Six Law School Dropouts Who Went On To Become President

lyndon b. johnson throwing a baseballLyndon Baines Johnson

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You may remember Clint Eastwood’s speech from last week’s Republican National Convention. You know, the one where said he didn’t think a lawyer would make a good president.Well, perhaps Mr. Eastwood would like our list of law school dropouts who made it to the Oval Office anyway.

In some cases, future presidents dropped out of law school and practiced law anyway because they passed the bar.

Woodrow Wilson

Law school: University of Virginia

Why he dropped out: Wilson began law school in 1879, but left in his second year after a cousin he was in love with spurned him, according to the university.

He continued studying law on his own and passed the Georgia bar in 1882, where he quickly grew bored with his life as a lawyer. In 1883, he was admitted to Johns Hopkins University where he received his doctorate in political science and history.

Source: The Miller centre at the University of Virginia

William McKinley

Law school: Albany Law

Why he dropped out: McKinley thought he had prepared enough and was anxious to establish his own practice as he left Albany in the spring of 1867. In March 1867, he was admitted to the bar in Warren, Ohio.

Source: Howard Morgan, 'William McKinley and his America.'

Lyndon B. Johnson

Law school: Georgetown

Why he dropped out: Johnson had always wanted to pursue a career in politics, and he quit after just a semester at Georgetown Law in 1934. Soon after he joined the National Youth Administration in Texas.

Source:, Robert A. Caro, 'The Passage of Power.'

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Law school: Columbia

Why he dropped out: He discovered he didn't need a degree after all to practice law. Roosevelt began law school in 1904, but quit after passing the bar exam in the State of New York. He went on to the corporate firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn.

Source: Columbia University

Theodore Roosevelt

Law school: Columbia

Why he dropped out: Roosevelt graduated from Harvard in 1880 and began studying law at Columbia. But he dropped out of law school to win a seat in the New York State Assembly in 1882.

It's also believed the pleasures of 'politicking and writing' soothed his soul more than the law, according to one biography.

Source: Columbia University, Edmund Morris, 'Rise of TR.'

Harry S. Truman

Law school: Kansas City Law (now University of Missouri-Kansas City)

Why he dropped out: Between 1923 and 1925, Truman took night courses at the law school, but had to drop out after losing his government job. Truman was the last president after 1897 to serve without a college degree--poor eyesight had previously prevented him from attending Westpoint.

Source: Alonzo Hamby, 'Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman.'

BONUS: (Almost President) Al Gore

Law school: Vanderbilt School of Law

Why he dropped out: Gore is a curious case. He graduated from Harvard with a major in government, although he began as an English student. He was a fan of science but didn't excel in that subject in his first couple years.

The Vietnam War followed college, and upon his return to the U.S., Gore took a job as an investigative reporter.

Gore enrolled in law school in 1974 after a year at Vanderbilt's Divinity School. He stayed at Vanderbilt Law until 1976, when he decided to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Gore won mainly due to name recognition. After getting re-elected three times, he ran for a Senate seat and won. And the rest was history.


These presidents might have been the exceptions rather than the rule, so just in case ...

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