For some reason I was under the impression that our abundance of lawyers as President was a somewhat recent phenomenon. But I found this list striking and surprising: the tendency goes way back.
Seems like it’s lawyers all the way down, with a smattering of military men (McCain would be in that mold) and the odd haberdasher. Oh, and a tailor, and a few other random jobs such as teacher or actor (we know who he was).
But “lawyer” is the dominant occupation by a mile. Of course, some of these “lawyer” designations are suspect, (James Madison, for one), although I haven’t checked them all out. But my guess is that most are correct.
The profession of law was a different beast back then, however, at least the training for it. Until the twentieth century, most lawyers learned their skills under the apprenticeship system, where instruction and experience varied widely, as did the requirements for admission to the bar. Now it’s been standardized and made a schoolroom rather than a real-world thing, with virtually all lawyers earning three-year postgraduate degrees.
Lawyers have a few things in common with each other, besides knowledge of the law and being universally reviled nowadays. They tend to be very good with words and with argument, both written and spoken. The Presidential debate format—which I find mostly irrelevant to the actual business of governing as an chief executive, although it is germane to the important Presidential element of persuasive communication—certainly would seem to favor lawyers. It never hurts to know the way the law works, either.
A relatively new phenomenon is the President/FirstLady lawyer/lawyer combo. Perhaps this is what Bill Clinton meant when he said that if he were elected President, we’d get two for the price of one. It would also be true of Barack and Michelle Obama, as it would have been of Bob and Liddy Dole (perhaps the first lawyer/lawyer nominated couple?)
Most lawyers are also good at something else—arguing either side of an issue, as suits the moment and the client. This also fits the description of Bill Clinton—who tended to govern by poll—and Barack Obama, who seems in this campaign to reinvent himself and his viewpoints (usually skewed far more to the center than previous words would suggest) moment by moment.