At noon on Friday, Jan. 20, the United States will have had three consecutive eight-year presidencies for only the second time in its history. The only other such moment came at noon, March 4, 1825, 192 years ago.
That’s a bit surprising, given George Washington’s example of retiring after two terms as president and the rule established by the 22nd Amendment, passed after Franklin Roosevelt won third and fourth terms in wartime, imposing a two-term limit. It owes something to the tragic happenstance that the four presidents who were assassinated might well have completed two terms otherwise.
There are some striking contrasts between the 24 years that ended in 1825 and the 24 years ending this Friday. The three eight-year presidents then — Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe — were Virginians who were, despite some tussles, political allies and members of the same political party. Their houses were a day’s ride then (an hour’s drive today) from each other.
The last years of Monroe’s administration were dubbed by historians as the Era of Good Feelings. The opposition Federalist party didn’t run a candidate in the 1820 election and held only a handful of seats in Congress.
No one would call any large part of the last 24 years an era of good feelings. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama were each succeeded by a president of the other party. Parties opposing the president had majorities in the House of Representatives for 14 and in the Senate for 11½ of the 24-year period. All three presidents were re-elected, but with just 49, 51 and 51 percent of the vote.
Clinton was impeached in 1997, Bush was administered an electoral “thumping” in 2006 and Obama received similar treatment in 2010 and 2014. Although Clinton and Bush refrained from blaming their problems on their predecessors, Obama stopped doing so only as his second term was nearing its end.