Biographies of the Presidents Parents
1. George Washington (1789-1797)
Augustine “Gus” Washington (Born: 1694 - Died: April 12, 1743.) In a day of piety and powdered wigs, good breeding was essential. George’s father, Augustine Washington, could trace his lineage back to British gentry. While the family gave up such titles in the new country, Gus, as his friends called him, continued to maintain several business dealings in England, along with his new ventures in America. With the demands of his business pursuits drawing him away from home and family, Washington provided little in the line of fathering to his young son, George.
In all of his personal writings, George Washington makes only a few references to his father. In one account, George erroneously recalls that he was ten at the time of his father’s death when, in actuality, he was eleven. While this could have been mere oversight, George’s references to his father are limited to the outer regions of familiarity, remembering him merely as a man who was tall, fair, strong, and kind.
History remembers Augustine Washington in a similar manner. Tales of brute strength are passed down from his iron mining days in which he was said to be able to lift weight that would test the efforts of two men. On the other hand, biographer James Thomas Flexner defines Augustine as a “man who was restless, apprehensive, unsure, making deals which he subsequently denied making. He was often in the law courts.”[i]
Mary Ball Washington (Born: 1708 - Died: August 25, 1789.) Mary was the second wife of George’s father Augustine, living in comfort during her husband’s life. She became a widow in her thirties and did not remarry. A single mother of growing children, she undoubtedly faced numerous challenges.
Whether because of her limited finances or her overly protective nature, Mary was reluctant after her husband’s death to allow George, her firstborn, the privilege of travel overseas. Unlike his older half-brothers who studied in England, George received a minimal education at home while helping care for his siblings.
Fourteen years his senior, George’s half brother Lawrence became influential in the upbringing of this president. The family’s circle of influence could have easily secured a naval appointment for George, and according to Lawrence, such an appointment would have greatly profited the young man. However, their mother’s controlling influence once again kept George close to home.
While her husband left provision for her needs, the practices of the time eventually left Mary dependent upon her children until her death. Even as George Washington suffered the hardships of winter with his troops at Valley Forge, he received letters from his mother complaining of his lack of concern and disregard for her comfort. According to Peter R. Henrigues in George Washington Reconsidered, “Shortly before his mother died, Washington visited her in Fredericksburg. ‘I took a final leave of my mother, never expecting to see her more,’ he confided to a sister.”[ii]
George Washington Parke Custis, Washington’s step-grandson, recorded his interpretation of the tumultuous relationship between mother and son as “the guide who directed your steps when they needed the guidance of age and wisdom, the parental affection which claimed your love, the parental authority which commanded your obedience.”[iii] Although critics sometimes view Mary Washington as overbearing, her determination and resolve as a mother helped her raise the man we now call “the father of our country”.
2. John Adams (1797-1801)
John “Deacon” Adams, Sr. (Born: February 8, 1690 - Died: May 25, 1761.) John, Sr. the father of our second president exemplified moral character and a brawny work ethic. He was raised with rich Puritan influence that reached back to his great grandfather. Immigrating to America in 1638, John’s great-grandfather, Henry Adams established a family farm in Braintree, Massachusetts.
John, Sr. was one of eightchildren born to Joseph Adams and Hannah Bass Adams. While attending school, he lived and worked on the farm. In 1734, obeying his sense of duty, he joined the local militia. That same commitment to community continued into his adulthood where he gained the title Deacon John through his service at the Congregational Church. As a lieutenant in the militia, a selectman, a tax collector, and constable, Deacon John became a pillar in his community. Adams recalls of his father that “no public business was transacted in Braintree without Deacon John’s consent.”[iv] In addition to his farming and civic duties, Deacon John was a skilled leather crafter, putting in long hours of manual labor.
Deacon John sacrificed to send his son to Harvard with the expectation that John would become a minister. One year after graduation, John informed his father that ministry was not his love. Rather, the path he would follow would be law. Although John anticipated confrontation, he was pleased to receive his father’s approval.
With his father’s love and support, John indeed followed a path that would lead him to law and later the presidency. Unfortunately, his father died early in John’s public career. Struck down by influenza, Deacon John Adams died at the age of seventy. “He was the honestest (sic) Man I ever knew,” his presidential son would declare, “In wisdom, piety, benevolence and charity. In proportion to his Education and Sphere of Life, I have never seen his Superior.”
Susanna Boylston Adams (Born: March 5, 1708 - Died: April 21, 1797.) Stemming from a line of doctors and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts, overlookingBoston, Susanna knew the privileges that education and wealth could afford. While she had many suitors desiring her hand, the strong-willed Susanna chose a cobbler from Braintree, Massachusetts eighteen years her senior, to be her husband.
In spite of a notoriously fiery temper, the twenty-five-year old bride brought sophistication and wealth to the family of John Adams when they married in the autumn of 1734. On October 19, 1735, Susanna Boylston Adams gave birth to John Adams, a son who would become the nation’s second president.
In his prolific writings, John Adams surprisingly seldom refers to his mother, although their relation appeared to be one of fondness. Memories of quarrels between his parents are, however, reflected in his correspondence, and some believe that his passionate disposition and intellectual strength were likely inherited from Susanna.
At fifty-two, Susanna became a widow when Deacon John succumbed to influenza. Five years later, she married Lieutenant John Hall, a man she would also outlive. During her son’s inauguration in Philadelphia, she lay weak in her bed with her daughter-in-law, Abigail Adams, attending to her needs. She died on April 21, 1797, six weeks after her son took the oath of office.
3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Peter Jefferson (Born: February 29, 1708 - Died: August 17, 1757.) Peter claimed his inheritance at twenty-three when his father, Thomas Jefferson II died, leaving him land, livestock, and servants. With his inheritance Peter settled in an uncharted area of Virginia and over the next ten years slowly gained prominence. But on October of 1739, when he married Jane Randolph, his social standing ratcheted up dramatically.
Although Peter lacked a formal education, he valued learning, a precept which he instilled in his third son Thomas, sending him to study English at age five and Latin at age twelve. As Thomas grew older, he recognized the lapse in his father’s education and was at times self conscious about it. Yet, he had great respect and admiration for his strength, bravery, and sense of adventure. “My father’s education had been quite neglected; but being of a strong mind, sound judgment, and eager information, he read much and improved himself.”[v]
In addition to developing his tobacco plantation and serving his community, Peter Jefferson worked as a surveyor. Thomas would sit mesmerized by his father’s tales of journeys through barely navigable land as his team surveyed and created maps that helped define much of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and North Carolina.
After frequent doctor’s visits throughout the summer, Peter unexpectedly died from undetermined causes on August 17, 1757. At forty-nine, he left a generous inheritance to his wife and his eight children. Perhaps the gift most appreciated by his son, Thomas, was a writing desk, a library, and a love for learning.
Jane Randolph Jefferson (Born: February 20, 1720 - Died: March 31, 1776.) Born in London, Jane Randolph is best known for her ancestry and the fact that her president son hardly mentions her in his prolific writings. At nineteen, Jane met Colonel Peter Jefferson who was temporarily living in England. Though he was notably her inferior in social status, he won her hand, taking her back to Virginia where Jane became his bride on October 3, 1739. Within a few years, the young family moved to an unsettled plot of land in North Carolina. Although it began as a modest estate Jane would eventually name it the Shadwell plantation after her genteel birthplace. It was in this home that she gave birth to her third child and first son, Thomas Jefferson.
Jane was widowed when Thomas was fourteen. While nothing is written to suggest it, some believe that Thomas may have transferred his grief at the loss of his father into blame toward his mother. Regardless, he remained in close proximity to her, returning home after completing his education and living with her till age twenty-seven. A few months before her son penned the Declaration of Independence, Jane Randolph Jefferson died of a sudden stroke. Although she never lived at her son’s famous estate at Monticello, she rests in a small, shaded grave nearby.
4. James Madison (1809-1817)
James Madison, Sr. (Born: March 27, 1723 - Died: February 27, 1801.) James Madison’s carefree days of childhood came to an abrupt end when at the age of nine his father died. At age eighteen he came into his full inheritance which included an 8,000-acre Orange County estate in Virginia. From an early age James claimed much of the responsibility for the daily operation of the family’s demanding tobacco plantation, which later came to be known as Montpelier.
In September, 1749, at the age of twenty-six, James Madison married Nelly Conway, daughter of the wealthy warehouse owner to which he shipped tobacco. Almost two years later, their first son, future president James Madison was born. As James Senior’s young family and his land holdings increased, his colonial involvements began. First, he served the Anglican Church by overseeing alms to the poor, then serving the community as justice of the peace.
Following news of the Boston Tea Party, American colonists were torn between allegiance to the king and loyalty to the colonies. In December of 1774, James Senior chose loyalty to the colony and organized the Orange County Committee For Public Safety.[vi] In preparation for war against the Crown, they organized troops and gathered artillery. On May 9, 1775, James Senior wrote a letter to Patrick Henry, voicing the support of the Virginia settlement for the use of force against England.[vii]
Nepotism was strong in Virginia. James Madison, Sr. was county lieutenant and so his son was appointed second in command. Together, they supported the Revolution. While the father eventually tired from his military career, he continued to open doors for his son’s promising political future. By financially supporting James during his service as a member of the Continental Congress, the future president was unhindered by the colony’s insufficient provision for their delegation.
James Madison Senior died at seventy-seven before seeing his son accept the appointment as secretary of state under Thomas Jefferson. The great love and respect this father garnered from his son is exemplified through their personal correspondence. The greetings of Madison’s letters to his father always began, “Honored sir,” and closed, “Your dutiful son.”
Eleanor “Nelly” Rose Conway Madison (Born: January 9, 1731 - Died: February 11, 1829.) Nelly Rose Conway was born in Port Conway, Virginia. The daughter of a successful planter and owner of a tobacco warehouse, at eighteen she became the bride of James Madison, one of her father’s business associates.
Together, James and Nelly started their family in a modest wooden home against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was there that their first child was born. James Madison, Junior, would be called “Jemmy” by his family in order to avoid confusion with the father. Nelly gave birth to twelve children, burying five before they reached maturity. Eventually, as the size of the Madison family grew, the need for a larger house necessitated a move. Even though her husband had continued to acquire land and prestige within the community, the larger home completed in 1760 was modest compared to remodeled version dubbed Montpelier by her son, James.
As mistress of the growing estate, Nelly set an example of love and kindness for her children to follow, guiding and nurturing them, and encouraging her husband in his growing political pursuits. When her children were small, most of their playmates were the children of the family’s slaves. The Madisons were known for their kind regard to those who served the family, making sure all were educated and received proper care. James learned reading, writing, and arithmetic at home. When he was eleven, Nelly and her husband placed the young Madison under the tutelage of Donald Robertson, an instructor at what was considered the finest school in the Virginia region. There he studied Latin and Greek, history, the sciences, and classic literature, with politics as his constant goal. When James was in college at Princeton and later in his travels, Nelly continued to send signs of her love, first with home-sewn shirts and later with fresh tubs of butter to help in her son’s comfort.
Nelly Madison was widowed at sixty-eight. While she suffered chronically in her later years from malaria, she was still a strong and gracious woman. The good-natured Nelly remained in the Montpelier mansion in a semi-private apartment until her death at ninety-eight. Even then it was said that she had fewer wrinkles than her seventy-seven year old son who was considered the last of our “founding fathers”.
5. James Monroe (1817-1825)
Spence Monroe (Born: ? - Died: 1774.) Spence Monroe, a third generation settler in the new world, lacked the resources for college but gained an apprenticeship as a carpenter. In England, such common labor was considered menial and beneath the social regard of a landowner. Yet much of the frontier still needed to be established and, with the high demand for skilled tradesmen, English conformity was dismissed. Spence combined his fine carpentry skills and the meager production from his sandy-soiled plantation to adequately provide for his family. Historian Stuart Gerry Brown describes Spence as a “very worthy and respectable citizen”.[viii] Monroe married Elizabeth Jones in 1752 and settled in Westmoreland County, Virginia, where their first son and future president, James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758.
Although no records reflect Spence Monroe’s formal legal training, he became a circuit judge. In addition, his support of the anti-Stamp Act and boycott of English goods moved him into a political arena with George Washington and other Virginia revolutionaries.
Perhaps because Spence’s education had been lacking, he sent his son to pursue formal training from age eleven to sixteen at Campbelltown Academy under the direction of Reverend Archibald Campbell of Washington Parish.[ix] At sixteen, James began studying at William and Mary College.
Spence Monroe died while James was in his first year of college. Upon his death, Spence’s brother-in-law, Judge Joseph Jones, was named as guardian for the children and the executor of the estate, which passed in its entirety to James, the firstborn son. The future president continued studying at William and Mary until he, too, caught the revolutionary fever, dropped out of college never to return, and joined the Continental Army in 1776.
Elizabeth Jones Monroe (Born: ?- Died: ?) Of Welsh decent, Elizabeth Jones was born in King George County, Virginia. No date of birth or death has been recorded. While history reveals little of this woman’s life, the few available bits of information reflect warmly upon her character.
Elizabeth became the bride of Spence Monroe in 1752, bringing to the Monroe family an improved financial state. Both of her parents had wealth, as did her esteemed brother, Judge Joseph Jones of Fredericksburg. Elizabeth was said to be better educated than her counterparts of the time and probably had an influential hand in furthering her first born son’s education. Brown says of Elizabeth, she was “a very amiable and respectable woman, possessing the best domestic qualities, a good wife and a good parent.”[x]
6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
John Adams (Born: October19,1735 - Died: July 4, 1826.) The first man to be president and be the father of another president, John Adams was born to Deacon John and Susanna Boylston Adams at the family’s home in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts.
At John’s birth, his parents agreed that their firstborn son would receive a college education. John enjoyed carefree days unburdened by his destiny, shooting marbles and flying kites and indulging in his passion for hunting. To best utilize his time, he was said to carry a gun to school, and besides bringing home books to study, he would often bring home fresh game for the dinner table.
His obstinacy about learning set him at odds with his father. However, he eventually accepted both the challenge and the responsibility afforded him. Under the tutelage of Joseph Marsh, one of the most respected teachers in the New England colonies, John became attentive to his studies and was accepted at Harvard.
John Adam’s first term of employment was as a teacher for five to fifteen-year-old boys and girls in Worcester, Massachusetts. He detested teaching,eventually finding daily refuge in the law offices of James Putnam. In 1759, he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar and began his law practice in Braintree.
At twenty-nine, with his fledgling practice and a small inheritance from his father, John Adams married Abigail Smith. Their first child was a daughter, Nabby. Their second, a son and future president was christened John Quincy Adams after his great grandfather.
John was away on America’s business throughout much of his children’s youth. However, when John Quincy Adams was ten, his international education began as he accompanied his father to Paris. Residing in a flat with Benjamin Franklin, John pursued political matters while his son continued his studies in a local boarding school. It was a bonding experiences for the two men.
Work abroad continued, and in 1785, John Adams was appointed minister to England. This position was followed by two terms as George Washington’s vice president, and then, his own term as president. When his own son was elected president, John Adams said, “No man who ever held the office of President would congratulate a friend on attaining it.” On July 4, 1826, as the nation celebrated its fiftieth birthday, John Adams slipped into a coma and died at his Quincy residence. He was ninety years old.
Abigail Smith Adams (Born: November 11, 1744 - Died: October 28, 1818.) Considered a delicate child who was too ill to be sent to school, Abigail was taught to read by her mother, her elder sister, Mary, and her parson father. Abigail was free to explore her father’s extensive library, and he taught her not just the words, but the meaning behind them. Her exuberant personality and quick wit set her apart from the other young women of Weymouth, Massachusetts.
When Abigail first met John Adams, she was intrigued by his directness. However, her interest went no further. When their paths crossed two years later, they recognized their passion, and finally, after three more years had passed while John established his law practice, they were married on October 25, 1764.
Abigail’s early years of marriage were spent raising her young family. Her firstborn was a daughter, Nabby, followed shortly by the birth of her first son, John Quincy Adams. As her husband was often traveling throughout the colonies or abroad, Abigail spent much time raising her children alone, and John Quincy became a source of strength and support. Because schools closed during the war-fraught years of the revolution, education turned to the home where Abigail became her son’s primary tutor, zealous to see him succeed.
Perhaps Abigail Adams was born too early for her time. She had uncanny insight and social grace, both skills that benefit a politician. While her husband was in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress, Abigail quickly aligned herself with George Washington as he arrived to help defend Boston. With her political contacts and keen eye, Abigail was able to relay details to her husband keeping him abreast of the tenor of the city. Seldom encumbered by society’s limits upon her as a woman, Abigail took John, then seven, to the top of Penn’s Hill to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill. With such a vantage point, she could vividly describe the “amazing roar of [the] cannon” in her correspondence with her husband.[xi]
Abigail’s international travel began in 1784 when she took leave of her family to travel with her husband to London. She is considered one of America’s most accomplished first ladies and in retirement skillfully helped restore her husband’s lost friendship with Thomas Jefferson. She was invaluable in the life of two presidents, her husband and her son. Outspoken in a day when women kept quiet, the life of Abigail Smith Adams marked history. Her death at the age of seventy-three from typhoid fever left John Adams, her “dearest friend”, alone.
7. President Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
Andrew Jackson (Born: Unknown - Died: 1767.) Andrew Jackson, the father of the seventh president, left his farm in Antrim County, Ireland in 1765. With his wife Elizabeth and his two young sons, he was a likely settler in Pennsylvania before moving onto a small plot of land on the border between North and South Carolina. After a few short years clearing land and planting crops, Andrew sustained an injury lifting a log and died leaving his pregnant wife Elizabeth and two young sons alone.
Elizabeth “Betty” Hutchinson Jackson (Born: Unknown - Died: 1781) Two weeks after her husband’s death, Elizabeth gave birth to her third son. In his father’s memory, she christened him Andrew. According to some sources she had hoped her son would become a Presbyterian minister but the Revolutionary War changed everything. Hugh, Elizabeth’s oldest son, died during the war. Both Robert and thirteen year old. Andrew were captured after a bloody encounter with the British. When the boys defied an order by a British officer to clean his muddy boots, he slashed them with his saber. Andrew bore the wound on his face and hand; Robert’s was more lethal.
When Elizabeth learned that her boys were being held prisoner at a Camden prison camp, she negotiated arrangements with a militia captain for a prisoner-transfer acquiring the release of her sons. Shortly after his release, Robert died either from his infected sword wound or from the smallpox epidemic which was claiming lives throughout the colonies. Left with one son who was also fighting for his life, Elizabeth attended to Andrew with unrelenting temerity.
