Why Does Grover Cleveland Count as Two Presidents?

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Barack Obama is regarded as the 44th President of the United States. Yet, only 43 men have filled the position. Why the discrepancy? Blame Grover Cleveland.

Take a gander at any U.S. history textbook and you’ll see the rotund Democrat cited as our 22nd and 24th President. As everybody knows, Cleveland was the only Oval Office denizen to serve two non-consecutive terms, occupying the White House from 1885 to 1889 before winning another stint in 1893.

Thus, most historians count Grover Cleveland as two separate Presidents. But should we? The usual justification goes as follows: Thanks to that pesky four-year gap, first and second-term Cleveland weren’t the same President, despite the minor technicality of being the exact same person.

To Harry S. Truman, this didn’t make sense. “If you count the administrations of Grover Cleveland twice,” he said, “because another President held office between his first and second term, you might try to justify the designation of me as thirty-third president. But then why don’t you number all the second terms of other Presidents and the third and fourth terms of President Roosevelt, and where will I be? I am the thirty-second President.”

In 2009, Obama reignited the debate during, of all places, his own inaugural address! After being sworn in, he erroneously claimed that “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath,” drawing the ire of history buffs everywhere.

See Also: What Did Grover Cleveland Do Between Terms?

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December 18, 2013 - 9:30am
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