How I am Related to All the U.S. Presidents (and What I Think of ’em)
Happy Presidents Day!
Officially this is a day on which to celebrate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but I’m viewing it as a good opportunity to write about several others in addition to them — all the ones whom I’ve discovered that I’m related to in some way via my ancestry research over the past year. They are not organized in order of importance, but instead roughly in order of the degree to which we are connected, as best I can tell with what I know at present (subject to change as more information is uncovered). The one exception is Vice President Rufus Devane King. I am definitely more closely related to him than any of the others on this page, but he’s rather a historical footnote (and the main point is the Presidency, anyway). With a few exceptions, which are noted, I’m related to most of these Presidents on my mother’s side, the connection in most cases being common ancestry among the Pilgrims and Puritans of 17th century Massachusetts. This large number isn’t statistically surprising. One has hundreds of (ninth) and (tenth) great-grandparents. Only a small percentage of them account for these connections. In just a few cases are the President’s own patrineal lines in my family tree: those are the Adamses, Zachary Taylor, James A. Garfield and James Buchanan. (Although I have surnames in the tree in common with the Harrisons, Jackson, Wilson and the Johnsons, so it is possible we connect at some juncture I haven’t uncovered yet. In all the other cases, we simply share mutual ancestors.
Andrew Jackson’s family tree is incomplete. I deem it highly likely that I am much more closely related to him than many of the gentlemen listed below (I expected something something not too different than my relationship to Buchanan), but I haven’t yet been able to run down the facts. But I place him at the top because in some ways, I am MORE closely connected to him than most Presidents I am demonstrably related to by blood. Jackson was an acquaintance and colleague of some of my ancestors on my dad’s side. Relatives in Jefferson County, Tennessee established a courthouse where Jackson argued cases for a few months, and worked alongside him in his capacity as lawyer. And some other relatives fought under him in various battles (Indian wars, and the War of 1812). Jackson is said to have named the community where three generations of my ancestors lived, Hazel Green, Alabama.
Ironically, my great-grandmother was a Jackson, but she is on my mother’s side, and descended from a long line of sailors and sea captains in New England. I also have another Jackson line on my mom’s side, terminating with a (9th) great grandmother. When and where my Jacksons meet the president’s is not yet discernible. Other family surnames I have in common with President Jackson are Crawford, McDonald and Hutchinson.
I think it was a blessing that Jackson didn’t reach the White House until he was advanced in years, when he was old, infirm, a widower, and carrying shrapnel around from an old duel. There must have been no scarier prospect for thinking Americans than an Andrew Jackson presidency. In all our history, no other man was more temperamentally suited for dictatorship, between the authoritarianism, the cult of personality and the demagoguery. But there is a lesson there. People had been scared of the potential radicalism of a Jefferson presidency, as well. Neither man abused the office; rather, they seemed awed by their responsibilities, and the office changed them. It’s a thought that calms me down every time I think of future maniacs who may wind up in that office. We have a machinery in place. There are checks and balances and the media and bureaucratic inertia — it’s hard for true insanity to happen…is what I tell myself.
Jackson is a heady mix of positive and negative legacies. We think of him of symbolically altering America, of his presiding over a great leveling that took place when the common man attained new rights, and property qualifications for voting were done away with, making America much more democratic in theory. But of course this applied only if you were white and male. And Jackson’s policies toward the Native Americans were especially deplorable.
Jackson himself was not of such humble origins as is often presented. He was from the frontier, but his parents had some means and he had a pretty good education. He knew the law. He was not of the planter aristocracy, that’s what was new, but by the same token he was not from the absolute bottom as some later presidents were. And he himself was an extraordinary man. But I can’t help thinking about something notable tht happens in the wake of his transformational presidency. With the exception of the underrated Polk, this new democratic freedom gives us an unbroken string of fairly mediocre, undistinguished, and even bad Presidents from Jackson through Lincoln. Just an observation.
President Buchanan is my first cousin, 6x removed; our mutual ancestor is his grandfather, John Buchanan (1761-1821); who is my (6th) great grandfather.
There was much that was unique about Buchanan. He is our only President from Pennsylvania. He was the last President born in the 18th century. He may well have been our only GAY president. (His rumored partner being William Rufus Devane King (see above), to whom I also related. Like Franklin Pierce, Buchanan was a northerner with southern sympathies, and many did (and do) blame him for the outbreak of the Civil War. He was the president who preceded Lincoln. As such, he did little to solve the long-simmering crisis, and indeed was in office two and a half months after South Carolina seceded. The Confederacy was formed while he was still president, but he left it all for Lincoln to deal with. (There is an irony here from which we can learn. For decades the politicians tried to solve the crisis by promoting these compromise candidates. But such leaders never succeeded in bridging the differences of the two factions, they only preserved the ever worsening status quo. It was the supposed radical, Lincoln, who solved it, by bringing it to a head, and puncturing it like a boil). But party men might be forgiven for thinking Buchanan was the right man for the job: he’d been Secretary of State, Ambassador to Britain, Ambassador to Russia, a senator, a congressman, and was offered a seat on the Supreme Court, which he had declined. He was an able man, but simply one of our worst presidents.
John, Abigail and John Quincy Adams
I am related to John Adams at least four different ways, and to John Quincy Adams an additional fifth way. I have three different direct lines of ancestry leading to John Adams’ great grandfather Henry Adams. One of these remains an Adams line all the way through my (4th) great grandmother Sarah Adams in 1831. (I marvel at the lineage of her daughter my great-great-great-grandmother Martha Adams Turner (1806-1884). Her mother was an Adams. Her father was descended from the Mayflower passenger John Turner. She and her husband Calvin were simple New England farmers. Did they know of their distinguished heritage? Did it matter any?) At any rate through Martha, I am able to calculate my relationship to our second President; he is my 3rd cousin, 7x removed. In addition to Henry Adams, I have a fourth family connection to John. He, like me, was also a descendant of the Pilgrims John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.
As it happens I am also related to John’s wife Abigail Adams (as was John, btw, by way of the Boylstons.) And a very ancient shared ancestor with her: John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. So this is the extra way in which I am related to John Quincy.
Around 1990, I began a three year stint working in New York’s greatest bookstore, Brentano’s Fifth Avenue. Assigned to the history section, I read just about every U.S. history book we sold (we were encouraged to read the books in our sections to make us more effective salespeople). I read general U.S. histories by Nevins and Commager, Samuel Elliot Morrison, Paul Johnson, Charles and Mary Beard, Richard Hofstadter, and even the deplorable Howard Zinn. Plus several more I’m forgetting, and scores about the different phases of U.S. history, the Revolution, the Civil War, etc. I walked away from all that reading with the traditional dislike of Adams, or at least of Adams the president. While he was crucial during the Revolution, as a president he was said to be almost counterrevolutionary, even imperialistic. As Vice President he had suggested regal titles for the Chief Executive (e.g., “Your Majesty”). And as President he had signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, among the more unconstitutional usurpations of arbitrary power in our nation’s history. The quasi-war with Revolutionary France was fought on his watch.
We all have David McCullough to thank for Adams’ rehabilitation in the popular mind. For those who didn’t read his popular 2001 book, there was the excellent HBO mini-series based upon it, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney. Though McCullough never denies that Adams was unliked and perhaps unlikable (blunt, plainspoken, brusque) he identifies those facts as facets of an admirable trait: he was principled. He had character. Thus, we are able to understand why he might remain an Anglophile in an era when hatred for the English in this country was at its peak. He saw himself as an Englishman. His entire involvement in the Revolution had been based on his indignation at being deprived of the rights he felt he deserved on the basis of his English identity. The Rule of Law, the Magna Carta, Oliver Cromwell, the English Constitution. There is no contradiction in loving all of these quintessentially English things, while hating the Tyranny of an English King. Adams had even defended the perpetrators of the Boston Massacre when the entire city was crying for their blood. He believed in the English system of justice that much. But most people don’t operate that way. Most people are clannish and frankly fairly barbaric when it comes to such matters. It’s easy to whip them into hatred for a certain people, or a certain class. This is especially true in times of war. Think of World War Two — most Americans didn’t just hate Fascism and imperialism; they hated the Germans and the Japanese. And a lot of slang American G.I.’s used in Vietnam reveal an awful lot of confusion about the nature of the supposed enemy. Was it communism? Or was it “gooks” and “slants”? Thus, you have this crazy contradiction in early America. The vast majority of citizens were culturally English in every conceivable way save for their break with its monarchy. But they hated the English. Adams was wiser — and more honest — than that.
Something else to contemplate: Adams is really our only Puritan president,or anyway our most Puritan, in the literal sense. Given our usual historical narrative, the semi-mythical one that begins at Plymouth Rock in 1620, this is a little surprising. But it’s true. Almost all the early presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) were drawn instead from the Virginia planter aristocracy. Adams was the only one from the old Yankee culture. He’d been raised in the old Congregationalist faith, there were clergy in his family, and Massachusetts still retained a lot of the character of old style Puritanism. It was one reason why he often found himself at loggerheads with the southern planters in the Continental Congress. They were raised to be artful, mannered, diplomatic. Adams called a thing by its name, and that can make you unpopular. (One detail I loved from the McCullough book and tv show: Adams, even as a practicing lawyer, even as a national leader, also kept his family farm going, just as all his ancestors had. Its what you did in those days. Why would you buy food when you own land and can raise it yourself? There’s an element of Yankee thrift to that, and also a sort of humility and reverence for being part of “God’s Creation”. Being 100% unplugged from that part of life, as most of us are today, seems in a word “unnatural”.)