When she believed Andrew was no longer in danger, her compassion led her to aid other suffering young men. In the summer of 1781, Elizabeth joined the war effort traveling to Charleston where she provided care to American soldiers who were being held prisoner on British ships. In the confines of the ships, disease spread rapidly. After helping to nurse a family friend back to health, she succumbed to the illness and was buried in an unmarked grave with other victims. Elizabeth’s final, tearful, words to her son before leaving for Charleston were forever etched on his mind. “Andy, never tell a lie, nor take what is not your own, nor sue…for slander…”[xii]
8. President Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
Abraham Van Buren (Born: February 17, 1737 - Died: April 8, 1817) Martin Van Buren said little regarding his father. He noted admirably that his father had no enemies. Less admirably, his father had no money as he managed to spend all that passed through his hands. Abraham was born of Dutch decent in Albany, New York, the fifth of nine children. He followed three generations of Van Burens who inhabited the settlement. Notwithstanding his birth order, upon his father’s death, Abraham inherited the family’s farm, slaves, and Kinderhook tavern. He did not, however, inherit the means to successfully run the businesses.
At thirty-nine, the poor tavern owner was unattractive to most young women seeking some sense of security. As a result, he married Maria Van Hoes, a poor yet attractive widow ten years younger with three children to feed. Together, Abraham and Maria had two daughters, followed by three sons, future president Martin being their first born. With eight children and a number of slaves to feed and clothe, resources were limited. Young Martin’s education was limited to a rustic little village school. One brief success was his appointment as captain of the Seventh Regiment of the Albany County Militia. But finding himself unqualified as a military tactician he quickly resigned.[xiii]
Whatever his shortcomings, Abraham’s tavern became the local stop for all important visitors and provided his son, Martin, with a forum for public affairs that transcend the family’s poor financial status. Abraham’s renowned hospitality was a lesson for young Martin and a starting point for his political career. Abraham Van Buren would die at the age of eighty. His son, Martin, a state senator, would be America’s eighth president.
Maria Hoes Van Alen Van Buren (Born: 1747 - Died: February 16, 1818)[xiv]
Born in Claverack, a Dutch village neighboring Kinderhook, Maria was the daughter of a respected family. At twenty, the attractive Maria married Johannes Van Alen. When Johannes died, she was left almost penniless with three young children. Determined to provide for her family, she married the forty-nine- year old bachelor Abraham Van Buren. She had no dowry and three children to feed; he had a reputation for poor financial management but owned land and a local tavern and inn on the road between Albany and New York. They were married in 1776, even as the United States declared its independence.
With Abraham’s benevolent attitude and Maria’s resourcefulness, the tavern succeeded but his propensity for loaning money to strangers combined with an inability to collect a debt, left the little family with little funds. Maria gave birth to two daughters and then three sons. In Martin, her firstborn, she recognized promise. While Abe failed to see the value of an education for his children and wanted to put them to work, Maria persuaded him to allow Martin to attend school. Although lacking the formal education afforded other Presidents, Maria’s sacrifices were enough. Martin was given the modest foundation needed for his future career.
Notwithstanding their financial burden, Maria’s marriage to Abraham Van Buren grew into a union of great love and affection. Maria was seventy when her second husband died. Without him, she could not continue, and she herself passed away within the year. Her son, for whom she had sacrificed, was then both a legislator and attorney general for the state of New York.
9. President William Henry Harrison (1841)
Benjamin Harrison V (Born: April 5, 1726 - Died: April 24, 1791.) One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Harrison blazed a political path for his son to follow. His was a life of privilege afforded by his family’s wealth and furthered by his charm and lavish lifestyle. “The Harrison family was one of the oldest in the colony and was highly respected; none could boast of more extensive and influential connections.”[xv] His father already owned numerous plantations, but his wealth increased with marriage to Anne Carter, daughter to one of the wealthiest men in America. Benjamin Harrison V was born at the family plantation known as Berkeley which overlooked the picturesque James River in Charles City County, Virginia.
Benjamin studied at William and Mary College but did not complete his education. In 1748, he married Elizabeth Bassett and, in the same year, began service in the House of Burgesses. What followed was a lifetime of public service, including a stint in the Continental Congress, the Virginia House of Delegates, time as a colonel in the militia and a leadership role as Governor for the state of Virginia. His personal, family holdings flourished and his wife Elizabeth had seven children. The youngest, William Henry Harrison was, like his father, was born in the family mansion.
Benjamin Harrison V succumbed to complications from gout and died at his Berkeley plantation on April 24, 1791. His son, William Henry Harrison was forced to abandon his pursuit of a medical degree. The family was rich in land but there were no immediate funds for him to continue his education. He would join the army, go onto a stellar military career and be elected president in 1841.
Elizabeth Bassett Harrison (Born: December 13, 1730 - Died: 1792.) Even as the wife of a prominent Virginia politician and distant relative to Martha Washington, so little is known of Elizabeth Bassett Harrison that she is considered one of the “missing mothers of Virginia”.[xvi] Elizabeth was born into a life of comfort at the Eltham plantation in New Kent County, Virginia. She was said to be quite beautiful, and, at eighteen, married Benjamin Harrison V, a prestigious landowner and rising political figure.
Over the next twenty-two years, she gave birth to seven children, four girls and three boys. As her husband was thoroughly involved in governmental policy, she spent a great deal of time alone guiding the development of her children. Each was said to have received the basics of education from tutors at their family estates. The Harrisons’ lives were defined by comfort in spite of the political chaos around them. However, when William was nearly eight, the horrors of the Revolutionary War came to their doorstep. At her husband’s beckoning, Elizabeth and her children were hastily packed up and rushed out of their famous Berkeley mansion in an attempt to escape the advance of a unit of troops under the command of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold.[xvii] The family safely escaped, but furnishings, slaves, and cattle were abandoned to the rebel troops.
The Harrison family did not immediately return to Berkeley but rather took up residence in Richmond where Benjamin would eventually serve as governor of Virginia. Elizabeth and her husband returned to the Harrison plantation at the completion of his term where Benjamin Harrison V continued to serve as a legislator until his death. William continued to study medicine following his father’s death, but before completing his degree, he joined the army. He was stationed at Fort Washington (Cincinnati), Ohio, at the time of his mother’s death at the Berkeley plantation. Enterprising political campaigners would spread the word that William Henry Harrison was a man of the people, born and raised in a log cabin. In fact, the Harrisons were even then one of the nation’s greatest political family dynasties.
10. President John Tyler (1841-1845)
John Tyler (Born: February 28, 1747 - Died: January 6, 1813) A lawyer, a planter, and a politician, John Tyler Sr. ploughed a path for his son to follow. He was born into a life of privilege, his family having earned its ranking as one of the First Families of Virginia. As an eighteen-year-old law student at William and Mary, he and his roommate Thomas Jefferson listened to the fiery oratory of their hero, Patrick Henry.[xviii] Soon both were consumed with the Revolutionary cause of independence. After finishing his degree, Tyler quickly enlisted in the militia to further the cause of freedom.
With the backdrop of war, in 1776 Tyler was wed to Mary Armistead, the beautiful young daughter of a prominent landowner. They moved into a 1,900 acre plantation in Charles County, Virginia, and established a family of their own. The next year John left the militia and claimed a seat in the House of Delegates. Throughout his lifetime, he would be a forceful advocate for States’ rights.
Tyler’s sixth child, John Tyler Jr. was born on March 29, 1790 and was raised on the Greenway plantation. He was seven when his mother died. John Tyler Senior, a judge and politician was suddenly thrust into the role of both father and mother to his eight children. His reputation as a stern statesman soon gave way to gentle love as a nurturing father. He was said to play lively fiddle music for hours under a willow tree to entertain his young family. Regaling them with his stories of the Revolution and sharing his love for literature, John Tyler forged a close relationship with his children, especially the young son who bore his name. He is often described as the future president’s most influential teacher. Having taken on the role of an active, hands-on father, uncommon for its time, John Sr. became guardian to more than twenty other, mostly orphaned, children who would also call the Greenway plantation home
The family political philosophy sometimes manifest itself in remarkable ways. At age eleven, John Jr. led a schoolroom revolt against his teacher who believed whole-heartedly that “the rod was one of the three R’s.”[xix] After suffering enough of what the students deemed abuse at the hand of their teacher, William McMurdo, John and his friends subdued their instructor, bound him, and locked him in the schoolhouse. Upon gaining his freedom by the hand of a wanderer, McMurdo raced swiftly to John Sr. expecting his full support. To his dismay, it was not John Jr. who received immediate reprimand but rather the tyrannical teacher. John Sr. “responded by reciting the Virginia state motto: ‘Sic simper tyrannis’ (ever thus to tyrants) and sent McMurdo on his way.”[xx]
John Sr. continued to mentor his son, sending him to study at nearby William and Mary as both he and his father before him. During his three term’s as Virginia’s governor from 1809-1811, John Sr. took his son to his side as an aide, introducing him to many influential leaders, including Thomas Jefferson. John Sr. would be a public servant till the day he died and his son, who would be serving in the state legislature, would carry his name onto the White House.
Mary Armistead Tyler (Born: 1761- Died: April, 1797.) The only daughter of a wealthy landowner, Mary Armistead’s lineage gave the Tyler family claim to one of the great Virginia Colonial Dynasties. That aside, little else is known except contemporary accounts of her beauty. At the tender age of sixteen, Mary Armistead became the bride of a rising political figure John Tyler. They were married in 1776 in Elizabeth City County, Virginia and soon after they inherited the 1,900 acre family plantation known as Greenway.
Mary Tyler was said to be quite genteel, in contrast to her outspoken husband. Over the next twenty years, she gave birth to eight children, John Jr. being her sixth. According to family lore as her infant son sat in her lap, he reached toward the moon to pull down the shining orb. Proclaiming it a sign of his great aspirations Mary announced, “This child is destined to be a president of the United States, his wishes fly so high”.[xxi] But her years of influence on John’s life were cut short. He was seven when she died. Little is recorded regarding the life of Mary Armistead Tyler, but her son’s tribute give evidence of her influence on his young life. “She who nurtured us in our infancy,” the president wrote, “taught us to raise our little hands in prayer…and reared us to manhood in the love and practice of virtue—such a mother is of priceless value.”[xxii]
11. President James Polk (1845-1849)
Samuel Polk (Born: July 5, 1772 - Died: November 5, 1827.) Raised by an ambitious surveyor, Samuel Polk gleaned from his father the desire and skill necessary to succeed in the growing frontier. His education was rudimentary but impressive enough to gain the attention of the beautiful daughter of James Knox. The two were wed on Christmas, 1794 in a ceremony shared with Samuel’s brother and his bride. Ten months later, future president James K. Polk was born, the first of ten children.
Samuel Polk demonstrated his stubborn nature on more than one occasion. Although he was a man of devout faith he did not share his wife’s commitment to the Presbyterian Church. Without a public profession of faith, the Presbyterian minister would not baptize his child. Neither minister nor parishioner would bend, and the Polk family left a public ceremony with the baptism incomplete. President James K. Polk would finally experience a Christian baptism on his deathbed at age fifty-three.
A resourceful man, Samuel Polk moved his young family from their home in North Carolina to Tennessee where his father had gained numerous landholdings from government surveying and grants. There the family prospered. Samuel would soon own thousands of acres of land and more than fifty slaves. He would help found the Columbia newspaper and dabble in banking.
Samuel applied his famous stubborn streak to the raising of his James. First he trained his son in surveying, an occupation that had served both he and his father well. But James lacked the strength and constitution required to tramp through the rugged, undeveloped wilderness. Then he secured a position for his son as a store clerk. But James lacked his father’s merchandizing spirit and that experiment failed as well. Finally, James found academic success at a local Presbyterian academy. Samuel was relieved and steadfastly supported his son’s academic advancement. When James pursued a legal career his father became his first client. Charged with a breach of the peace for losing his temper in an argument, the judge fined Samuel Polk one dollar and dismissed him from the court.[xxiii]
Samuel’s drive and determination carried him through many enterprising opportunities and helped guide his son’s steps. His health began failing in his late forties, and, with both mind and body weakened, he died at age fifty-five.
Jane Knox Polk (Born: November 15, 1776, - Died: January 11, 1852.) She was born into a family that was dedicated, devout, and industrious. While still in her mother’s arms her father was whisked off to serve in the American Revolution. Jane was “a rigid Presbyterian, and a woman of keen intellect and high character.”[xxiv] A descendent of the “father of Scotch Presbyterianism, [it] was a legacy she didn’t take lightly.”[xxv]
On Christmas day in 1794, Jane Knox became the bride of Samuel Polk. In a double ceremony at the Mecklenburg church in North Carolina, the two couples shared their vows before a Presbyterian minister. On November 2, 1795, the first of ten children was born. Firstborn, James Knox Polk would develop a close relationship with his mother. He accepted her faith and her sense of duty, and in the process may have failed to develop some of the manly features his father was expecting. Pleasure lacked purpose in Jane’s Presbyterian faith. As a result, she encouraged her son in his educational pursuits but especially in his devotion to God and Presbyterianism. It may be said that Jane’s one disappointment was her son’s decision to pursue law as opposed to ministry. But she watched with veiled pride as her son was sworn in to the highest office in the land.
James K. Polk was in declining health when he left the White House, his mother urgently encouraging his Christian baptism. In a final act of independence and maybe to honor his father’s memory, he acceded to a baptism but chose a Methodist ceremony rather than a Presbyterian. He died shortly after at the age of fifty-three. Jane Knox Polk lived on two more years, becoming the first presidential mother to outlive her son.
12. President Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
Richard Taylor (Born: April 3, 1744 - Died: January 19, 1829.) A planter, statesman, and lieutenant colonel in the Continental army, Richard Taylor enjoyed the comforts of a wealthy colonial life including an education at William and Mary College. During the war, Taylor met and married Sarah Dabney Strother, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. Richard was thirty-five, his bride eighteen. The couple took up residence on the Hare Forest plantation in Orange County, Virginia where three sons were born, the last one, future president Zachary Taylor.
When Lt. Col. Richard Taylor returned home from the Revolutionary War, he was given a hero’s welcome and the disappointing news that Virginia could not afford to pay monetary bonuses to their officers. As compensation, he was granted 8,000 acres in Kentucky, on the western edge of the newly formed United States. It was a remote and dangerous place, a frontier territory where the white man and Indian still clashed. Anxious to explore his new land, Richard quickly sold his Virginia holdings and ventured west. But Kentucky was nothing like the more civilized world they had left behind. The ease of plantation life gave way to a modest log cabin and the omnipresent terror of brutal Indian raids. With the help of slave labor, Richard Taylor slowly carved out his own little paradise in the remote lands. His noted military record and growing social standing made him an influential player in the foundation of the state’s government. He wrote and later revised a constitution. He served as legislator, presidential elector, justice of the peace, and county magistrate.
Zachary Taylor’s pursuits were often an attempt to mimic his father. He too became a student of military strategy, pursuing a military career of his own. While the son’s interests had not originally leaned toward public office, Zachary Taylor not only met, but exceeded his father’s achievements. And he would be last American president to own slaves. Shortly before Richard’s death at eighty-four, his son Zachary complained in a letter to his sister of their father’s “senile stubbornness.”[xxvi] Yet, it was that very resolution that made Richard Taylor a formidable military leader, outstanding citizen and powerful father figure to young Zachary.
Sarah Dabney Strother Taylor (Born: December 14, 1760 - Died: December 13, 1822.) Born on a plantation west of Fredericksburg, Virginia, the beautiful young heiress became a well-educated woman for her day benefiting from the talents of her European tutors. On August 20, 1779, while the Revolutionary War raged on, she married Lt. Col. Richard Taylor, a rising military leader of acceptable social standing seventeen years her senior. Historian Brainerd Dyer says of Sarah, “only a woman of courage, strength, and fortitude, a full match for her soldier husband, could have played the part in the strenuous pioneer life.”[xxvii]
The family first took up residence in a comfortable Virginia plantation. However, after the birth of two sons and nearing the end of her third pregnancy, her husband decided to follow his adventurous nature and move to the unsettled Kentucky frontier. Leaving the comforts of her genteel life behind, Sarah packed up her young brood and began their trek across the unknown path to Kentucky. Unfortunately her “third pregnancy complicated the move. Her husband arranged for her to complete her confinement at Montebello, a plantation…owned by his cousin Valentine Johnson.”[xxviii] There, on November 24, 1784, Sarah gave birth to Zachary Taylor while journeying to her new home, only the first of many new challenges facing the young woman.
When she arrived with her husband and three young children, the unsettled countryside was far from peaceful. With Indian attacks on settlers and rugged land to be cleared, she established what sense of home she could in her new log cabin. Her sacrifices did not last long. A new home was built on a creek allowing easy transportation of goods. Soon, she enjoyed most of the refinements of good living that she and other women like her had left behind in Virginia.
The one missing element of civilized life was schools of higher learning. Using the knowledge that she had gained from her own English tutors, Sarah became her son’s most consistent teacher. Zachary, far more interested in following in his father’s military footsteps proved to be a recalcitrant student. He would never be esteemed for his academic brilliance, but his strategic and tactical skill on the battlefields would earn him the sobriquet of military genius. Although Sarah was much younger than her husband, Richard, she preceded him to the grave, dying at the age of sixty-one long before her son would attain the presidency.
13. President Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
Nathaniel Fillmore (Born: April 19, 1771 - Died: March 28, 1863) Born in Bennington, Vermont, Nathaniel grew into a strong, handsome, blond haired youth with an adventurous spirit. He was twenty-five when he took sixteen year-old Phoebe Millard, daughter of a prominent physician, to be his bride. But the optimism he took into his marriage was soon dimmed by the challenges of farming in the rocky soil of Vermont. When approached by land agents offering beautiful tracts in nearby New York, Nathaniel and his brother quickly grabbed the opportunity, sight-unseen.
The Fillmore brothers moved their two families to their new homeland nestled deep within a timber-laden forest. Location was not their greatest problem. Nor was the dense clay they unearthed once the land was cleared. Their greatest setback came with the realization that faulty surveying coupled with corrupt local government officials had left them with virtually nothing. Duped, tired, and poor, Nathaniel eventually relented, becoming a tenant farmer, working the soil for landlords and taking their charity to survive.
Once reduced to virtual servanthood, Nathaniel could see no way out for himself. The future of the family depended on helping his son break free. Millard Fillmore, the thirteenth president, was second of nine children born to Nathaniel and Phoebe. As the oldest son much depended on his success. Born on January 7, 1800, Millard arrived just prior to the loss of the family’s New York property. At first, the demands of working a farm for a landlord demanded every waking hour of the whole family, and the strong young Millard could hardly be spared. But eventually, Nathaniel was able to redistribute the family workload to break Millard free for work projects outside the farm. These were frustrated again and again. Poverty meant political and social impotence and employers were quick to take advantage of the weakness. Undaunted by setbacks, Nathaniel’s dreams for his son eventually prevailed. Millard secured an education, launched a career in law, won a seat in the New York State Assembly, then the U. S. Congress. In July, 1850, with the death of Zachary Taylor, vice president Millard Fillmore was sworn in as president.
