lincoln's termto early 1869, then was elected to a U.S. Senate seat in 1874, serving just four months before his death.

But William Howard Taft tops them both. He held the highest offices of both the executive and the judicial branches of U.S. government. President Warren Harding appointed Taft to be Chief Justice of the United States in 1921. He served nine years on the high court.

We've recently come through a presidential election that did not result in a change in the presidency. The next one will, however, unless tragic circumstances intervene before 2015.

Happy holiday.

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