The short answer to the title of this article is: 16 presidents were senators at one time. They were: James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Benjamin Harrison, Warren G. Harding, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Barack Obama.
The Senate is generally seen as the “senior class” of the U.S. Congress. Few senators are elected without some political experience at other levels, whether in the U.S. House of Representatives, or at the state level. Senatorial candidates must be at least 30 years old when they register, and must be citizens for at least nine years. They must also be residents in the states where they qualify. Senators may also be called upon to serve on committees, and have a variety of duties as they serve the people of their state.
The fact that a little more than one third of all U.S. presidents were senators suggests the importance of the Senate with respect to the presidency. It puts candidates in the public eye and gives them a better idea of the kind of politics they espouse, what they support, and how they vote on certain issues.
When reflecting on which presidents were senators, these names seem to most often come to mind: Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. Certainly, nearly all these men had distinguished careers as senators, and all were in office as president during critical times in U.S. history. Many of these presidents were senators when the whole country was paying closer attention than usual to those in government and knew they might be running their campaigns under intense scrutiny.
Certainly Harry S. Truman knew the eyes of the whole world were on him when he took the oath of office when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office in April, 1945. As vice president, he was immediately sworn in, and took charge of a country involved in the last months of a world war. Truman, in fact, gave the go-ahead to deploy the atomic bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan. No doubt, this decision changed the course of history.
John F. Kennedy was a popular president who never got a chance to run for re-election. He died 22 November 1963, the victim of assassination. Johnson, his vice president, took over and guided the U.S. through the turbulent 1960s, through Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement. Richard M. Nixon showed promise as a president, and great dexterity in foreign policy, but left in disgrace after resigning because of the Watergate scandal.
The U.S. has had 41 presidents, and 16 of those presidents were senators. Little children thinking about being president one day should look into being elected to the Senate first.