Nathaniel Fillmore became the first father to be entertained by a son in the White House. As he stood next to his illustrious son, a guest posed the obvious question, “How does one raise a son to become president?” When the guest departed, Nathaniel quietly “confided to a friend, ‘If I could have the power of marking out the pathway in life for my son, it would never have led to this place, but I cannot help feeling proud of it now that he is here,’”.[xxix]
Denied the financial clout, common to so many other early presidential families, Nathaniel Fillmore’s dreams and hopes for his son helped guide the way. After a lifetime of strenuous work, Nathaniel Fillmore would live comfortably to the age of ninety-two, longer than any other father of a president.
Phoebe Millard Fillmore (Born: 1780 - Died: May 2, 1831.) The young daughter of a prominent doctor, Phoebe said good-bye to any life of comfort when she said “I do” to Nathaniel Fillmore. Handsome and robust, he had caught her eye and they were wed when she was sixteen. Supporting her husband, Phoebe and Nathaniel soon moved to New York where she gave birth to her first son on January 7, 1800. Desperately poor, forced to care for a family that had been reduced to the status of tenant farmers, Phoebe managed to impart to Millard her great love for learning, teaching him to read and to write.
While Nathaniel wished more for his son than he had accomplished, his view of success still followed a laborious route. Some historians credit Phoebe for convincing her husband to secure a clerk’s position for Millard in the office of their landlord, Judge Woods. When his mother surprised him with the news at the dinner table, Millard apparently cried openly, unable to contain his joy. The experience was short lived but it gave her son his first glimpse into the world of law, and he quickly recognized the possibilities of life beyond their tenant shack. Phoebe Millard Fillmore, mother to nine children, was destined to spend her life in abject poverty, with days of hardship. She would live to see her son admitted to practice law at the Court of Common Pleas and win election to the New York State Legislature. But she would die young, still in poverty, unaware that she had shaped and inspired the life of an American president.
14. President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
Benjamin Pierce (Born: December 25, 1757 - Died: April 1, 1839.) Hailing from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Benjamin was the seventh of ten children born to Benjamin and Elizabeth Pierce. The young boy was six when his father died suddenly, leaving him no inheritance and forcing his move into an uncle’s home. Education gave way to work for young Pierce who was only able to attend the local school three weeks out of a year, spending the bulk of his time laboring on his uncle’s farm.
When the Revolutionary War erupted and the shot was fired “heard round the world,” Benjamin Pierce was not far away. Nathaniel Hawthorne writes: “He immediately loosened the ox chain, left the plough in the furrow, took his uncle’s gun and equipments, and set forth towards the scene of action.”[xxx] In his nearly nine years of military service, Benjamin Pierce moved up in rank, fighting in battles as Saratoga and Bunker Hill, and surviving the frigid, desperate, conditions of Valley Forge. As head of the militia he earned the title, Brigadier General Pierce.
Following his service to his country, Benjamin worked surveying land in nearby New Hampshire. Taken with the possibilities, he quickly snatched up a small farm for one dollar an acre and turned his attention toward marriage and family. In 1787, Benjamin Pierce married Elizabeth Andrews but she died eighteen months later giving birth to their surviving daughter and namesake, Elizabeth.
The next few years, Benjamin was occupied with the juggling act of raising a daughter and climbing the political ladder. He organized Hillsborough’s militia, was a delegate to the constitutional convention, and a state legislator. Three years later on February 1, 1790, he married Anna Kendrick, a charming and extravagant young woman. They would have eight other children together and Anna would indulge Elizabeth as if she were her own. When sixth child, Franklin, was born, Benjamin moved his growing family from their rustic log cabin to a beautiful mansion in Hillsborough’s center. It was soon converted into a political office and tavern, as well as a home, the latter serving to attract recruits to the former.
Somewhat self conscious over his own lack of education, Benjamin valued its power for his sons. Franklin first attended a local school. When his academic talent was recognized, he was sent eight miles away to Hancock Academy, a boarding school. Weary with schooling, Franklin returned home on day, announcing that he had already surpassed his father’s educational achievements and it was enough. Benjamin listened in silence. After family dinner, he ordered him to a wagon and drove back toward the Academy. Midway in the voyage, in the middle of the rain, Benjamin stopped and ordered Franklin to walk the rest of the way. A wet, weary and bedraggled Franklin Pierce arrived at Hancock Academy, ready to finish his education.
The father’s political career did not stop. His service to the legislature continued for many years. He became the town sheriff and eventually claimed two terms as Governor of New Hampshire from 1827-1829. Benjamin consistently encouraged and financed all of his son’s educational pursuits, eventually relinquished his own office space to his son’s rising political career. Franklin was in the legislature while his dad was Governor. It would be the only time in New Hampshire history that both father and son would serve in such roles simultaneously. In 1838, his beloved wife died and although she had developed senility and had become a burden and Benjamin Pierce watched with joy the political career of his son, he missed his wife. Partially paralyzed, he died the following year at the age of eighty-two. His son, the future fourteenth American president, who had already risen in spectacular fashion, was then a U. S. Senator from New Hampshire.[xxxi]
Anna Kendrick Pierce (Born: October 30, 1768 - Died: December 7, 1838.)
From Amherst, New Hampshire, Anna Kendrick grew up in an austere Puritan environment, as a vivacious young woman who loved flashy clothes. When she moved to Hillsborough, she quickly caught the eye of the thirty-five-year old widower Benjamin Pierce, a rising political figure and the single parent of a toddler. Anna quickly agreed to become his bride. They were married on February 1, 1790, and she joined her husband and new daughter Elizabeth in a rustic log cabin near the Contoocook River. They would have eight children together.
Shortly after the birth of future president Franklin Pierce, the family moved to a mansion in the center of town. When her husband obtained a liquor license and opened a tavern in a portion of their home, Anna became the focus of gossip. Her love for bright, elaborate clothing brought criticism and she soon began to experience bouts of depression and alcoholic binges. They would be traits that her famous son would battle throughout his own life. Franklin would later say to biographers that she was only “weak on the side of kindness and deep affection.”[xxxii] In her later years, before descending into a funk of senility, Anna took in her orphaned grandchildren. She died at the age of seventy.
15. President James Buchanan (1857-1861)
James Buchanan, Sr. (Born: 1761- Died: June 11, 1821.) Born on the shores of Ireland, James Buchanan suffered the death of his mother and abandonment of his father at a young age. An uncle took him into his home and raised him. From his early years, James demonstrated a yearning for a better life. When an uncle, Joshua Russell, made the journey across the Atlantic, establishing a successful life in America, James began dreaming of such an adventure himself. Russell settled near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he ran a local tavern. On July 4, 1783, James Buchanan boarded a vessel bound for the United States.
But James Buchanan’s New World success was preempted by a new love. Shortly after his arrival he met the young Elizabeth Speer, a native Pennsylvanian. and with his infatuation came a new urgency to succeed. Russell helped him get his start, but with James’ fiery dedication and perseverance, it did not take him long to get on his feet. He worked at the Stony Batter trading post as a clerk, saving and shrewdly investing. Within time, James bought the place, a one hundred acre tract that included cleared fields, an orchard, a few log cabins and the store, which had given him his start.
Shortly after acquiring the trading post, James married his Elizabeth and took up residence in a log cabin home on their new land. James Buchanan, Jr., the sixteenth president was born on April 23, 1791. By their fifth year of marriage, James began to grow concerned about the rough and dangerous environment of life at the trading post. It was not the best environment for a young child. Goal-oriented, honest, and hard working, James purchased a three-hundred-acre estate known as Dunwoodie Farm outside of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and two years later, he purchased another parcel of land, moving his family to the center of the small town.
James, Sr. was not amused by playfulness nor was he at first interested in providing his son with a formal education but he did diligently train him in matters of business. The father could always account for every penny and was known for his fair treatment of customers. The reputation was rewarded when he was appointed as the local justice of the peace. With time, the family grew. The Buchanan’s would eventually have eleven children. And with time the father became convinced that the right kind of education could make a difference in his son’s future and thus provide financial security for the siblings. Ever ambitious, James decided that his son should practice law. The Junior Buchanan was first sent to the Old Stone Academy and then with the help and recommendation of the family’s minister, Dr. John King, he was enrolled in Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was sixteen years old, already with junior status.
Once removed from the careful supervision of his industrious father, James, Jr. ran wild at Dickinson College. Citing alcohol, cigars and pranks, the administration sent home a stinging letter with the announcement that the boy had been expelled. When James realized that his father would not defend his errant behavior he pleaded with Dr. King, the family minister, to come help him again. Back in school, James acquitted himself admirably. Eventually, the elder Buchanan’s disappointment turned to pride. James’ career as a lawyer and politician prospered. In 1820 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives.
The following year, at the age of sixty, James Buchanan, Sr. was thrown from his open carriage when a frightened horse had bolted. He died without a will. His lawyer son returned to their Mercersburg home, and using his acquired legal skills, accomplished his father’s wishes, arranging the estate to ensure the future of his siblings.
Elizabeth Speer Buchanan (Born: 1767- Died: May 14, 1833.) Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Speer was primarily self-educated, as were many women of her time. She carried her love for the Bible and poetry throughout her life, memorizing lengthy passages from John Milton and Alexander Pope. At the age of sixteen, she met the young Buchanan when he came to join his tavern-owning uncle. At the time, she was living a rather lonely life in a secluded part of Pennsylvania where she kept house and cared for her widowed father and four brothers.
In 1788 at the age of twenty-one, she married James Buchanan. Just prior to their marriage, her husband had purchased a trading post, and the two moved into one of the small log cabin homes. About a year later, their first child was born, a daughter named Mary. Her birth was followed a year later by that of her brother James Buchanan, Jr. on April 23, 1791. Within the year, however, the family suffered their first heartbreak with the tragic death of their infant daughter. Both Elizabeth and her husband had been raised in the Presbyterian faith. The concept of predestination may have afforded them some comfort but eventually two of the eleven other children in the family would also die young.
Elizabeth is given much credit for guiding her son both academically and socially. She would use her love of the written language and her quest for knowledge to challenge her children with questions of logic. While her husband hoped for a son who would become a lawyer, Elizabeth had dreams of James becoming a minister, and it was likely she who convinced her husband to release their son from his responsibilities in the store to pursue his academic interests.
If James Buchanan declined his mother’s plans for his life, she was nevertheless able to see his great political ascent. When he was announced the new American Minister to Russia, she begged him not to go, warning that he would never see her again. True to her word she died in Greensburg, Pennsylvania while her son served his country far from home.
16. President Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
Thomas Lincoln (Born: January 6, 1778 - Died: January, 1851.) He was six years old when the family was ambushed by Indians as they were working together to clear their land. His father was murdered before his eyes and he himself was being carried off into the forest when his brother felled his Indian captor with a single, well aimed, shot. Thomas Lincoln’s education became one of survival. Over the next few years, he was passed from one relative to another working in fields or for neighbors to earn his keep.
As a young man Thomas was considered a rather successful farmer and a skilled carpenter trained at the talented hand of Joseph Hanks, uncle to his future bride. With his good nature and honest resolve, he gained the respect of his neighbors, serving in the militia and on a number of juries. Short and stocky but strong from years of physical labor, he was said to have a somewhat striking presence. In his late twenties, confident with his resources, he turned his attention toward marriage. His first love was denied. Undaunted, he turned his attention to the niece of his earlier teacher, and on June 12, 1806, he married Nancy Hanks. They lived in a succession of log cabins, moving to get closer to water or to find better soil or because of controversies over titles to their property.
Their first child, Nancy “Sarah” Lincoln, was born in their first home, a cramped cabin in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Not long after, Thomas decided to move and built a more comfortable one-room cabin on a 300 acre farm he called “Sinking Spring.”[xxxiii] It was there, in what is today Larue, Kentucky that Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Two years later a little boy named Thomas was born but the boy died as a toddler.
When Abe was seven, they made their move across the Ohio River to Spencer County, Indiana. It was a time of great suffering. The frequent moves had taken their toll and Thomas Lincoln’s decreasing physical energy and drive began to mark the family’s sure decline. In 1818, “milk sickness” plagued the land. Free-roaming cows consumed white snakeroot plants, making their milk unsafe. Those who drank the milk were at risk to the mysterious disease. Thomas’s wife was stricken, and after seven days of suffering, she died. With the skill he learned from his bride’s uncle, Thomas carefully formed his wife’s coffin, and with his mourning children at his side, he buried her in an unmarked grave.
Six months after his wife’s death he left his children in Indiana and traveled back to Elizabeth, Kentucky in search of a bride. A year after his wife’s death, he finally married his first love, Sarah Bush Johnston, in an arrangement of mutual need. She had personal debt that needed to be paid. He had children who needed to be raised.
Sarah brought into the marriage three children of her own and some of the finer luxuries of life including a sturdy table and chairs, a bureau, a spinning wheel, feather beds, dishware, and matching cutlery.[xxxiv] She also brought compassion and love that had been absent since Nancy’s death.
With the added needs of their expanded family, Abraham was called upon even more to help fill the gap. He often worked from dawn to dusk. When there were brief lulls in their own labor his father would hire him out to neighbors in order to further supplement the family income.
Thomas expected Abraham’s undivided attention on his tasks, and he was known for his use of brute physical force to bring Abraham’s attention from his books back to his farm work. In Abraham Lincoln’s words, “My father taught me to work, but never taught me to love it.”[xxxv] While there is evidence that Thomas held contempt for his son’s misplaced attention, he still begrudgingly allowed Abraham to read in his spare time. Even so, the tradition persists that it was only at his stepmother’s interference that the young Lincoln found enough time for reading and study.
Until Abraham was twenty-one and his family moved to Coles County, Illinois, his father required that he turn over any personal money earned. When Thomas moved his family again, however, Abe remained behind and began charting his own course in life.
While Abraham Lincoln’s regard for his father was never one of great love, he seemed unable to blame Thomas for any failure as a parent or lack of compassion in his relationships within the family. Later, Abraham expressed the belief that one must acquire such skills and that his father’s violent childhood had preempted such learning opportunities. He would not hold his father responsible for his shortcomings. Still, the relationship was marked by indifference.
At the time of his father’s illness, Abraham was a lawyer in Springfield about seventy miles from the Lincoln home in Coles County. Yet, after one visit he resisted all subsequent entreaties to come home to be at his father’s side in death. Nor did he attend the funeral. Shortly after his father’s passing, he asked that a marker be placed on his grave, a request that was ignored. Years later, as the nation’s President-Elect he revisited his old home and walked to his father’s grave, this time insisting to the entourage, that he, himself, would arrange a proper gravestone for the man. It was a promise that Honest Abe would not keep.
Nancy Hanks Lincoln (Born: February 5, 1784 - Died: October 5, 1818.) The life of Nancy Hanks was not one of ease. Her pregnant young, unmarried, mother had fled from her Virginia home to West Virginia where she had given birth to Nancy. Until her teen years, the child had been raised by her grandparents. Her mother was once set for trial for the charge of fornication but the family moved again and the trial was avoided. Within time, Nancy’s mother married and had a family full of legitimate children and the danger of prosecution passed. But the trial of hostile gossip from neighbors and acquaintances would follow her wherever she went for the rest of her life and a similar cloud of suspected promiscuity would attend Nancy Hanks.
Following the death of her guardian grandfather, the untutored but intelligent, young Nancy was taken in by her mother’s sister. It would be a life-changing relationship. With her aunt’s teaching, Nancy learned to read the Bible which offered her a lifetime of solace and escape from her misery. And with her aunt’s teaching, she soon became a skilled seamstress. It was during this period of her life that Nancy met Thomas Lincoln, considered to be a somewhat successful farmer and an accomplished cabinet maker. They were married in 1806. She was twenty-two.
Their first daughter was born in a rustic log cabin nine months later. She was named Nancy but the family called her “Sarah.” Two years later, a second child was born, a boy named Abraham.
Nancy followed her husband through several unsuccessful land purchases and failed farming attempts. With each move, they seemed to lose a bit more. In her final and fatal move, she accompanied her husband to Indiana where he carelessly built a three-sided dwelling that barely protected her and her children from the dangers of their first winter.
The next year they moved into a new, one room, log cabin but while it provided greater protection from the harrowing winters and encroaching wildlife, the family endured many hardships and it could not wall out disease. Finally, after two suffering years, “milk sickness” swept the Indiana countryside claiming many lives. The disease was the result of cows foraging on poisonous plants, the poison being passed on through the milk.
Nancy’s family, the uncle and aunt who had helped raise her, moved to Indiana to join them. There was much joy as the family worked together to build them a cabin but the milk sickness took them first. Nancy worked to exhaustion, nursing and attending her family but in the end she lost them both and they were buried near a creek on a deer run nearby her cabin. Then, still in her mid-thirties, Nancy succumbed to the same fate.
Her continued admonition to her young son, Abraham, had been for him to learn all he could, and some suggest that it partly explains his unrelenting quest for books. Following her death, he helped his father fashion her coffin by whittling the pegs that held the planks in place and then stood by his side as the mother of America’s greatest president was buried in an unmarked grave.
Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln (Born: December 13, 1788 – Died: April 12, 1869.)[xxxvi] Lincoln’s stepmother was born in Hardin County, Kentucky, on December 12, 1788. When Sarah was two, her parents and her eight brothers and sisters moved to Elizabethtown where she was raised.
According to legend, thirteen years later Thomas Lincoln asked for her hand in marriage and she rejected him, marrying instead one Daniel Johnston, a poor man who was eventually appointed the county’s jailer. The couple lived with their three children in a corner of the jail, and Sarah cleaned and cooked for the inmates.
Daniel Johnston died in 1816 leaving Sarah with personal debt and no home. She moved into a small cabin that she later purchased and lived there with her three children in what comfort she could provide. When she once again met Thomas Lincoln, ten years her senior, she recognized the opportunity that lay before her. While it may have been more than a marriage of survival, their union on December 2, 1819 took care of her debt, provided a father to her children, and a much-needed mother for the suffering Lincoln home in the Indiana woods.
Although poor, Sarah had a few personal belongings that became treasured items in remote Pigeon Creek. Her belongings, which included a solid table, a beautiful walnut bureau, matching silverware, and a spinning wheel, were loaded on a covered wagon and the new family set out to join the Lincoln children, abandoned for six months in Indiana.
Of all of the Lincoln children, Abraham took to his stepmother most favorably. It is said that he ran into her full skirts and clung to her legs, welcoming his new mother.
