Hillary Clinton 2016: How many secretaries of State became presidents?

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger paid Hillary Clinton, who was also secretary of State, compliments at an event Wednesday. If she runs and wins in 2016, she could reestablish an old pattern.

Cliff Owen/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in Washington on Thursday. Henry Kissinger, who was also secretary of State, paid Mrs. Clinton lots of compliments and noted that in US history, 'at least four' secretaries of State have risen to the presidency.

If Hillary Rodham Clinton runs for president in 2016, will she have fellow former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in her corner? OK, Henry K is a Republican and she’s not. But at an Atlantic Council event on Wednesday night, Mr. Kissinger paid Mrs. Clinton lots of compliments and noted that in US history, “at least four” secretaries of State have risen to the presidency.

“I want to tell Hillary that when she misses the office, when she looks at the histories of secretaries of State, there might be hope for a fulfilling life afterwards,” Kissinger said.

Actually, Mr. Kissinger, the correct number here is six instead of four. But first, we’ll take a timeout to note that the Atlantic Council dinner was a serious event. Clinton got an international leadership award. She gave a heartfelt speech about the importance of NATO and the growing gap between the United States and its allies in regard to bearing the burden of the common defense.

This gap risks creating a “two-tiered alliance,” she noted.

OK, back to the banter: Kissinger, secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, seemed to be having a good time in this return to the spotlight. He acknowledged that he’d thought about the Oval Office during his time in government but was stymied by the pesky constitutional requirement that presidents be natural-born US citizens.

“I thought up all kinds of schemes to get around that,” he said, to general amusement.

(Kissinger was born in Germany, in case you did not know or have never heard his accent. His folks fled to the United States prior to World War II.)

As to secretaries of State who have become president, most date to that era when the Founding Fathers moved up through the steps of government as if on an escalator – kind of like in civic organizations today where you start as treasurer, segue into VP, and end up in the top job, with minimal opposition.

Thus Thomas Jefferson served as the nation’s first secretary of State before becoming its third president. Jefferson’s secretary of State was James Madison, who was the fourth US president. Madison’s secretary of State was James Monroe, who became the fifth president. Monroe’s you-know-what was John Quincy Adams, who became the sixth president.

Then upstart Andrew Jackson got himself elected president in 1828. His secretary of State was Martin Van Buren, who ascended to the top job as the eighth president. Then the chain pretty much ended. The only subsequent sec/State to become POTUS was James Buchanan, who is routinely rated worst US chief executive of all time.

So Clinton could reestablish an old pattern, if she wins. Right now she remains the dominant figure in the Democratic field, at least. A new Quinnipiac poll puts her as the choice of 65 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters.

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