I’m realizing now also my first encounter with Adams. I was in grammar school during America’s bicentennial celebration and the years leading up to it. We got lots of information about the American Revolution with special concentration on its local aspects, especially, Lexington/Concord, Boston, Bunker Hill, etc. And so we learned a lot about Adams. (And of course we watched the movie musical 1776, with William Daniels as the irascible Adams at its center).
As for John Quincy Adams, the general public seems to regard him as something of an also-ran, but in reality he was one of the most gifted, able and experienced men ever to hold American office. He’d been his father’s assistant when only a boy, then later was minister to the Netherlands, Russia, Prussia and Great Britain, a senator, a Secretary of State (considered one of our greatest), then President, and finally a member of the House of Representatives (the period which is depicted in the Steven Spielberg film Amistad). Despite all that, like his father, he was not a creature of party politics, and it harmed him. He’d only won his presidency on a technicality (Jackson got the most votes, but without a sufficient majority so it got kicked up to congress, who proceeded to choose Adams. Jackson got his revenge four years later).
It’s probably less well known nowadays to the general public, but the Adamses remained prominent in public life for at least another century.
John Quincy’s son, Charles Francis Adams was a Massachusetts state senator, a U.S. Congressman, and a Free Soil Party candidate for Vice President, but remains best known as President Lincoln’s ambassador to Great Britain during the Civil War. He also wrote a well regarded biography of his grandfather, and built the first presidential library (for John Quincy Adams).
Charles Francis had many distinguished children, the best known of which are the authors/historians/Gilded Age intellectuals Henry Adams and Brooks Adams.
And in the next generation Charles Francis Adams III served as Secretary of the Navy under President Hoover. And, while not a direct descendant of John, Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff Sherman Adams was also of the same family.
Calvin and Grace Coolidge
I definitely share the MOST ancestors and relatives with President Coolidge (many among the Pilgrim generation): John Alden, Edward Doty, the Winslows, Richard Wright, Samuel Morse, and Ephraim Guile. And I’m also related to his wife Grace Goodhue Coolidge through the pilgrim Richard Warren (on both my mother’s and father’s sides), as well as my (10th) great grandfather Robert Kinsman and (via marriage) her ancestor William Goodhue. Still, I feel like the Adams connection is stronger since it’s still there in the mid 19th century, whereas most of these other names go out of the family tree quite early. Correct me if I’m wrong! (Actually, NEVER do that).
Now, admit it. Most of us know about Harding and Coolidge chiefly by way of the comical gadflies who poked fun of them. My opinion of Warren G. Harding is filtered mostly through H.L. Mencken. And my insight about Coolidge derives largely from a famous joke by Dorothy Parker. Mencken’s take on Harding was essentially that he was a stupid crook. And historians seem to agree; he’s usually at the bottom of the pile in most rankings. And if Harding was that terrible, one thinks, what must his VP have been? Most of us know that Coolidge rarely spoke and was laissez faire apparently to such an extent that he could be mistaken for a corpse.
None of that’s remotely fair. There’s plenty who might not agree with Coolidge’s philosophy of governing, but unlike Harding he had one, a deeply thought out one, and one that was deeply rooted in his Puritan New England roots. Born in Vermont, Coolidge came of political age in the state of his ancestors, Massachusetts, where he rose from State Assemblyman to State Senator to Lt. Governor to Governor — where he became famous for breaking a state police strike. The end of Progressivism (the beginning of “Normalcy”) had begun under Harding. Coolidge presided over its unraveling, in much the same way that Reagan undid, or tried to undo LBJ’s Great Society. This is one of the reasons Coolidge is interesting, whether you like him or not. He’s kind of like foreshadowing for the Reagan years, lowering taxes, reducing government waste, etc. And then had the good fortune to be long gone when the inevitable bust arrived. But since he’s the last Yankee President properly speaking, I can’t help having some regional affection for Coolidge. (Yes, JFK was from Massachusetts, but as an Irish Catholic, he represents a new strain — a welcome one — in American culture. Rather than the last of something old, he was the first of something new).
George H.W., Barbara and George W. Bush
Yeah, well, what are you gonna do? I found six relatives in common with these guys: Mayflower Passengers John Howland, Francis Cooke and George Soule, the early Boston settler Daniel Brewer, and Rhode Island Founders Anne Hutchinson and Philip Sherman. (I am also related to Barbara Bush via my [17th] great grandfather John Savage, and thus am related to W. in an additional way) . I am also, I regret to say, related to Bush I’s VP Dan Quayle, and Bush II’s VP Dick Cheney.
There are a long line of distinguished Americans in the Bush family background: clergymen, self-made industrialists, etc. What they are of course are Connecticut Blue Bloods. If you buy them as Texans you’ve been sold a bill of goods. When it comes to Texas street cred, as Ann Richards used to say, the Bushes are “all hat and no cattle.” But millions have fallen for the makeover.
While Bushes had been prominent in public life and business for many years, the first to hold national political office was H.W.’s father Prescott Bush, a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, a Rockefeller Republican, and a businessman who sat on the board of Union Banking Corporation, which became famous for doing business with the Nazis during World War Two.
On paper at any rate, George H.W. Bush had one of the best resumes in history upon entering the White House. Prior to his presidency he been a Congressman, ambassador to China, ambassador to the U.N., director of the C.I.A., Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Vice President. He was also the youngest navy aviator in World War II, and a war hero to boot (Thus the photo I selected — which shows him in the best possible light). Theoretically, foreign affairs were H.W.’s bailiwick, but in retrospect, the many repercussions of the First Gulf War seem like very bad decision making indeed. And some of the other stuff he pulled. The Flag Burning Amendment?! “Balancing his ticket” with the even whiter, even more clueless rich guy J. Danforth Quayle III? Yeah, ultimately I’m not so fond of him.
Still, he seems a towering paragon of competence in comparison with his son, whose accomplishments include a failed business career, a stolen election, ignoring the warnings of September 11, waging a pointless second war in Iraq, the drowning of New Orleans, and the Great Recession of 2008, making him perhaps the single worst president in U.S. history. Today the only thing nice anyone ever says about him has to do with his amateur painting. That’s his self-portrait above.
Rutherford B. Hayes
I share five mutual ancestors with this president: (12th) great grandfather William Chandler, (10th) great grandfathers Daniel Brewer and John Russell, and (9th) great grandparents Aaron Cooke and Elizabeth Charde. Today Hayes is best known for the controversial (and smelly) way he attained the presidency, a story which very much presages the 2000 presidential election. Democrat Samuel Tilden had won the popular vote, but fraud was widespread and the validity of many votes were disputed. A bipartisan presidential commission was named to settle the dispute; after a replacement of one of the members (who was a democrat) they found in favor of Hayes. Worse, the Democrats agreed to accept this verdict and let Hayes take the presidency uncontested if he would agree to end Reconstruction once and for all. The Republics took the deal. The reason they and Hayes are not more vilified on this score is that Reconstruction was nearly dead anyway, and there was a Democrat majority in congress. And Hayes, a long time Republican, and major general in the Union army during the Civil War, did pretty much all he could to secure rights for blacks in the South outside of Reconstruction (as he had worked for their rights in his home state of Ohio as Governor). But it wasn’t enough. Hayes declined to run for a second term.
William Howard Taft
The Tafts in America go all the way back to 17th century colonial Massachusetts. I am related to President Taft through my (10th) great grandfathers John Turner (one of the Pilgrims), George Giddings, Henry Squire and John Thurston, and more tenuously through Elizur Holyoke (through marriage) and the medieval Joan de Beaufort. I am also related to Taft’s vice-president James S. Sherman.
Taft deserves far better than being remembered as our Fat President. If only because Grover Cleveland weighed over 300 lbs, and no one remembers HIM that way! But also because Taft was an extremely capable and learned man. In addition to serving as President, he was at various times Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Solicitor General of the United States, Secretary of War, and Governor of Cuba, and Governor of the Philippines (back when they were still American territories). Back when he was a federal judge, he tried and acquitted two of my moonshining relatives!
Ultimately Taft’s Presidential fortunes rose and fell in proportion to his close relationship with TR. Having served out the rest of McKinley’s second term, and a term of his own, Teddy Roosevelt groomed Taft to be his successor with the understanding that he would continue his policies. (No president had ever served more than two terms at that point). Taft was a more conventional Republican than TR, conservative and business-friendly by nature, but still he remained relatively faithful to Roosevelt’s Progressive agenda. (He actually brought more anti-Trust cases than TR had, for example. He signed the Income Tax into law, for God’s sake! Blecch!) The difficulty was, he wasn’t TR. Not only was he not inclined to dream up progressive initiatives of his own, but at the same time, Roosevelt was growing ever MORE Progressive. And Taft was now President; he wasn’t about to be Roosevelt’s puppet, although it seems as though that’s just what Roosevelt expected. So Roosevelt started the Bull Moose Party, ran against him, split the Republican party and helped hand the election to Wilson. And Taft, who was a perfectly fine president, was relegated to the heap of one-termers, through no real fault of his own.
