• This hand-drawn, hand-colored illustration depicts Andrew Jackson in military uniform emerging from a cloud. Dated 1827, this image was created as Jackson prepared for the 1828 presidential election, in which his supporters promoted his record as a military hero. Courtesy of Free Library of Philadelphia via PA Digital.

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    Janaral Jackson
    • Creator
    • Anonymous.
    • Description
    • Hand-drawn; hand-colored; hand-lettered. In the center of the document is a portrait of General Andrew Jackson in his military uniform. Two red and blue striped flags are beside him. The image is composed as though he is emerging from a cloud. The in... more
      Hand-drawn; hand-colored; hand-lettered. In the center of the document is a portrait of General Andrew Jackson in his military uniform. Two red and blue striped flags are beside him. The image is composed as though he is emerging from a cloud. The inscription in Roman script is beneath it. less
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • PA Digital
    • Contributing Institution
    • Free Library of Philadelphia

  • This campaign button depicts General Zachary “Old Rough and Ready” Taylor, who gained fame during the Mexican-American War. In 1848, the Whig party took a gamble on Taylor as a heroic but politically inexperienced candidate. Courtesy of National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, via Smithsonian Institution.

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    Zachary Taylor button
    • Creator
    • Scovill Manufacturing Company.
    • Description
    • This presidential button was made by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Connecticut around 1848. The Scovill Company was established in 1802 as a button manufacturer that is still in business today. Scovill was an early industrial Americ... more
      This presidential button was made by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Connecticut around 1848. The Scovill Company was established in 1802 as a button manufacturer that is still in business today. Scovill was an early industrial American innovator, adapting armory manufacturing processes to mass-produce a variety of consumer goods including buttons, daguerreotype mats, and campaign buttons. Obverse: Bust of Zachary Taylor facing right. The legend reads: ROUGH & READY. Currently not on view. less
    • Partner
    • Smithsonian Institution
    • Contributing Institution
    • National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

  • During the election of 1952, America embraced General Dwight Eisenhower, who commanded the Allied troops in Europe during World War II, but had never even voted before running for president. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery via Smithsonian Institution.

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    Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower
    • Date
    • 1952
    • Creator
    • George Tames, 1919 - 1994.
    • Rights
    • National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Frances O. Tames. © George Tames/The New York Times/Redux.
    • Partner
    • Smithsonian Institution
    • Contributing Institution
    • National Portrait Gallery

No political experience? No problem!

Thirty-nine of forty-three US presidents served in elected office in roles such as state governor, Congressional representative, or vice president prior to becoming president. The number of years of service varies widely—Woodrow Wilson was governor of New Jersey for only a year before running for the presidency, while Lyndon Johnson brought twenty-four years of congressional experience to the White House. The most common profession for presidents is lawyer, but there are outliers here too: Ronald Reagan was an actor and Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer.

In 2016, Americans heard a lot about the appeal of the outsider candidate, the person who approaches the presidency from beyond the insider field of Washington politics—and not for the first time.  A common profile of the successful non-politician outsider in presidential elections has been the military hero, called to lead the American people after victory on the battlefield.  In the nineteenth century, Presidents Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor each sought an electoral victory on the basis, in whole or in part, of their military leadership. In the twentieth century, President Dwight Eisenhower followed a similar formula to win the presidency following World War II.

The circumstances surrounding each election vary, but this section will examine how each candidate turned their lack of governing experience into a political asset and why major parties—perhaps the ultimate insider institutions—embraced these outsider candidates.