Considering the term limits of US presidents and the unpredictably fluctuating reigns of UK prime ministers, it is actually surprisingly rare for a year to mark the start of a premiership in both nations. Here are the ten occasions in which both leaders of the allies divided by the Atlantic changed, starting from the creation of the presidency in 1789.
Please note that for this list, we are only counting when a president was inaugurated. Therefore, years such as 2016 and 1976 will not be counted as although a new prime minister came into office, the winner of the presidential election was not sworn in until January of the next year.
Thomas Jefferson/Henry Addington (1801)
After 17 years as prime minister, William Pitt The Younger resigned in 1801, having clashed with King George III over the issue of Catholic Emancipation, which the Sovereign sternly opposed.
Fellow Tory Henry Addington took over, although not given prime ministerial powers until a month after Pitt’s resignation given George’s declining mental state.
Also in 1801, Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated, having beaten Federalist John Adams in the 1800 presidential election.
One of the most remarkable presidents in US history, he would double the size of the USA under the Louisiana Purchase and today has commemorative pride of place on Mount Rushmore.
James Madison/Spencer Perceval (1809)
After Thomas Jefferson had served two terms as president, he declined to run in 1808, with former Secretary of State James Madison stepping in as the Democratic-Republican Party nominee. Alongside running mate, the unusually already incumbent Vice-President George Clinton, Madison picked up 12 states, winning over two-thirds of Electoral College Votes.
The so-called “Father of the Constitution”’s time as president would perhaps be most noted for leading the United States into the War of 1812.
Also in 1809, Spencer Perceval cemented his rapid political rise by becoming prime minister in October. Following a stroke suffered by PM the Duke of Portland, Chancellor Perceval took over, in a position he would serve for two and a half years.
Perceval today is perhaps best noted for being the only UK prime minister to ever be assassinated when he was shot dead in 1812 by Liverpudlian merchant John Bellingham, who felt he was not appropriately compensated by the UK government after overseas imprisonment in Russia.
William Henry Harrison & John Tyler/Robert Peel (1841)
It would take another three decades for a PM and president to take over in the same year. It was a significant year as the only time a prime minister and two presidents were sworn in.
In 1841, William Henry Harrison was inaugurated. The first-ever Whig president took the oath of office on a cold, wet day and gave the longest inaugural address in US history, lasting nearly two hours. Refusing to wear an overcoat or hat in his maiden speech, he would subsequently catch a cold and died within a month of what his doctors noted was pneumonia.
The first president to die in office, he was replaced by VP John Tyler, with whom Harrison had run on the famous “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” campaign.
Across the pond, Robert Peel – best known for his stint as Home Secretary where he established the Metropolitan Police and pushed for Catholic emancipation – became prime minister for a second time. After a previous tenure a few years earlier in the position, he was returned in 1841.
Such ministry would last until a government defeat in 1846. That year, Peel had effectively committed career suicide with his successful repeal of the Corn Laws. Significantly, the repeal led to a deep Conservative Party split with loyalists (Peelites) such as the Earl of Aberdeen and – more importantly – William Gladstone going on to form the new political organisation the Liberal Party in 1859.
Andrew Johnson/John Russell (1865)
In a unique manoeuvre, Abraham Lincoln ran a cross-party re-election campaign in the 1864, choosing Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate, with the National Union ticket demonstrating unity amidst the Civil War.
With Lincoln’s assassination just months into his second term, the presidency fell to Johnson. Described by Republican senator Charles Sumner as “an insolent drunken brute in comparison with which Caligula’s horse was respectable,” Johnson is today regarded as one of, if not the, worst president in US history, narrowly escaping impeachment by one vote in 1868.
Meanwhile, in the UK, John Russell again became prime minister, nearly two decades after first holding the office.
One of the most accomplished political figures of his time, by 1865, his best years were behind him as his second tenure on top saw him fail to pass landmark enfranchisement legislation which he had been integral to in 1832.
Grover Cleveland/Marquess of Salisbury (1885)
In terms of his unique accomplishments, Grover Cleveland might subtly be one of the most interesting presidents in US history.
The first Democrat elected post-Civil War – discluding Andrew Johnson – and the only Democratic president between 1861-1913 (one of only two up until 1933), Cleveland won his first term in 1885, beating James G. Blaine in the first of three occasions he would win the popular vote in a presidential race. He would late be re-elected to the White House, being the only individual in US history to win non-consecutive terms in office.
Furthermore, the Marquess of Salisbury also served his first of three stints as prime minister, having recently taken the mantle of House of Lords leader of the party from Benjamin Disraeli.
Lacking a parliamentary majority, the ruling Conservative Party failed to make sufficient impact before Salisbury’s government collapsed after just seven months. Due to Liberal divisions over Irish Home Rule (plans for an autonomous Ireland), the real named Robert Gascoyne-Cecil returned to the role, in which he would serve for a total combined time of 13 years.
