What would it look like if America elected their Presidents for life-long terms?

What would it look like if America’s Presidents served life-long terms until they died? This article will take a look at this question by seeing how long each former President would have been in office and what this alternative timeline would look like. Since the 45th President, Donald Trump, is currently serving in office he will not be counted.

Presidental length vs. life-long length

The first chart shows a comparison between each Presidents actual time in office compared to if they had served as President for life upon being elected. The second shows the difference in days between these two. For the former Presidents who are still alive, their numbers in days are up to date as of August 1st, 2018.

Actual days as President vs Days as President for Life

Difference in days between lifespan after being elected and actual days as President

The table below shows the exact numbers for each President as represented in the two charts above.

President Time as President Lifespan after being elected if President for life Days difference
Washington 2,865 days (1789-1797) 3,880 days (1789-1799) 1,015 days
Adams 1,460 days (1797-1801) 10,713 days (1797-1826) 9,253 days
Jefferson 2,992 days (1801-1809) 9,253 days (1801-1826) 6,261 days
Madison 2,922 days (1809-1817) 9,978 days (1809-1836) 7,056 days
Monroe 2,922 days (1817-1825) 5,235 days (1817-1831) 2,243 days
JQ Adams 1,461 days (1825-1829) 8,391 days (1825-1848) 6,930 days
Jackson 2,922 days (1829-1837) 5,940 days (1829-1845) 3,018 days
Van Buren 1,461 days (1837-1841) 9,273 days (1837-1862) 7,812 days
WH Harrison 31 days (1841) 31 days (1841) 0 days
Tyler 1,430 days (1841-1845) 7,594 days (1841-1862) 6,164 days
Polk 1,461 days (1845-1849) 1,564 days (1845-1849) 103 days
Taylor 492 days (1849-1850) 492 days (1849-1850) 0 days
Fillmore 969 days (1850-1853) 8,643 days (1850-1874) 7,674 days
Pierce 1,461 days (1853-1857) 6,062 days (1853-1869) 4,601 days
Buchanan 1,461 days (1857-1861) 4,107 days (1857-1868) 2,646 days
Lincoln 1,503 days (1861-1865) 1,503 days (1861-1865) 0 days
Johnson 1,419 days (1865-1869) 3,759 days (1865-1875) 2,340 days
Grant 2,922 days (1869-1877) 5,985 days (1869-1885) 2,876 days
Hayes 1,461 days (1877-1881) 5,798 days (1877-1893) 4,337 days
Garfield 199 days (1881) 199 days (1881) 0 days
Arthur 1,262 days (1881-1885) 1,886 days (1881-1886) 624 days
Cleveland 1,461 days (1885-1889) 8,512 days (1885-1908) 7,051 days
Harrison 1,461 days (1889-1893) 4,391 days (1889-1901) 2,930 days
Cleveland (Part II) 1,461 days (1893-1897) 5,590 days (1893-1908) 4,129 days
McKinley 1,654 days (1897-1901) 1,654 days (1897-1901) 0 days
Roosevelt 2,728 days (1901-1909) 6,323 days (1901-1919) 3,595 days
Taft 1,461 days (1909-1913) 7,674 days (1909-1930) 6,213 days
Wilson 2,922 days (1913-1921) 3,988 days (1913-1924) 1,066 days
Harding 881 days (1921-1923) 881 days (1921-1923) 0 days
Coolidge 2,041 days (1923-1929) 3,444 days (1923-1933) 1,403 days
Hoover 1,461 days (1929-1933) 13,014 days (1929-1964) 11,553 days
FDR 4,422 days (1933-1945) 4,422 days (1933-1945) 0 days
Truman 2,840 days (1945-1953) 10,120 days (1945-1972) 7,280 days
Eisenhower 2,922 days (1953-1961) 5,911 days (1953-1969) 2,989 days
Kennedy 1,036 days (1961-1963) 1,036 days (1961-1963) 0 days
LBJ 1,886 days (1963-1969) 3,349 days (1963-1973) 1,463 days
Nixon 2,027 days (1969-1974) 9,223 days (1969-1994) 7,196 days
Ford 895 days (1974-1977) 11,097 days (1974-2006) 10,202 days
Carter 1,461 days (1977-1981) 15,168 days (1977- 13,707 days
Reagan 2,922 days (1981-1989) 11,094 days (1981-2004) 8,172 days
HW Bush 1,461 days (1989-1993) 10,785 days (1989- 9,324 days
Clinton 2,922 days (1993-2001) 9,324 days (1993- 6,402 days
Bush 2,922 days (2001-2009) 6,402 days (2001- 3,480 days
Obama 2,922 days (2009-2017) 3,480 days (2009- 558 days
Trump 558 days (2017- N/A N/A