Sarah’s kindness toward her stepson provided an emotional anchor throughout his difficult youth.
According to tradition and family testimony, Sarah insisted that Abraham seek every educational opportunity. Indiana offered no public education for its youth, but among Sarah’s possessions were her books. She encouraged her stepson to read and Lincoln responded by devouring and virtually memorizing some of the classics she had brought with her. In spite of the rigorous schedule of manual labor needed for survival on the frontier, with his stepmother’s encouragement, young Abe learned to read and write and calculate, as well.
Until Abraham was twenty-two, at his father’s insistence, he turned over all of his earned money. Deciding that his only chance for a life of his own was to make a complete break, Abraham Lincoln announced he was leaving home. And although he loved his stepmother more than anyone else in the world, he decided that he must greatly reduce his visits to her as well.
When Thomas Lincoln died in 1851, Abraham was finally able to reconnect with his beloved stepmother, Sarah. Abraham ensured that she would be cared for giving her a forty acre plot of land. In her later years, suffering from arthritis, Sarah nevertheless continued to live an energetic life. She remained at her Goosenest Prairie home until her death at the age of eighty on April 12, 1869. She lived through Abraham’s presidency and grieved along with his broken country at their president’s untimely assassination.
17. President Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
Jacob Johnson (Born: April, 1778 – Died: January 4, 1812.) Clearly one of the poorest of the president’s fathers, Jacob Johnson was a good man who, according to historian, Harold Gullan, “died too soon.”[xxxvii] His amiable and hard-working nature garnered the respect of the townspeople in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he struggled to eke out his subsistence.
While Jacob received offers to work on the prominent area plantations, he preferred the chatter and camaraderie of his friends in town, accepting various menial tasks to provide his income. Jacob worked as janitor for the bank, town constable, caretaker for the Presbyterian Church, and town bell-ringer. During his service to the state militia, his friends honored him as their captain.
Among other jobs, Jacob Johnson worked at the local tavern, Casso’s Inn, where he met his wife, Mary McDonough. Like the man she would wed, Mary was also resourceful in her poverty. Neither could read nor write but both were hard-working. The couple married in 1801, combining their feeble incomes, taking on any task that would bring even a small amount of money.
Ten years into their marriage, on a frigid December day in 1811, Jacob accompanied a group of prominent men on a local fishing trip. According to accounts of the story, Jacob provided food for the outing as well as cleaning the day’s catch. In a careless moment, one of the men would change forever the outcome of the Johnson family. Colonel Tom Henderson, editor of the Raleigh Star, began to playfully rock the canoe that he and two other men were using. The canoe capsized dumping the three men into the icy water. One man struggled to shore but the other could not swim. In a state of panic, he grasped onto Henderson, and together they sank to the bottom. All stood by, aghast. Without hesitation, Jacob dove into the icy water and rescued them both. It was a heroic moment and it saved the lives of the two men but it would cost him his own. Exhausted, unable to change quickly from his wet clothes, facing frigid temperatures, he became ill. Not long after, ringing the bell for a funeral, he collapsed and died shortly thereafter, leaving his wife and children alone.
Andrew Johnson, the youngest child and future president, was three years old. His only memory of his father was a crumpled obituary written by Colonel Henderson on January 12, 1812 for the Raleigh Star:
“Died, in this city on Saturday last, Jacob Johnson, who for many years occupied a humble but useful station. He was the city constable, sexton and porter to the State Bank. In his last illness he was visited by the principal inhabitants of the city, by all whom he was esteemed, none lament him, except perhaps his own relatives, more than the publisher of this newspaper, for he owes his life on a particular occasion to the kindness and humanity of Johnson.”[xxxviii]
Mary “Polly” McDonough Johnson (Born: 1783 – Died: 1856.) “Polly the weaver” was petite, poor, and illiterate. As a servant at the local tavern, she did washing and mending for the more prominent families in town. But Polly was a beautiful girl, an accomplished seamstress who could spin and weave her own fabric and she knew how to work hard. It was at Peter Casso’s Inn in Raleigh, North Carolina, that she met her husband, Jacob, her social equal. Their union did not ease their financial situation, but they were no longer alone in their poverty.
Mary was eighteen when she became Jacob Johnson’s bride. She soon gave birth to her first child, a daughter who would not survive infancy. Two sons followed, Andrew, the youngest was born on December 29, 1808, in a log cabin on the Casso Inn property. Andrew was three when his father died. Jacob Johnson had been hired to help a group of local leaders on a fishing trip. There had been and accident and he had leapt into icy water to save the drowning men. His heroics were successful and eventually became the stuff of Raleigh city legend, but he caught a fatal cold and died.
Mary was now a struggling young widow. Perhaps out of loneliness, perhaps out of her desperate financial need, or perhaps seeking a father for her young sons, Mary became the wife of Turner Dougherty. What meager benefit she gained from the marriage proved questionable. According to one historian, “Her first husband was a good man who died too soon, her second a wastrel who lived too long.” [xxxix]
The family had always been too poor for school. The children were needed to work. When Andrew was fourteen and his brother eighteen, Mary arranged for apprenticeships with James Selby, a tailor in Raleigh. They quickly learned the trade. Andrew was apparently the more talented. Two years into service to Selby, the two boys found themselves in trouble. They had thrown rocks at an elderly woman’s house and were on the run for fear of arrest. Selby ran an advertisement in the local newspaper, offering ten dollars for the capture and return of Andrew Johnson. The boys hid out in Carthage, North Carolina, and eventually Andrew convinced his mother and stepfather to move the family to Greeneville, Tennessee. It was there, at the age of seventeen, Andrew Johnson opened a tailor shop. It was a small beginning that would lead to bigger things. In Tennessee, Andrew organized the local working class and launched a political career that took him to the governor’s mansion and eventually the White House.
During one bitter political campaign, rumors began swirling around the legitimacy of his birth. As with his predecessor Lincoln, there was some question about mismatched personal characteristics. Andrew apparently bore some physical resemblance to Judge John Haywood. His mother had worked for the man as a washerwoman. Johnson returned to North Carolina, produced the legal documents to put an end to the accusations and redeemed his mother’s honor.
Mary Johnson continued to live on a farm purchased by her son. When she died her illustrious son was serving as governor of Tennessee. Regardless of their abject poverty, Mary raised a young man who overcame great personal odds, turned his disadvantages into political equity and rose to become the seventeenth President of the United States. Jerald F. TerHorst, press secretary to Gerald Ford would write, “Success in American politics is rarely determined by time of birth, place of upbringing, family name, or private wealth. The basic requirement is the possession of certain personal attributes that are in public demand at an hour of public need.”[xl]
18. President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
Jesse Root Grant (Born: January 23, 1794 – Died: June 29, 1873.) Jesse Root Grant was a harsh quarrelsome figure, an outspoken abolitionist while most of his friends and neighbors were tolerant of slavery. And yet the controversy didn’t keep him from playing a role in public affairs. He was elected mayor of Bethel, Ohio, and appointed postmaster of Covington, Kentucky.
Born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, near the city of Greensburg, Jesse was the second of five children. He was ten years old when his mother died, and his father, unable to handle the responsibility of his children, dispersed the family through a system of apprenticeships. As luck would have it, Jesse’s first apprenticeship was in Youngstown, Ohio, with George Tod, an Ohio Supreme Court judge. Tod dramatically impacted Jesse, teaching him how to read, sending him to a local school for six months, and allowing him access to his immense library, thus inspiring a lifelong passion for education. His son and future president, Ulysses S. Grant, described his father as an avid reader with an unquenchable thirst for learning. “When he got through with a book,” Ulysses recalled, “he knew everything in it.”
The judge encouraged his charge to take an active role in planning a future. Together, they established goals that would result in a secure family, retirement, and wealth. Jesse decided on a career path in industry and the old judge helped secure the sixteen-year-old an apprenticeship at a Kentucky tannery. Through hard work and enterprise, Jesse learned how to turn a handsome profit by cheaply tanning leather and selling the finished product for a higher price. He swiftly developed a knack for headstrong negotiations and the art of a deal.
Jesse’s political views eventually encroached on his livelihood and forced a move from Kentucky. He wrote an open editorial for The Castigator, an antislavery newspaper and publicly announced that he “would not own slaves and I will not live where there are slaves.” Adhering to his life plan and political convictions, Jesse moved to Point Pleasant, Ohio where he started his own tannery yard, built a house and married Hannah Simpson. On April 27, 1822, the young couple had their first of six children, a boy who would become president. He remained nameless for almost a month, his mother wanting to name him Albert. They finally settled on Hiram Ulysses but the boy, apparently humiliated over the initials HUG, would later change it to Ulysses Simpson.
With an expanding business, Jesse purchased property in Georgetown, Ohio, where he built a two-room, two-story house and a tannery, adding on twice to complete the house in 1828. Incredibly proud of his young son, Jesse boasted to all who would listen that his “Ulyss” was destined for greatness. Ulysses suffered under such expectations. Even his slightest mistakes became fodder for ridicule from friends and relatives. An often repeated anecdote has an eight-year-old Ulysses asking his father to buy a horse. Jesse agreed, deciding to use the opportunity to teach the important art of negotiation. Jesse carefully explained how Ulysses should deal with the merchant. But when the time came, Ulysses respectfully told the seller, “My father says I am to offer you first twenty dollars. Then if you don’t accept it, I am to offer you twenty-two and a half. If you don’t take that, I am only to give you twenty-five at the most.” The seller of course agreed to the highest price, and Ulysses became the talk of the town, much to Jesse’s chagrin.
Since Jesse had only a few months of formal education, he insisted that his firstborn son have the best education money could buy. [xli] Ulysses started school at the age of five and continued in subscription schools until his teen years when he attended Maysville (Kentucky) Seminary and later the Presbyterian Academy in Ripley, Ohio. In 1838, without speaking with Ulysses, Jessie secured an appointment for his son to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Ulysses was reluctant, fearing that he would fail but his persistent father insisted and would not allow another option.
As Ulysses became an adult, Jesse’s meddlesome nature was often met by his son’s equally stubborn resolve. Upon graduation from West Point, Ulysses stunned his father by refusing a commission into the army. Jessie tried to use his political connections to get the resignation rescinded but failed in the attempt. When, after years of chiding from his father, Ulysses finally returned to the army to support the Union in the great Civil War, but Jesse was never satisfied. He should command a regular army, the father insisted, and not settle for command of the Twenty-First Illinois Infantry Volunteers. He was in the army to win the war, he replied tersely, not to advance a career.
As Ulysses’ successes in the military increased his public exposure and with it a plethora of public criticism, Jesse often felt inspired to defend his son. Embarrassed and troubled by his father’s public statements, which although well intentioned were usually counterproductive, Ulysses demanded that his father stop. In a letter dated September, 1862, Ulysses struck at the core, “I have not an enemy in the world who has done me so much injury as you in your efforts in my defense. I require no defenders and for my sake let me alone.” Military advisors warned Ulysses against sending his father any information regarding troop movements. Jesse would often inadvertently leak such news to journalists.
Meanwhile, Jesse Grant’s tanneries and leather goods stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Wisconsin thrived and he amassed a small fortune At his retirement in 1866, he distributed $150,000 to most of his children except Ulysses who declined the offer saying that he did not earn the money so, therefore, would not feel right in taking it.
When Ulysses S. Grant was promoted as a possible candidate for president, his unrelenting father became a leading supporter, ignoring his son’s protests that he had no such ambition and using his political connections to advance the idea. As a Grant campaign staff emerged, Jesse was ordered to take a backstage role. It was feared that the elder Grant would damage his son’s chances. But Jesse could not sit still. He addressed a Chicago convention of Civil War veterans and later attended the 1868 Republican National Convention. More meddlesome still, Jesse planted “insider accounts” with major newspapers and befriended journalists who helped and sometimes hurt his son’s campaign.
Throughout Ulysses S. Grant’s first term in office, his father was often and uninvited White House guest, offering unsolicited advice to those close to the president. Only Ulysses was able to reign him in, thus straining an already tentative father-son relationship. On March 4, 1873, Jesse attended his son’s second inauguration. After the ceremony, he slipped and fell on a set of icy steps. Returning home to recover, he promised reporters that he would be back soon to offer the sage advice his son so desperately needed. But, on June 29, 1873, Jesse Root Grant died in Covington, Kentucky at the age of seventy-nine. Ulysses was inconsolable with grief. Friends’ efforts to soothe the president were only met with a chilly silence.
Hannah Simpson Grant (Born: November 23, 1798 - Died: May 11, 1883.) Hannah Simpson was raised on a prosperous farm in Berks County, Pennsylvania, one of four children. Her father, John Simpson, was a kind, Christian man dedicated to his wife and family. Although Hannah’s mother died when she was three years old, John was sensible and in no hurry to find a wife. When he finally made his choice, several years later, he found a highly refined woman who fully supported his decision to educate his daughters. Hannah attended the local school and developed an extensive reading library.
After the War of 1812, John moved to a six-hundred acre farm just outside of Point Pleasant, Ohio. Deeply Calvinistic, the family was untroubled by Hannah’s spinsterhood. But when a brash Jesse Root Grant confided to John Simpson that he was looking for a wife and that he needed to be married within the year, John began to think of marriage for his daughter. Jesse Root Grant found favor with the educated Simpson’s. His love of learning and life goals fell into line with John’s values. Even his verbose personality seemed to compliment Hannah’s shy and silent nature. He often commented that he did enough talking for the both of them, and most objective observers agreed.
Jesse left the naming of his first born son completely in Hannah’s hands. Nameless for over a month, Hannah considered the name Albert, eventually settling on Hiram to please her father who thought the boy needed a biblical name and Ulysses for her stepmother who thought that a Greek hero’s name would destine the boy for greatness. Jesse never took to the name Hiram Ulysses Grant, opting instead to call the boy “my Ulys.” Eventually, all of Hannah’s work for the appropriate name was for not. When friend Representative Thomas L. Hamer arranged the appointment at West Point for her son, he mistakenly enrolled him as Ulysses S. Grant, assuming his middle name was Simpson after his mother’s maiden name. He wasn’t speaking to Jesse at the time and didn’t ask. This suited the new cadet just fine as he did not like the initials H.U.G. stamped on his trunk. So, he began signing Ulysses S. Grant, while classmates just called him U.S. or Uncle Sam.
When Ulysses was growing up, many of the neighbors were concerned about his quiet mother’s treatment of him. She often let her infant crawl around the stables, ignoring the great risk of his being trampled. Instead of seeking medical attention when he was sick, she gave him castor oil and put him to bed until he was well. Her ultimate belief was that every day was a gift from God, and His will would ultimately be done. She instilled in her son the same benign acceptance of fate ordained by a God who predestined the lives of his creation.
Ulysses and his mother held a unique bond. They had similar personalities. She shunned public attention and spoke only in private conversations. The greatest insight into this unique woman can be gleaned from letters to or about her. Jesse wrote that “her steadiness, firmness, and strength of character have been the stay of the family through life”[xlii] Ulysses’ letters home from West Point are equally tender: “I seem alone in the world without my mother… I cannot tell you how much I miss you. I was so often alone with you, and you so frequently spoke to me in private, that the solitude of my situation here… is all the more striking. It reminds me the more forcibly of home, and most of all, dear Mother, of you …Your kindly instructions and admonitions are ever present with me.”[xliii] She died in 1883, two years later, her son, Civil War hero and president Ulysses S. Grant died as well.
19. President Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1877-1881)
Rutherford Hayes (Born: January 4, 1787 – Died: July 20, 1822.) The red-haired little boy was nicknamed “Ruddy” and he was his father’s pride. His father farmed and worked as a blacksmith, but believing his son too weak for physical labor, he found him a job as a clerk for his brother-in-law’s store in Wilmington, Vermont. There he met Sophia Birchard and was taken by her rosy cheeks and cheery optimism. On September 13, 1813, the couple married. Ruddy was then partner in the Noyes and Mann store, but business suffered during the War of 1812. Ruddy was captain of the militia but much to the relief of his wife, Sophia, he did not need to fight.
This was perhaps their only reprieve from sadness. Their first son, to be named Rutherford Birchard Hayes, was born dead. Sophia was familiar with deep sadness as she had lost her father when she was thirteen and her mother five years later. While she, too, was torn by sadness, she did not slip into the depression that gripped her husband. Emotional and wrought by grief, Ruddy struggled forward with the constant encouragement of his beautiful wife.
Ready to leave a Vermont that held bad memories and diminishing opportunities, Ruddy uprooted his family and joined other pioneers on the Cumberland Trail. After a forty day journey, the family arrived in Delaware, Ohio. They would not find extravagant wealth but they would live in a beautiful brick home in the center of the town and own a lucrative farm that yielded abundant crops and a productive orchard. Ruddy opened some businesses of his own including a somewhat questionable investment in a small distillery. The venture proved profitable, but his temperate wife was not approving.
The life of the Hayes family of Ohio was slowly taking shape when typhus fever swept through the region. The whole family was hit by the epidemic. Young daughter Sarah Sophia died first, then Ruddy fell to the illness, dying three days later at the age of thirty-five. His son would be born eleven weeks later and would be named Rutherford Birchard Hayes in his memory and in that of the family’s firstborn who never drew breath. Rutherford B. Hayes, along with Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton would be one of three presidents born after the death of their father.
Sophia Birchard Hayes (Born: April 15, 1792 – Died: October 30, 1866.) Born and raised in Wilmington, Vermont, Sophia was of English descent. Her father was a farmer and merchant but he died of consumption when Sophia was only thirteen. It would be the first of much heartbreak for the young, rosy-cheeked beauty. And yet, entrenched in her Presbyterian doctrine, she found hope in nearly every moment of despair and her sunny optimism inspired those around her. Sophia’s devout faith was augmented by her love of reading. For Sophia, the popular Pilgrim’s Progress was second only to the Bible. The two books combined to help shape her the strong moral code. She excelled academically, and unlike many women of her day, was able to attend a district school.
After the death of her father, Sophia’s mother remarried but it was a doomed relationship that ended quickly in divorce, a fate uncommon in the still Puritanical culture. Sophia suffered her next great loss at eighteen when her mother succumbed to spotted fever. But six months after her mother’s death, the resilient nineteen-year-old married Rutherford Hayes, an enterprising young merchant. Financially, the marriage prospered, but their personal life was often marked by sadness. In 1814, their first child who was to be named Rutherford Birchard Hayes was stillborn. Typically, Sophia helped her husband through the loss. In the next few years, their home was blessed with two healthy, happy children, Lorenzo and Sarah Sophia.
