When presidential hopefuls envision their time in office, it’s almost certain that none dream of anything less than a four year stint. Most probably aspire to eight. But a surprisingly high 23% of all U.S. presidents—10 out of our 43 commanders in chief—never made it through a single full term.
So why have so many of our nation’s chief executives called the White House home for less than four years? To find out, see the list compiled by research engine FindTheBest below.
10. John Tyler
In office 3.92 years
John Tyler came the closest to completing four years in office of all 10 presidents on the list above. He was also the first president to reach the White House without being elected to office, assuming the title upon President Harrison’s death in 1841. Although he started running for reelection in the 1844 campaign, he withdrew his candidacy in August due to insufficient support from the Whig party.
9. Andrew Johnson
In office 3.86 years
Andrew Johnson ascended to the presidency after President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. Johnson wanted a quick reconciliation with the South in post-Civil War America, so he didn’t give protection to former slaves, and was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1868 as a result. He was acquitted by the Senate by one vote, and remained in office to see his term through, but had lost the support he needed to run for reelection in 1870.
8. Chester A. Arthur
In office 3.86 years
Chester A. Arthur became the fourth vice president to attain the presidency through the death of a predecessor—in this case, James A. Garfield. Arthur chose not to run for reelection, and returned to practicing law instead. Almost a year after his presidency ended, however, he fell ill and died.
7. John F. Kennedy
In office 2.83 years
Perhaps one of the most well-known and beloved presidents, John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Oswald was arrested on the same day of the assassination, but he was shot and killed by a man named Jack Ruby two days later. While the FBI and the Warren Commission investigation concluded that Oswald had acted alone, the exact details of what happened are still a mystery, and many conspiracy theories abound.
6. Millard Fillmore
In office 2.67 years
Millard Fillmore was the last Whig president, and took office after the death of President Taylor in 1850. Unlike the other vice presidents on this list who did not seek reelection, Fillmore threw his hat in the ring in 1852, but lost the Whig nomination to his secretary of state, Daniel Webster. He also ran on the American Party ticket in 1856, but came in third place.
5. Warren G. Harding
In office 2.42 years
Warren G. Harding campaigned on the promise of a “return to normalcy” after the First World War. He’s most well-known for the Teapot Dome Scandal, but in recent years has been viewed more positively as a moderate politician who passed the first federal child welfare program and endorsed African-American civil rights. He intended to run for reelection in 1924, but passed away for unknown reasons in 1923. The most likely reason for his death is heart failure, but some have speculated that he was poisoned or committed suicide.
4. Gerald Ford
In office 2.42 years
Gerald Ford is the only person to rise to both the presidency and the vice presidency without being elected. He was appointed to the vice presidency when Spiro Agnew resigned in the face of extortion, bribery, and conspiracy charges, and was elevated to the presidency upon Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Ford ran for reelection, defeating Reagan for the Republican nomination, but lost to Jimmy Carter in the presidential election.
3. Zachary Taylor
In office 1.33 years
Zachary Taylor rose to stardom when he led (and won) several battles in the Mexican-American War, helping America keep control over the annexed territory of Texas. Although he had little interest in politics, he was persuaded to leverage his popularity and run for the presidency in 1849. Taylor won the election, but died of a stomach related illness shortly into his term.
2. James A. Garfield
In office .54 years
James A. Garfield was elected in 1881, but only served for a few months before he was shot by outraged political office seeker Charles J. Guiteau. Although Garfield was shot in June, he passed away (officially leaving office) 80 days later in September 1881. During his short time as president, Garfield appointed a justice to the U.S. Supreme Court and proposed a civil service reform act that was eventually passed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur.
1. William Henry Harrison
In office .08 years
William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia 32 days into his term, claiming the title for shortest presidency by a longshot. It had generally been believed that Harrison caught a cold that lead to pneumonia during his inauguration, where he delivered the longest address in American history, in stormy weather without a coat or gloves. But a 2014 analysis shows that the president actually died of typhoid, and likely contracted it in a marsh close to the White House.
FindTheBest is a research website that’s collected all the data on U.S.. presidents, and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join FindTheBest to get all the information on presidents, Congress members, and thousands of other topics.