That relative youth of the nation, combined with the relatively short terms presidents hold office and longer life spans means that the country has often had multiple former presidents alive at the same time. But rarely have there been as many presidents hanging around as there are now.
During Biden’s inaugural celebration Wednesday, three former presidents joined forces to express their support for his administration and to echo his calls for unity. There they were: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — a group that still only constituted half of the presidents alive.
The timeline of presidential lives relative to the country looks like this.
You can see at far right — current through Wednesday — the six living presidents, a group that also includes Jimmy Carter and, of course, Donald Trump. (You can also see that Trump, Clinton and Bush were all born within two months of one another.)
What that graph doesn’t show well is how unusual the current president glut actually is. Here’s how many current (one), past and future presidents have been alive in the United States since its inception.
This emphasizes another point: There are certainly more than six American presidents alive at this point. It’s just that several — six? ten? — haven’t yet been elected.
But the point is that dark-orange section of the graph, showing current and past presidents. The highest that figure has been is six, a number it has reached at five different points — four of which have come since 1993.
More interesting, perhaps, are the times when there have been no past presidents. Writer Josh Fruhlinger explored this idea on Wednesday night, elevating some fascinating history. But we can see those points on our graph: excluding the first few presidents, those dips occurred around 1875, 1908, 1933 and as recently as 1973 — two decades before we had five former presidents hanging around.
Let’s take the 1875 moment. Then, Andrew Johnson had just died and Ulysses S. Grant was still in his second term. Abraham Lincoln was (obviously) no longer around, nor were any of his predecessors. And, of course, Rutherford B. Hayes hadn’t yet been elected. It was just Grant, the sole living person elected president.
In that 1908 valley, something more interesting was happening. Setting aside the current period with living-but-as-yet-unelected presidents making TikToks or whatever they’re doing, there have never been fewer presidents alive than at that point. One living president that July, Theodore Roosevelt. Grover Cleveland had just died. Lyndon B. Johnson was yet to be born. So only nine presidents, current and future, were walking the earth.
Contrast that with 1973, in the lull between Richard M. Nixon’s overwhelming reelection and his ignominious resignation.
Johnson had died that January. John F. Kennedy was not alive (again obviously), nor were Dwight D. Eisenhower or any preceding presidents. But every president since was, just not yet elected.
The most not-yet-presidents there have been at any given time came in the early 1800s, when 15 men who would eventually be president were at times walking (or crawling) around the country.
Bringing us back to the most interesting question to all of this: How many not-yet-presidents are alive today?