us presidents that did not serve in the military
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16 Presidents That Did NOT Serve In The Military

The list of U.S. Presidents who didn’t serve in the military is more substantial than most citizens realize.

In fact, a significant portion of former presidents has not served in the U.S. Armed Forces, including the current Commander-in-Chief Joe Biden.

These names include many recent U.S. Presidents along with a few prominent founding fathers of the country.

Discover the 16 Presidents that Did NOT Serve in the Military, below.

Related Article31 Presidents That Served In The Military

16 U.S. Presidents That Did NOT Serve in the Military

In general, most people assume that every President of the United States was previously in the military.

However, the reality is many U.S. Presidents never served in the Armed Forces.

In fact, a significant portion (about 35%) of former presidents were not in the military, including the current U.S. President, Joe Biden.

The number of presidents who didn’t serve in the military alludes to the fact that military service is not a requirement for the title “Commander-in-Chief.”

Rather, recent trends indicate that military service is not a factor many voters consider when determining the best candidate.

It’s demonstrated by the fact that 4 of the last 5 Presidents of the United States were not in the military.

Requirements for U.S. President (Military Service)

Military service is not a requirement for holding the highest office in the United States.

Therefore, many former presidents were not in the United States Armed Forces, including many recent candidates.

However, the majority of former presidents have a military background (31 U.S. Presidents compared to 16 never in service).

And, for comparison, Democrats have the highest number of presidents who didn’t serve in the military (8) followed by Republicans with 6.

In general, the public likes to endorse a candidate that has prior military service especially when leading the country under the title “Commander-in-Chief.”

Still, it’s not a Constitutional requirement that the President has previously served in the military.

In fact, the U.S. Constitution does not discourage military veterans from running for public office yet restricts a sitting military general from holding the Office of the President.

Now, let’s examine the 16 Presidents who didn’t serve in the military ranked in chronological order from first to last/current Commander-in-Chief:

#1. John Adams

president john adams didn't serve in the us military
  • U.S. President: 1797 – 1801
  • Party: Federalist

John Adams, the second President of the United States, was also the first never to serve in the military.

Despite lacking a military background, Adams is widely considered one of the most important leaders of the American Revolution.

As a result, his lack of military experience was never questioned during his term following George Washington, whom he served under as Vice President.

Adams was best known as a lawyer and diplomat allowing him to avoid military service.

Be that as it may, thanks to his diplomacy with France, the Revolutionists earned a crucial military ally during its warfare with Great Britain.

Adams was also noteworthy for avoiding conflict during his presidency which, ironically, included a newly formed rivalry with France.

#2. Thomas Jefferson

president thomas jefferson didn't serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 1801 – 1809
  • Party: Democrat

President Jefferson, widely considered the Father of the Democratic Party, started a trend common with the political party.

He is among the most noteworthy Presidents who didn’t serve in the military prior to taking the Oath of Office.

Nevertheless, Jefferson (like John Adams) was involved in the American Revolutionary War from a diplomatic standpoint.

Moreover, the Declaration of Independence and many of the founding principles of the nation would not be in existence without his contributions.

Thus, Thomas Jefferson served 8 years as U.S. President despite not having a military background.

Jefferson struggled to maintain international relations with France which had deteriorated under the former Adams administration.

#3. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams did not serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 1825 – 1829
  • Party: Republican

President John Quincy Adams was another 19th-century U.S. President that didn’t serve in the military.

John Quincy Adams followed in the footsteps of his father, becoming President without having a military background.

He quickly accented the political ranks in the Massachusetts State Senate and thus was not obligated to enlist in the still-developing U.S. Continental Army.

After leaving the oval office, John Quincy Adams remained in the House of Representatives until his death in 1848.

He worked as a lawyer and expanded U.S. foreign relations in countries like Russia and the Netherlands.

#4. Martin Van Buren

president martin van buren military service
  • U.S. President: 1837 – 1841
  • Party: Democrat

Martin Van Buren, another prominent Founding member of the Democratic Party, was a stark contrast to his predecessor – Andrew Jackson.

Van Buren was elected to office in 1837 despite lacking a military background, which was much different from President Jackson, a self-described “military man.”

At the time, the United States was not only expanding global interests but was also dealing with conflicts involving Native Americans.

Nevertheless, President Van Buren spent the majority of his only term dealing with the nation’s first real financial crisis.

#5. Millard Fillmore

president Millard Fillmore did not serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 1850 – 1853
  • Party: Whig Party

Millard Fillmore, the 13th U.S. President, is otherwise unforgettable aside from being the last member of the Whig Party to run the White House.

Thus, much has changed since 1850 aside from Fillmore being like many current U.S. Presidents who didn’t serve in the military.

President Fillmore avoided service yet accomplished much despite being overlooked in the history of U.S. Presidents.

