Surprisingly, several American presidents did not serve in the military. In fact, of the 44 men who have served as president, only 27 have had any military experience. George Washington is often considered the father of the United States military, but he was not the first commander-in-chief. Several early presidents were veterans of the Revolutionary War, but how many presidents didn’t serve in the military?
We’re here today to learn about the cream of the CRAP – or to laugh at them! That’s correct! We’re discussing which US presidents did not serve in the military. But before we can laugh too hard, we need to figure out how many U.S. presidents did not serve in the military.
People like to mock some of the more recent presidents for not serving in the military, yet Commanders-in-Chief like Biden and Trump was far from the first to do so. I’m sorry to break it to you! You’ll have to find another bit of mud to hurl at the opposite side of the fence! So, let’s examine which presidents did not serve in the military and what they did.
Which Presidents Did Not Serve in the Military?
As previously stated, 15 Presidents have served without prior military experience. This is because past military service is neither a qualification nor a condition for Presidential candidates under the Constitution.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolide, Warren G. Harding, Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Grover Cleveland, Millard Fillmore, Martin Van Buren, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden are the names of the 16 Presidents.
1. President John Quincy Adams
The presidency of John Quincy Adams lasted from 1825 until 1829. He served in the Massachusetts State Senate and the United States Senate but did not serve in the military. He only spent one term as president before joining the House of Representatives.
2. President Martin Van Buren
President Martin Van Buren served from 1837 until 1841. He was not a military member, but his Democratic Party was mostly made up of Republicans who were major “lovers” of the military, particularly the military “man” Andrew Jackson.
3. President Warren G. Harding
President Warren G. Harding served from 1921 until he died in 1923. He was a Republican Party member but not a military member. His administration has been plagued by controversies, including his extramarital affair and the Teapot Dome bribery investigation.
Before entering politics, Harding worked as a newspaper publisher and later lieutenant governor.
4. President John Adams
Following George Washington’s presidency, John Adams was elected.
During George Washington’s presidency, he also served as vice president.
He didn’t care for the job since it didn’t have many purposes.
Despite his involvement in the American Revolution, John Adams was never a military member and never fought in combat.
During the war, he worked as a diplomat in France.
His job was to get French backing and study new political ideologies that would impact the emerging American government.
When the war was made, he returned to the United States and became Washington’s vice president.
Adams faced a possible war after winning the election and becoming the next president.
France, despite being longtime friends, was proving tricky.
It was at war with the United Kingdom.
While this would not have been an issue in and of itself, it was making things tough for American ships.
Because most of the fighting was done at sea, American ships had difficulty crossing the ocean to do commerce.
France said that it would halt if the US government compensated them.
This did not sit well with the incoming administration.
France initiated a kind of cold war.
Privateers for both nations were tasked with damaging American or French ships, depending on who they worked for.
They were, in essence, pirates.
As the combat intensified and the likelihood of war increased, both governments understood that they did not want to engage in a war.
The American government was still rebuilding itself after the American Revolution.
The French government was still reeling from the effects of the war with Britain and its recent revolution.
Despite opposition from his government, John Adams struck a ceasefire with the French.
He averted war by doing so.
John Adams never served in the military since he was a diplomat before becoming president and depended on privateers to harry French ships.
Regardless, he was well-known for his political ideas.
5. President Millard Fillmore
President Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States, serving from 1850 to 1853. Fillmore, like the other Presidents on our list, performed a variety of things—except serving in the military. He was the driving force for the Treaty of Kanagawa. Before that, he was the first chancellor of the University of Buffalo and a New York “comptroller.”
6. President Herbert Hoover
President Herbert Hoover served from 1929 to 1933 and is ranked second on our list. He was the 21st President of the United States and a member of the Republic Party. Before becoming President, Hoover was a member of the Belgian Commission for Relief, a Food Administration director, and the United States Secretary of Commerce.
7. President Thomas Jefferson
President Thomas Jefferson did not legally serve in the military. He did, however, take part in the American Revolutionary War. Jefferson is most renowned for his contributions to the Declaration of Independence. He was in office for eight years, from 1801 to 1809.
8. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt is top on our list. His presidency lasted from 1933 until 1945. Roosevelt was the only President who had been elected four times. He served as the 32nd President of the United States, succeeding Herbert Hoover.
Roosevelt was the main personality who led the country through the Great Depression and the Great American Economic Crisis. He is most known for putting the New Deal Coalition and domestic plan into action. Roosevelt served his third and fourth terms during World War II.
Roosevelt served as the 44th Governor of New York (1929-1932) and as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy before becoming President (1913 to 1920). However, unlike his relative Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, he never served in the military.
Nonetheless, Roosevelt is said to have maintained a “lifelong dedication” to the Navy. Roosevelt claimed to have read all but one of the 10,000 nautical books he had. He also helped to create the United States Navy Reserve and the Council of National Defense. He aspired to be a naval officer, but the Wilson administration informed him he had to be the Assistant Secretary.
