No Second Term: Presidents Who Weren't Re-Elected

By Matt Spolar

The inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden this week marked a political milestone: Barring a 2024 bid, former President Trump is the 10th American president to try and fail to win election to a second term. Here are the others in that club:

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John Quincy Adams

John Adams and John Quincy Adams

Elder John, above right, was one of America’s founders, but his temper led to a chaotic White House, and VP Thomas Jefferson beat him in 1800. In 1824, Congress elected his son in a crowded race over outsider Andrew Jackson, who was re-elected in 1828.

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Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren

Known as the crafty Northerner beside a Southern populist prez, “Little Van” rode Andrew Jackson’s coattails to victory, but also inherited his cratering economy. He then lost to William Henry Harrison, who ran as a down-home war hero in Jackson’s mold.

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Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

Pierce’s son was killed in a train wreck prior to his 1853 inauguration, and his presidency devolved from there. The Northerner was seen as a weak appeaser of the pro-slavery South leading up to the Civil War, and his own party chose not to renominate him.

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Benjamin Harrison

Benjamin Harrison

Harrison was the last president to lose the popular vote but win the Electoral College until George W. Bush and Trump in the 21st century. He beat Grover Cleveland in 1888, but four years later Cleveland reclaimed the White House for his second term.

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William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

There was no rule stopping Theodore Roosevelt from a third presidential term in 1908, but he decided on Taft as his successor. Taft proved not progressive enough for Roosevelt, who doomed his friend’s re-election with a third-party run in 1912.

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Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover

The stock market went kaput in his first year, and the Great Depression defined his time in office. Many Americans went homeless; their shantytowns were called Hoovervilles. He was soon trounced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who’d be re-elected three times.

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Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

Between an energy crisis and U.S. hostages taken in Iran, Carter gave a White House speech in 1979 trying to rouse the country from a “crisis of confidence.” He fended off a Democratic primary challenge from Ted Kennedy in 1980 before falling to Ronald Reagan.

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George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush

He won the White House as Ronald Reagan’s vice president in 1988, but Bush 1’s wide popularity after the Gulf War began to falter amid an economic recession. Young Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, offering Americans “third way” centrism, defeated him in 1992.

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