Special Report

Each President’s Path to the Oval Office

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

George Washington (1732-1799)
> Term: 1789-1797
> Party affiliation: None
> Notable occupation: Soldier, gentleman farmer

George Washington was the nation’s first war hero. He was unanimously elected president by the Electoral College after leading the Continental Army to victory over the British Empire. Before the American Revolution, Washington developed leadership skills during the French and Indian War.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

John Adams (1735-1826)
> Term: 1797-1801
> Party affiliation: Federalist
> Notable occupation: Diplomat

John Adams was well-positioned to become president. During the Revolutionary War, he served in France in a diplomatic role and helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. After the creation of the United States, he was ambassador to England. When he returned, he was elected vice president under Washington.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
> Term: 1801-1809
> Party affiliation: Democratic-Republican
> Notable occupation: Writer, diplomat

Thomas Jefferson began his road to the presidency in 1776, when he helped draft the Declaration of Independence. During Washington’s presidency, Jefferson was appointed secretary of state, in 1789. It was at this time that two political parties began to take shape, leading to a division in government. The Federalists, headed by Alexander Hamilton, believed in a strong central government, and the Democratic-Republicans, led by Jefferson, believed in states’ rights. Jefferson resigned as secretary of state and ran for president against John Adams and lost. Because the second-place candidate became vice president at that time, Jefferson became vice president. He was elected president in 1801.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

James Madison (1751-1836)
> Term: 1809-1817
> Party affiliation: Democratic-Republican
> Notable occupation: Writer, secretary of state

At 29, James Madison was the youngest member of the Continental Congress. He became known as the Father of the Constitution and was an advocate for strong central government and checks and balances. Madison was a staunch supporter of Washington’s policies while serving in the House of Representatives. He introduced and helped pass the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. Later, as secretary of state, Madison played a key role in the Louisiana Purchase.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

James Monroe (1758-1831)
> Term: 1817-1825
> Party affiliation: Democratic-Republican
> Notable occupation: Diplomat, governor

James Monroe served in Washington’s cabinet as minister to France. Monroe’s skills as a diplomat played a role in the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States. He then served as minister to the United Kingdom from 1803-1807. Monroe became such a trusted public servant who he served in two cabinet positions — secretary of state and secretary of war — at the same time, making him the first American to do so.