In the run up to the 2016 Presidential Election, Barack Obama proclaimed that “There has never been (anyone) more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States.”
A bold proclamation indeed.
I have heard this statement, or variations of it, repeated over and over ad nauseum, both in the months leading up to the election and in the nearly year since, by many different people. It is repeated effortlessly, often without real thought to specific details, and often without regard to the fact that there had been forty three serving presidents prior to 2016, each with a unique resume.
Now, let me start by saying I am not a Hillary Clinton fan (I am also not a Donald Trump fan, but that is another story). That said, I will give credit where credit is due. Hillary Clinton has spent a lifetime in politics, a career that has included eight years as a United States Senator and four years as Secretary of State. She has also been the First Lady of the State of Arkansas and First Lady of the United States, a unique situation among presidential candidates.
To be fair, that’s a pretty impressive combination. But is it the best resume of all time?
Now obviously there is a large component of objectivity to this question, and that is nearly impossible to quantify. But actual experience is much easier to quantify. So was she more experienced than any other person who had ever been president before? Arguably not.
But she is up there.
Based on her experience as a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she served twelve years in major public offices. In addition, she spent eight years in the White House as First Lady. While not a true public office, it does need to be accounted for.
To see which presidents if any were more qualified, I looked for those who had served in at least two major public offices for a minimum total of twenty years, or three major public offices for a minimum of twelve years (this splits the difference of accounting for her time as First Lady.
For purposes of this survey, major offices include Vice President, Governor, United States Senator and Cabinet Secretary (the positions of Supreme Court Justice and military rank of one-star General/Admiral or higher were also considered but were not relevant factors).
United States Congressman and State-level offices were not considered for this survey (if they were, Hillary Clinton would have fared very poorly in overall experience). Also excluded was any experience attained after serving as President. This eliminated, among others, William Howard Taft, who spent nine years as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after his term as President ended. Finally, losing presidential candidates were not considered.
Based on the above criteria, there were at least three people who served as President of the United States who were more qualified than Hillary Clinton:
- Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) – When it comes to experience, no one can really hold a candle to the eight president of the United States. In addition to twelve years in early public life and a year as ambassador Great Britain, Van Buren spent eight years as the U.S. Senator from New York; several months as Governor of New York; two years as Secretary of State and four years as Vice President (14 years in major public offices total).
- James Monroe (1817-1825) – The last president to have fought in the American Revolution, the fifth man to hold the office came with an impressive list of accomplishments. In addition to early public office plus stints as Ambassador to France and Ambassador to great Britain, Monroe was a U.S. Senator from Virginia for four years; Governor of Virginia for three years; Secretary of State for six years and Secretary of War for half a year (14 years in major public offices total).
- Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) – The successor to Abraham Lincoln, the seventeenth president had a lot to live up to. Following twelve years of early public service, Johnson spent four years as Governor of Tennessee (plus three years as Military Governor of Tennessee during the Civil War); five years as U.S. Senator from Tennessee; and a brief period as Vice President. He also served for three years as a Brigadier General during the Civil War, concurrent to his time as military governor (12 years in major public office total).
And some honorable mentions:
James Buchanan (U.S. Senator 11 yrs, Secretary of State 3 years)
Lyndon Johnson (U.S. Senator 12 yrs, Vice President 2 years)
John Quincy Adams (U.S. Senator 5 yrs, Secretary of State 8 years)
John Tyler (U.S. Senator 9 yrs, Governor 2 years, Vice President 1 year)
Thomas Jefferson (Governor 2 years, Secretary of State 3 years, Vice President 4 years)