Fillmore was raised from humble beginnings and worked his way toward law school.

He joined the United States Congress before the age of 30 and backed Zachary Taylor as President.

Then, after President Taylor’s death in 1850, Fillmore took over the oval office without having a background in the military.

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#6. Grover Cleveland

president grover cleveland did not serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 1885 – 1889 / 1893 – 1897
  • Party: Democrat

Currently, Grover Cleveland is the only 2-term U.S. President that did not do so in consecutive terms.

Thus, Cleveland served his first term between 1885 – 1889, before taking office yet again as the 24th U.S. President in 1893.

President Cleveland was drafted during the American Civil War yet avoided military service because of his law practice.

It’s rumored that Cleveland offered another individual $150 (an incredible amount of money at the time) to act as a replacement.

At the time, bribing someone else to replace you in the Civil War was completely acceptable due to the Conscription Act of 1863.

Thus, what Cleveland did may be considered cowardly yet was legal at the time, and common among wealthy members of the elite.

#7. William Howard Taft

president William Howard Taft military service
  • U.S. President: 1909 – 1913
  • Party: Republican

William Howard Taft is quite the oxymoron in that he once served as “Secretary of War.”

Be that as it may, Taft never went to war during his tenure nor served in the military prior to becoming Commander-in-Chief.

Rather, Taft was an Ohio Superior Court and U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals judge.

Later, he would become the first U.S. President to also join the Supreme Court as a Chief Justice.

For this reason, few consider the lack of military experience relevant given the contributions Taft made after his presidency in the Supreme Court.

Taft, a graduate of Yale, was able to avoid military service despite several bloody conflicts during his lifetime.

The prominent Skull and Bones member became the “Secretary of War” under President Roosevelt.

#8. Woodrow Wilson

president woodrow wilson didn't serve in the us military
  • U.S. President: 1913 – 1921
  • Party: Democrat

President Wilson took over office during a pivotal stretch early in the 20th century in the United States.

Woodrow Wilson was a long-time politician that also helped the country survive the First World War.

Ironically, he was able to do so without having any previous military experience.

Some historians argue this is because Wilson grew up during the cruel era of the American Civil War, which later helped shape his foreign policy.

Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey in 1920 and would become the 28th President of the United States one year later.

He is best known for being the U.S. President that declared war on Germany leading to America’s involvement in The Great War.

During WWI, President Wilson left most of the military decisions to the generals and focused on diplomatic efforts.

Later, the visionary of the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations (UN) helped end World War I.

#9. Warren G. Harding

president harding did not serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 1921 – 1923
  • Party: Republican

Next, the 29th President of the United States – Warren G. Harding – also didn’t serve in the military.

Harding was unusual for being a Republican and lacking any military credentials.

Rather, he was a prominent newspaper publisher who then got involved in politics and became the 29th U.S. President in 1921.

Despite it, Harding didn’t make it a full term and died from a heart attack in office 2 years later.

Since then, Harding’s administration has been marred by scandals, including extra-marital affairs.

#10. Calvin Coolidge

president Calvin Coolidge didn't serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 1923 – 1929
  • Party: Republican

Calvin Coolidge, a Republican, became the 4th consecutive President who didn’t serve in the military during an era between WWI and WWII.

By the end of his presidency, the U.S. economy would collapse into the Great Depression.

However, for now, most was well during the early years of the administration thanks to the “Roaring Twenties.”

President Coolidge, who took over following the death of Harding (and also was reelected in 1924) was previously the governor of Massachusetts.

Like many other former Presidents who didn’t serve in the military, Coolidge was a lawyer.

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#11. Herbert Hoover

president Herbert Hoover military service
  • U.S. President: 1929 – 1933
  • Party: Republican

Herbert Hoover continued the trend of U.S. Presidents in the 1920s and 1930s that were not in the military.

The Republican and 21st President of the United States was an ambassador for much foreign policy, including the Commission for Relief in Belgium.

The time overseas provided some interesting experiences, including witnessing the Boxer Rebellion firsthand in China.

Furthermore, the Commission for Relief helped evacuate over 100,000 Americans stranded in Europe.

Thus, President Hoover was quite successful in foreign conflicts despite not having any military service.

#12. Franklin D. Roosevelt

president Franklin D. Roosevelt did not serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 1933 – 1945
  • Party: Democrat

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) is arguably one of the most famous Presidents in the history of the United States.

Despite it, Roosevelt did not serve in the military and lacked experience in this realm.

The man responsible for digging the country out of the Great Depression was unprecedented in many regards.

For example, FDR became the first (and last) U.S. President to serve more than 2 terms.

The only U.S. President to get elected to 4 terms is known for many noteworthy achievements.

He helped navigate the United States out of an economic crisis while also implementing important domestic policy.