Rutherford’s business pursuits were generally successful. However, in the aftermath of war, everyone in Vermont suffered. He persuaded Sophia that Ohio held more promise for the young family, and she, with some sadness at leaving her relatives and homeland behind, agreed to move on. With their comfortable belongings filling three wagons, the family set off for Ohio. The family eventually moved into a beautiful brick home in the center of the small town of Delaware, where their next daughter Fanny was born. Their happiness lasted for five more years when tragedy struck once more. During the summer of 1822, fever swept through the Ohio region. Everyone in the Rutherford home fell ill, including Sophia who was entering her last months of pregnancy. First she lost her beautiful little Sarah Sophia, and three days later, her husband died.
Eleven weeks later on October 4, 1822, still weakened with fever, Sophia gave birth to a baby boy. She named him Rutherford Birchard Hayes in memory of both his father and his brother. Now a widow, Sophia’s losses were still not over. Three years after the death of her husband and daughter, Lorenzo fell through thin ice while skating and drowned. Sophia was left with her son whom she called Rud and his little sister, Fanny.
Although it was common for widows to remarry, Sophia pledged never to do so. Perhaps she recalled the unhappy circumstances surrounding her widowed mother’s remarriage. In addition, Sophia’s devotion to her late husband superseded any desire that she had for a husband’s strength and support. Instead, she rented out the family farm, receiving one-third of the crop and one-half of the fruit from the productive orchards.
Her bachelor brother Sardis Birchard lived with them for a short time, lending his support to his grieving sister. And when he moved on, traveling the world, seeing his business ventures succeed, he would return to Ohio, bringing gifts to the family. Sardis would pay for his nephew’s education but in his absence, Rud, as his mother called him, would be raised in a woman’s world playing with dolls instead of toy soldiers.
Sophia’s losses had been so profound, that she could not bear the thought of losing anything more. She was obsessively fearful for her son and overprotective in her care. Rud was seldom out of his mother’s sight and not allowed to play with other children until he was nine years old and only then, under close scrutiny. Rutherford was taught to read, write, and calculate by his mother and she taught him lessons on morality and religion.
The one thing she could not provide was social interaction with his peers and she soon began to realize what it meant to the development of his personality. When Rud was fourteen, Sophia finally agreed to a public education. Like many of the presidents’ mothers, she saw her son as a minister. A woman with a strong mind, Sophia applauded the work of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and first lady, Sarah Polk’s prohibition of liquor in the White House but she was worried by Rud’s interest in public affairs, fearing that it might lead her son into politics. When he studied law she was saddened but consoled herself in the belief that it was a respectable profession that need not necessarily lead to public life. In 1852, Rud married Lucy Ware Webb, a well educated, religious woman, much like his mother.
When the Civil War broke out Sophia watched her son march away. Within months, the families all around her were mourning their dead. With her past losses haunting her, Sophia spent much of the conflict on her knees, praying for her son’s safe return. Despite being wounded several times on West Virginia battlefields, Rutherford B. Hayes came home an honored war hero and a major general of volunteers.
Sophia Birchard Hayesdied at age seventy-four in Columbus, Ohio. The very profession she had feared for her son had claimed him. He was serving as a U. S. congressman when she passed away. Two years later he would serve as governor of Ohio and eventually become our nineteenth president. But he would carry with him into the White House the principles and devout faith she cherished. In a replay of first lady, Sarah Polk, whom his mother had so admired, his wife Lucy would prohibit liquor in the White House and be renowned throughout history as “lemonade Lucy.”
20. James A. Garfield (1881)
Abram Garfield (Born: December 28, 1799 - Died: May 3, 1833.) Abram Garfield was born in Worcester, New York to Thomas Garfield, a man who could trace his lineage all the way back to the Puritans who fled England and settled in Massachusetts in 1630. Abram was probably literate, but by most accounts he had little if any formal education. He relied instead on his physical, brute, strength. He was as strong as an ox and he was known throughout Ohio to be a champion wrestler.
He and his future bride, Eliza Ballou, met as children in Worcester but as he grew into adolescence his eyes were set on her older sister, Mehitabel. In 1814 Eliza’s father moved the family to Muskingum, Ohio and five years later, Abram followed, hoping to find Mehitabel and marry her. He was too late. She had married another. A neighbor watching this drama unfold predicted that the visitor from New York would fall in love with Eliza and they would be married within three months. The neighbor proved right. Abram and Eliza were married on February 3, 1820.
Abram worked hard as a foreman and special project manager for the building of canals and for a short time enjoyed a burst of success. But taking on a second canal project was a losing venture, draining all the profits he had gained in his previous work. Abram then tried his hand at farming; it is here he built a small log cabin where James A. Garfield would be born on November 19, 1831. Just eighteen months after his son James was born, a forest fire threatened their cabin and all they owned. He worked himself into a frenzy battling the disaster, caught a severe cold afterward and died at the age of thirty-three.
Four decades later Eliza could still describe to her son the man who had given him birth. “Your father was five feet eleven inches tall, large head, broad shoulders and chest, high forehead, blue eyes, light complexion, as beautiful a set of teeth as any man ever had… cheeks very red, lips tolerably full, but to me very handsome…fond of his friends, everybody liked him, his judgments very good, more than common.”[xliv]
According to Eliza, Abram’s dying thoughts turned to his sons, “Eliza,” he said on his deathbed, “I have brought these four young saplings into these woods. Take care of them.”[xlv] The youngest of those saplings, James, who had not yet seen his second birthday would grow to become president. Former president Rutherford B. Hayes would write that “no man ever started so low that accomplished so much in all our history.”[xlvi]
Eliza Ballou Garfield (Born: September 21, 1801 - Died: January 21, 1888.) On her father’s side, Eliza Ballou descended from fierce French, Protestant, Huguenot stock while her mother was English. The heritage is noteworthy for she would be plagued by adversity throughout her life. Eliza spent her early childhood in Richmond, New Hampshire. She was six when her father died, leaving her mother as the solitary breadwinner for a family of four children. In time, each child assumed their responsibility. Eliza passed on educational opportunities to learn the trade of a weaver and help put food on the table. Exceptionally bright, she used the only textbook available, the large family Bible, to learn how to read and write. Her sunny disposition helped her pass the long hours of monotonous work as a weaver and led her to develop and extraordinary personal repertoire of religious hymns. It was said that she could sing forty-eight consecutive hours without repeating a song.[xlvii]
After moving with her family to Ohio, she was reacquainted with a family friend, the handsome Abram Garfield, whom she wed on February 3, 1820. The young couple moved to Newburgh and Independence where they had relatives with established homes to share. The tribulations of pioneer farming took its toll; both newlyweds succumbed to ague, a form of malaria. In the first eight years of their marriage they did not own their own home. Nagging health problems forced them to live with relatives.
Eventually, Abram found work building a portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal, while Eliza gave birth to four children; Mehtiabel, Thomas, Mary, and James Ballou. She also fed and tended to the twenty men working on the canal project with her husband. Their youngest child, James Ballou, died suddenly in 1829 at the age of two. Eliza found it difficult to reconcile herself to his death, and prayed that she and Abram would have another son.
The family of six moved to Tuscarawas County, Ohio in April, 1827 when Abram secured a contract working on another section of the canal. As the venture failed, the Garfield family moved to fifty acres of land near a stream off the Chagrin River in Orange Township, Ohio. Abram built a log cabin with the help of relatives and neighbors. After close to ten years of marriage, it would be the first home the family had ever owned. It was here that her prayers were answered: James Abram Garfield was born in their cabin on November 19, 1831. Just as it seemed their luck had turned a forest fire threatened their home and Abram pushed his physical limits battling the blaze. Weakened from effort, he caught a severe cold which led to his premature death.
A weaker woman would have succumbed to the overwhelming task of raising four children under the age of ten alone in the harsh wilderness. Buttressed by her strong faith and fierce independence, Eliza brought up her young family unaided, still managing to impress upon them high standards of morality and intellectual worth. Firstborn son Tom was taught how to plow and the two girls how to weave. Tenuously, the family survived. Youngest son, James Abram Garfield, was special from the day he arrived. Eliza made grand plans for him, having the girls walk him the mile and half to the rural school house to learn the three R’s. It paid off and by the age of three James was reading lengthy passages to his mother from the Bible. James grew big and strong like his father and was known to be quite adept with his fists.
Eliza married Alfred Belding in 1842, he filed for divorce six years later and it became official in 1850. Furious with his mother’s second marriage, Tom left home. And the marriage caused a great disturbance to James in his adolescent years. He now had to share his mother’s attention and follow another man’s rules. In January 1881 at the age of forty-nine, Garfield would write in his diary of Belding’s death, “After this long silence, ended in death, it is hard for me to think of the man without indignation.”[xlviii]
At age sixteen, James left his mother and their cabin and walked to the shores of Lake Erie to find a job as a sailor. He was rebuffed by a blustery ship’s captain, and found work on the Ohio & Erie Canal instead. When his stint in the rough and tumble world of a canal worker ended abruptly he returned home, a much humbler son. James graciously accepted his mother’s suggestion to enroll at the Geauga Seminary and Eliza emptied her life savings of seventeen dollars to make it happen. From 1851 to 1854 he furthered his education at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, finally finishing his academic career at Williams College in Massachusetts, graduating second in his class in 1856.
James Garfield returned to his alma matter at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College) in Ohio as a classics professor and within a year, was made its president. Garfield served the Union Army in the Civil War beginning in 1861, and at 30, became a brigadier general. Two years later he was promoted to major general of volunteers after showing courage at the Battle of Chickamauga. In 1862, while in the war, he was elected to Congress and took his seat in December 1863.
Of all James’ success, nothing made Eliza prouder than her son’s fine reputation in Congress for nearly eighteen years. Later, Eliza became the first mother actually to be present at her son’s inauguration as our nation’s twentieth president. It seemed as if the great pain of her early life had been swept away by the sheer joy of her son’s ascendancy. But one final trial awaited her. On July 2, 1881 James was mortally wounded by a mentally unstable, disgruntled office seeker. While James lay struggling for life, he summoned enough strength to pen a short note to his mother. Not wanting her to suffer yet another tragedy and fearing that she would worry needlessly, he assured her that he would only need some time and patience to recover and he gave his love to the entire family. But James Garfield was wrong. Despite the best medical attention of the day, he died of infection and internal hemorrhaging on September 19, 1881. His mother would live on another five years.
21. President Chester Alan Arthur (1881-1885)
Reverend William Arthur (Born: 1796 - Died: October 27, 1875.) An immigrant from Ireland, William Arthur was a tall fiery Baptist preacher who delivered his message throughout the Vermont countryside with his strong Irish brogue, a cumbersome childhood limp, and an unwavering honesty. Education was valued in the Arthur home, both at home and abroad. William graduated from Belfast College before immigrating to Quebec where he took a job as a teacher.
In 1821, he met Malvina Stone and the two eloped. They would have nine children, including a son who would be president. Shortly after the marriage, William decided to make some changes both in location and profession. They moved to Vermont where he took a clerk’s position in a law office. Their life had lacked comfort on the modest teacher’s income but that would apparently change. A promising future in law lay ahead. But Arthur’s life would be interrupted by an unexpected turn of events. Always interested in religion, William attended a Baptist revival where he experienced a religious conversion that completely altered his life. In 1827, he left the practice of law and became a licensed Baptist minister. His took his first church a year later, but his blunt, opinionated demeanor was often offensive, making him more suited as an itinerant pastor. His longest tenure in a parish would be only five years. Nonetheless, the urgency of his message and the absolute confidence of his beliefs attracted a following.
After the birth of four daughters, on October 5, 1829, in a parsonage in North Fairfield, Vermont, Chester Alan Arthur was born. Reproachful of the pastor’s enthusiasm, a religious neighbor recounted years later how his grandmother had been helping with the birth “And think of it,” she said, reproachfully, “when I announced the boy to Elder Arthur he danced up and down in the room.”[xlix] Named after the doctor who delivered him, Chester Alan Arthur would become the nation’s twenty-first president.
The Arthur’s would have a humble lifestyle, stretched by their large family and limited to the meager subsistence collected in the church offering plates. They would lose a two year old son and an eighteen year old daughter but their faith would remain certain. Perhaps the reverend’s greatest influence on his son was as a staunch abolitionist. The father helped found the New York Antislavery Society. And William encouraged his son’s academic pursuits. While he could not pay for his son’s tuition, he was able to arrange for a job as a principal for a school that met in their church basement. With his father’s help, Chester was able to work at the school while pursuing his law degree. After launching his law career, Chester was able to provide his parents’ needs. In 1863, William retired from ministry and returned to teaching, running a boarding school and helping train young college-bound men. During these years, renewed by his son’s financial help, he was able to serve as an editor for a number of books and publications and finally author his own book on etymology.
His wife, Malvina, died in 1869 and William remarried a decision that was resented by the children. In 1871, President Grant appointed the son, Chester as the collector of the port of New York. Four years later, suffering from stomach cancer, William’s health took a sharp turn for the worse. Chester traveled back to his father’s Newtonville home to be at his side but with William drifting in and out of consciousness there was little he could do. Soon after he returned to New York his father died. He was seventy-nine. Perhaps the minimalist lifestyle of Chester’s childhood better explains the extravagant nature of the Arthur presidency. While Chester accepted his father’s beliefs regarding the fair treatment of all citizens, he never shared his religious fervor nor his modest lifestyle.
Malvina Stone Arthur (Born: April 29, 1802 - Died: January 16, 1869.) Her granddaughter was Major Uriah Stone, a hero in the French and Indian War, but when she was still a child, her father, George Washington Stone, moved the family across the border to Quebec, Canada. They were a devoutly religious family. George was a Methodist minister and her uncle, Elder John, was a Baptist evangelist.
They were living fifteen miles into Canada, just across the Vermont state line, when she met and fell in love with William Arthur, a young Irish, immigrant teacher. In 1821, the couple eloped and soon returned to the United States to begin a life of their own. Ambitious to provide for his wife and their new family, William abandoned teaching in favor of a career in law. But one night at a Baptist revival changed all of that. Uncle John preached that night and William Arthur was not only deeply moved but converted on the spot and soon after announced he would be a preacher.
William Arthur’s new calling led the family from hamlet to hamlet across the Vermont countryside. Parish life provided for basic needs but left little for extras. But Malvina faithfully supported her husband and their home was graced with nine children. On October 5, 1829, after the birth of four daughters, their most famous son, Chester, was born. The family was thrilled to have a boy.
Malvina Stone Arthur died at the age of sixty-six, her son then serving as a lawyer in New York. Years after Malvina’s death while the country waited to see if President Garfield would recover from a serious illness, opponents suggested that Chester’s birth had occurred on Canadian soil rather than in the humble, Vermont parsonage as claimed by the family. Many personal documents had been destroyed by fire and there was little written proof to quell or substantiate the rumors. Eventually, the nation accepted the word of his mother and used her correspondence to validate his citizenship. When President Garfield, finally succumbed to septicemia, Malvina’s words from the grave assured her son’s rightful place in American history and Chester became the forty-first president.
22. & 24. President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897)
Richard Falley Cleveland (Born: June 19, 1804 - Died: October 1, 1853.) Richard was born the fifth of six children in Norwich, Connecticut to William Cleveland and Margaret Falley Cleveland. They were a devoutly religious family descendent from a long line of deacons and clergy, including some of great prominence.[l] As a dutiful son, Richard Falley Cleveland accepted his family heritage spending his early years studying theology. A thin pale young man, with a brilliant intellect, he graduated from Yale with honors in 1824 and accepted a teaching position at Princeton, even while pursuing his advanced theological studies.
As a student he had met Ann Neal, the daughter of a well-to-do book publisher and they were married in Baltimore on September 10, 1829. Ann would face a dramatic lifestyle change. For many years Richard, Ann, and their nine children would exist on a mere six-hundred dollars a year. They would pastor a church in Windham, Connecticut, for two years before accepting a position at the Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, New Jersey. It was here in the rural hills of New Jersey that their fifth child and future President of the United States, Stephen Grover Cleveland was born. He was named after the pastor who had preceded them in Caldwell. As a youth, he would drop his first name and became simply known as Grover Cleveland.
In the home of the Cleveland’s frugality was a way of life and piety was held in the highest esteem. Strict obedience to parents and unquestioned compliance to parental commands was part of the code. As the Cleveland household grew, so too did the father’s search for a better way to provide for his expanding family. In late 1850, he found more lucrative employment. The American Home Missionary Society offered him the position of New York district secretary at a salary of almost one thousand dollars per year. It seemed like a small fortune to the struggling family but the Reverend suffered from gastric ulcers and the new position with its constant travel over unpaved roads in all kinds of inclement weather was believed to be a threat to his health.
And so, the family moved to Utica, New York where Richard accepted a pastorate in a small church. Tragically, his first sermon to his new parish would also be his last. His unexpected death at the age of forty-nine left Ann an impoverished widow with seven children still at home. Although a mere sixteen, a mature and responsible, Grover Cleveland soberly took on the responsibility of caring for his mother and unmarried sisters for the rest of his life.
Reverend Richard Cleveland left nothing of material wealth to his poor family but his reputation for speaking the truth somehow transferred. Even Grover Cleveland’s detractors and enemies conceded he was a man of remarkable honesty, even admitting to a youthful liaison with a woman when the whole affair might have been covered up.[li] In his excellent study of Cleveland, historian Allan Nevins notes, “Character is not made overnight. When it appears in transcendent degree it is usually the product of generations of disciplined ancestry, or a stern environment or both.”[lii] In his forty-nine years, preaching hundreds of sermons in little churches across the northeast, unknown to the Reverend Richard Cleveland his most important audience and beneficiary had been the little boy sitting on the front pew.
Ann Neal Cleveland (Born: February 4, 1806 - Died: July 19, 1882.) Grover Cleveland, the first Democrat elected to the White House after the Civil War, was born to devout Presbyterian parents in Caldwell, New Jersey, on March 18, 1837. Young Ann Neal was the daughter of a prosperous Baltimore publisher and grew up accustomed to fine china, parties and beautiful silk gowns. It is a wonder she ever fell for the thin, somber-faced intellectual, Richard Falley Cleveland. Richard had little to offer in terms of material wealth but he had graduated from Yale with honors and his religious training was well under way at Princeton when they met. Richard Falley Cleveland mustered all his strength and proposed to the twenty-three-year old society girl Ann Neal and they wed on September 10, 1829.
They newlyweds moved to Windham, Connecticut, where Richard accepted his first pastorate. Ann naively brought her necessities with her to the parsonage, fine silk gowns, colorful jewelry and her loyal Negro maid. But the fine ladies of the Church rebuked her worldliness and Ann graciously relinquished her possessions sending them all back home, including her maid. Though Richard preached diligently at a succession of small congregations, success always seemed to elude him. His slim ministerial wage was barley enough for Ann and their nine children.