9. President Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton served as President from 1993 until 2001. He was Arkansas’s governor twice yet never served in the military. He is alleged to have evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.
10. President Calvin Coolidge
Third, on our list is President Calvin Coolidge. Following President Warren G. Harding, he served from 1923 until 1929. Coolidge was a lawyer and the governor of Massachusetts before becoming President. Coolidge was well-known for many things, but military service was not one of them.
11. President Donald Trump
Did Donald Trump serve in the military? Before being President from 2017 to 2021, President Donald Trump was a reality TV star on “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.” However, he was not a member of the military. Indeed, he is claimed to be the first President of the United States with no previous government or military service/Trump’s military experience.
12. President Woodrow Wilson
President Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1856 to 1924, led the United States through World War I, yet he never served in the military. Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey in 1920 and became the 28th President of the United States in 1921. Wilson is most known for his Wilsonianism foreign policy and as the League of Nations’ chief architect.
13. President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama was the first African-American President of the United States, serving two terms from 2009 to 2017. He served as President of the Harvard Law Review but did not serve in the military.
14. President Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland was President from 1885 to 1889 and again from 1893 to 1897. He was conscripted during the Civil War but did not serve due to his legal profession. He allegedly paid $150 for a replacement to accompany him, which was lawful (the Conscription Act of 1863).
15. President Joe Biden
Did joe biden serve in the military? Current US President Joe Biden likewise did not serve in the military. While attending the University of Delaware and Syracuse University, he received medical exemptions and student draft deferments.
He was classed as an “I-Y” in particular. This implies he might be recruited only in a national emergency. However, Joe Biden military service has military experience from his time as Vice President under previous President Barack Obama.
16. President William Howard Taft
Although there were a few conflicts and wars throughout Taft’s lifetime, he never fought in the military.
Taft struggled as president because the nation was unclear about its direction.
Theodore Roosevelt, the president before him, had enacted numerous progressive legislation.
This resulted in the formation of a pro-progress party inside Congress.
The other side was more conservative and wanted the government’s powers to be limited.
Taft struggled to satisfy both factions, yet he did establish legislation that both sides would have approved of.
Taft saw himself as a lawyer rather than a politician, which was his preference.
He had first hoped to reach the Supreme Court, but his wife urged him to go further.
Taft disliked his presidency and believed he found his calling as Chief Justice during President Warren Harding’s reign.
How Many Presidents Served In the Military
Which presidents of the United States served in the military? As stated in the introduction, 29 Presidents have served in the military. The military names of the United States Presidents are
1. President George Washington
President George Washington, who served from 1789 to 1797, is at the top of our list. At the age of 23, Washington was not only a member of the military, but he was also the commander of all troops in Virginia. During the Revolutionary War, he was also the Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army (1175-1783).
2. President James Madison
President James Madison, who served from 1809 to 1817, follows President George Washington on this list. Madison served as a colonel in the Virginia Militia from 1775 until 1781. Despite the fact that he did not see war due to health concerns, he was a skilled military commander.
3. President James Monroe
President James Monroe is third. He was in office from 1817 to 1825. He had previously fought in the Battle of Trenton (1776). His severed artery was substantial “evidence” of military participation. He was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
4. President Andrew Jackson
President Andrew Jackson is ranked fourth on this list. He was the seventh President of the United States and was regarded as a military “hero.” His other moniker was “Old Hickory.” Jackson served as a Major General in the United States Army, the Volunteer Army, and the Tennessee Militia. From 1829 until 1837, he served as President of the United States.
5. President William Henry Harrison
You are surely aware that Harrison is the President with the shortest tenure, having died 31 days into his term in 1841. But did you know he was also in the military from 1812 until 1814? That’s correct! He was the commander of the Army of the Northwest. He was granted a gold medal for his victory in the War of 1812 when he resigned in 1814.
6. President John Tyler
Tyler was a captain of a Virginia-based militia company before becoming President from 1841 to 1845. (Charles City Rifles). As a result, it is safe to assume that he had extensive military experience previous to becoming president.
7. President James K. Polk
President James K. Polk is next on the list. His tenure began in 1845 and ended in 1849. He was a colonel in the Tennessee Militia before becoming president in 1821. His military experience was crucial throughout the Mexican-American War, notably in extending US territory to the west.
8. President Zachary Taylor
President Zachary Taylor did not wish to be President, yet he did become one and served for a year from 1849 to 1850. He had wanted to join the military since he was a child. He served in the Army from 1808 to 1849, rising through the ranks through the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War.
9. President Franklin Pierce
President Franklin Pierce, who served from 1853 to 1857, is the ninth president on this list. He served in the Mexican-American War, as did a few other Presidents. He was a Brigadier General who won several battles. Despite his commitment to the service, a horse-related injury prevented him from participating in the Army’s eventual victory in the Battle of Chapultepec.
