For the purpose of this question, a “term” is defined as the span of time between a president’s taking of the oath and their leaving of the office. So, for instance, the four years for which Kennedy was elected to serve counts as two terms. Kennedy’s only term and Johnson’s first term.

Presidential terms are traditionally four years in length to the day. There are, of course, some exceptions to this. Twenty presidential terms have been of lengths shorter than one year four years. Eight of those terms were cut short because of a president’s death. Nine because of a Vice President ascending to the office to fill out a term after a death or resignation. So the question is this… to which three presidents did the three remaining terms belong and why were these terms less than four years in length?

Clarification: Presidential terms are usually cut short (in other words, do not last a full four years) because a president has died or a vice president takes office and is only serving the remainder of that term (unless re-elected in his own right). There have been three instances where terms were shorter than four years for different reasons than death or VP ascendancy. Who were the presidents whose terms were cut short and why were they cut short?


Category: Statehouse

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8 Responses to Quiz Question: Presidential Terms

  1. Kevin says:

    I must be very obtuse because I don’t understand the question. Can you rephrase to make it clearer?

  2. trumwill says:

    Sorry for being unclear. I hope the clarification helps. Unfortunately, the particulars make the wording of the question very difficult.

  3. Kevin says:

    Does the question include temporary instances of presidential disability? I think Dubya had a couple of instances where he had minor surgery. Under the 25th Amendment, he can transmit a letter to Congress saying that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and the VP becomes Acting President until the President rescinds his prior declaration of invalidity. I think Cheney was technically our president for a short period of time (a sobering thought, to be certain). Not sure if that qualifies, or who the other two are, but I suspect that they’re either Al Gore, Dan Quayle (another sobering thought), or George H.W. Bush (when Reagan was president). Do I win a prize?

  4. trumwill says:

    Good thinking, but no. These were not temporary presidents. They took the oath and are considered amongst the 43/44.

    One is pretty obvious. The other two are a little more tricky.

  5. trumwill says:

    I should add that four years is give-or-take a week or two. A president taking the oath a day late or something like that wouldn’t count.

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    Washington’s first term was less than four years. Nixon resigned. And FDR’s second term was cut short by several weeks when inauguration was moved up from March 4th to January 20th.

    That last one I only noticed because I had to look up the dates of Washington’s presidency to confirm that his first term was short.

  7. Brandon Berg says:

    By the way, this is confusing: “Twenty presidential terms have been of lengths shorter than one year.”

  8. trumwill says:

    Oops. That would probably help explain Kevin’s confusion!

    Yeah, you called it.

    The question was supposed to be “which president served less than four years despite not resigning or dying in office” because I thought that the answer was Hoover. Even if it had been a two term president, I could have said “which president was elected and re-elected and served less than 8 years despite neither dying in nor resigning from office?”

    Unfortunately, the 20th amendment had to take effect in one of the two or three the most distinctive presidency in our nation’s history. So I had to make the question more general.

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