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The Successes and Failures of Law School Presidents

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In total, 12 United States Presidents have attended law school. 7 graduated, 5 dropped out.

The dropouts have won two Nobel Peace Prizes for promoting world peace. The graduates combined have won a single Nobel Peace Prize, for not really anything at all.

One dropout ended prohibition. One graduate started the income tax.

One graduate was assassinated. No dropouts have been.

One dropout won World War I, two dropouts won World War II, another dropout escalated the war in Vietnam and a graduate ended it.

One graduate sent a dropout into battle in the Spanish-American War.

The only Rhodes Scholar President graduated from law school, the only PhD President dropped out.

One graduate has been impeached, another resigned in disgrace.


Here is a rundown of our 12 law school Presidents. Dropouts are in italics.


Rutherford Hayes

Harvard Law School, graduated in 1845

Claims to fame:

Major General in the Union Army, shot 5 times

Lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden, but won the Electoral College

Second Industrial Revolution

Ended the military occupation of the South

Put down the Great Railroad Strike of 1877


William McKinley

Albany Law School, graduated in 1867 after 1 year

Claims to fame:

Spanish-American War

High import tariffs

Annexed Puerto Rico, Guam, The Philippines, Hawai'i, and occupied Cuba

Assassinated by Leon Czolgosz


Theodore Roosevelt

Columbia Law School, dropped out in 1881 after 1 year to enter politics

Claims to fame:

Led the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War

Trust busting and the "Square Deal"

Panama Canal

Won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War, the first American to win any Nobel Prize


William Taft

Cincinnati Law School, graduated in 1880

Claims to fame:

Got the 16th Amendment passed (income tax)

Appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; only Chief Justice to serve with associate justices he had appointed, and only former President to swear in another former President to the Court

Was fat


Woodrow Wilson

University of Virginia School of Law, dropped out in 1880 after 1 year

Claims to fame:

Only President with a PhD

World War I

Created the Federal Reserve

Helped reduce child labor and promoted unions

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the League of Nations


Franklin Roosevelt

Columbia Law School, dropped out in 1907 after almost 3 years, and already passing the bar and landing a prestigious associateship

Claims to fame:

The New Deal

Failed attempt at court packing

Defeated the Nazi and Japan in WWII

Got the 21st Amendment passed (ending prohibition)

Got the 22nd Amendment passed (term limits)


Harry Truman

Kansas City Law School (now University of Missouri-Kansas), dropped out after 2 years when he lost his job

Claims to fame:

Dropped the bomb on Japan and ended World War II

Ended segregation in the armed forces

Failed to have much of the Fair Deal pass

Helped to create the state of Israel


Korean War


Lyndon Johnson

Georgetown University Law Center, dropped out in 1934 after less than a year, moved back home, met a girl on the way and got married later that year

Claims to fame:

Served in every elected office of the federal government, President, Vice President, Senator, and House Representative (one of only 4 people to do so)

War on Poverty

Even more War in Vietnam


Richard Nixon

Duke University School of Law, graduated in 1937

Claims to fame:

Lost to Kennedy in the first televised debates

Cut NASA funding

Imposed price controls which caused a food shortage

Ended the Vietnam War

Pioneered affirmative action

Watergate scandal, impeachment, and resignation


Gerald Ford

Yale Law School, graduated in 1941

Claims to fame:

Only future President to tackle a Heisman Trophy winner, turned down offers from the Detroit Lions and Greenbay Packers

Only President not elected to either the Presidency or Vice-Presidency

Cold War detente and the Helsinki Accords

Pardoned Nixon


Bill Clinton

Yale Law School, graduated in 1973

Claims to fame:

Rhodes Scholar

Implemented NAFTA

Monika Lewinsky scandal and impeachment for perjury

Three years of budget surplus


Barack Obama

Harvard Law School, graduated in 1991

Claims to fame:

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush


"Bombing isn't war" policy (Libya)

"I can detain people without trial or right to counsel, but won't" policy (National Defense Authorization Act of 2012)

Is black

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