On Thursday, the George W. Bush Presidential Center was dedicated on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The Center includes the forty-third President’s Library and Museum as well as the George W. Bush Policy Institute and the offices of the George W. Bush Foundation. Present were former Presidents Carter, Clinton, George Bush, George W. Bush, and President Obama.
It is uncommon to have five living current and former Presidents in one place, though it has happened before in recent history, as this photo gallery at the Washington Post’s site, and a similar gallery at the Atlantic Monthly’s site remind us. But it has happened in recent memory.
In 2009, the same group of Presidents gathered in the Oval Office not long after President Obama’s inauguration. It was a celebratory occasion, as was the 1991 dedication of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where the fortieth President was joined by Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush. But the two other occasions where five Presidents gathered were more somber: at the 2004 funeral of President Reagan, and that of President Nixon a decade earlier.
It is worth noting that there have been six periods of time in the history of the United States when no former President was living, and the only Chief Executive alive was the current one…..and three occasions when there have been as many as six Presidents living, both present and former ones.
Only one person has been both the only living President, and one of six living Presidents: Richard Nixon.
The periods when there has been only one living President are:
April 30, 1789 until March 4, 1797: George Washington (who was, after all, the first President)
December 14, 1799 until March 4, 1801 (John Adams, after George Washington’s death)
July 31, 1875 until March 4, 1877 (Ulysses S. Grant, after Andrew Johnson’s death)
June 24, 1908 until March 4, 1909 (Theodore Roosevelt, after Grover Cleveland’s death)
January 5 until March 4, 1933 (Herbert Hoover, after Calvin Coolidge’s death)
and January 22, 1973 until August 9, 1974 (Richard Nixon, after Lyndon Johnson’s death)
The periods when there have been six living Presidents are:
March 4, 1861 until January 18, 1862 (Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln)
January 20, 1993 until April 22, 1994 (Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton)
and January 20, 2001 until June 5, 2004 (the aforementioned six minus RN and plus George H.W. Bush).
But though five Presidents have stood together in one place, six never have. In 1861, only James Buchanan, as the outgoing President, was at Lincoln’s inauguration. In 2001, President Reagan was no longer able to appear in public because of his Alzheimer’s disease. The one time it would have been possible for six Presidents to sit down was in the 1993-94 period, but this did not happen. Hopefully, in 2017, such an event can come to pass.