Without regret, Ann dutifully turned her attention to raising young champions. She threw much of her effort into her fifth child, Grover Cleveland, who found an exceptional place in her heart. In the isolated country village of Caldwell, New Jersey, the Cleveland children were excluded form the normal frivolity of childhood and instead memorized huge chunks of dogmatic writings.[liii] Ann’s strictness in raising her children bred well-disciplined, highly determined, responsible adults.
When Richard, the husband and father in the family died at the age of forty-nine, the whole family felt the pain of responsibility. Sixteen year old, Grover went to work, teaching and eventually going into law before launching a public career. Throughout the years, even during times of stressful transition, Grover faithfully provided for his mother and sisters. She died at age seventy-six, with her son in the middle of a successful election campaign for governor of New York.
Grover was a bachelor when he was first elected president and became the first president to be married in the White House. Fortunately, his mother died before hearing the torrid gossip of Grover birthing an illegitimate son. Although the paternity of the child could not be proven and the mother was lover to several men, Cleveland stepped up and paid for the boy’s education and expenses. The event would have devastated his mother’s Puritan heart. Notwithstanding the controversy, Grover Cleveland was elected to two terms as President and his love for his mother and all she stood for gave him great strength. Upon his mother’s death he commented, “Do you know if Mother were alive I would feel so much safer…I have always thought her prayers had much to do with my success.”[liv]
23. President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
John Scott Harrison(Born: October 4, 1804 - Died: May 25, 1878.) John Scott Harrison has the unique distinction of being both the son and the father of a United States President. For a time, it appeared that he, himself, was destined for a public life but after a short stint in the U.S. Congress, he acquired quite a clear distaste for politics and opted instead for the simpler life of a farmer.
John Scott was born in Vincennes, Indiana, while his famous father William Henry Harrison was serving as the governor of the Indiana Territory. John Scott was the fifth of ten children and the only one of the Harrison sons to live to see his father inaugurated as President. [lv] The family seemed to be wholly identified with their famous father. After his death in the White House, the Harrison daughters began dying as well. Within five years of the death of President William Henry Harrison, nine of his ten children were dead. Only John Scott remained to keep the family alive.
Graduating from Cincinnati College, John Scott was valedictorian of his class. When his father left to serve as Minister to Columbia for then President John Quincy Adams, John Scott took on the responsibility of overseeing the family estate in North Bend, Ohio. It was an arrangement that suited both father and son.
In 1824 John married Lucretia Knapp Johnson who gave him three children, but died shortly thereafter in 1830. John Scott quickly found a new wife, Elizabeth Irwin, whom he wed in 1831. Elizabeth gave him ten children including Benjamin Harrison, our twenty-third President.
John’s father, William Henry Harrison, deeded him five hundred acres which became known as The Point estate and childhood home of Benjamin Harrison. Though the family was quite isolated from formal schools, John personally saw to his children’s education by building a one-room log schoolhouse and hiring tutors to teach them.[lvi] The Harrison’s owned land but with so many mouths to feed, they sometimes lived poorly, with every child expected to pitch in and do his share of chores around the farm.
John Scott somehow managed to scrape together enough funds for his two oldest sons Irwin and Benjamin to go to college. Benjamin attended Farmer’s College and then graduated form Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1852. Upon graduation John gave his son unfortunate news. He had over-extended himself and had to mortgage most of the estate. Benjamin would not go to law school; instead he would work as a law clerk in a Cincinnati firm.
John Scott was elected to a four-year tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives. Failing to win re-election, he never grieved his retirement from public life. During these years father and son experienced a brief estrangement over differing political views. John Scott transferred allegiance to the newly formed American Party while his son, budding politician Benjamin Harrison was climbing the ranks of the Republican Party, adhering to its strong anti-slavery platform. Eventually, the two men were able to transcend their differences and hold to opposing views as gentlemen, without putting their relationship as father and son at risk. Benjamin Harrison went onto fame as a Civil War officer finally brevetted as a general in 1865.
John Harrison eventually realized his son’s talent for the political game and his growing respect within the party establishment. He was soon encouraging and advising his son’s rise, proud to see him reclaiming the family heritage. Benjamin ran for governor of Indiana in 1876 and lost. Two years later his father, John Scott Harrison died in North Bend, Ohio. He was seventy-three. In a bizarre side note that catapulted John Scott Harrison to more fame than he had ever experienced during his life, grave robbers stole his body. Benjamin pressed charges against the robbers who were never brought to justice. This tragic incident brought much pain to Harrison family. Benjamin went onto the Senate and the White House, becoming the twenty-third American president.
Elizabeth Irwin Harrison (Born: July 18, 1810 - Died: August 15, 1850.) Elizabeth Irwin was a devout Presbyterian who birthed ten children, her second son, Benjamin Harrison, becoming president. She came from a distinguished family line. Elizabeth’s Scottish grandfather was the founder of a prosperous mill in Pennsylvania. Her own father, Captain Archibald Irwin, moved the family to the promising new state of Ohio.
Elizabeth was twenty-one when she met the serious minded lawyer John Scott Harrison. John, a widower with three children of his own, was the son of President William Henry Harrison and member of a political family dynasty. They were married on August 12, 1831 and lived on the Harrison family compound in North Bend, Ohio. It was here that their son Benjamin was born. Elizabeth was full of conviction that children should be raised to fear the Lord and do what was wise and prudent. She exhorted Benjamin and his older brother in a letter upon their departure to school, “I pray for you daily that you may keep from sinning and straying from the path of duty.”[lvii]
She would die at the age of forty, during childbirth, only five days before her famous son’s seventeenth birthday, never imaging that having married into a great presidential family she herself had also given birth to a president. She would not see him become a lawyer, or a Civil War hero, or brevetted as General Benjamin Harrison, or win election to the Senate or inaugurated president of the United States. And Benjamin Harrison would say that he felt the loss.
25. William McKinley (1897-1901)
William McKinley Sr. (Born: November 15, 1807 - Died: November 24,1892.)
William McKinley Senior was born in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, to hard-working parents of Scottish-Irish, English, Puritan descent. Both of his grandfathers fought in the Revolutionary war and were devout and pious men.
Growing up second in a family of fourteen children gave little time for William to attend school. But by the age of sixteen, he managed to achieve the equivalent of a grade school education. And a lack of academic opportunity did not prevent him from being well-read and may have actually ignited a passion for learning in his own children. William Sr. worked long, twelve hour shifts in a foundry, but somehow found time to sneak short readings of his three favorite books, the Bible, Shakespeare and Dante.[lviii]
William Sr. followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps becoming a manager of furnaces used in the production of iron. The workdays were extremely long and physically demanding but McKinley men were stoic and never complained. In time, his patience paid dividends and he became a partner in an iron manufacturing firm.
Most of the raising of the McKinley children was left to his wife Nancy while William worked the long hours to provide for the family. He and his wife, were devout Methodists. “Whatever you be,” he told his children, “you will be a credit to your family and to your God.”[lix] William would see his seventh child and namesake elected to congress and later governor of Ohio. In the summer of 1892, he would see him run as an unsuccessful candidate for president at the Republican National Convention. He would die a few months later, four years before William McKinley Jr.’s election to the highest office in the land.
Nancy Allison McKinley (Born: April 22, 1809 - Died: December 12, 1897.) Nancy Alison McKinley, daughter of hard-working Scottish farmers, was born in a simple log cabin on the Ohio frontier. Her parents placed great importance on their children’s education and made great sacrifices to move the entire family to the town of Lisbon where the children could attend school. It was in Lisbon that Nancy met the stocky, hard-working William McKinley. They fell in love and were married on January 6, 1829.
While William carved out a living in the steel business, Nancy devoted herself entirely to her children and Methodist faith. Some neighbors credited her with running the local Methodist church single-handedly. On January 29, 1843, the seventh of her nine children was born in Niles and she proudly named the robust infant after his father. Convinced that young William had promise, she set her heart on him becoming a bishop. To give her son every advantage, Nancy moved to nearby Poland where William could get a better education, while her husband stayed to work in Niles, visiting his family on Sundays. Nancy instilled in William the proper behavior for an aspiring bishop.
William McKinley, the son, paid homage to his mother’s ambition for his life. He drank no intoxicating beverages nor used any foul language. He briefly attended Allegheny College but then enlisted as a private in the Union Army, returning home a major of volunteers, with his own goals stubbornly affixed. After the war William studied law and at the age of twenty-four opened his own practice. Serving as a prosecutor, congressman, governor of Ohio, William McKinley was soon on the fast track to the presidency.
But William’s wife was an epileptic and her seizures made public appearances impossible. More and more, his mother, Nancy, became actively involved in her son’s aspirations. During the presidential campaign 1896, crowds of visitors would gather every Sunday to watch as William McKinley called on his mother, escorting her to church. The onlookers would recall seeing William and his mother rocking side by side on her front porch.[lx] The public loved this likeable man whose tenderness toward his mother and wife won a place in the electorate’s heart. In 1896 Republication William McKinley won his party’s nomination and went on to win the general election by one of the largest majorities of the popular vote since 1872. [lxi]
William McKinley had not become the Methodist Bishop she had hoped but she was able to seen him become president. Dependent on her prayers and inspired by their conversations, McKinley set up a special wire from the White House to her home in Ohio so they could talk to each other daily. When she fell ill he was inconsolable and took his presidential train to Ohio to be at her side. She died at the age of eighty-eight. Less than four years later, William McKinley laid dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet.
26. President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (Born: September 22, 1831 - Died: February 9, 1878.) “My father, Theodore Roosevelt, was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness.” So wrote President Theodore Roosevelt in his autobiography.[lxii] Roosevelt Sr. unquestionably had one of the most profound impacts of any presidential parent upon a son. He was born in New York City, one of six children, to hardworking businessman CorneliusVan Schaak Roosevelt and his wife Margaret. Instead of attending college, Roosevelt Sr. joined his father and older brother in a family business that imported and sold plate glass.
While traveling in the summer of 1850, he met and fell head-over-heels for the strikingly beautiful daughter of wealthy plantation owner, Martha “Mittie” Bullouch. Three years later they were married in grand style, three days before Christmas. Theodore moved his new bride into a four-story brownstone home in New York City. Within the first year of marriage their first daughter was born. Then on January 7, 1885 came the son who would bear not only his father’s name but so much of his nature.
Much love abounded in the Roosevelt home, and there never seemed to be an idle moment. Beside working long hours at his successful glass company, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. engaged in countless philanthropic activities. He had a gift for loosening the purse strings of his affluent friends to help fund multiple charities to assist the poor and homeless. To pacify his wife’s southern sympathies, he hired a substitute to fight in his place for the Union Army. Still, he did more than his fair share to contribute to the welfare of all soldiers. He conceived of the idea of allotments – a small voluntary deduction of a soldier’s pay that would be sent home to dependants. Roosevelt Sr. personally lobbied for the idea to a skeptical congress eventually winning votes and the legislation became law. He and Martha were known as charming hosts, throwing parties for the rich and influential of New York City.
Though his busy schedule often kept him away from home, he always managed to take time for his children. When Theodore Roosevelt, the son, suffered asthmas attacks his father would sweep him up in his arms and carry him around. It was his father’s firm decree that to reach his fullest success, the boy must make his body as strong as his mind. Young Theodore took the message to heart engaging in a strict regiment of weightlifting and strenuous exercise, turning his weak body into one of strength.
To teach the family the splendors of history, Theodore Sr. took them all on a one-year extended vacation of Europe. After a two-day father-son hiking expedition, inspecting the Saxon ruins, young Theodore confided to his diary that having his father’s full attention made it “the happiest days that I have ever spent.”[lxiii]
With his affluence, Theodore Sr. assured his son would have what he never attained, a college degree. In the spring of 1867, the son left for Harvard University. The father had a brief stint in politics but the corruption and lack of integrity appalled him. The son would spend much of his career cleaning up the corruption and vileness that his father had reported in his short political venture. Theodore Sr. died of stomach cancer before seeing his son graduate from Harvard but his portrait would one day hang in the White House. Years later Theodore Roosevelt’s sister recalled that the president said, “he never took any serious step or made any vital decision for his country without thinking first what position his father would have taken on the question.” [lxiv]
Martha Bulloch Roosevelt. (Born: July 8, 1835 - Died: February 14, 1884.)
Martha or “Mittie” Bulloch was born into an idyllic world. Petite and frail, yet stunningly beautiful, her father was a wealthy Georgian gentleman farmer who died when she was but a child. Her mother, an engaging, southern lady, filled the vacuum by smothering her with love. Mittie seemed almost too perfect for any male suitor, but in the spring of 1850, a worthy young man of good character and fine reputation visited the Bulloch estate. Theodore Roosevelt, father of the future president, was smitten with the grace of the fifteen-year-old beauty. For three years they exchanged a torrent of love letters culminating in a lavish southern wedding on December 22, 1853.
For a woman of her station and time, Mittie came to married life somewhat unprepared. Her early life of luxury had demanded little. As a wife she was seemingly deficient in performing traditional household duties, including the managing of finances but her gift of love and laughter made up the difference. After the birth of her first daughter, Mittie’s mother and older sister quickly stepped in to help manage the home and prepare for a second pregnancy.
On October 27, 1858, Theodore “Teddie” Roosevelt was born. Young Teddie’s frequent bouts with asthma made him something of a bookworm. A selfless mother, Mittie often sat up all night comforting him during his frequent illnesses.
Mittie’s eccentricities were the subject of conversation in the family. She exhibited a compulsive fetish for cleanliness, an inability to keep appointments and a constant battle with what she called “sick headaches.” But nothing tainted her image in the eyes of her loving children and husband. None of the family referred to her simply as mother but rather as “Darling beloved little Mother,”[lxv] an affectionate term coined by young Teddie.
After the death of Theodore Roosevelt Sr., it seemed as if the grief was too much for Mittie to bear. At times she mustered some of her trademark optimism and rallied sufficiently to cheer on her son as he plunged headfirst into New York politics hoping to avenge his father’s enemies.
The year 1884 was filled with tragedy. Mittie unexpectedly caught a cold that developed into a virulent case of typhoid fever ending her life. In a bizarre twist of fate, Theodore’s wife Alice died later that same afternoon from an unsuspected case of kidney disease. She was only twenty-two. Both women died in the same house, with future president Theodore Roosevelt rushing up and down the stairs from one deathbed to the next, helpless as the two most important women in his life slipped away from him.
27. William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
Alphonso Taft (Born: November 5, 1810 - Died: May 21,1891.) Born in West Townshend, Vermont, Alphonso was the only child of Peter Rawson Taft and Sylvia Howard Taft. They were third generation immigrant farmers from England and Alphonso decided early in life that continuing the family tradition of farming was not for him. Fortunately, his parents encouraged his pursuit of education. He attended local schools in Vermont until he was sixteen, enrolled in Amherst for two years before returning to West Townshend where he was tutored and where he worked to save the money for higher education. Eventually, Alphonso Taft graduated from Yale with honors.
Migrating west, Alphonso began a law practice in bustling Cincinnati, Ohio. There he married his first wife, Fanny Phelps. Soon his new bride gave him two sons, but tragedy struck; his wife was taken suddenly from him by congestion of the lungs.
Pouring his energy into his work, Alphonso built a prosperous law practice and became one of the most influential citizens in the state. A trip to Washington, D.C. made a lasting impression, and gave rise to a national political career that spanned the decades. In 1848 he was elected to the City Council. He served as Attorney General and Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant, made an unsuccessful bid for Governor of Ohio in both 1875 and 1879, and served as minister to Austria-Hungary and Russia.
Though very successful in all of his endeavors, Alphonso held nothing dearer than his beloved second wife Louisa Maria and the five children she bore him. While Alphonso could be domineering, he was also gentle and all of his sons admired him. He demanded the best from his children and they seemed to respond without bitterness. All five sons earned law degrees and all distinguished themselves in their father’s eyes.
Though he would not live to see his son’s greatest accomplishments, Alphonso Taft would be pleased with his legacy. William H. Taft became the 27th president of the United States and later served on the Supreme Court. Both his grandson and his great-grandson, Robert Taft and Robert Taft Jr. were senators; his great-great-grandson, Bob Taft, would be elected governor of Ohio. Alphonso Taft passed away in San Diego, California, on May 21, 1891. William Howard Taft wrote admiringly of the man who had raised him, “a man never had…..a dearer kinder more considerate father.”[lxvi]
Louisa Torrey Taft (Born: September 11, 1827 - Died: December 8, 1907.)
The four Torrey girls took after their liberal and enthusiastic mother. Louisa was the dark-haired beauty of the group. She was fiercely independent and held that women could chart their own destinies. This mindset might have frightened other parents of the mid-eighteen hundreds, but Louisa’s forward-thinking mother and doting, prosperous, Republican, father tolerated her radical ideas. The Torrey girls received a liberal arts education with Louisa and her favorite sister Delia going onto Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for further training. The rigid, legalistic Mount Holyoke only slightly tempered Louisa’s exuberant, free spirit.
When she was twenty-six, Louisa visited her aunt in New Haven, Connecticut where she met a Yale graduate named Alphonso Taft. He was a widower with two young sons and a promising law practice in Cincinnati. The tall, kind Mr. Taft seemed sufficiently liberal-minded to suit her. After a one-month engagement they wed on December 26, 1853. This bright couple forged a union that would produce a president of the United States, two senators and a governor.
Though modern in her mindset, Louisa was focused on her children. “I do not believe we can love our children too much,” she would say. “It seems to me there can be no stronger motive for improvement than the thought of the influence on our children. It is what we are and not what we do in reference to them which will make its impress on their lives.”[lxvii] On September 15, 1857, she delivered a robust baby boy named William Howard Taft.
With her children fully grown and her husband a member of President Grant’s cabinet, Louisa gracefully took on the role of a politician’s wife in Washington high society Washington. Her life had its share of sorrows. She lost one of her sons as an infant and a stepson was committed to a sanatorium. But her beloved husband’s death in 1891 was the most difficult blow of all. Louisa found joy in supporting Will’s budding political career, even accompanying him as an emissary of President Theodore Roosevelt to the Vatican in Rome. But she died just two months before her eightieth birthday. Her legacy would live on in the many fine sons she raised. She once shared with family and intimates her fears about Will. She worried that if he were to be president he would have to endure the worst kind of malice and hatred. It would be prophetic in many ways. Less than a year after her passing, her son, William Howard Taft would be elected president.
28. President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Joseph Ruggles Wilson (Born: February 28, 1882 - Died: January 21, 1903.) Born to James and Anne Adams Wilson in Stuebenville, Ohio, Joseph grew to be both strikingly handsome and strong-minded. His father was financially successful in the newspaper business both in Ohio and Pennsylvania during Joseph’s formative years. His mother was a devout woman of faith. Joseph gleaned both the power of the pen and the power of prayer from his parents.
