Quiz: Test your knowledge of lawyers-turned-presidents

Barack Obama is far from the nation's only Presidential lawyer. Quiz yourself on the legal backgrounds of several Commanders-in-Chief

There are plenty of differences between presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but the two opponents have one thing in common: They both have law degrees.

Obama earned his Harvard law degree in 1991, while Romney received his as part of a joint J.D./MBA program in 1975. These two candidates are just the latest in a long line of lawyers-turned-presidents. In honor of Election Day, we’re giving you the chance to test your knowledge of presidential lawyers.

1) How many U.S. Presidents practiced law before heading to the White House?

a)      9

b)      17

c)       25

d)      33

c) 25

More than half of our 44 presidents practiced law in some capacity before entering the Oval Office. The first presidential lawyer was John Adams; the latest is, of course, Barack Obama.

2) In the 186 years since his death, John Adams has become one of the U.S.’s most lauded presidents for his role in the founding of the country. But as a pre-revolutionary lawyer, Adams was responsible for what unpopular action?

a) Prosecuting the colonists responsible for the Boston Tea Party

b) Defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre

c) Helping to draft the much-reviled Stamp Act of 1765

d) Penning a legal challenge to the Declaration of Independence on behalf of the British government

b) Defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre

In 1770, British soldiers killed five civilians and injured six others during a confrontation with angry colonists. When eight soldiers and one officer were later arrested for the killings, Adams agreed to take on their defense. Eventually, six of the soldiers were acquitted, and two were found guilty of manslaughter and received reduced sentences.

Although Adams later said that his role in the soldiers’ defense “procured [him] anxiety and obloquy enough,” he called it “one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”

 

3) Of the 12 presidents to actually attend law school, six have dropped out before graduation. Which two presidential relatives are included in that number?

a)      Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt

b)      William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison

c)       Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson

d)      George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush

a) Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt

Not only were the fifth cousins both law school dropouts, but they both dropped out of the same school: Columbia. After graduating from Harvard in 1880, Teddy Roosevelt spent two years at law school, but dropped out to run for New York Assemblyman. FDR followed his relative’s footsteps from Harvard to Columbia; however, after leaving law school he went on to pass the bar and practice law at Carter Ledyard & Milburn.

4) Perhaps the most famous lawyer-turned-president, Abraham Lincoln spent more than a decade practicing law in Springfield, Ill. As a younger man, Lincoln worked on riverboats, and, as a lawyer, he represented many transportation industry clients. His interest in the transportation industry helped Lincoln to become the only president to do what?

a)      Ride the entire length of the Transcontinental Railroad

b)      Own stock in a railroad line

c)       Be nominated to the post of Transportation Secretary

d)      Hold a patent

d) Hold a patent

In 1849 Lincoln successfully patented a flotation device designed to lift boats off of obstructions in a river. The invention was never constructed, but Lincoln continued to express his admiration of the patent system in subsequent lectures. His second Inaugural Ball was held in the Patent Office Building.

5) Barack Obama graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991, famously serving as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Who is the only other U.S. president to graduate from Harvard Law School?

a)      John Adams

b)      Abraham Lincoln

c)       Millard Fillmore

d)      Rutherford B. Hayes

d) Rutherford B. Hayes

Hayes entered Harvard Law School in 1843 and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws degree. John Adams did attend Harvard—and later became a lawyer—but he graduated well before the law school was founded in 1817.

6) In all, seven U.S. presidents have argued cases before the Supreme Court. Who was the last president to do so?

a)      William Howard Taft

b)      Richard Nixon

c)       John Quincy Adams

d)      Woodrow Wilson

b) Richard Nixon

Nixon went before the high court in 1967 when he represented James Hill in Time Inc. v. Hill. Hill was a Pennsylvania resident who, along with his family, was taken hostage by three escaped convicts. “The Desperate Hours,” a fictionalized account of the family’s ordeal was published in 1953 and subsequently became a Broadway play. Hill sued Life magazine after it published an article inaccurately describing the play as a “reenactment” of the hostage situation, arguing that the magazine violated his family’s privacy rights. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled 5-4 in favor of Time Inc.

Taft and Adams were also among the future presidents to argue before the Supreme Court, along with James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and Grover Cleveland.

7) Which future president was initially rejected from Yale Law School because of his full-time responsibilities as an athletics coach at the university?

a) Gerald Ford

b) Bill Clinton

c) Theodore Roosevelt

d) Barack Obama

a) Gerald Ford

Famous for his football playing, Ford actually turned down National Football League contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers in hopes of attending Yale Law School. The school initially turned him down, however, because of his duties as a boxing coach and assistant varsity football coach. He ultimately won admission in the spring of 1938 and graduated in the top 25 percent of his class in 1941.

8) He’s not the first to come to mind when you think of presidential lawyers, but Andrew Jackson was a country lawyer on the American frontier in the late 1700s. His legal training couldn’t save him from scandal during his subsequent quest for the presidency, however. What crime did his opponents accuse Jackson of during the 1828 presidential campaign?

a) Assault, for supposedly beating an opposing trial lawyer

b) Robbery, for a purported theft committed during his youth

c) Bigamy, for his marriage to his wife Rachel

d) Murder, for his alleged role in a fatal duel

c) Bigamy

Technically it was Rachel who faced bigamy allegations for marrying the future president before she was divorced from her first husband, Captain Lewis Robards. The First Lady separated from Robards in 1790 and married Jackson the following year, believing that Robards had filed for a divorce.

The Jacksons eventually remarried, but not before Jackson's political rivals used the bigamy charge as campaign fodder. Rachel died two weeks after her husband was elected president, and Jackson reportedly blamed his opponent John Quincy Adams for her demise.

9) For one president, it wasn’t enough to be Commander in Chief—he also served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Who is the only President to ever hold both of those prestigious titles?

a) Warren G. Harding

b) James Garfield

c) James Buchanan

d) William Howard Taft

d) William Howard Taft

Taft’s term as the nation’s 27th President ended in 1913. Eight years later, Warren G. Harding nominated the former Solicitor General to the Chief Justice spot following the death of Edward Douglass White. Taft, who served on the court for nine years, reportedly once said: “I do not remember that I was ever President.”

10) The most recent lawyer-turned-president is Barack Obama who worked as a civil rights lawyer and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago prior to entering politics. At what Chicago law firm did Obama meet his future wife Michelle?

a)      Kirkland & Ellis

b)      Seyfarth Shaw

c)       Sidley Austin

d)      Jenner & Block

c) Sidley Austin

Obama was a summer associate at the firm in 1989 when he met first-year associate Michelle Robinson, a fellow Harvard Law graduate who was charged with mentoring the future president. The two eventually married in 1991.

Contributing Author

Alanna Byrne

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