In my libertarian days, I found myself very interested in President Taft’s son, Senator Robert A. Taft, mostly for his non-interventionist foreign policy philosophy (He was also anti-New Deal, and anti-Union — he gave his name to the Taft-Hartley act). Bob Taft tried and failed to be the Republican party’s candidate in 1940, 1948 and 1952. I was especially interested in the latter two runs. Can you imagine what a different world this might have been had America, in the wake of World War Two, decided not to wage the Cold War against the Soviets? If we had not spent all of that treasure on “defense”, on permanent bases all over the world, and a metastasized military-industrial complex? But then you come back to reality. Without an American presence to shore up western Europe, most or much of it would have undoubtedly gone over to the Eastern Bloc. And many Asian countries would have fallen to communism as well. Even if the freedom of our friends weren’t important to us (it was) it’s pretty clear that American prosperity would have been most horribly affected in a world with fewer free partners to trade with. At some point, a war with an expanding USSR would have been inevitable anyway, one which we would have been ill prepared for. And America had its lesson. Taft had also been an America Firster. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we hadn’t fought the Nazis? So Taft fils would have been bad, bad, bad. But it’s interesting to speculate if only for the purposes of post-apocalyptic science fiction.
The legacy continued. Bob Taft’s son Robert Taft Jr was a Congressman and Senator from Ohio. His son, Robert Taft III was governor of Ohio from 1999 to 2007. There were many more distinguished Tafts in public life and the dynasty doesn’t even begin with the President, for his father Aphonso Taft had been U.S. Attorney General and Secretary of War under President Grant.
We associate Lincoln himself with “the west” (at least the mid-19th century west of Kentucky and Illinois) but the Lincoln family actually arrived in Massachusetts in the 1630s. I am directly descended from two different siblings of Lincoln’s (4th) great grandmother Lydia Holmes, as well as my (9th) great grandmother Katherine Hyde. And his (6th) great grandmother Sarah Hammond was the sister of my (9th) great grandmother Hannah Hammond. So that makes four thus far, I think.
My father had the southerner’s fondness for Lincoln, the man who promised “Malice Toward None” and “Charity for All” in the wake of the Civil War. Thus reverence for the martyred president was part of my upbringing and has always remained with me. I read Carl Sandburg’s multi-volume Lincoln biography when I was 19 years old, and later read biographies by Stephen Oates and others, and countless books on the Civil War for a play I was writing. Consequently I may have read more about him than any other president. And not just books, but plays and films about him, and documentary television like Ken and Ric Burns The Civil War which I have watched in its entirety about 8 times. I am obsessed with the culture and language of 19th century America, an age characterized by Transcendentalism and a truly morbid death cult, which Lincoln’s assassination feeds right into. Lincoln the Poet, the Mystic, the Philosopher presides over all of it. And his life has the shape of religious myth. It mirrors the Christ story. It really does feel as though he gave his life for America’s sins, quite literally. America transgressed by enslaving God’s children; Lincoln was our Redeemer. Reality is more complex, but at bottom, you must admit the suffering of Lincoln in the service of a noble cause is what gives the story of his life such great power. And there just seems to be so much more to him than to most other mortals — not only capable of great depth of feeling, but at the same time so capable of humor. Our saddest president was also our funniest president. And the fact that he was a self-taught, self-made man, who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. His father didn’t encourage such “foolishness” as reading books. Lincoln did it anyway. He literally went from a log cabin to the most powerful office in the land! And then there are tales of his legendary physical strength, which make him seem like a superhero. He could beat anyone at wrestling! He could out-chop anyone in a rail splitting contest! What’s not true about any of it, ought to be, and that’s good enough for most of us.
I am also, as it happens, related to several significant people in Lincoln’s life: his first vice president Hannibal Hamlin, his political arch-foe Stephen A. Douglas, his private secretary John Hay, and his generals George B. McClellan, William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant. My common relative with Hamlin is the Pilgrim William Brewster. I share three ancestors with Douglas, who ran against Lincoln for the Senate and the Presidency (Anne Hutchinson, John Porter and Pardon Tillinghast). The McClellans came from my mother’s hometown of Woodstock, CT. William Bradford is our common relative.
Ulysses S. Grant
Grant was the first president I had an inkling of being related to; an aunt mentioned it when we were watching the Burns’ brothers Civil War documentary many years ago. I was young and a little dubious, somewhat hazy on how we New Englanders might be related to a man named Grant from Ohio. The answer is that, as with all the other guys on this list, we share mutual ancestors, in this case the Pilgrim Richard Warren and the early Plymouth settlers Stephen Tracy and George Partridge.
Grant was and is one of the most popular presidents we’ve ever had, while simultaneously occupying the unique position of being regarded by historians as one of our least successful. It is a singular dichotomy, at once unfortunate and understandable. He was the great leader of America’s victory in the Civil War. He’s on the $50 bill. He was such a popular president he was strongly considered by backers for a third term — twice (1876 and 1880). His Autobiography, edited and published by Mark Twain was a huge publishing phenomenon. Many consider it the best presidential memoir of all. And he is buried in the largest mausoleum in North America — Grant’s Tomb, still one of the most famous New York tourist attractions, although I’m rather unclear as to why it’s in NYC. Wouldn’t Washington DC or Ohio or Galena, Illinois or even West Point make much more sense? In any case, I visited with my sons a few years back. It is duly awe-inspiring.
Grant’s presidency was marked by good intentions. There are historians nowadays who are trying to rebuild his reputation, and I think that is what they base it on. His big tasks were Reconstruction and peace with the Indians, and neither came off. Unlike his fellow military Presidents Washington, Jackson and Eisenhower, Grant didn’t seem to have the gift of persuading his underlings to do his bidding in a civilian setting. There were many corruption scandals in his administration. The army generals insisted on waging war with the Indians (and it was easy enough to provoke those situations into happening and then lie about it). And Reconstruction is too complex a failure to write about here, starting off on the worst possible footing under Andrew Johnson and then devolving into an ungodly orgy of greed, opportunism, force and counterforce that somehow STILL wound up with blacks being denied nearly all of their rights for another century. Then in 1873, the country had one of its periodic economic depressions, which Grant was powerless to do anything about, and which effectively ended public interest in Reconstruction. Then, near the end of his second term: Custer’s Last Stand. That’s quite a run of bad luck. Still Grant seemingly enjoyed nothing but unalloyed adulation in his retirement, though he had substantial money woes that necessitated the writing of his book. In the end, his worst enemy proved to be his beloved cigars. Throat cancer took him at 63.
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
The Roosevelt family was New York Dutch of course, but FDR’s mother was a Delano, a French Huguenot family that had immigrated to Massachusetts during earliest Puritan times. Thus I share three common ancestors with him, Anne Hutchinson, John Johnson and Elenore Deane. I admit that I have been inconstant in my love for FDR. I began my adult political life as a good working class Democrat with socialist leanings. And to such people, FDR was a kind of saint. We learned to worship him in school. He was the first president my mother ever knew. My father said the only time he ever saw his own father cry was when FDR died. And of course many of my show biz heroes revered him, people like Woody Guthrie and Will Rogers and Orson Welles. When I was about 19, I read Arthur Schlesinger’s 3 volume The Age of Roosevelt (around the same time I first read Bound for Glory). It puts your head in a certain place.
In my late 20s for a long list of reasons I’ve written about elsewhere and am certain to write about again, I became a sort of Born Again libertarian. And of course the principal betes noir of the libertarians are FDR and LBJ, for their broad expansions of federal power. This isn’t the space for the reasoning behind that animus — especially since I’ve spent the last 15 years or so stumbling back to a place very close to where I originally started. Let’s just say I love to be contrarian, and I am deeply convinced that in many important areas what the majority of people thinks is right, has by definition got to be wrong.
I remain distrustful of the powerful, and the government is too powerful. But so are corporations. If there is a prayer of achieving a government that is responsive to the needs of the people (all the people) and capable of putting a check on some of the more harmful transgressions of corporations, I am in favor of that. If only government weren’t intrinsically inefficient, corrupt, arrogant and mendacious! But that’s what the ballot box is for, I guess.
As for Mrs. Roosevelt, champion of the downtrodden and defender of the United Nations, the connection is slimmer and farther back. Eleanor is the daughter of Teddy Roosevelt’s brother Elliott. Teddy’s and Elliott’s maternal grandmother was a Stewart; according to numerous sources, our common ancestor is Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, son of Robert II. Also myself and these Roosevelts are among the millions of descendants of John of Gaunt.
Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore
I am related to Zachary Taylor via two ancestors, one on each side of my family. On my dad’s side one of my (10th) great grandfathers is Capt. Thomas James Taylor, Zachary’s (4th) great grandfather. On my mother’s side our common ancestors are the Brewsters of Plymouth. And much more distantly, we share the common ancestor of Richard II.
Taylor had the grave misfortune to die a few months into office and is thus rather unjustly lumped in with “insignificant” presidents in the public’s estimation. Had he lived, Taylor might have well been one of the “significant” ones. Taylor was from a wealthy Virginia planter family that later settled Kentucky. He was from a military family; his father had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the Revolution; his brother was a general in the Civil War. Taylor himself was a great general. He served as a Captain in the War of 1812, then established and commanded forts on the Mississippi, served in the Black Hawk War as a Colonel, was a leading hero in both the Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War (as the top general of that war, he essentially conquered Mexico). Thus, his credentials for President were not unlike those of Washington or Jackson, or the later Grant or Eisenhower. He was a slaveholder who was against the extension of slavery, and was thus regarded as a good compromise candidate. When he died of a stomach ailment a few months into office, some assumed it was a poisoning by parties who wanted to thwart Taylor’s efforts to slow down the growth of slavery. Chemical tests have proven the rumors to have been false. There was plenty else to kill you besides poison in 1850.