Marked as the scholar in the family early in his life, Joseph attended Jefferson College where he graduated valedictorian in 1844. He went on to Seminary graduating in 1846 with a Bachelors of Divinity from Princeton. Although licensed by the Presbyterian church, Joseph returned to a teaching position in Steubenville.
While teaching, Joseph met Janet “Jessie” Woodrow, a student in a nearby school. The two were married on June 7, 1849, a few weeks before Joseph’s ministerial ordination. Following their marriage, Joseph joined the faculty at Jefferson College, his alma matter. His first assignment was as a professor of rhetoric followed by a professorship of chemistry and natural science at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
In 1855, he took a pastorate in Staunton, Virginia, and so began his life-long career as both a scholar and a minister. It was there on December 28, 1856, that their first son, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, was born.
About a year later, Joseph moved his family deeper south where he took a church in Augusta, Georgia. With the nation’s unrest, Joseph’s mindset matched that of his southern parishioners. He approved whole-heartedly of segregation. Joseph believed that he had doctrinal evidence to support the succession of the southern states, the war, and slavery itself.
During the Civil War, Joseph converted the Augusta churchyard into a military camp which served as both an emergency hospital and a prison camp for Union soldiers. He also became influential in the political structure of the church, helping to organize the Presbyterian church of the Confederate States of America.
Joseph Wilson was probably the strongest influence on his son’s character and intellect.[lxviii] He accepted nothing but excellence from his son. Having been a professor of rhetoric, Joseph worked to hone his son’s speaking skills. He forced him to use a dictionary to determine accurate and precise meanings of words. When the two traveled together, Joseph would test his son on their experiences, with written tests, forcing Woodrow to improve his writing in both clarity and economy. Joseph was Woodrow’s “teacher, role model, playmate, and confidant.”[lxix]
The father-son relationship was so entwined that it garnered the attention of Sigmund Freud who co-authored a book on their relationship with William C. Bullitt. “His passionate love of his father was the core of his emotional life.”[lxx] Due to their relationship, Joseph continually challenged and sometimes overpowered Woodrow’s life decisions.
In the fall of 1873, Woodrow went off to the college of his father’s choosing for the express purpose of becoming a minister. The anxiety that resulted from the separation from his parents weakened Woodrow’s physical condition. He had never had the physical strength or endurance of his father, and the stress worsened Woodrow’s stomach conditions. He returned to his parents’ home with his academic career unfinished, only to find his father involved in denominational power struggles within the Presbyterian Church. In 1874, the family moved to North Carolina.
Mustering his courage, Woodrow Wilson continued his education at Princeton and later the University of Virginia, all the while his father trying to convince him to become a minister. Regardless of his son’s path, Joseph insisted on strength and Woodrow seemed, at times, to buckle under the pressures of his father’s expectations. Eventually his health broke. Young Woodrow was forced to return home where he finished his education from his parents’ home, earning a law degree in absentia from the University of Virginia.
Joseph continued to influence his son during each career move. And Woodrow never seemed to view his father’s influence as intrusive. In 1885, Woodrow dedicated his first book, Congressional Government, to his father, “the patient guide of his youth, the gracious companion of his manhood, [...] his best instructor and his most lenient critic.” [lxxi]
In 1888, Janet “Jessie” Wilson died. Joseph had lost his wife and Woodrow had lost his mother and yet following the death, the father and son entered a strained and distant period of time. Joseph’s health began failing in 1902, he moved into his son’s home near Princeton University. His final days were painful and he died at the age of eighty when his son was serving as president of Princeton.
Janet “Jessie” Woodrow Wilson (Born: December 20, 1830 – Died: April 15, 1888.) Janet “Jesse” Woodrow was born in Carlisle, England. When she was five, her family immigrated to Ontario and later moved to Ohio where her father, the Reverend Thomas Woodrow, pastored a Congregational church.
Reverend Woodrow recognized Jesse’s quiet intelligence and he encouraged her academic pursuits. While attending the Female Seminary, she met a teacher from a nearby school. Joseph Wilson was noted for his academic excellence and his desire to preach. She could hardly help her attraction to him. He was remarkably handsome and possessed both academic and spiritual strength, all of which she admired.
Joseph Wilson and Jessie Woodrow married on June 7, 1849 in a ceremony performed by her proud father. While her husband worked on his teaching career and his ministry, Jesse provided a loving home. Her first two children were girls. On December 28, 1856, a third child, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, was born. Jessie called her son “Tommy.” He would carry both family names into the White House. One more baby boy would complete the family. As a mother, Jesse invoked her years of study, reading to her four children. A loving and affectionate mother, she worked diligently to protect the family during the turbulent years of the Civil War. By this time, the Wilsons were living in the deep South. Her husband was a strong supporter of secession and white supremacy, while her relatives still resided in the free state of Ohio. Regardless of the bitter differences that divided other families, they maintained strong family ties throughout the war years and the aftermath.
Jesse was liberal with her emotions and affection within the family, but she was much reserved in her role as a minister’s wife. People sometimes criticized her “aloofness.” Like so many of the mothers of presidents, Jesse, too, hoped that her son would one take step into the pulpit but while her husband actively promoted the idea, Jesse remained constant, offering her encouragement, regardless of his choices.
In his freshman year of college, young Thomas Woodrow Wilson decided to drop his first name Thomas. Taking no offense, his mother wrote, “My darling Woodrow, I am going to make a desperate effort to call you Woodrow from this time on...I have learned to love the name we have called you ever since your baby-hood, [...]. But ‘Tommy’ is certainly an unsuitable name for a grown man.”[lxxii]
While Joseph’s love for his son was often harsh or judgmental, Jesse’s love was unconditional. A daughter would describe her as “...the most beautiful and gentle person in the world; her eyes always seemed to shine with tenderness and laughter, and there was no limit to her understanding.”[lxxiii] While Woodrow was away at school, Jesse’s health began its decline, but she continued to write letters of support and comfort. In 1888, with her son serving as an associate professor at Bryn Mawr College, fifty-seven-year-old Jesse Woodrow Wilson died in Clarksville, Tennessee.
29. President Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
George Tyron Harding II (Born: June 12, 1843 - Died: November 19, 1928.)
George, or “Tyron” as he would be known, was a colorful figure who was the father of President Warren G. Harding. He was the third of ten children born to Charles Alexander and Mary Anne Harding in Blooming Grove, Ohio. The Hardings were originally Puritan fishermen who fled England and immigrated to Braintree, Massachusetts before settling in Ohio. In the running of a farm, every son was needed for work but Charles Harding was just successful enough to spare Tyron and allow him to pursue an education. Tyron first went to a school run by his aunt. At age of fourteen he attended Liberia College where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1860. For a time, Tyron taught at a country school near Gilead, Ohio but teaching did not hold his interest. He was distracted by Phoebe Dickerson, a young beauty who lived nearby. Following his heart, he hastily enrolled in the school she was attending where they were secretly engaged. They eloped on May 7, 1864.
After marriage, Phoebe returned to her parents’ home while Tyron left to fight for the Union cause in the last days of the Civil War. One notable story that became part of the family lore was young Harding’s encounter with Abraham Lincoln. On furlough in Washington, D.C., he and two of his fellow soldiers boldly walked into the White House, requesting a meeting with Abraham Lincoln. After waiting about an hour, the trio was ushered into Lincoln’s study were the president personally thanked them for their service to the Union and jovially shook their hands. [lxxiv] Tyron bragged about the moment his entire life and it undoubtedly impressed his young son Warren. Harding’s career in the Union Army ended abruptly when he contracted Typhoid fever. He was honorably discharged and sent home to Phoebe where they lived with his parents until he recovered. Tyron finally regained his strength, resumed teaching and built Phoebe their first home. It would be the birthplace of Warren G. Harding. Tyron and Phoebe would have seven more children over the next fourteen years.
Tired and bored with teaching, Tyron Harding made a drastic career change to the field of medicine. He was mentored by a Blooming Grove physician and attended one term at the Homeopathic College in Cleveland, Ohio. With time and study he was eventually successful, becoming George Tyron Harding, M.D., but the fancy title did not bring the wealth and honor he expected. His meager income as a country doctor was supplemented by wide ranging business deals as a trader, speculator, and real estate investor. Most of his enterprises were risky and impractical and left him in deeper debt, but there was one stroke of success. Harding became part owner in the newspaper The Marion Starr. His son would one day become the sole proprietor of the paper and use it as a stepping stone to a political career.
As his son, Warren, rose in political power, Tyron Harding shamelessly enjoyed the limelight and power. Never shy about receiving his son’s financial support, Tyron was quick to trade on the famous family name for any advantage. After Phoebe’s death in 1910, he remarried a widow Eudora Kelley twenty-five years his junior. His lack of personal ambition and money led to their divorce five years later. Once, again perhaps out of boredom, he courted and married a woman twenty-six years his junior whom he had employed to assist him in his office. The two eloped in August of 1912 and Tyron doctored their marriage license to show a mere six-year age gap.[lxxv]
Sadly, Warren’s untimely death made Tyron the first father of a president to outlive his son. As the Teapot Dome Scandal and numerous humiliations plagued the legacy of the Harding presidency, Tyron retreated from the publicity he had once embraced. He died at the age of eighty-five on November 19, 1928, in Santa Ana, California.
Phoebe Dickerson Harding (Born: December 21, 1843 - Died: May 20, 1910.) Phoebe Dickerson Harding would start her young life with controversy and adventure. The attractive vivacious farm girl from central Ohio met and fell in love with her neighbor, George Tyron Harding II. Like so many other, nineteen-year-olds, Tyron had plans to volunteer to fight the rebels. But the thought of leaving his beloved Phoebe behind worried him. Tyron and Phoebe devised a plan. Young Harding visited the neighboring Dickerson girls, secretly stealing Phoebe and her sister away in a wagon ride that led straight to the local Methodist preacher’s house. There the two lovers were wed on a spring day in 1864, with Phoebe’s sister as the witness.
Tyron Harding enlisted with the Union army, while Phoebe kept their marriage a secret, living as just another daughter on her family’s farm in the rural hamlet of Blooming Grove, Ohio. A few short months latter, George was discharged and brought home with typhoid fever and the news of the marriage was announced to stunned parents.
Phoebe wasted no time becoming pregnant and on November 2, 1865, gave birth to her first son, Warren Gamaliel Hardin. He would become the twenty-ninth president of the United States. Some critical biographers have described Warren G. Harding as the least qualified man to live in the White House.[lxxvi] Some have faulted Phoebe’s free spirited nature, her lack of discipline and permissiveness as a mother. In her later years, Phoebe became quite devout and embraced the church of Seventh Day Adventist. She lived to see her son take the post of lieutenant governor of Ohio. But she passed away at the age of sixty-six more than a decade before her son would reach the White House and long before the scandals that would discredit the Harding name.
30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
John Calvin Coolidge (Born: July 4, 1872 - Died: March 18, 1926.)In his autobiography, Calvin Coolidge expressed his admiration for his father, “I was extremely anxious to grow up to be like him.”[lxxvii] John Calvin Coolidge was honest, decent, frugal, and the embodiment of old-fashioned virtue. Born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, he was educated at the local public schools of Plymouth Notch before attending the Black River Academy in Ludlow, Vermont. He worked for nine years on his father’s farm before a career as a school teacher, storekeeper and businessman entrepreneur.
In 1868, John Coolidge married the twenty-two-year old Victoria Josephine Moor who would bear him two children John Calvin and Abigail. Sadly, tuberculosis would claim the life of Victoria when young Calvin was twelve. Five years later his sister Abigail also died leaving a great void in the life of both the Coolidge men.
John Coolidge was well known for his inventiveness and common sense. He could build a buggy or nurse a sick farm animal to health. Along with his skills as a handyman and farmer, John became a successful businessman and then launched into public service, holding many positions in Vermont government, serving as the superintendent of schools, deputy sheriff, road commissioner, representative to the Vermont House, and one term in the State Senate.
His young son assisted him in a wide variety of projects, learning much from his mentor father. The two grew so close that young Coolidge’s departure to Amherst College was a painful separation. Calvin constantly wrote home to his father and was pleased when old John finally found a companion to ease the loneliness. Caroline Athena Brown and John Coolidge were wed in 1891 during Calvin’s freshman year of college.
Upon graduation, Calvin entered law and politics in Northampton, Massachusetts. Slowly, he climbed the political ladder from councilman in Northampton to Republican Governor of Massachusetts to vice president of the United States. Throughout Calvin’s political career, John was there to experience his son’s successes. The two were together at the Coolidge farm when Calvin received word that President Warren G. Harding, supposedly recovering from an assassination attempt days before, had taken a tragic turn for the worse and died. Late at night, by the light of a gas lamp, John Calvin Coolidge invoked his authority as a notary to swear his son into office as the thirtieth president of the United States. This father and son who had bonded early in life would once again rely on each other’s strength to rise to the challenges the nation put before them. John continued to become somewhat of a celebrity while his son was in office, graciously entertaining the hordes of well-wisher’s that descended on his Vermont home. After suffering both a heart attack and prostate cancer, he passed away on March 18, 1926, just shy his eighty-first birthday.
Victoria Moor Coolidge (Born: March 14, 1846 - Died: March 14, 1885.) Victoria Josephine was named after two famous empresses, though her beginnings were far more humble. She was of strong Scottish ancestry with perhaps some Indian blood. Born to poor farmers in the hamlet of Pinney Hollow, Vermont, she spent her early childhood moving with her family before settling in the area of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Like John, she attended public school and then Black River Academy where the two met. They wed on May 6, 1868. Victoria was twenty two.
The newlyweds had much promise as John began life as a shopkeeper running the store attached to their cottage. He was smart and could provide a host of services to the community, from building buggies and performing veterinarian services to plumbing and carpentry. On July 4, 1872, Victoria proudly brought into the world a son and three years later a baby girl.
But the promise of a happy life was to elude this young family. Victoria died of tuberculosis on her thirty-ninth birthday. Twelve-year-old Calvin and nine-year-old Abigail were left. Five years later, delightful Abigail died of appendicitis. Some historians believe that the strain of the loss of the two ladies in his life led to the taciturn and peculiar Coolidge personality.[lxxviii]
Though Calvin had few years with his mother, he wrote wistfully of that time. “There was a touch of mysticism and poetry in her nature which made her love to gaze at the purple sunsets and watch the evening stars.”[lxxix] Although he lived without her most of his life, she was never far from his thoughts. At his death, he carried her picture in a pocket watch near his heart.
31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
Jesse Clark Hoover (Born: September 2, 1846 - Died: December 13, 1880.) Born in West Milton, Ohio, Jesse Hoover was from a family of pioneers and risk-takers. In 1854, his father joined a popular wave of westward expansion, moving the family from Ohio to Iowa in a covered wagon, eventually settling on a farm near the small village of West Branch.
Early in life, Jesse discovered an interest and skill in tearing down and rebuilding the mechanical equipment on his father’s farm. It was a talent that would one day mark the lives of his sons and grandsons who would become engineers and inventors. When he was old enough to strike out on his own, Jesse left the farm to become a blacksmith. In 1870, he married his old schoolmate Hulda Randall Minthorn. It was a happy marriage that produced three children. Theodore Jesse Hoover arrived a year after the wedding ceremony and shortly after midnight on August 11, 1874, future president, Herbert Clark Hoover was born. Quick-witted and bursting with pride, Jesse compared his new son to the popular president Grant, then serving in his second term of office, declaring that there was another General Grant in the world. Mary, the last child in the family, arrived two years later.
Always industrious, with a sunny disposition, Jesse prospered as a blacksmith. In 1878 he sold his business, netting a healthy $1,000 profit and with the proceeds launched a retail business, selling everything from sewing machines to farm equipment. The future seemed bright. The Hoover family moved into a comfortable two-story home in the town proper of West Branch and increased their commitment to their Quaker church and community. Jesse served as town assessor and councilman.
And then suddenly, on December 13, 1880, at the peak of his earning power, beloved by his Quaker community, thirty-four-year old Jesse Clark Hoover died of rheumatism of the heart. The town was heartbroken at his unexpected death. An obituary in the West Branch Local Record described him as “Ever happy and cheerful himself, he always had a kind word for all.”[lxxx] Herbert Hoover, the future president was only six years old. Hulda was devastated but turned to God to help her survive as a widow with three children.
Hulda Minthorn Hoover (Born: May 4, 1848 – Died: February 24, 1883.) When Herbert Hoover ran against Al Smith for the presidency, some Republicans thought that his mother’s birthplace was a fact better left unrevealed. Born on an Ontario farm, Hulda Minthorn was legally a Canadian and thus a source of embarrassment to campaign managers. And so, the circulated biographies of Hoover tended to downplay the remarkable role she played in his life. Hulda was a progressive pioneer woman who valued her college education. A Quaker minister and an early leader in the Temperance Movement, she was a powerful maternal example of a leader.
The Minthorns were parents were Quakers who joined the western expansion, moving from Canada to West Branch, Iowa, when she was eleven years old. Hulda was a talented student at the University of Iowa, whose parents fully supported her pursuit of an education in a time when such a decision was deemed superfluous for a woman. It was not until the death of her father that she returned home to help her mother, teaching school in West Branch until, at the age of twenty-two, she married Jesse Clark Hoover.
Hulda Hoover played an incredibly supportive role in her husband’s enterprises, and it was not until his death that she began to assert herself as a community leader. She became an ordained minister of the Society of Friends and an outspoken member of the community. One of Herbert’s memories of her included spending all day at the polls attempting to convince men to vote themselves dry during an anti-liquor campaign. P
Personally convinced of the value of a proper education Hulda refused to touch her husband’s life insurance money, managing it and investing it instead for her children’s education. Soon after her husband’s death they lost the big house, but Hulda hired herself out as a seamstress and preached wherever there was an open door, managing somehow to keep the family afloat and save enough additional money to secure a college education for her children.
On a cold, rainy February night, exhausted and sweating after preaching for a Quaker congregation, Hulda Hoover insisted on walking the several miles home to be with her children. A few days later she was dying of pneumonia. Worried for her children and trying to live, Hulda could not fight off the illness. Her beloved husband had died at age thirty-four and now Hulda Minthorn Hoover, thirty-four years of age herself, lost her battle and passed from this life. Herbert Hoover, the future president had not yet turned eight.
