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What is a Sherman Pledge?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Sherman pledge, Shermanesque speech or Sherman speech is a declaration by someone being considered for political office that they have no intent to run for political office, and will do all in their power to avoid running. In other words, they’ll run for the hills rather than run for office. The statement is derived from General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the great figures of the American Civil War, who declared his intent not to accept any nomination to run for president in 1884. His pledge, which later became referred to as the Sherman pledge is the following: “If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.”

Since the initial Sherman pledge, there have been many proposed candidates who have invoked similar pledges, either declaring their intent not to seek reelection or to attempt to convince anyone who might nominate them for an office that they are not interested. Perhaps one of the most frustrating of these, especially to Democrats in the US, is Al Gore’s lack of the pledge, but also lack of action in running for president. He has never actually made a Sherman pledge, but many are frustrated by his lack of interest in running. Many Democrats have felt, however, especially with the growing popularity of Gore and his recent win of the Nobel Peace Prize that he would be the best fit for President. News reporters have repeatedly tried to either determine whether he will state the possibility of running in the future or make a Shermanesque speech.

Sometimes politicians use a version of the Sherman Pledge to determine just how disappointed people would be if they didn’t run, thus voiding the pledge. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a variant of the Sherman Pledge at the end of 2007. On the other hand, news broke in early 2008, that Bloomberg had been conducting private polls to determine whether a run for president made sense.

Versions of the Sherman pledge have been said and meant by a variety of people. President Lyndon Johnson vowed not to seek a second term as president, and Vice President Dick Cheney made the pledge not to run for president in 2008. As an incumbent vice president, Cheney would normally have been the natural choice to run for the 2008 presidency for the Republican Party. His Sherman Pledge was a nearly direct quote of General Sherman’s declaration.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By bluespirit — On Oct 22, 2011

I think the Sherman pledge should be taken seriously, but not to the extent that people are rejected if they go back on their word.

Of course if this candidate makes it a habit of going back on his/her word, then they shouldn't be running for a position as important and critical as the President of the United States of America.

Presidents are human like the rest of us, and we all tend to change our minds from time to time. So let the presidents be human and make mistakes from time to time.

I am not saying do not acknowledge the mistakes. Instead, address the problem/mistake, let them be sorry and fix their mistakes, and move on. People should dwell on the present and the future, not the past.

Also, people should not be so critical on the politicians who do not declare the Sherman pledge but who also do not declare to run for presidency. Politicians should be aloud to not know for sure what they will or will not do in the future.

By strawCake — On Oct 21, 2011

@JessicaLynn - Very interesting. I can't imagine giving a Sherman pledge and then changing my mind! It sounds rather shady, but that's politicians for you, right?

Anyway, I don't blame Sherman for making that speech. I looked at Shermans biography, and he was already 64 at that time. Back in those days 64 was a lot older than it is now. Also, he had quite the military career and he had just recently retired. I'm not surprised he wasn't interested in being the president! He probably just wanted to take a rest!

By JessicaLynn — On Oct 21, 2011

I've never heard of the Sherman pledge before! It sounds pretty serious. However, I was curious if anyone had ever given a Sherman pledge and then go on to serve anyway.

I did a bit of searching online and I found that someone has: Alex Salmond of Scotland. He gave the Sherman pledge, and then changed his mind a month later! And the he won the election for the position of First Minister of Scotland.

So it seems like even though the Sherman pledge is pretty serious, it doesn't necessarily mean a person won't be elected in the future.

By B707 — On Oct 20, 2011

Unfortunately, I think that the state of the economy and the inability of the political parties to work together to solve some of our problems, has discouraged some of the outstanding people in our country from showing any interest in running for government office.

I don't think the group of people who have come forward to run for office are necessarily the "cream of the crop." In the future, if things improve, maybe some of these outstanding people will come forward.

By lovealot — On Oct 19, 2011

There are really quite a number of politicians who silently make the Sherman pledge. I think it's difficult for them to state absolutely that they aren't interested in seeking a political office. Their ego may be getting in the way.

There are a whole lot of legitimate reasons why someone may not want to be a candidate for office. They may have serious health problems,they may have young children and don't want the politician's lifestyle for them.

They may not want to put all the effort and money into campaigning and then come out the loser. Or they just don't want to get into the middle of a messed up government system, especially if they are being encouraged to run for President.

By MissDaphne — On Oct 19, 2011

My understanding is that Sherman had a friend or brother-in-law or something like that who wanted to run for president. He would have been a natural choice as a war hero, but on the other hand, that path of destruction he tore through the South (hence the "Sherman tank" named after him) would have made him a divisive choice.

There seems to be something of a movement away from the idea of the vice president as a natural incumbent. Dick Cheney would have been completely unelectable, and I think President Bush knew that when he selected him as his running mate. Not only his age, but his history of heart attacks, made him just not a natural candidate.

And the same thing is true of Vice President Biden. He's been there, done that, time is past. You won't see anyone trying to put him on a ballot.

What the two have in common is a sort of "elder statesmen" role. Both were cast more as potential advisors to the president than as successors.

By burcidi — On Oct 19, 2011

Looking at some of the recent situations with the upcoming elections, the Sherman pledge is needed sometimes to convince other party members about who will be a candidate for an office or not.

Take Hillary Clinton, for example, who says that she doesn't plan on running for President in the upcoming elections, but who also has not taken a Sherman pledge. As a result, there are a bunch of ads on TV and radio which calls on and promotes Hillary Clinton running for President.

So it's really up in the air right now what's going to happen. Hillary Clinton needs to make up her mind and either state that she's running or take the Sherman pledge so that the other party members know to look for another candidate.

By ddljohn — On Oct 18, 2011

@fify-- Yea, for the most part, it's like taking an oath. And you should be really sure about your decision before making the Sherman pledge.

Dick Cheney declared it because he is absolutely sure that he doesn't ever want to run for president. Al Gore, on the other hand, says he currently doesn't plan on running but who knows what will happen later on. That's why he has not taken the pledge.

By fify — On Oct 18, 2011

It's really interesting how some politicians take the Sherman pledge unofficially to actually see what the public response to it would be. This is definitely not the way General Sherman had intended for it to be used.

At the same time though, the Sherman pledge is something that is taken seriously. So if a potential candidate doesn't plan on running for an election at that time, but this could change in the future, he or she tries to avoid the Sherman pledge. There seems to be a wide understanding that once a Sherman pledge is made, it cannot be taken back and it's an official declaration.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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