As it happens, I am also related to Taylor’s vice president and successor Millard Fillmore, through our mutual ancestors Stephen Hopkins and Henry Squire. Fillmore, a former congressman from upstate New York and founder of the University of Buffalo, was the last Whig president and the only one who didn’t either die in office or get booted from the party (John Tyler was booted from the Whigs). Fillmore is best known for the Compromise of 1850, a quick fix that kicked the question of slavery down the road a bit without definitively settling it once and for all.
Franklin Pierce and his vice-president William Rufus Devane King
These were a couple of unfortunate men for their historical moment. Pierce was a compromise candidate, selected by the democrats because he was a northerner from New Hampshire who wished those darned abolitionists would just shut up. King was a major slaveholding plantation owner who founded Selma, Alabama (although, ironically, he was a Unionist, hence his inclusion on this compromise ticket). Pierce was most notable for having supported the ill-considered Kansas-Nebraska act, responsible for launching much of the first sectarian violence in “Bleeding Kansas” that would finally lead to the Civil War. He also supported an effort to annex Cuba, which would have added considerably to the amount of pro-slavery territory in the U.S. After one term, the democrats abandoned Pierce as their candidate and he was not run for a second term. I am related to Pierce on my mom’s side. My (8th) great grandfather John Kendrick is an ancestor of Pierce’s, as is my (10th) great grandfather Daniel Brewer.I am also related to first lady Jane Pierce via my medieval ancestor Sir John Strange.
King in many ways is the more interesting of the two. Our 13th vice president was rumored to have been gay; his partner being U.S. President James Buchanan. King spent almost the entirety of his term (what there was of it) in Cuba, where he was being treated for TB. He died five weeks into his term, and no one bothered to replace him! They just went without a vice president for four years. I’m quite sure that I am more closely related to King than anyone else on this page. He was the brother of my (5th) great grandmother Rachel King. He is one of the few connections that come from my dad’s side.
James A. Garfield and Chester Alan Arthur
My (10th) great grandfather was Edward Garfield, ancestor of the president, and I am also related to President Garfield by way of mutual ancestor Edmund Ingalls. Much like Taylor, Garfield was a highly accomplished man who gets short shrift for having served so briefly. He had been a major general in the Civil War, served nine terms in Congress, and had been elected to the Senate (at the same time as he was elected President, so didn’t serve as Senator). And he actually had a very crowded agenda and long list of things he wanted to do and was in the midst of doing when he was assassinated. Ironically, he essentially died as a martyr to his own principles and ought to be remembered for that. Civil service reform was part of his agenda; he was killed by a deranged (and disappointed) office seeker. (Interesting footnote: His son, James Rudolph Garfield was Secretary of the Interior under TR.)
Thus Garfield was succeeded by his vice president, Arthur, who was a genuine party hack, although ultimately a reformed one. (It had been President Grant’s appointment of Arthur as Collector of the Port of New York, passing over Theodore Roosevelt, Sr, that some might argue made Teddy Jr go into politics, almost as a point of family honor — and possibly revenge.) Ironically it was Arthur who finally put through the civil service reform agenda and emerged respected, although perhaps not lusted after, as a result. I am related via marriage to Chester Alan Arthur via the accused Salem witch Susanna North who was was (5th) great grandmother.
I am related to Herbert Hoover via my (10th) great grandfather Henry Brooks, my (12th) great grandfather Henry Sherman, and (by marriage) Richard Sawtell and the Pilgrim William Brewster. Hoover gets a bum rap, saddled as he is with responsibility for the Great Depression for all eternity. A Depression he can scarcely have caused (can he?) since the stock market crashed a mere few months into his term. Nor is it by any means a given that “the Republicans” are to blame, as is the usual charge. Some economists believe the culprit was actually easy credit due to the recent creation of the Federal Reserve System — a Woodrow Wilson creation and thus a DEMOCRAT’s masterpiece. The business cycle is the natural order of things. By some counts there had been three dozen depressions or recessions in America prior to the 1929 one. Three of them had happened during the 1920s. This one was on an unprecedented scale of course. But then Hoover was blamed for not stopping it. No one in history had ever “stopped” a financial downturn. But Hoover was expected to. Hobo shantytowns were named after him. Then he gets blamed for not doing what was far more unprecedented — seizing emergency powers not laid out in the Constitution in order to take all sorts of new executive action including creating new government agencies. FDR took bold experimental action, but it’s 20/20 hindsight for the rest of us to criticize Hoover for not doing things most Americans of his time considered unthinkable. That said, Hoover actually HAD undertaken several relief and public works programs, just on a smaller scale and with less showboating. And he actually had a background in relief! He had headed up American efforts to distribute food in Europe during and after World War One. The writing of history is largely a branch of of public relations, don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Cleveland is another one who gets short shrift nowadays, his name usually presented as a laugh line. But in his day he was enormously popular, popular enough to come back for an unprecedented non-consecutive second term. He was thought of as a spotless reformer in an age of corruption. He had a reputation for being a tireless, dogged worker. I recently read a biography by Edwin Palmer Hoyt that painted Cleveland as a sort of plodding dullard who was just the luckiest man in the world. His political rise was indeed meteoric. But his mind seems to have been sharp, he spent all of his energy, long hours ferreting out the flaws in policies and legislation. And don’t you want that? I do. He also appears to haven taken responsibility for an illegitimate child that may well not have been his. Just because, of the many possible fathers, he was the only bachelor. Despite the political risk, he did a very generous thing. My common ancestors with Cleveland are my (9th) great grandfathers Robert Abell and Aaron Cooke, my (9th) great grandmother Katherine Holmes, and (17th) great grandfather Robert de Ferrers.
Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford
Nixon is the first contemporary president I was ever conscious of. (Johnson was president when I was born but left office when I was a toddler). And it was impossible not to be conscious of Nixon even as a child. The evening news, which my father watched every night, was dominated by Vietnam, protests and then Watergate. On the variety shows, which we also watched, all of the comedians made fun of Nixon. And at the same time he was doing all these historic things so he could keep his office. He went to China. He had a summit with Brezhnev. Those were big deals — we actually talked about those historic events in our third grade class. And then towards the end, the hearings and impeachment proceedings pre-empted ALL television programming. So even if you were a kid it’s not like you could escape Nixon. He was everywhere. I watched his resignation live on television, watched him cry, make a farewell speech and climb onto the departing helicopter LIVE. Then, a few years later, my parents had a paperback of the Watergate transcripts. I was in about seventh grade when I first pored through that. And then I read and re-read the Woodward and Bernstein books All the Presidents Men and The Final Days.
It’s hard not to get obsessed with such an obsessive and self-contradictory person. Paranoid but sloppy. Old-fashioned but crude. A Quaker who carpet bombs. Wins by a land-slide but is so insecure he feels the need to steal the election. On and on and on. People often compare the story to a Shakespearean tragedy, but in doing so they forget one thing. At the center of a Shakespearean tragedy is normally a hero with admirable traits who has a single flaw. Nixon was always a nasty piece of work who set new standards for fighting dirty right from the beginning of his political career. He was a weasel, a weasel with sharp teeth. And he was my FIRST PRESIDENT. It just might set a tone of cynicism for the remainder of your voting career, ya think? I am related to Nixon via my (9th) great grandfathers Henry Howland and Ralph Hemingway and also, via marriage, Richard Sawtell.
As for Ford, apart from the unforgivable pardon, I feel like we were extraordinarily lucky in his selection. Think about it! He was not elected to the office in any way! He was not even elected as vice president! He was appointed by Nixon to replace his original badly-chosen vice president Spiro Agnew. And then, most extraordinary of all — Ford appoints as his vice president Nelson Rockefeller (whom I am also related to, btw). Then Rocky, the most presidential of them all, the only one among any of them who SHOULD have been president, gets the thankless role of VP, and then Ford dumps him for Bob Dole! And the ironies pile up. Rockefeller, considered the republicans’ best candidate a decade earlier, lost support because he divorced his wife. The republicans then ran an unwinnable extremist Barry Goldwater. Then, the Nixon-Ford years. THEN, the republicans run another seemingly unwinnable extremist — a divorced one, this time (Ronald Reagan) and he not only wins, but he transforms the entire country. THAT is a very unpredictable chain of events. Anyway I found Ford very likable when I was a kid. He’d been House Minority Leader for years, and I imagine his excellent, conciliatory personality was one of the reasons Nixon chose him as VP. (Although some have stated the opinion that his stratagem was that no one would dare throw Nixon out of office if it meant dopey Gerry Ford would become President.) At any rate, the ancestor I share in common with Ford is Eleanor Deane.