Calvin Coolidge/Stanley Baldwin (1923)
In May 1923, prime minister Bonar Law stepped down after less than a year due to his cancer diagnosis. In his place, Chancellor of the Exchequer Stanley Baldwin took over, serving as the only viable candidate for the role.
Like his precursor, his tenure too would last less than a year after he called an election on the matter of tariffs, in doing so losing his majority and allowing a Labour minority to take power for the very first time. Baldwin would twice more return to the role post-World War Two, dealing with crisis both domestically (such as Edward VIII’s abdication and the General Strike) and abroad (the Spanish Civil War and the increased rise of German national socialism).
Later on that year, serving president Warren G. Harding suddenly died in office, being succeeded by Vice-President Coolidge.
A fiscal conservative with lassiez-faire beliefs, Calvin Coolidge was re-elected in a landslide in 1924, winning 35 states and winning 382 ECVs despite the threat posed by a Republican splinter faction led by Robert M. La Follette.
Herbert Hoover/Ramsay MacDonald (1929)
In 1928, Herbert Hoover won the presidential election in a landslide, winning 444 out 531 ECVs. What many expected to be a blossoming presidency with a sparkling reputation turned out to be the complete opposite however.
As we all know, in late 1929, the Wall Street Crash occurred and up to the 1932 election. Hoover failed to tackle the economic consequences of the Great Depression throughout his tenure, with the Library of Congress noting that by 1932, “one of every four workers was unemployed.”
Also in 1929, Ramsay MacDonald would serve his second term as prime minister, having picked up the most seats in that year’s election, even if ruling from a minority government. After himself too struggling through the Depression, he was forced to abandon his Labour Party and establish a National Government.
In 1932, Hoover suffered a catastrophic defeat; in 1928, he won 58% of the vote, in 1932, he failed to win over 40%. In the most important election of the 20th century, Franklin D. Roosevelt toppled Hoover, who was only able to win six states.
Comparatively, MacDonald was able to hold on until 1935, when he lost his seat.
Harry Truman/Clement Attlee (1945)
In January 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in for a historic fourth term. In an event both highly influential to the end of the Second World War and the escalation of the Soviet Union-United States tensions in the Cold War, FDR died shortly into after re-election. Having been in ill health for many years but hiding his declining abilities from the public, he died in April to be replaced by Vice-President Truman.
David McCullogh’s famous biography of Truman recalls how the new president remarked that he “felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets” had fallen on him after being sworn in. Truman would serve until 1953, during his tenure polling the lowest recorded approval ratings of any US president.
1945 was a great year of change in Britain too. Promising revolutionary reforms post-war, Labour won their first parliamentary majority, winning in a landslide, picking up nearly 400 seats.
Consistently topping polls of the nation’s greatest prime minister, Attlee’s socialist agenda is most notable for his immense contribution in the form of Britain’s National Health Service, a much-beloved global institution that remains to this day.
Lyndon Johnson/Alec Douglas-Home (1963)
On November 22nd 1963, John F. Kennedy was infamously assassinated as his Lincoln Continental procession passed through Dallas. Aboard Air Force One, VP Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as Mrs. Kennedy looked on, becoming the 36th US president of the United States.
A former Senate Majority Leader in his own right, Johnson pushed through his Great Society reforms; civil rights protections in the Civil Rights Act 1964 and Voting Rights Act 1965 and the creation of Medicaid and Medicare amongst his biggest legislative contributions. USA Today’s Neera Tanden espoused: “The foundational principles of modern liberalism — civil rights and greater economic equality — took further strides during Johnson’s presidency than any since the New Deal.”
Also in 1963, Alec Douglas-Home controversially became prime minister.
In declining health, Harold Macmillan stood aside in 1963. Using a parliamentary bill introduced by Tony Benn, Home was able to renounce his peerage and move from sitting in the House of Lords to the House of Commons, where he could contend for the office of prime minister.
Serving just under a year, Home was the sitting prime minister during Kennedy’s assassination and would be beaten in the 1964 election by Labour’s Harold Wilson.
Gerald Ford/Harold Wilson (1974)
The aforementioned Harold Wilson would serve from 1964-1970. Yet in 1974, he would return to the role when an election held by prime minister Edward Heath backfired. Wanting a mandate over the coalmining strike, Heath held a snap election in which he lost, with Wilson forming a minority government after Liberal talks fell through – this was even in spite of Heath winning the popular vote.
Able to gain a slim majority in an election later that year, Wilson would oversee the 1975 referendum on European Economic Community (EEC) membership.
More interestingly, in 1974, Nixon’s position as president was becoming increasingly untenable due to the increasing pressure upon him amidst Watergate. Thanks to the groundbreaking work of The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the story of the president’s covering up of a break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters came to public attention; the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in United States v. Nixon (1974), which forced the release of the tapes seemed to be the final straw.
Having lied to his colleagues, impeachment seemed a foregone conclusion. Instead, Nixon decided to go out on his own terms and became the first – and to date only – president to resign. Vice-President Ford succeeded to the presidency, becoming the only entirely unelected president in US history through coming to the role through the madness of the scandal.