I have voted in 11 presidential elections. I had an actual opinion about who I was voting for in the last seven or eight, but I’ve voted in 11. There’s always a winner and a loser under our imperfect but wonderful system of government. Ideologically, over the years I’ve been on both sides of the fence from a Republican/Democrat standpoint. My guess is that’s not uncommon.
Having said that, I’m a little concerned about the age of the people running for president on both sides in the last couple of elections. Until 2016, the oldest elected president was Ronald Reagan at 69. I remember thinking, man that’s old. Well, Trump trumped that by being 70 at his 2016 inauguration. As I write this, I don’t know who won the election, but either way the age trend will continue. Reagan’s record stood for 35 years; Trump’s may end at four years. That got me curious about our former presidents. Anything I learned about this in school has been long forgotten, so this is all compliments of Google.
I learned that the average age of our presidents when elected is approximately 55 years, but the fascinating thing to me is their longevity. Excluding those who were assassinated (which I will do going forward), the average life span of all deceased presidents is 74 years. The oldest was George H. W. Bush, who we lost in November of 2018 at the age of 94. That record has already been broken by Jimmy Carter, who is having health issues (but at age 96, who wouldn’t have issues?)
You would logically think that early presidents would have had a much shorter life span than the later ones as medical science gets continually better. Once again, excluding the four assassinations and five living presidents, the group from George Washington to Rutherford Hayes lived to be 73 on average. The group from Chester Arthur (who?) to George H. W. Bush averaged 74.
More amazing to me is the fact that the first five presidents had an average lifespan of 80. This was in the late 1700s to early 1800s. This was before penicillin, anesthesia and an understanding of germs and disease. In fact, the youngest of the group to die was George Washington at 67. Washington died of something called quinsy, which is apparently a really bad sore throat. Extending the list a little further, the first 15 presidents averaged 74 years. For context, the life expectancy for this demographic in the United States in 1850 was 37; in 1900 it was 46; in 1932 it was 61, and at present it’s 76.
Just for fun, here are a few more interesting facts I ran across:
- During the 1872 election, Ulysses S. Grant literally ran against a corpse. His opponent, Horace Greeley, died before the election was finalized.
- George Washington had a pretty bad temper. Also, he did have one real tooth left when he died.
- Thomas Jefferson spoke with a lisp.
- Three of the first five presidents died on the 4th of July–Jefferson, John Adams and James Monroe.
- George Washington gave the shortest inauguration speech at 135 words. William Henry Harrison’s was the longest at 8,445 words. He spoke for over two hours in a heavy snowstorm, which made him catch a cold and ultimately die from pneumonia one month later. His term lasted 33 days. (There’s a lesson here.)
- George Washington argued that a presidential candidate should not appear too eager to win the presidency or actively seek it. Rather he said, “The office should seek the man.” He considered active campaigning undignified, even vulgar.
- John Tyler had 15 children, more than most people but by far more than any other president.
- James Buchanan regularly bought slaves in Washington, D.C. and quietly freed them in Pennsylvania.
- James Garfield was not only ambidextrous. Allegedly he could write in Latin with one hand and Greek with the other at the same time.
- Jimmy Carter is a speed-reader. He has been clocked at 2,000 words a minute with 95 percent comprehension.
- Woodrow Wilson’s face is on the $100,000 bill, which I didn’t know existed.
- James Madison and George Washington are the only presidents who signed the Constitution.
- Teddy Roosevelt was blind in his left eye due to an injury in a boxing match.
- Martin Van Buren was the first president to be born as a citizen of the United States. The presidents before him were born as British subjects.
- In 1889, at the age of 24, Warren G. Harding had a nervous breakdown and spent several weeks in a sanitarium.
For those worried about what the post-election future will bring, let me offer the wisdom of Warren Buffett, “Never bet against America…”. I think I’ll end on that note.