10. President James Buchanan
Buchanan, who served from 1857 to 1861, was the last President to serve during the War of 1812. He is also the only President whose military experience did not include serving as an officer. In 1814, he served in the private Pennsylvania Militia and fought in the Maryland British Invasion.
11. President Abraham Lincoln
President Lincoln, who served from 1861 to 1865, is best recognized for his position as a commander in the Civil War and the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is also worth noting that he served as captain of the Illinois Militia during the Black Hawk War in 1832.
12. President Andrew Johnson
Johnson served as a Brigadier General in the Army from 1865 until 1869. Although he was chastised for opposing Reconstruction, we cannot dismiss his military experience, which included his duty as Tennessee’s military governor in 1862.
13. President Ulysses S. Grant
Grant served as President from 1869 until 1877. Prior to it, he attended a United States Service Academy and served in the Mexican-American War. He was also a Civil War general from 1866 to 1869.
14. President Rutherford B. Hayes
President Rutherford B. Hayes served in the Union Army during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, rising to the rank of Major General.
15. President James A. Garfield
President Garfield entered the Union Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1861. By 1863, he had advanced to the rank of major general, making him the youngest officer in the army at the time.
16. President Chester A. Arthur
Arthur served in the military from 1858 to 1863, rising to the rank of Brigadier General. During the Civil War, he served in the New York Militia but never saw battle due to family links to Confederacy members.
17. President Benjamin Harrison
Harrison joined the Army during the Civil War, following in his grandfather’s footsteps. He fought for the Union for three years (1862-1865) and was a recruited Army volunteer in Indiana. In 1865, he was promoted to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General of volunteers.
18. President William McKinley
McKinley enlisted in the Union Army in 1862. He was promoted to Brevet Major and served until 1865. He didn’t leave the Army until the war was over.
19. President Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt was a politician who briefly quit politics in 1898 to form the Rough Riders, a volunteer cavalry and fighting unit in the Spanish-American War. During this time, he rose to the rank of colonel. He also fought in Cuba and received a posthumous Medal of Honor.
20. President Harry S. Truman
Truman served in the army from 1919 to 1945. He was a colonel in the Army Officer Reserve Corps at one point, but when the First World War broke out, he became a Battery D commander in France.
21. President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower was a second lieutenant when he graduated. In 1944, he was a 5-star General of the Army. He later served as the Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1951-1942).
22. President John F. Kennedy
Kennedy joined the Navy after graduating from Harvard. During WWII, he was given the Navy and Marine Corps Medal as well as the Purple Heart for saving people from a Japanese battleship. Kennedy had attained the rank of lieutenant before being forced to quit due to a leg injury.
23. President Lyndon B. Johnson
Johnson also served in the Navy. Three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was on active service as a lieutenant commander. He then became a Navy Reserve commander and served in that capacity until 1964.
24. President Richard M. Nixon
Despite the fact that Nixon was a Quaker and may have been exempted from service, he applied to the Naval Reserve. He served on active service in the South Pacific and as a commander in the Navy Reserve until 1966, three years before becoming President.
25. President Gerald R. Ford, Jr.
Ford joined the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During WWII, he served in the Pacific Theater. When he departed the Navy Reserve, he was a lieutenant commander.
26. President Jimmy Carter
Carter’s military career began during WWII. He served on a surface ship for two years and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant. He also worked on nuclear-powered submarines until 1953.
27. President Ronald Reagan
Reagan served in the Army from 1942 to 1945. Later, while serving in the Army & Air Corps First Motion Picture Unit, he recorded instruction videos, starred in patriotic films, and was promoted to captain.
28. President George H. W. Bush
Bush joined the Navy at the age of 18 and became the youngest pilot at the time. During WWII, he flew 58 combat flights and was promoted to lieutenant.
He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after being shot down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean while flying to bomb an enemy radio station.
29. President George W. Bush
Bush, who served from 2001 to 2009, began his career as a lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard. He also served in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1973.
Did every president serve in the military?
Serving in the military is not required to run for president. Nonetheless, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 29 of the 45 presidents of the United States had some military service.
Who was the last president to fight in a war?
George W. Bush, the most recent president to serve in the military, was a Texas Air National Guard member. George H. W. Bush was the most recent president to experience combat.
Was Ronald Reagan ever in the military?
Reagan joined the Army Enlisted Reserve after completing 14 home-study Army Extension Courses and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Cavalry Officers’ Reserve Corps on May 25, 1937. Reagan was called to active service for the first time on April 18, 1942.
Which president saw the most combat?
Andrew Jackson was the only president who ever maintained a grudge. This was a man who had fought 103 duels before being elected President.
It is often said that most presidents have served in the military, but this is not strictly true. Only about half of American presidents have had any military experience.
This is not to say that military service is unimportant, but it is not a requirement for the job. Many great presidents did not serve in the military, and there are many ways to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to be a successful leader.