I am related to Washington on my father’s side, via several connections. My (10th) great grandfather Augustine Warren. Sr was Washington’s great-great grandfather. Washington’s great grandfather Colonel William Ball is my (13th) great grandfather. I am also related to him through marriage: my (11th) great grandfather John Mottrom‘s grandson Major Francis Wright married Ann Washington, the President’s aunt. Another connection is that my (10th) great grandfather Nicholas Spencer was patentee with John Washington (the President’s grandfather) of the land that became the estate Mt. Vernon. (Spencer’s wife, my [10th[ great grandmother, was John Mottrom’s daughter Frances).
You never want to be dismissive of George Washington. There is a tendency to do that nowadays, because of the centuries of mythologizing, and because of the fact that he, like most others of his time, and place, and class, kept slaves. He inherited his first slaves when he was 11 years old.
The slave ownership is damning, to be sure, but there are numerous facts that put it in relief. First, as is well known, he freed his own slaves, a rare gesture for his times. The fact that he did so in his will, so that they would only be freed upon his wife’s death following his own, is sometimes seized upon as a disqualifying fact. But in reality, Washington expressed in his correspondences many, many times his fervent wish for slavery to end in America. On one occasion he even wrote that if the nation were to be torn apart by the issue, he would side with the north. Why then didn’t he free his own slaves during his lifetime?
It wasn’t a simple matter. It was clear from the national debates on the adoption of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that the south would not remain part of a union that prohibited slavery. Ironically, it had probably been those very debates that had helped Washington (who no doubt accepted slavery at the outset) to evolve on the issue. But as the nation’s leader during the period of its founding, he saw the political balancing act that kept the southern states in the union at this crucial, formative time as his responsibility. He feared that freeing his own slaves would be interpreted as an inflammatory political gesture. His entire job was keeping the new nation together. He dared not gamble with diluting whatever personal alchemy he wielded to keep the various factions loyal. So he did set an example by freeing his slaves, but in a way that he felt was the most diplomatic. That may sound callous and brutal. But recall that he had just waged a war that lasted eight years, and when slavery was finally ended a half century after his death, it came at the cost of 620,000 American lives, and another half million maimed (and, further, once freed by that bloody war, blacks remained deprived of full rights by a racist populace for another century). If an American Civil War had happened in the 1790s, its safe to guess that there would have been no America. Washington kept the nation together — and his slaves were freed. It’s more than you can say of anyone else of his time.
Washington’s devotion to the success of the American Experiment is scarcely to be imagined. In a world full of dictators, Washington, who could have become one so easily, declined to do so — on principle. Power madness is the norm in this world. The French Revolution produced the Terror and Napoleon. The American Revolution produced the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Washington. Washington was the American Cincinnatus, or as historian James Thomas Flexner called him, “the Indispensable Man”. Beyond that, he even said no to internal partisan power plays WITHIN our republican form of government. It was Hamilton who did all the scheming and who headed up the Federalist Party. Washington was above all that. He led by example.
Age and experience were perhaps important factors in his character (we return to that theme with Andrew Jackson, below). The Washington of the French and Indian War represented him at his least appealing: inexperienced, even bumbling. Ironically, that is where he got his reputation as a military leader. Benedict Arnold, Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox all seem to have been much better generals (I am also related to Arnold and Greene, btw!). But Washington learned from his mistakes. And most of all, he learned to govern his own worst impulses. Self-mastery is the lesson of Washington’s character. It’s why he is revered.
Warren G. Harding
We already touched on Harding a bit above. Harding had been a small town newspaperman, an Ohio politician and finally a U.S. Senator before becoming president in 1920 in a sort of flood tide of good luck, emerging from a field of 6 or 8 much stronger contenders to be the Republican candidate against the Wilsonian James M. Cox (whose running mate was none other than FDR). With an unprecedentedly sophisticated 20th century marketing campaign he won over the multitudes with vague promises to move away from the policies of Wilson and the progressives who had gone before. H.L. Mencken was hilarious on the subject of Harding’s meaningless speeches, “…it reminds me of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically on endless nights…” Harding was a kind of blank slate, and apparently that’s just what the people wanted after years of war and labor unrest. In the long run “normalcy” seemed to mean isolationism abroad, and prosperity (for some — especially his friends) at home. He was enormously popular at the time of his death partway through his first term. However that began to rapidly erode as news of countless corruption scandals came to light. He’s been near the bottom of presidential rankings ever since. I share two ancestors with Harding, one one each side of my family; on my mom’s side Giles Slocum; on my dad’s side John Tripp. Both were early Rhode Island settlers.
James and Dolley Madison
As a member of the second generation of founders, the public tends not to place Madison in the same pantheon with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, et al. But that’s a bit crazy. There are ways in which he, more than anyone, is the Father of our Country (as we now know it). A member of the Virginia state legislature, he went on to serve in the Constitutional Convention, where he was the primary drafter of the Constitution, then went on to become one of the main advocates for its ratification through the Federalist Papers, then as a member of the first Congress under the new charter, drafted the Bill of Rights. Throughout his early career, Madison was protege to Jefferson, much as Hamilton was to Washington. Madison was Secretary of State under Jefferson, negotiating the Louisiana Purchase with France. With Jefferson, he helped found the Democratic-Republican party (later shortened to Democrat), and championed the states’ nullification of Adams’ unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts. Which was the wrong thing for the right reason. It made it thinkable for states to reject federal authority in areas where they were in conflict, in effect paving the way for the Civil War. His career as President was less felicitous than his earlier years. The near disastrous War of 1812 was the signal event of his eight years in office. I am related to Madison via Capt. Thomas J. Taylor (see above) and through the much earlier mutual ancestors Richard II, John Savage, Joan de Beaufort and Robert de Ferrers. I am also related to First Lady Dolley Madison via my (8th) great grandfather Robert Woodson, and to Madison’s vice-president George Clinton.
James Earl Carter
I wrote a little about Carter on this blog recently. No one can deny he is a very good man, but I would have to categorize him as one of our worst presidents. Rarely has such a sunny honeymoon resulted in such Buyer’s Remorse. When he was elected, there was this brief moment of euphoria. Carter was elected as a repudiation of everything that stank about Washington: corruption, war, Watergate, and Nixon’s pardon. As Governor of Georgia, he was outside all that. Like our Founding Fathers, he was a farmer! He symbolized agrarian simplicity! Virtue! the Jeffersonian ideal! America itself! He revived FDR’s fireside chats! At the same time, he was also an expert on nuclear submarines, so he understood defense!
And then he presided over America’s continuing loss of prestige, a slide that (to my mind) began with the Bay of Pigs and the loss of Cuba, continued through the morass of Vietnam, and then a couple of apparently crooked presidents….only to slide down an even steeper slope when Carter was in office. Stagflation, the energy crisis, Three Mile Island, the loss of the Panama Canal, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iran Hostage Crisis. On all these things Carter managed to look either weak, indecisive or ineffective — sometimes all three. Certain people seemed bewildered when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Really? It’s no mystery. Carter was a horrible president!
That said, I LIKED it when Carter told the country to turn the thermostat down, put on a sweater and drive a small car. That’s using the bully pulpit for something sensible, and if you think America has some special right to despoil the planet by burning as much cheap fossil fuel as possible, you’re a jerk and an idiot. And whether you know it or not, it’s the president’s job to tell you so. I like that he was putting American on track to develop alternative energy, and also that he was converting us to the metric system. Reagan backed off that stuff, and generally contributed to the dumbing of America. But that’s another post. I am related to Carter through my (11th) great grandfather William Morris, my (14th) great grandmother Lady Christian Paulet and the omnipresent John of Gaunt.
Pretty cool, huh? I am related to our nation’s first black president by way of my (8th) great grandfather Constantine Perkins (an ancestor of Obama’s on his mom’s side). Obama is my favorite president of my lifetime. I don’t agree with all his policies, but I don’t agree with all of anyone’s policies, and I hope that neither do you, else I’ll have to suspect you haven’t got a brain in your head. I believe in individual people, not in parties. The fact is, if I were to rank the presidents of my time, it would be such a mix of Republicans and Democrats that it would horrify and alienate every last one of you. Oh, and I’ll do that some time…maybe some future President’s Day. Meantime, I won’t get into specifics about O (he has a year left, after all), but I will say that I admire his intelligence, his bravery, his integrity, and his equanimity. Above all, he is a gentleman — the kind they used to make, and don’t make so many of any more. If you know me at all, you know how highly I place that. History will smile kindly on Barack Obama. And all the ugly and angry and small-minded little insects who’ve been nipping at his ankles for eight years will be footnotes. His presidency is so significant that one can’t help projecting onto him. His enemies project their hatreds onto him. They seem to see someone who is not there. But his admirers can’t help seeing echoes of past American leaders. He reminds me of Wilson in some ways: professorial and inclines to international. But mostly he seems the embodiment of the Holy Trinity of Abraham, Martin and John: and for that reason, I have prayed for his safety every day of his presidency.
Tyler was the first vice president called upon to succeed a suddenly deceased president (William Henry Harrison). Though he was affiliated with the Whig Party, he was also a States Rights Southerner from a Virginia planter family. Put on the ticket as a compromise, he was thus not really popular with either faction. Nonetheless, he brought a great deal of experience to the office, having previously been a Virginia state legislator, Governor of Virginia, a congressman, senator and vice president. He was elected to the Confederate congress shortly before he died. Tyler’s (4th) great grandfather Robert Ellyson is my (9th) great grandfather. I am also related to via the much earlier mutual ancestors Richard II and Joan de Beaufort.