FDR and John Adams

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was elected to serve four terms (16 years) as President but died a few months into his fourth term in 1945. In 1947 Congress ratified the 22nd amendment, which was approved by the states in 1951, making it so no President could serve more than two terms.

In this hypothetical President for life scenario, FDR would still have served more days as President then the 10* listed in the table below even if they served as President for life.

*Not counting those who died in office (W.H. Harrison, Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding and Kennedy)

President Lifespan after being elected if President for life
FDR 4,422 days (1933-1945)
Harrison 4,391 days (1889-1901)
Buchanan 4,107 days (1857-1868)
Washington 3,880 days (1789-1799)
Wilson 3,988 days (1913-1924)
Johnson 3,759 days (1865-1875)
Obama 3,480 days (2009-
Coolidge 3,444 days (1923-1933)
LBJ 3,349 days (1963-1973)
Arthur 1,886 days (1881-1886)
Polk 1,564 days (1845-1849)

Another noticeable thing from this hypothetical President for life scenario is how long John Adams holds the title as longest-serving President. Adams died on July 4th, 1826 and it would not be until (ironically enough) July 4th, 1958 that President Hoover would pass him in days served.

Hoover would then become the longest until President Carter passed him on September 8th, 2012. Adams (90 years, 247 days) is the fifth oldest President to have ever lived, while Carter (93 years, 299 days) is currently second only being George H.W. Bush.

President Lifespan after being elected if President for life
Carter 15,168 days (1977-
Hoover 13,014 days (1929-1964)
Ford 11,097 days (1974-2006)
Reagan 11,094 days (1981-2004)
HW Bush 10,785 days (1989-
Adams 10,713 days (1797-1826)
Truman 10,120 days (1945-1972)

Alternative President for life timeline

In an alternative timeline where America’s President is elected for life, the country would only be on its 15th President (Clinton), instead of its 45th (Trump). To make this timeline, I took who was actually President in real-life and made them next in line when the current President for life died.

So if Washington had died in 1802 instead of 1799, Jefferson would have been the second President in this timeline instead of Adams.

Click here to view larger interactive version

timegraphics-a53520f38efc209cafc1a221aad5c84c

Below is a table of a few major events in American history and what the differences would be in terms of who was President at the time assuming history played out the same way.

Event Actual President Alt President
Louisiana Purchase (1803) Jefferson John Adams
War of 1812 (1812-15) Madison John Adams
Various Indian Wars (1776-1923) 29 different Presidents 10 different Presidents
Mexican-American War (1846-48) Polk JQ Adams, Polk
Civil War (1861-65) Lincoln Fillmore
Reconstruction Era (1863-1877) Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes Fillmore, Grant
Spanish-American War (1898) McKinley Cleveland
World War I (1914-18) Wilson Roosevelt
Great Depression (1929-39) Coolidge, Hoover, FDR Coolidge, Hoover
World War II (1939-45) FDR, Truman Hoover
Cold War (1947-91) 9 different Presidents Hoover, LBJ, Nixon
Korean War (1950-53) Truman, Eisenhower Hoover
Vietnam War (1955-73) Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon Hoover, LBJ, Nixon
Civil Rights Movement (1954-68) Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ Hoover, LBJ
9/11 Bush Clinton
Afghanistan War (2001- Bush, Obama, Trump Clinton
Iraq War (2003-11) Bush, Obama Clinton
Great Recession (2007-09) Bush, Obama Clinton

Sources and info:

Featured Image: “Seal of the President of the United States” from Wikimedia Commons  is in public domain

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States_by_time_in_office

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidents_of_the_United_States_by_age#Oldest_living_U.S._presidents

https://www.timeanddate.com/date/duration.html

https://time.graphics/ (Used to make timeline chart)

All other charts and tables made using Google Spreadsheet

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