A Farewell to Arms
This year's presidential election between President Obama and Mitt Romney will be the first time since 1944, when President Roosevelt defeated Republican Thomas Dewey for a fourth term, that neither major-party candidate on the ballot served in the military.
That's quite the anomaly, when looking at the scope of presidential history. Out of the 43 American presidents, only 12 didn't serve - though a few are up for debate (like Thomas Jefferson, who played an administrative role during the Revolutionary War). But with the number of Americans who served in the military on the decline, what was once a prerequisite for many voters has become an afterthought.
Most of the first eight presidents either served in the Revolutionary War, or had ties to the military. There were several exceptions: John Adams didn't serve directly but was chairman for the Continental Congress' Board of War (an equivalent to a Secretary of Defense). John Quincy Adams was too young to serve in the Revolutionary War and was an ambassador to Russia for the War of 1812. Martin Van Buren , elected in 1836, also didn't have any connection to the military.
The Civil War produced an entire generation's worth of presidents. Millard Fillmore even served after his presidency in the war as an older militia officer. Between 1841 and 1909, Grover Cleveland was the only president who did not serve.
But in the three decades between 1912-1948, that pattern reversed. Woodrow Wilson, who brought the United States into World War One, never had a military command. None of the GOP presidents in office during the 1920s - Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover -had connections to the military. Franklin Roosevelt was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, William Taft was a Secretary of War during the Theodore Roosevelt administration but neither of them served.