My (13th) great grandparents William Richmond and Joan Ewen are also ancestors of President Clinton. By contrast, I am much more closely related to his VP Al Gore, through several different mutual ancestors. (Clinton’s real last name, you may know, is Blythe; I also have Blythes in my family tree. Clinton took the name of his stepfather. But it’s a fortunate surname. One can’t help associating it with many distinguished Clintons in America’s political past).
I’ll be frank; I have never held Clinton in very high esteem, and I believe posterity will be of the same mind. He was a weak president in a time of a strong congress, about like those post-Jackson/pre-Lincoln presidents. He did very little to chart the direction of the country, and I feel that he squandered an important historical opportunity for world leadership in the wake of the end of the Cold War. I particularly dislike him for having taken so many dim-witted liberals to the cleaners. I think he is the modern equivalent of the old-fashioned southern politician in the Huey Long mold. He tried to mold his image and his presidency after those of JFK and Jimmy Carter, but in reality I think Johnson or Nixon are much closer to the mark. I think he will say anything to be popular. He’s about as principled as Aaron Burr. He “didn’t inhale” his marijuana even as he kept up the Reagan-Bush drug war. Did you know more American military troops died in combat during Clinton’s presidency than in Ronald Reagan’s? His famous policy for solving the problem of gays in the military was literally, “If your commanding officer finds out you’re gay, you’re dishonorably discharged”. Thanks for the improvement, Slick Willy! And we haven’t even gotten to his treatment of women as sexual conveniences (sort of like taller, walking hotel mini-bars) helped lower the tone of both American culture and American politics.
Shall we go on? This is the tip of the ice berg. People have this habit of blaming the republicans for the ugly new phenomenon of Donald Trump. To my mind, Clinton’s complete lack of character is every bit as responsible. If you think that he was a better president than recent republicans just because he’s a democrat, you’re a sucker of the worst order.
LBJ’s family story is much like my own family story. I had plenty of relatives (siblings and cousins of my ancestors) who started out in Virginia, moved to Alabama, and continued on until Texas, just like LBJ’s family. Which makes it surprising that most of my tangible relations I share with him are medieval: (17th) great grandfather John Throckmorton in the 14th century, and the House of Neville four centuries before that. I have at least two different Johnson families in my family tree in 17th century Colonial New England (read about them here), but how, where and if they connect with the presidents with that surname is unknown. But a strongest (most recent) bid for connection may be through his great-grandmother Mary Elisabeth Perrin (ca. 1826-1916). Various trees peter out at various points, but according to one source her line leads to my (8th) great grandfather Thomas Perrin of Virginia
To me, Johnson’s crowning legacies are the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. I am less enamored of his Great Society programs (taken as a whole, though I’m reassessing my feelings on this), and I deplore his escalation of the Vietnam War, and the cowardly way he slunk away from his office in 1968 leaving the many problems of the nation unsolved. I read the first couple of volumes of Robert Caro’s epic biography of Johnson — one walks away with an impression that he was a walking mass of insecurities, a guy with a serious inferiority complex. He clearly modeled his presidency on FDR’s, hanging it on the twin pillars of social programs and a war. But rather than making him universally beloved as he’d hoped, those two initiatives profoundly alienated both wings of his own party. The social programs and Civil Rights lost him the Dixiecrats, and Vietnam lost him the left leaning peaceniks. Finding himself reviled on all sides, he fled, leaving his big projects half finished and the Democratic split into fragments that exist to this day. Many historians rate him highly today. For me, his presidency is too much a mix of highs and lows — with too many doleful precedents being set.
I was delighted to learn I was related to “Give ’em Hell Harry” , though it took me a long time to find our first connection, my (10th) great grandfather Adam Mott. This is a surprising ways back and given all the Missouri and Kentucky and Virginia relatives I and President Truman both have, the mutual ancestor turns out to be in Rhode Island, on my mom’s side. We are also related a bit farther back through, John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton, a (14th) great grandfather.
Though his presidency began 20 years before I was born, and I never saw a clip of him in contemporary media (he died when I was 7) Truman had a sort of vivid personality that somehow was apparent to me across time. I think one reason is that my parents had great affection for him. He was the sort of man they both liked: small, “cocky”, profane, and simply a character, with his bow ties and round wire rimmed glasses. And because he is the last essentially pre-television President, it feels closer to the 19th century than the 20th. Even Eisenhower seems modern. Eisenhower launched the Space Race. Truman looked like he should give speeches from the observation platforms on the backs of trains. He looked like the small town haberdasher he actual was…and what a strange sequence of events to go from that…to judge…to senator…to vice president…to the most powerful man in the world. In many ways the country was very fortunate — he proved a very effective president. With the possible exception of, ya know, kaboom. I am also related to Bess Truman through the medieval Beauchamps.
He of the Doctrine (though that was composed and implemented by his Secretary of State John Q. Adams). Monroe is said to be the last President of the original two-party system, although the younger Adams, who succeeded him, may be said to be transitional. More than this, Monroe’s presidency (1817-1825) continued an unbroken string of Jeffersonian presidencies that began with Jefferson’s ascension in 1801. That is TWO DOZEN unbroken years of the same people in power — have we seen the like since? Roosevelt-Truman come close. Monroe started out learning law at Jefferson’s elbow, served in the Revolution (he’s depicted in the painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware”, then in the Virginia Legislature, then the U.S. Senate, then was Minister to France, then Governor of Virginia, then Minister to the Court of St James (under Jefferson) then Secretary of War and Secretary of State under Madison, then President. We just don’t get presidents with resumes like that any more. In addition to his famous doctrine of keeping foreign powers out of the Americas, Monroe also purchased Florida, and was responsible for the creation of Liberia, whose capital, Monrovia, still bears his name. Monroe has many Stewarts/Stuarts in his family tree, which we have in common: Lady Elizabeth Stewart, the Kings James Stuart 1, II, III, and IV and numerous other medieval figures like John of Gaunt, Joan de Beaufort, etc. I am also related to first lady Elizabeth Kortright Monroe via our mutual ancestor John Russell.
Reagan’s (5th) great grandmother was one Sarah Campbell (b.1720); she is an immediate gateway to innumerable shared families: Campbells, Stewarts, Gordons, Douglases, Drummonds, Keiths, Homes, Elphinstones, Lauders, Maitlands, Setons, et al. We share a mutual ancestor in each family, mostly in the 15th century. Reagan was also a Wilson on his mother’s side; hence his full name: Ronald Wilson Reagan. I have at least two separate Wilson lines in my ancestry, though I haven’t found any specific places yet where our Wilson lines connect. Also, for better or worse, I am also distantly related to First Lady Nancy (Davis) Reagan, who was known to whisper instructions into her husband’s ear.
Nearly everyone I encounter on a daily basis (in the arts community in New York City) despises absolutely everything about Ronald Reagan, hate him outright, can’t think of one single good thing about him. I don’t go quite so far. My feelings about him, as they are with a great many of the presidents, are mixed. At the time of his presidency I hated him far more than I do today. (He was president during my high school years and when I attended the acting conservatory). At the time, his charms were lost on me. To me he just seemed like a phony, plastic old creep who gave me the willies when he smiled in his chilling, robot like parody of a next door neighbor. He used a lot of short hand buzzwords in place of ideas and looked like his make-up was done by a funeral director.
In short, I missed what he symbolized to a lot of older people. I had never seen his movies, had never seen him on television apart from his campaign appearances prior to his election. I was not around for the cultural wars of the 1960s when he was Governor of California. A lot of people looked at him through gauze. It was about nostalgia for a happier, more confident time (the Eisenhower years for some, I guess). In years since, I have seen those westerns and war pictures, and I’ve seen the news clips and speeches of his from his earlier years. I have a bit more context and can put him in a broader perspective than the visceral repulsion I felt for him as a teenager. Hilariously, some people will never get past it.
Reagan’s presidency was a sea change, a pivot. The culture of the whole country changed very rapidly at his prompting. I can’t even begin to describe how radical a shift there was, although I’d like to, in fact I’d like to at book length, I have that much to say about it. It wasn’t just changes in policy, it was a change in culture. Reagan used the Bully Pulpit daily, and he changed the entire mental architecture of Americans. I’m not saying everyone became a conservative or everyone became a Republican; that was far from the case. And I’m not saying it wasn’t a lie, for it was that. A happy face was slapped on to some very ugly facts and tendencies. The air was full of machismo and jingoism (I wrote a bit about that here). The supposed fiscal conservative spent unprecedented amounts on defense, without raising taxes to pay for it, turning the U.S. into an apparently permanent debtor nation. We were constantly TERRIFIED that the world was going to end due to the metastasized nuclear arsenal he was growing. He blew off the AIDS crisis for no other reason but homophobia (a fact that becomes especially heinous when you stop and think of his Hollywood background. He must have lost scores of former co-workers to the disease. How cold can you be?)
So what GOOD can possible be said about him? Well, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. He won the Cold War. And to win it, one forgets, is to end it. Ronald Reagan essentially liberated the people of Eastern Europe, millions and millions of people, most of whom had been in bondage their entire lives. I can’t imagine that, were you to talk to someone from Hungary or Poland or East Germany today that they wouldn’t speak of Reagan in the most glowing of terms. In the west, people loved to call him a Fascist in those days. Sure — a Fascist who frees hundreds of millions of people from totalitarianism. Whatever. The “detente” policy and the “war by proxy” that had been the order of the day since the Cuban Missile Crisis was ineffective and soul-sickening. Reagan had the gift of clarity and leadership and the willingness to do unpopular things to achieve necessary goals. He called the Soviet Union an “evil empire”. We laughed at him, but on that score, he was right.
