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TexasDude's avatar

How many US presidents have directly killed someone?

Asked by TexasDude (25249points) August 26th, 2010

I have often wondered this… it’s pretty obvious that George Washington and Andrew Jackson have killed people, but what about FDR or Gerald Ford or Franklin Pierce?

I suspect that most of the presidents up until the early half of the 20th century have directly killed someone at one point, especially the presidents who were alive for the Revolution or the War of 1812 or Indian Wars, since killing would have just been a part of life during those times.

What do you think, Fluther? How many presidents have directly and personally killed someone else before?

(note that I am not talking “killed” in the “Bush lied, people died” way or whatever the conspiracy du jour is. I mean directly killed with a sword, a gun, bare hands, etc.)

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22 Answers

tedd's avatar

Grant for sure did. Jackson and Washington like you stated. I want to say I’ve heard of Jefferson being in a few duels in his day. As far as modern presidents, you won’t find any (or at least any that we know about), with the exceptions of Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower (who both served in fighting forces in the military).

You could argue Truman, who ordered the bombs dropped on Japan, but he didn’t do it himself.

TexasDude's avatar

@tedd, yep, that’s exactly what I was thinking. I almost forgot about Grant.

I wonder if Lincoln did?

phaedryx's avatar

Zachary Taylor

Franklin Pierce fought in the Mexican-American war.

Randy's avatar

I’d be willing to bet that almost every president up to Woodrow Wilson directly killed someone. Up to that point, most all our country leaders were heavily involved with the military, Chances are, they killed someone. I’m even willing to bet there are a few since Wilson’s term that have killed someone directly.

TexasDude's avatar

@phaedryx, I had no idea that Taylor and Pierce’s military records were so lengthy. They definitely had to have killed at some point.

@Randy, those were my thoughts exactly. I’m wondering who the most recent president to have done this is.

CMaz's avatar

All of them.

Randy's avatar

@Fiddle_Playing_Creole_Bastard that’s exactly what I started thinking after I read your question.

Eisenhower no doubt did, being a five star general before his presidency term.
Nixon possibly, being as he was part of WWII and considering his “shady” personality.
I’d guess George Sr as the most recent though and that’s because of his pilot days in WWII. He probably used a plane to do it, but that still counts in my opinion as he would have used the plane just as someone who would use a gun.

DeanV's avatar

Aaron Burr, vice president, killed Andrew Hamilton in a duel. Not exactly a president, but that is one I remember.

Seek's avatar

George H.W. Bush is a WWII vet, but I don’t know in what capacity.

Austinlad's avatar

According to a quick search I just did—‘cause it’s an interesting question I never considered before—four presidents have personally killed someone: Andrew Jackson, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Washington.

Grover Cleveland, as Erie County Sheriff, personally executed people in Buffalo, NY. hated it, but said that since he was the one responsible for justice he should have to bear the weight of carrying out the sentence.

tedd's avatar

@Austinlad You can bet large sums of money that Grant and Eisenhower killed men in combat (before reaching their general status’). The other presidents who’ve fought in war may have too, I’m not very sure.

Austinlad's avatar

@tedd, I won’t take that bet, but I don’t know how much combat Ike personally participated in. He served with the infantry until 1918 at various camps in Texas and Georgia. During World War I, he became the #3 leader of the new tank corps and rose to temporary Lieutenant Colonel in the National Army. During the war he trained tank crews at “Camp Colt”–his first command–on the grounds of “Pickett’s Charge” on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Civil War battle site. Ike and his tank crews never saw combat. After the war, Eisenhower reverted to his regular rank of captain (and was promoted to major a few days later) before assuming duties at Camp Meade, Maryland, where he remained until 1922. His interest in tank warfare was strengthened by many conversations with George S. Patton and other senior tank leaders; however their ideas on tank warfare were strongly discouraged by superiors. Pretty much from then on he was an officer of higher and higher ranking.

aprilsimnel's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – He was a fighter pilot. I don’t remember how many kills he got, but it was less than an ace. Yeah, he’s killed people. Kennedy, as well, during his WWII service. He famously manned the PT 109. Ford was on a Naval destroyer during WWII, and he secured islands in the Pacific Theater along with the rest of his crew.

As for whether any of these guys were able to look the men they killed in the eye? I don’t think so. Teddy Roosevelt may have been the last President to do that as one of the Rough Riders, although his exploits with them may have been exaggerated, so who really knows?

Austinlad's avatar

Thanks for setting me straight, @aprilsimnel. He’s from my home state.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Truman commanded an artillery battery in WW1 combat, his shells undoubtedly killed. George H.W. Bush flew a Navy dive bomber in combat, surely killing some Japanese. Although Eisenhower had a long military career, he never served in direct combat. JFKs torpedo boat was responsible for sinking several Japanese vessels and downing several aircraft. T.R. served as commander of a volunteer unit in Cuba, probably killing a few Spaniards. LBJ won the Silver Star as a Marine in the Pacific in WW2, no doubt accounting for several Japanese. Nixon, Carter and Reagan all had military service but did not see combat. Ford served on a destroyer in WW2, so might have indirectly killed. George W. Bush was a fighter pilot but never saw combat. Most of the 19th century Presidents had served in either Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War or the War Between the States. Lincoln had served as a militia Captain in the Blackhawk War. All of the Presidents from Taft through FDR had no military service. Hoover was credited with saving millions of lives during WW1 by directing famine relief efforts.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I thought Bush Sr flew a torpedo plane. Weren’t there three people aboard when he got shot down? It might have been a dive bomber, but I recall he was the only one that got out and took some flak for that.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe At that stage of the war, dive bombers and torpedo planes were used interchangeably. The shoot-down was during an attack on a land target.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land What stage of the war was it when he was shot down, middle or later?

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Very late. He was the youngest naval aviator to see combat, enlisted at 17, won his wings and was flying off a carrier at 18. Torpedo planes were used as bombers at that stage in the war because there weren’t many enemy ships left to attack.

DeanV's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe “Took some flak”. I see what you did there.

TexasDude's avatar

Excellent replies guys. Great answers all around.

Pericles's avatar

Jeez. LBJ was in the Naval Reserve and was NOT a Marine. He got a silver star for getting shot at while riding in a plane. (Makes me think of Kerry and his awards. You know, he did serve in Viet Nam!) Ike, as one person correctly noted, never saw combat, only its result. Obama may have served but, if he did, it was not in the United States military.

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