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.
To sort a column, click the square button in the header.
By the numbers
Of the 43 people who have served as President:
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.
17 Presidents previously served as state Governors; 9 were Governors immediately before election as President.
16 Presidents previously served as U.S. Senators; only 3 immediately before election as President. Only one ex-president, Andrew Johnson, ever served as a U.S. Senator.
14 Presidents previously served as Vice-President. All except Nixon were VP immediately before election as 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.
6 Presidents came from the state of Ohio as well as from the state of as from New York (7 for New York, if Grover Cleveland is counted twice); 6 from Virginia; 4 from Massachusetts; 3 each from the states of Tennessee, California, Texas and Illinois. Presidents have come from 10 other states, 18 different states in all.
5 Presidents were family relations of previous presidents: John Quincy Adams (son of John Adams), Benjamin Harrison (grandson of William Henry Harrison), Zachary Taylor (2nd cousin of James Madison), Franklin Roosevelt (5th cousin of Theodore Roosevelt) and George W. Bush (son of George H. W. Bush and a fourth cousin five times removed of Franklin Pierce).
4 Presidents had never been elected to public office before becoming President: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
|Order||President||Previous 1||Previous 2||Previous 3||Previous 4||State||Occupation||photo|
|1||George Washington||out of office||Constitutional Convention||out of office||military||Virginia||planter, land surveyor|
|2||John Adams||Vice-President||foreign service||Continental Congress||State legislator||Massachusetts||lawyer|
|3||Thomas Jefferson||Vice-President||Secretary of State||foreign service||Congressman||Virginia||planter, lawyer|
|4||James Madison||Secretary of State||U.S. Representative||Constitutional Convention||State legislator||Virginia||planter|
|5||James Monroe||Secretary of State||foreign service||State governor||U.S. Senator||Virginia||lawyer|
|6||John Quincy Adams||Secretary of State||foreign service||U.S. Senator||State legislator||Massachusetts||lawyer|
|7||Andrew Jackson||out of office||U.S. Senator||military||U.S. Senator||Tennessee||lawyer|
|8||Martin Van Buren||Vice-President||Secretary of State||State governor||U.S. Senator||New York||lawyer, political organizer|
|9||William Henry Harrison||Local government||Foreign service||U.S. Senator||State legislator||Ohio||military|
|10||John Tyler||Vice-President||State legislator||U.S. Senator||State governor||Virginia||lawyer|
|11||James K. Polk||out of office||State governor||Speaker of the House||State legislator||Tennessee||lawyer|
|13||Millard Fillmore||Vice-President||State office||out of office||U.S. Representative||New York||lawyer|
|14||Franklin Pierce||out of office||military||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||New Hampshire||lawyer|
|15||James Buchanan||Foreign service||out of office||Secretary of State||U.S. Senator||Pennsylvania||lawyer|
|16||Abraham Lincoln||out of office||U.S. Representative||State legislator||----||Illinois||lawyer|
|17||Andrew Johnson||Vice-President||military governor||State governor||U.S. Representative||Tennessee||tailor|
|18||Ulysses S. Grant||military||----||----||----||Illinois||military|
|19||Rutherford B. Hayes||State governor||out of office||State governor||U.S. Representative||Ohio||lawyer|
|20||James A. Garfield||U.S. Representative||military||State legislator||----||Ohio||lawyer|
|21||Chester A. Arthur||Vice-President||out of office||Federal office||out of office||New York||lawyer|
|22||Grover Cleveland||State governor||Local office||----||----||New York||lawyer|
|23||Benjamin Harrison||out of office||U.S. Senator||out of office||military||Indiana||lawyer|
|24||Grover Cleveland||out of office||President of the U.S.||State governor||Local office||New York||lawyer|
|25||William McKinley||State governor||U.S. Representative||military||----||Ohio||lawyer|
|26||Theodore Roosevelt||Vice-President||State governor||military||Federal office||New York||military historian|
|27||William Howard Taft||Secretary of War||Territorial governor||judicial||Federal office||Ohio||lawyer|
|28||Woodrow Wilson||State governor||education||----||----||New Jersey||academic|
|29||Warren G. Harding||U.S. Senator||out of office||State legislator||----||Ohio||business owner|
|30||Calvin Coolidge||Vice President||State Governor||State office||State legislator||Massachusetts||lawyer|
|31||Herbert Hoover||Secretary of Commerce||out of office||----||----||California||mining engineer|
|32||Franklin D. Roosevelt||State governor||out of office||Federal office||State legislator||New York||lawyer|
|33||Harry S. Truman||Vice President||U.S. Senator||County commissioner (County court)||military||Missouri||business owner|
|34||Dwight D. Eisenhower||military||----||----||----||Kansas||military|
|35||John F. Kennedy||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||military||----||Massachusetts||politician|
|36||Lyndon B. Johnson||Vice-President||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||Federal office||Texas||teacher|
|37||Richard Nixon||out of office||Vice-President||U.S. Senator||U.S. Representative||California||lawyer|
|38||Gerald Ford||Vice-President||U.S. Representative||military||----||Michigan||lawyer|
|39||Jimmy Carter||out of office||State governor||State legislator||military||Georgia||farmer|
|40||Ronald Reagan||out of office||State governor||----||----||California||actor|
|41||George H. W. Bush||Vice-President||out of office||Federal office||foreign service||Texas||businessman|
|42||Bill Clinton||State governor||State Attorney General||----||----||Arkansas||lawyer, teacher|
|43||George W. Bush||State governor||out of office||military||----||Texas||businessman|
|44||Barack Obama||U.S. Senator||State Legislator||----||----||Illinois||lawyer|
- 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.
- 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
- Cleveland served nonconsecutive presidential terms.
- "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 re-elected.
- Fillmore succeeded President Taylor, who died in office. He was not re-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 re-elected.
- President Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee during the Civil War
- Arthur succeeded President Garfield, who was assassinated. He was not re-elected.
- This is a general designation for appointive domestic Federal offices below cabinet level
- This is a general designation for local elective offices
- This is a general designation for local elective offices
- Roosevelt succeeded President McKinley, who was assassinated. He was re-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
- President of Princeton University
- Coolidge succeeded President Harding, who died in office. He was re-elected to a second term.
- Born and raised in Vermont and spent time in Vermont politics. Permanently moved to Massachusetts to attend college.
- During and following World War I, Hoover was involved with several humanitarian organizations.
- Assistant Secretary of the Navy
- Truman succeeded President Roosevelt, who died in office. He was re-elected to a second term.
- Johnson succeeded President Kennedy, who was assassinated. He was re-elected to a second term.
- head of the National Youth Administration in Texas
- Ford succeeded President Nixon, who resigned. He was not re-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 and raised in Massachusetts, but moved to Texas after graduation from college.