However, by the 3rd and 4th terms, President Roosevelt would have to shift his attention to the ensuing Second World War.

World War II began in 1939 with the United States officially getting involved in 1941.

FDR, unlike his cousin Teddy Roosevelt, never served in the military yet had a lifelong “commitment” to the U.S. Navy.

In fact, it has been noted that President Roosevelt housed over 10,000 books related to the United States Navy.

He claimed to have read all but one of those books and would have served in the military branch if not for being diagnosed with polio in 1921.

President Roosevelt is responsible for establishing the U.S. Navy Reserve and the Council of National Defense.

#13. Bill Clinton

president bill clinton didn't serve in the us military
  • U.S. President: 1993 – 2001
  • Party: Democrat

It would take several decades before another President was elected that didn’t previously serve in the U.S. military.

Accordingly, Bill Clinton became the next U.S. President in 1993 to not have any military experience.

Of course, Clinton is one of the most infamous Presidents not to serve in the military primarily because he was a “draft dodger.”

Clinton was drafted into the War in Vietnam yet was able to defer military service in order to attend Georgetown University.

There, he became a Rhodes Scholarship and was offered the opportunity to study at the University of Oxford in England.

However, by this time, the U.S. draft laws had changed regarding students attending graduate or law school.

Accordingly, Clinton was allowed to continue studying at Oxford so long as he joined the ROTC program.

Notwithstanding, it was the nearest Clinton would ever get to military service as he quickly climbed the political ladder in his home state of Arkansas thereafter.

President Clinton took over the White House at the age of 46 masked by controversy surrounding his Vietnam-era draft notice.

Today, there are varying opinions on whether Clinton really dodged the Vietnam draft or took heat for being part of the anti-war efforts.

#14. Barack Obama

president barack obama did not serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 2009 – 2017
  • Party: Democrat

Barack Obama became the first African-American President in 2009.

He was reelected to a second term, despite not having a military background.

President Obama inherited the fallout from the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the ensuing War on Terror.

Obama, like many of the previous presidents who didn’t serve in the military, took the route of law school instead.

He was the President of the Harvard Law Review before becoming a young senator in Illinois in 1996.

President Obama captured the historic 2008 presidential election, becoming the first black President in U.S. history.

#15. Donald Trump

president donald trump did not serve in the military
  • U.S. President: 2017 – 2021
  • Party: Republican

President Trump is known for being an avid supporter of U.S. troops despite avoiding military service in his own regard.

Trump attended New York Military Academy, a prestigious military school in New York, yet never pursued a career in the Armed Forces.

In fact, he acquired 4 education deferments (much like former President Clinton) in order to avoid the Vietnam War.

Later, when Trump would graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, he received a 5th draft deferment because of bone spurs.

Consequently, President Trump was able to avoid military service despite otherwise being considered a healthy, 6’2 college athlete.

Instead, Trump would go on to a lucrative real estate and business career, before transforming into a TV personality on “The Apprentice”.

Trump is the first U.S. President to not only lack military service but any prior government experience.

Love him or hate him, President Trump ranks among the most infamous draft dodgers along with former presidents Cleveland and Clinton.

Related ArticleWas He In The Military?

#16. Joe Biden

president joe biden didn't serve in the us military
  • U.S. President: 2021 – Present
  • Party: Democrat

Joe Biden, the current and 46th President of the United States, has become somewhat of a familiar recent trend.

Biden is the fourth President of the previous 5 elected that has not been in the military.

It’s a trend comparable to the 1920s and 30s. practically a century ago.

President Biden was able to avoid military service, much like former presidents Trump and Clinton.

Biden received medical exceptions and student draft deferments while attending the University of Delaware and Syracuse University.

Like nearly every other U.S. President who didn’t serve in the military, Biden pursued a career in law.

Biden matched his predecessor, Donald Trump, by seeking 5 military draft deferments.

The first 4 deferments were related to his undergraduate education while the fifth was a medical reason because of asthma.

For this reason, Biden received the status “I-Y” meaning he would only be drafted in the event of a national emergency.

Biden became a public defender before at age 30 becoming the 6th youngest senator in U.S. history.

Biden was in public office for decades before serving as the Vice President for the Obama Administration from 2008 – 2016.

President Biden had previous failed attempts at the presidency in 1988 and 2008.

He has since announced his plans to run for a second term in the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential election.


There are some that assume it comes with the territory yet many former presidents were not in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In fact, one-third of former U.S. presidents were not in the military prior to becoming elected.

The trend has been similar with recent presidential candidates, including 4 of the last 5 U.S. Presidents.

The last U.S. President to serve in the military was George W. Bush, who was in the Air National Guard.

Rob V.
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U.S. Presidents who didn't serve in the military include many recent nominations along with a few prominent founding fathers.

Originally posted on May 18, 2023 @ 10:22 pm

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