Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Biden's Years of Experience in Public Service are Second to One

Nov 8, 2020

Biden's Years of Experience in Public Service are Second to One

tags: presidential history,Joe Biden,2020 Election

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

With the election of Joe Biden to the presidency, we are about to inaugurate the second most experienced president, in terms of years of service in American history, five years fewer than John Quincy Adams.

If one looks at years of public service of the 45 men who have served as President before Inauguration Day 2021, four have resumes of extensive public service in elected or appointed service comparable to Biden’s—Adams, James Buchanan, Lyndon B Johnson, and Gerald R. Ford. Only Adams had more years of service than Joe Biden, although 23 of his total years were by appointment to diplomatic position, not elections to office.

John Quincy Adams (the 6th president, 1825-1829), served as US Ambassador to five European nations, including the Netherlands, Portugal, and Prussia from 1794-1801; to Czarist Russia from 1809-1815; and finally to Great Britain from 1815-1817, making a total of 15 years in foreign diplomacy followed by eight years as Secretary of State under President James Monroe from 1817-1825. Adams is considered one of the best Secretaries of State in American history.  Additionally, he served in public office as US Senator from Massachusetts from 1803-1808 before returning to diplomacy the following year. So when he was elected President in 1825, he already had 28 years of public service. After his one term as President, he was elected by the people of Boston to the US House of Representatives from 1831-1848. Adams ultimately had in total more than 49 years in public office, though 26 years came in elected positions versus 23 by appointment.

James Buchanan (the 15th president from 1857-1861) served as a member of the US House of Representatives from Pennsylvania for ten years from 1821-1831, and was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the last two years of his service.  He also was a US Senator from 1834-1845.  He had extensive diplomatic experience as Ambassador to Czarist Russia from 1832-1833; and to Great Britain from 1853-1856. Buchanan served as Secretary of State under James K. Polk from 1845-1849, and sought the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party a number of times before finally being elected in 1856.  If one adds up all his service, he was in office for a total of 33 years, with eight of those years as an appointed diplomat and 25 in elected office.

Lyndon B. Johnson (the 36th president, 1963-1969) served in Congress for 24 years from 1937-1961, twelve years in House, and then twelve years as a Senator, including service as Senate Majority Whip from 1951-1953; Senate Minority Leader from 1953-1955, and as the most prominent and influential Senate Majority Leader in American history from 1955-1961.  Then, he was Vice President of the United States from 1961-1963. After assuming the presidency with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Johnson was elected to a full term from 1965-1969, accomplishing the greatest series of domestic reforms in American history under the slogan “The Great Society.”  He had planned for another term, and announced for it in 1968, but the Vietnam War morass led him to withdraw his candidacy and retire in January 1969, having served in government for 32 years.

Gerald R. Ford, (the 38th president, 1974-1977) served in the US House of Representatives from Grand Rapids, Michigan for 25 years from 1949 to late in 1973, including eight years of service as House Minority Leader of the Republican Party, and then was tapped by President Richard Nixon to replace the resigning Spiro Agnew as Vice President under the terms of the 25th Amendment. He served as Vice President for 8 months from December 1973 to August 1974, serving the remaining two and a half years of Nixon’s term when Nixon himself resigned in August, 1974. Ford’s bid for reelection ended in defeat to Jimmy Carter, and he left public office in 1977 having served 28 years in public office.

No other President matched John Quincy Adams, James Buchanan, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Gerald R. Ford in years of public federal service, but now President Elect Joe Biden surpasses all of them except Adams.

Joe Biden has served 44 years, eleven more than Buchanan; twelve more than Johnson; and sixteen more than Ford, an absolutely amazing record of public service! Further, if only service in elected office is considered, however, Biden is ahead of Johnson (32) Ford (28), Adams (26) and Buchanan (25) in that statistic. 

Biden was elected to the US Senate from Delaware in 1972, a few weeks before his 30th birthday, and sworn in during the midst of tragedy of the loss of his first wife and daughter, and the injury of his two sons, in an auto accident, six weeks after his election, and a month after his 30th birthday.  But he overcame tragedy, married his second wife, Dr Jill Biden, had a daughter with her, and overcame adversity; he had two brain surgeries for an aneurysm in 1988, and would experience the loss of his son Beau in 2015. 

Joe Biden served six terms as a Senator, a total of 36 years, making him the 18th longest-serving Senator; had he not been Vice President, Biden most likely would have served a seventh term until 2014, and might now be finishing an eighth, which would have made a total of 48 years. This would put him behind only Robert Byrd of West Virginia (51 and a half years) and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii (nearly 50 years).  

While in the Senate, Biden served as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987-1995 and as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001-2003 and 2007-2009. He was a headliner in the news during controversial Supreme Court nominations under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Biden made two unsuccessful attempts to run for President in 1987 and 2008. He served as Vice President under President Barack Obama for two terms, and was extremely engaged, active and influential, in a manner unlike any other Vice President, except Walter Mondale (1977-1981) under President Jimmy Carter.

So, among American presidents, Joe Biden surpasses all but John Quincy Adams in years of service to his country. Yesterday, Biden fulfilled the dream of his son and became the 46th President of the United States. 

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