Domestic policy is muddier and more problematic. I am in favor of belt-tightening where government spending is concerned. I think every single day, every government employee ought to be reminded that he’s not spending his own money, that it is being forcibly seized from American citizens. Government was instituted to do certain necessary things, things that can only be undertaken by government, but too often the budgets of public agencies are treated like the play toys of precocious children. I think politicians and agencies should be terrified of mis-spending a public dollar. Always. (And ultimately I think my attitude on this subject I think derives from the influence of Reagan and the deeper thinkers he led me to: Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Milton Friedman, Ludwig Von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, etc etc etc) But in changing the culture of Washington, Reagan resorted to a culture of ugliness, a wildfire he started and which has only grown since then. It was Reagan who mastered and pioneered the art of coded slurs which so many politicians have been using for decades. The “Welfare Queen”, Willie Horton, right down the line to Trump’s diatribes about Muslims and Mexicans (Trump is breaking new ground unfortunately but dispensing with the careful language). And more than this, Reagan gave birth this bizarre culture of self-hatred America now has, this off phenomenon of a “patriotic” nation that bad-mouths and detests its own government. Cloaked as a picture of health — the raven haired, ruddy cheeked all-American football playing movie star — Reagan gave birth to a most unhealthy domestic climate which gets fouler and fouler with every passing year.
It’s a testament to Jefferson’s hold on the imagination that he is simultaneously the favorite president of many on the far left…and many on the far right. Our principal advocate of limited government and individual rights he was also something of a Renaissance Man. Jefferson drafted the Virginia state constitution and the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and wrote Notes on the State of Virginia. Minister to France, then Washington’s Secretary of State and second Vice President. Founder of what became the Democratic Party. Founder of the University of Virginia. Neo-classical architect. Amateur scientist. His book collection became the Library of Congress!
My interest in Jefferson has come in phases: We learned lots about him in school at the time of the Bicentennial. Then, in the 90s, as noted many times previously, I did wide reading in American history and became interested in the Founding. Around this time I first visited Monticello and the University of Virginia, read Notes on the State of Virginia, the Jefferson Bible, Jefferson’s influential draft of the Virginia State Constitution, Willard Sterne Randall’s Thomas Jefferson: A Life (which came out in 1993), a biography of his treasury secretary Albert Gallatin (the title and author of which I can’t recall), and saw the 1995 film Jefferson in Paris starring Nick Nolte, which naturally took some of the edge off the hero worship. I am currently reading something called The Inner Jefferson: Portrait of a Grieving Optimist by Andrew Burstein.
I just read (in Edmund Morris’s book, see below) that Teddy Roosevelt, one of his few intellectual equals among the presidents, hated Jefferson! Mostly for championing a weak federal government and for downsizing the military (and for running away like a coward when the British were approaching Monticello). Jefferson loved abstractions. Among his worst failings was a tendency to approve of the bloody tendencies of the French terror (in a way that would presage certain “Useful Idiots” who overlooked Stalin’s purges, etc in the 20th century). But anyone who’s been to Monticello can’t help loving him, with his contraptions, and his natural history displays. The latter should have endeared him to TR. But TR could not abide a man who was not sufficiently bellicose. At any rate, my relationship to Jefferson is entirely through long ago medieval ancestors: William Longespee, Joan de Beaufort and John of Gaunt. I am more closely related to Jefferson VP George Clinton.
James K. Polk
Polk’s (8th) great grandmother was Marion Stewart, thus our common ancestor is Robert II of Scotland. We also share the common ancestor of John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton. I also have an added relationship to Polk, by marriage: Polk’s maternal grandparents Thomas and Naomi Gillespie are the (2nd) great grandparents of my (2nd) great uncle. Polk was one of our most effective and significant presidents. He frequently ranks near the top in historian’s lists, but has largely been forgotten by the public. A protege of Jackson, he presided over the annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, settled the Oregon territory border dispute with Britain, and founded the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution.
TR’s my president of the moment! I’m plowing through Edmund Morris’s trilogy, which I got for Christmas. I wrote a bit about TR’s influence in Chain of Fools — silent comedians were SO physical and TR had such influence on the young men of the era. Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd especially show the influence of Roosevelt. The Strenuous Life! I’m entering a western phase too at the moment. So a shout out for TR! As we mentioned above, we are related to him through our common ancestor Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (son of Robert II), Roosevelt’s grandmother being the Stewart connection. And also John of Gaunt. I am also related to several TR cohorts, like Henry Cabot Lodge, Secretary of State John Hay, and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
As I said above, I have two separate Wilson lines in my family, both of which terminate in Virginia in the early 1600s, one ending with an 11th great grandmother, the other with an 8th great grandmother. If, when and where my Wilsons overlap the President’s I haven’t found yet, but I do know we share the mutual ancestor of John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton, my (14th) great grandfather. I am also distantly related to his second wife, First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson, who essentially ran the country from 1919 through 1921 following Wilson’s stroke!
Wilson is also a mixed bag. I think most contemporary people would agree with me, though for different reasons. A progressive in the mold of TR (although that relationship was complicated since he also influenced TR), he then became a hero to the younger generation of democrats. FDR clearly modeled himself on Wilson; Woody Guthrie was named after him.
Wilson’s scheme of internationalism was visionary, remains influential and yet unfulfilled. The reality has proven so difficult to realize. Half the nations of the world remain bad actors and rogue states; the other half are approximately deadbeats in the effort. As for America, the financial burden has been incredible (which makes conservatives unhappy), and America itself has as often as not proven less than pure in its relations with other countries, and just as frequently less than competent (which makes liberals unhappy). And then there is the surprising fact of Wilson’s personal racism. Raised in the south (Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina), he was against integration. This blows the minds of contemporary democrats who have a certain view of what a president from their party looks like, forgetting that as recently as 1968 the party was split by the presidential run of Governor George Wallace. And so now we have people wanting to take Wilson’s name off a building at Princeton, of which he had been the president. He had also been Governor of New Jersey, stopped the tide of German aggression in Europe (briefly) and gave the world his idea for a League of Nations. These decisions are never easy.
As we said above, I have at least two different Johnson families in my family tree in 17th century Colonial New England (read about them here). How, where and if they connect with the presidents with that surname is unknown. Johnson’s ancestry is murky; there appears to be uncertainty as to who his paternal grandfather was. But I have found a common ancestor in my (15th) great grandfather Gerald Fitzgerald.
And, frankly, no one is in any rush to cozy up to this president. He consistently ranks at or near the bottom of any presidential list. A Tennessee Democrat who ascended to the presidency when Lincoln was assassinated, he is known for dragging his heels on Reconstruction, with some very bad consequences. He rushed to admit the former Confederate states to the union after the Civil War, and was against the 14th amendment and citizenship for blacks. For his efforts, he was the first U.S. president to be impeached. His obstructionism resulted in an equally misguided counter-adjustment from Radical Republicans…which THEN resulted in a vindictive backlash from southern states that lasted nearly a century. If only the cautious, thoughtful and deliberate Lincoln had lived to manage the aftermath of the war, things might have gone a lot better for all involved, both black and white.
William Henry Harrison
My only definite relationship to the Harrisons so far is through William Longespee, which is a distant relation indeed, and through a second avenue, a distant relationship to a cousin of William Henry Harrison, through marriage. But I also have at least five different lines of Harrisons in my family tree. Two (6th) great grandmothers, one (10th) great grandmother, and two (11th) great grandmothers are all Harrisons, all from different lines, and all from different places in England than the presidential Harrison’s (theirs come from Cambridge, mine from Cheshire, Kent, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire). But taking the tack that I use elsewhere in this post (with Jacksons, Johnsons, Wilsons, Stewarts) the odds are likely that somewhere in the medieval period one of my Harrisons converge with the presidents’.
“Old Tippecanoe” is another one who gets laughed off for the unfortunate fact that he served less than a month in office before he was killed by pneumonia. Had he lived he likely would have proved a substantial president indeed. His credentials are crazy excellent. First, there was his family to learn from. His father Benjamin Harrison had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a Governor of Virginia. His older brother Carter Harrison was a U.S. Congressman. Tippecanoe was to become a Congressman himself, as well as Governor of the Northwest Territories, Governor of Indiana, and a military hero in Indian skirmishes (where he got his nickname) and the War of 1812. And he served as Minister to Columbia under John Q. Adams. In his campaign for presidency though he was a wealthy slaveholder he was advertised as a rough, frontier Indian fighter in the mode of Andrew Jackson. The oldest man elected to the presidency up til then, he endeavored to demonstrate his machismo by attending his inauguration without an overcoat, and reading his two hour speech in the rain. This is why he got a cold and died. (Contrast this with the superhuman TR, who was the youngest president up til his time, and once got shot in the chest and went on to give a speech lasting several hours before allowing himself to be taken to the hospital! Not to impugn the manliness of Harrison. Teddy Roosevelt was clearly not mortal).
Benjamin Harrison (William Henry’s grandson) was the president who comes between the two Cleveland presidencies. He signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act into law, which was pretty important. But he also was responsible for putting tariffs in place and increasing federal spending, the unpopularity of which got him voted out of office. I am also related to Harrison’s vice-president Levi P. Morton.
I include McKinley here on the same principle that allows us to include Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt — a Stewart family connection. One of McKinley’s great-great-grandfathers was a Robert Stewart (1707-1778) of York County, PA. We reckon ourselves related to him on a slender thread, but a real one. I have at least 20 Stewart lines in my family tree, including the patrilineal one. At some point all Stewart lines converge at the first Stewart, Alan fitz Flaad (c. 1078-1114). The likelihood though, given the number of Stewart lines I have, is that we connect more recently than that.
McKinley’s presidency was particularly eventful. He instituted a number of tariffs that coincided with a rebound from the Depression of 1896. He defended the gold standard as his political rival William Jennings Bryant agitated for silver. And he added much new territory to the United States, spoils from the Spanish-American War, largely engineered by his assistant secretary of the Navy, TR. (McKinley labored to find a peaceful solution. Roosevelt scorned him for it — unfairly, it should be said, given the fact that McKinley had actually served in battle (the Civil War) and Roosevelt had not — though he was about to. And then in 1901 McKinley was shot by an anarchist who’d been inspired by a speech of Emma Goldman’s. For several days it looked as though he would recover but then gangrene set it. McKinley died and TR was sworn in as president.
John F. Kennedy
I was prepared not to be related at all to the all-Irish JFK at all, but then I discovered that I come from three separate lines of Fitzgeralds…making me at least as likely to be as related to Kennedy as I am to some of these other palookas (Rose was a Fitzgerald). I wrote a little about the Kennedy legacy here. Look, I’m from Rhode Island, which has never ceased being a sort of vassal state of Massachusetts. Of my five closest high school friends, three were Irish Catholic. My best friend of all was obsessed with him (because his parents were too), and so when I was around 13 I was big time indoctrinated: with things like the Vaughn Meader comedy records, and the Camelot soundtrack, and a visit to the JFK Presidential Library the INSTANT it opened in 1979. The 1974 TV movie The Missiles of October was a particular favorite of my buddies, and we enjoyed mimicking Martin Sheen and William Devane’s reasonably accurate Kennedy brother imitations. I’ve certainly heard actors do worse Kennedy imitations in the years since — much worse. And I read all these books as a teenager: Profiles in Courage, of course (my father, though aa conservative, actually owned a copy). And A Thousand Days by Arthur Schlesinger, and The Making of the President by Theodore H. White, and PT-109 by William Doyle (and the movie version with Cliff Robertson). And Newport was right across the bay. So we made pilgrimages and field trips there to visit Hammersmith Farm, which was the Bouvier house, and to St. Mary’s Church, where Jack and Jackie got married. And Boston. And Martha’s Vineyard etc etc etc. And quite a bit later of course, JFK’s nephew Patrick became a Rhode Island congressman, although that was an obvious sinecure and he was sort of a goof.
So were steeped in Kennedy culture there to put it mildly. And it remains hard to put his legacy in perspective. I was born in the immediate wake of the assassination (less than two years later), and so my entire childhood and teenage years occurred at a time when he was still lionized and considered a martyr on the order of Abraham Lincoln. And he was so charismatic and charming and eloquent and smart and capable — all those qualities of leadership — and so much was screwed up by the presidents who came immediately after him, that the sense of LOSS to the nation was tremendous.
As times goes on, that feeling has been dialed back somewhat, toward something a bit closer to how we think of Harrison, Garfield or Taylor. It’s unfair to speak of his legacy with so much unfinished and so much unknown. Kennedy made some terrible blunders, especially very early in his presidency. Would they have been rectified? Personally, I have come to think of the loss of Cuba as a national trauma American has not YET begun to deal with. I plan to write some more about this subject in the near future, but the reality is, with the exception of, say, Canada, no near neighbor was closer to the United States in terms of shared history and culture and feelings of amity. (By contrast, Mexican-American relations have always been so contentious and problematic). It’s one thing to draw a line in far-away Korea. But to have CUBA fall into the Soviet sphere of influence? What must that have been like? Well, it was enough to create the culture of hostility in Dallas on that horrible day. But if he had lived, could he have, would he have fixed it? Maybe!
It blows people’s minds when I say this, but I think it’s true: what was Reagan’s foreign policy but a restoration of Kennedy’s? Kennedy ran his presidential campaign on the premise that there was a “missile gap” with Russia, and then brought us closer than anyone to nuclear war. So did Reagan. Kennedy used the CIA and elite military units to intervene in foreign countries to counteract communism. So did Reagan. etc etc. But this is getting too long.
I also think RFK could have and would have saved the country if he’d become president in 1968, but Teddy Kennedy was a preening fool, an ass, and a pig — most of the major derogatory animals. OK, time to move on.
And now we come to our last two presidents, the ones whom I am least likely to be related to, although I do have some ancestors possessing their ethnicities (Dutch and German, respectively). And yet, as we blogged here, after a certain point (say 12 centuries ago) all western Europeans share common ancestors (and so all are descended from, say, Charlemagne, for example). Thus we get to include even these unlikely ones, though they are the biggest stretches:
Martin Van Buren
Van Buren was New York Dutch on both sides. And while I do have some Dutch ancestors, including some in New York, none I’ve yet uncovered appear related to him, at least during the past millennium.
Van Buren has the distinction of being America’s first President whose ancestry was not British (although being Dutch is probably as close ethnically, culturally and geographically a European can get without actually being from the British Isles.) Other than this, though, he doesn’t have many distinctions. I think of him as our first fairly mediocre, undistinguished and non-extraordinary president. Before him we have Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, second Adams and Jackson. That’s quite a run. And then: Van Buren. This is really quite a step down. “Little Van” (he stood 5’6″) was primarily a political creature. Probably his greatest legacy was the organization and strengthening of the young democratic party. He was an acolyte of Jackson, who became his main promoter. Van Buren served as Senator, Secretary of State and Vice President before he inherited the Presidency from Jackson. Unfortunately, he was blamed for the Depression of 1837 and only served one term. Today he is regarded as a footnote. But in a way that’s a sign that we were growing into a strong nation, isn’t it? Extraordinary times require extraordinary men. But if the machine is ticking along nicely, we just need someone who won’t drive it into a tree.
Dwight David Eisenhower
Eisenhower has to be the president I am least likely to have a connection to, at least a connection occurring in years with four digits. Ike was primarily German on both sides: Pennsylvania Dutch on his father’s side; and German Lutheran settlers in Virginia on his mother’s side. Though I do have some Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors, I have spotted no apparent overlap. I think you’d have to go back to the time when people dressed like Hagar the Horrible to find a common ancestor. But I am distantly related to his wife Mamie, and to his chief of staff Sherman Adams.
Eisenhower was the last American chief executive to sort of be everybody’s president, wasn’t he? I mean, not only did the country see him that way, but he saw himself that way. When he first considered running, he debated whether he should run as a Democrat or a Republican. As the General who had led the Invasion of Normandy, he was naturally strongest on defense and foreign relations. It was Eisenhower who prevented the disastrous retreat into isolationism which some Republicans wanted. And yet he was also the president who dispatched the national guard to enforce the integration of the high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. And it was Eisenhower who launched the space program. An extremely capable administrator (up there with Washington) he oversaw a period of peace (if a tense peace) and prosperity such as I have never known in my my lifetime. I can only read the history books with envy.
Okay! Time to wind this down! Just a few more carrots and turnips to toss into the stew.
Major presidential candidates I am related to include: DeWitt Clinton, Daniel Webster, Stephen A. Douglas, George B. McClellan, Adlai Stevenson, William Weld, Howard Dean, Al Gore, John Kerry, Mitt Romney, and Lincoln Chaffee (okay, he’s not so major). And yes, I am related to Sarah Palin.
Lastly, just for fun (and to show that I am not the only person in my family obsessed with presidents), here are a number of people from my family tree named after U.S. presidents and other political figures: George Washington Campbell, George Washington Grey, George Washington Killebrew, George Washington Newby, George Washington Parker, George Washington Stewart, Benjamin Franklin Gray, Benjamin Franklin Posey, Asa Lafayette Hammon, David Lafayette Posey, George Lafayette Grey, Thomas Jefferson Colquitt, Thomas Jefferson Stewart, Jefferson Thomas Stewart, George Jefferson Stewart, Levin Jefferson Stewart, James Jefferson Gore, James Jefferson Parker, James Madison Hale, James Monroe Colquitt, James Monroe Herindeen, James Monroe Stafford, Andrew Jackson Allen, Andrew Jackson Bonner, Andrew Jackson Patrick, Andrew Jackson Stewart, Henry Clay Parker, Patrick Henry Clay Hale, Daniel Webster Parker, Martin Van Buren Jackson, Polk Lafayette Stewart, James K. Polk Oldfield, James Polk Manley, John Tyler Nichols, James Buchanan Hammon, James Buchanan Patrick, Chester Arthur Stewart, Grover Cleveland Jackson, Grover Cleveland Parker, and Alice Roosevelt Herindeen.
Again I say, Happy Presidents Day. I’m sure I can truthfully say I have never before given this holiday this much thought.