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
James Roosevelt (Born July 16, 1828 - Died: December 9, 1900.) When Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of his father he said, “He was the most generous and kindly of men and always liberal in outlook.”[lxxxi] The Father of America’s twenty-third president was born in Hyde Park to affluent high society parents. His father Isaac was a graduate of Princeton and Columbia School of Physicians and Surgeons, but spent little time practicing medicine. He later went on to study law, became a wealthy entrepreneur and retired to the life of a country squire, devoting much of his time to his beloved Dutch Reformed Church.
James rebelled against his restrictive and legalistic upbringing but eventually matured, graduating from Harvard Law School. He enjoyed a brief stint as an attorney before developing a career as a financier and returning to the life of a country gentleman, much as his father before him. At age twenty-five, James married his first wife, Rebecca Brien Howland. They had one son together, with the aristocratic double appellation of James Roosevelt Roosevelt but they simply called him “Rosy.”
James, like many other proper gentlemen of his day, adroitly sidestepped the tumultuous American Civil War by hiring a substitute to serve in his place. But there was not insulation against the rumblings on the world’s financial markets. The panic of 1873 thwarted two new business ventures in railroads and coal mining, a significant financial setback. And James would lose his first wife at the age of forty-eight.
On October 7, 1880, fifty-two year old James Roosevelt married the beautiful, twenty-six year old, socialite, Sara Delano. Their son, future president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was born in 1882. Though James suffered a debilitating heart attack when young Franklin was only eight, he spent a fair amount of time with his son, teaching him how to swim, sled, skate, fish, hunt and ride horses. He accompanied his parents on eight trips to Europe. Franklin also received a knowledge of forestry, farming, and land management, riding alongside his father as he oversaw the estate. By Thanksgiving, 1900, James was seriously ill, and a few days later, with his two sons and Sara at his side, he passed away.
Sara Delano Roosevelt (Born: September 21, 1854 - Died: September 7, 1941.)
On the Hudson River, encompassed by acres of meandering gardens, stands a stately home called Algonac. In this palatial estate was born a strong-willed girl who would dramatically shape her son’s destiny. Sara Delano Roosevelt would produce the future thirty-second president of the United States and would become on of the most influential of presidential mothers.
Sara was born into a wealthy aristocratic family. Her father Warren Delano was a kind-hearted, swashbuckling, entrepreneur, who made a fortune in the opium trade in China, then lost it all and won it back again. Warren fathered a total of eleven children and Sara or “Sallie” was right in the middle. She grew up with all the proper training for a society lady and excelled at almost every undertaking, craving new experiences and enjoying exotic cultures. No ordinary life would satisfy young Sara but she finally met her match in James Roosevelt, a friend of her father’s, who intellectual prowess and refined sense of propriety matched her own. He was twenty-six years her senior but they were married and on January 30, 1882, Sallie had her only child, a splendid, rather large baby boy weighing in at a healthy ten pounds.
The child, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, immediately became her single obsession and life-long project. He was pursuing his education at Harvard when his father died. Sara bought a house nearby so the mother and son could spend their weekends together. Franklin’s mother successfully vetoed any girlfriends until he asserted himself , announcing his marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt, a distant cousin with the same family name.
Though infuriatingly proper and civil, Eleanor and Sara would live constantly at odds, vying for power within the triad. But when Franklin was tragically struck with debilitating polio, they rallied to give him support, temporarily overcoming their resentment of each other. Eventually, as Franklin defied them both, restarting a public career that would eventually lead to the White House, Sara finally acquiesced to her son’s destiny and in the process, along with daughter-in-law Eleanor, became a public figure in her own right.
33. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
John Anderson Truman (Born: December 5, 1851 - Died: November 2, 1914.)
When asked by a reporter if his father, a poor farmer, had been a success in life, Harry S. Truman replied testily, “He was the father of a president of the United States, and I think that is success enough for any man.” [lxxxii] If Harry S. Truman’s good sense came from his mother, his love of politics came from his father. John was a likeable man of character, cheerful and eager to please. Born to Anderson Shipp Truman and Mary Jane Holmes Truman in Platte County, Missouri, on December 5, 1851, John was one of five children with little opportunity for education or advancement. As a young man he grew to only five feet four inches tall but his pugnacious spirit fostered a reputation for fistfights.
When John proposed to Martha Young he had little to offer. For a time he ran a mule trading business in Lamar, Missouri but business failures kept his little family on the move from town to town. Even then, John carved out time for politics. He often took young Harry to political meetings including the Democratic National Convention in 1900 held in nearby Kansas City. John served as a delegate to the Missouri State Democratic Convention in 1908.
When Harry was a teenager, John took a risky gamble in the grain futures and lost his entire life’s savings including his inherited farm. It was the low point for a man who had lived in poverty much of his life. John was reduced to working as a night watchman for a grain elevator. The family’s financial collapse left Harry’s dreams of college shattered. In 1905, John Truman begrudgingly succumbed to his in-laws’ generosity, returning to Grandview, Missouri to run their farm. During these difficult years Harry worked side by side with his father creating a bond that would strengthen them both. More and more John came to depend on his son’s common sense. And John sufficiently recovered in spirit to confide to his son that setbacks will come in life but should never be seen as permanent. “Never, never give up,” he would say.[lxxxiii]
Eventually, John Truman’s years of political work were rewarded. He was appointed road overseer for Jackson County, Missouri. Characteristically, John accepted the position determined to excel. When he single-handedly insisted on removing a boulder blocking a road he experienced a severe hernia. He underwent surgery to have it repaired, but never fully recovered. John Anderson Truman died of cancer on November 2, 1914 at the age of sixty-two. His son was at his side.
Martha Young Truman (Born: November 25, 1852 - Died: July 26, 1947.)
No one could have guessed that this simple, spirited girl from Missouri would be the best ally her son would have as he was thrust into the presidency in the final months of World War Two. In her nineties, flying into Washington on the president’s private airplane on Mother’s Day, she took in the crowd of well wishers at the airport and announced, “Oh, fiddlesticks, if I’d known there was going to be all this fuss, I wouldn’t have come.”[lxxxiv] It was the beginning of a long love affair between the unpretentious Martha Truman and the American public.
Martha Young was born on a farm outside of Kansas City, Missouri in 1852. She was the next-to-last of nine children in the family of successful farmer Solomon Young. The family was suspected of supporting the confederacy in the great struggle that divided the nation so the family was forced into temporary exile. As she grew older, Martha spent most of her years away from the farm pursuing an education at the Baptist Female College in bustling Kansas City. Most girls her age felt the pressure to be married, but independent “Mat”, an avid reader, was in no rush to experience the drudgery of life as a farmer’s wife. It took a persistent suitor nicknamed “Peanuts” because of his short stature to win her heart. Martha Young and John Anderson Truman were married in the Young’s parlor on December 28, 1881.
Tragically their first child was stillborn but on May 8, 1884, they produced a healthy baby boy, Harry S. Truman. Another son would follow and then a daughter, but Harry always had a special place in his mother’s heart. She taught him his alphabet early and by age five he was reading the family Bible. While other boys fished and hunted, Harry stayed inside with a book propped up against his knees. One year Martha gave him an expensive set of books entitled Great Men and Famous Women. The books would be his favorites and a source of inspiration.
After the death of his father, Harry stepped up to run the family farm, acquitting himself quite handily, leaving only when the crisis of World War One intruded and his National Guard unit was called to active duty. During the war Harry reached the rank of Colonel, returning to Missouri a hero and marrying his sweetheart, Elizabeth Virginia Wallace. .
Over the years, virtually every Sunday, Harry S. Truman visited his mother. As his political career ascended the visits were sometimes interrupted but with some exceptions, the tradition persisted even after he was elected to the Senate. When reporters asked what she thought of her son’s sudden elevation to the nation’s highest office, she humbly stated, “If he’d been voted in I’d be out waving flags, but right now it doesn’t seem right to be very happy.”[lxxxv] Thirty minutes after the Japanese surrendered, Harry was on the phone to his aging mother getting her reaction. “I’m glad Harry decided to end the war.”[lxxxvi]
In February of 1947 Mrs. Truman fell, fracturing her hip. President Truman flew to Missouri where he set up a temporary White House for twelve days to be near her side. Sadly, pneumonia set in. She died on July 26, 1947 at the age of ninety-four. Days later the portrait of Martha Young Truman was hung in the White House. She was gone but not forgotten.
34. Dwight David Eisenhower (1953-1961)
David Jacob Eisenhower (Born: September 23, 1863 - Died: May 10, 1942.) Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote in his diary, “I loved my Dad.”[lxxxvii] But biographers suggest that it was not an easy task. David Eisenhower was austere, harsh and emotionally distant, a man who inspired fear more than love. “Father was the breadwinner, Supreme Court and Lord High Executioner.”[lxxxviii]
David Jacob Eisenhower, father of the thirty-fourth president, was born in Elizabethville, Pennsylvania to one Jacob Eisenhower, a successful farmer and devout Mennonite who expected his son to follow in his shoes. Jacob moved the family across the country with three hundred other Mennonite families establishing a colony in Dickinson County, Kansas. As David became a teenager, he rebelled against the long hours and monotony of farming, pining instead for a different life and studying engineering. His father, Jacob, considered cultivating the land as the God ordained, natural assignment of man. Any other ambition represented open rebellion to the Almighty. But David persisted, attending the small Lane University in Lecompton, Kansas. But here he fell in love with the bubbly, vivacious, Ida Stower. They were married in 1885 and David was forced to end his formal education to provide for a new family.
David Eisenhower’s business skills were poor. A wedding gift of 160 acres was quickly mortgaged, the money invested in a partnership and the opening of a general store. But within two short years the newlyweds were bankrupt. David set out alone to look for work in Texas. There he found employment as an engine-wiper for the railroads, earning the respectable sum of ten dollars a day. He sent for Ida and their two young sons to join him. There in Denison, Texas, in a rented one-room shack, his third son, Dwight David Eisenhower, future leader of the free world, was born.
But the pull of Kansas was too great. When Ida’s brother offered David a job as a mechanic at a creamery in Abilene, the family returned to the Midwest. Some family sources suggest that the new job represented a financial step down for David but living near family provided stability for Ida. They had three boys and more would come. There was no longer room for them in a small cottage. In Kansas generous relatives helped the Eisenhowers build a bigger house on a small farm but the new, more extravagant, lifestyle demanded extra responsibilities. David Eisenhower ran the operation like a military commander. Chores began when the father rose at 5:00 in the morning. Tardiness or failure was subject to corporal punishment, usually a whipping with a supple tree branch. In his autobiography At Ease, Dwight devotes seventeen pages to his mother, giving his father short shrift. A shocking story of the father’s rage and severe beating of second son, Edgar, paints a vivid picture of David Eisenhower’s temperament.[lxxxix] The boy had skipped school. David was an autocratic and stern father and yet his reputation for integrity within the community would be honored by his sons.
In 1916 David accepted a job that would finally offer the family some measure of security and normalcy. He was hired on as a mechanic for the Abilene Gas and Electric Company. He would stay with the company until retirement, advancing from mechanic to plant manager. Able at last to provide well for Ida in their later years, he would nonetheless have no inheritance for his sons, a fact that embarrassed him greatly. He would live to see Pearl Harbor and see his son, Dwight, serve as a personal assistant to the famous General Douglas McArthur in the Pacific Theatre. But he would die the month before his son would be appointed commanding General of the European Theatre of Operations.
Ida Stover Eisenhower (Born: May 1, 1862 - Died: September 11, 1946.)
Ida seemed to have a gift for finding joy in the midst of misery. She would need it, for her childhood and early marriage was less than ideal. Born in 1862 near the Shenandoah Valley, her earliest memories would be losing her mother and the family farm to the ravages of the Civil War. Ida and her seven brothers were sent packing to live with her maternal grandparents, a strict and severe couple. As the lone girl, the responsibility for cooking fell on young Ida’s shoulders. If a meal burned there was a harsh punishment awaiting.[xc]
Ida’s father passed away several years later leaving each child with a small inheritance. The brothers set out to make their fortune in Kansas, but Ida had a different dream. Convinced that she could advance herself with an education she worked her way through high school by cooking and cleaning for nearby families. Her strict and devout grandfather insisted that she only read the Bible at home so Ida turned it into a massive intellectual and spiritual exercise, committing over 1,356 verses to memory.[xci] After graduating from high school, she joined her brothers in Topeka where she learned of a nearby college in Lecompton. Soon after enrolling Ida set her eyes on a somber quiet fellow of German descent, David Jacob Eisenhower. Though opposites in personality their common faith and mutual attraction was strong. They were married on September 23, 1885.
Ida would give birth to seven children, all boys, including Dwight David Eisenhower, the future president, born on October 14, 1890 in Dennison, Texas. One son would die in infancy but the others would all grow into fine young men. Times were tough for the family. Legal problems and unpaid debts constantly plagued her husband. A modest job offer lured the Eisenhowers back to Kansas to the comfortable town of Abilene. There, for the first several years, they struggled in a cramped cottage. But Ida kept her joy, trusting in the comforting words of her Bible versus. And eventually things changed. They bought a small farm with a barn, fruit trees, cows, and chickens. Here Ida’s organization and ability to manage effectively paid off. In a matter of months she had her boys efficiently running the small farm, producing all the necessities of life. Humming hymns as she worked, Ida was the more dominant of the two parents, but she did everything with such joy that no one seemed to mind.
Though a pacifist and heartbroken at Dwight’s decision to enter West Point, she supported her son and was careful never to interfere with his choices. During World War Two, Dwight Eisenhower rose to become the commander of the entire Allied effort and was transformed into a hometown hero. When asked by a reporter if she were proud of her son, she genuinely asked, “Which one?” [xcii] She was equally proud of all her children. Each was successful in their chosen careers. Arthur became a banker, Edgar a lawyer, Roy a pharmacist, Earl an engineer and journalist and Milton, the youngest, who would be mentioned as a presidential possibility himself, became an extraordinary educator-administrator, building John Hopkins University into one of the nation’s leading institutions. In her later years, after the loss of her husband, Ida succumbed to a failed memory after the loss but she maintained her smile and sunny disposition.
She lived to see Dwight, her third son, accept the surrender of the Axis in World War Two and be hailed an American hero in tickertape parades in New York and Washington but she died before he was elected president. It probably didn’t matter. He was already a great success in her mind. All that mattered to Ida was that her boys grow to be God-fearing men of integrity. This she saw to fruition with great joy and dignity. She was eighty-four years old when she died peacefully in her sleep.
35. John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1961-1963)
Joseph Patrick Kennedy (Born: September 6, 1888 - Died: November 18, 1969.)
Joseph Patrick Kennedy, son of Patrick Joseph “P.J.” Kennedy, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was the owner of a wine and spirit importation business and a leading figure in the local Democratic Party. In the fall of 1908, Joe fulfilled his parent’s wish by enrolling in Harvard University. Nine years after first meeting Rose Fitzgerald, the daughter of popular Boston mayor John Francis Fitzgerald, the two were married. They had nine children, including President John Kennedy, Attorney General and New York Senator, Robert Kennedy and Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy. Their daughter Eunice would marry Sarge Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps, Ambassador to France and the 1972 Democratic vice presidential nominee. Joe Kennedy’s early relationship with his children was distant but respectful. He held high expectations for all his sons telling them that “second best is a loser.”[xciii]
Joe Kennedy served as the nation’s youngest bank president. Before his amazing business career was over he would make a fortune on Wall Street, shipbuilding, the movie industry and liquor importation. His marriage infidelities, including a famous liaison with movie actress Gloria Swanson, the most glamorous woman of his day, set a pattern for his sons.[xciv] Despite his failures as a husband and father, Rose would label him “the architect of our lives.”[xcv]
Kennedy was an active member of the Democratic Party and in 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. In 1937 he was appointed United States Ambassador to Great Britain. Joe was an isolationist who disapproved of Roosevelt's growing involvement in the war, later resigning from office in 1940. His views were so out of sync with the nation that any further political ambition was dashed.
Pain was no stranger to the Kennedys. Tragically, during the Second World War Kennedy's eldest son Joe (1915-1944) was killed while serving in the armed forces and daughter Kathleen (1920-1948) died in a plane crash.. After the war Joe concentrated on helping the political careers of his three surviving sons. John Fitzgerald Kennedy became president but was assassinated in 1963. Robert Kennedy served as Attorney General under his brother and as Senator from New York before he was murdered in 1968. Edward Kennedy became a Senator from Massachusetts. Joseph P. Kennedy oldest daughter, Rosemary, was mentally handicapped. Joe agreed to a lobotomy, drastically worsening her condition. This he kept as a secret from his family. In December, 1961, Joe suffered a paralyzing stroke from which he never recovered. Joseph Kennedy died eight years later on November 18th, 1969.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (Born: July, 1890 - Died: January 22, 1995.) Born to John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald and Josephine Mary Hannon, Rose began her life on the campaign trail. Rose possessed her father’s magic charisma for politics and her mother’s abiding religious faith. Her father “Honey Fitz” was a Congressman and later the popular mayor of Boston. Young Rose often stood smiling beside him at ribbon cuttings and other ceremonial occasions, charming the crowd. The dark-haired beauty, gifted with a bright mind, graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. She studied abroad in Europe where she gained her famous high society polished look. Upon returning to Boston, she devoted herself to teaching Catechism to slum children.
Rose’s real destiny was motherhood. Nine years after her first dance with the fiery red-haired Irishman Joe Kennedy, the two wed on October 7, 1914. Twenty-five- year old Joe Kennedy had just become the youngest bank president in Massachusetts, and this helped persuade Rose’s parents to give their blessing to the union. Big money and big business were soon pouring into Joe’s hands, taking him away from his family and leaving Rose to raise the children.
On May 20, 1917, the Kennedys were blessed with a second son, John F. Kennedy. Rose’s program for all her children included attending Mass every day, taking them on historical field trips to Plymouth Rock, and teaching concepts of right and wrong. Rose worked very hard at bringing up winners, just as hard as her husband worked at amassing his millions and his notorious philandering. Even in her times of greatest pain, the loss of her children, she seemed never to complain. Her composure during J.F.K’s tragic assassination attested to her strength and faith.
Rose Kennedy actively campaigned for her sons throughout their political careers. And throughout her life she supported numerous philanthropic causes. She was an American icon of motherhood with grace and beauty who lived to the astounding age of one hundred and four years, passing away on January 22, 1995 in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
36. President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-1969)
Sam Ealy Johnson Jr. (Born: October 11, 1877 - Died: October 22, 1937.) Sam Ealy Johnson Jr. was born in Buda, Texas, to Sam Johnson Sr. and Eliza Bunton Johnson. Sam was a notably bright child with a quick mind and an amazing memory. When Sam was eleven the family moved to the banks of the Pedernales River where the town of Johnson City, Texas would one day be established by Sam’s nephew James. As a teenager, Sam was determined to get an education to better himself and leave the drudgery of farm life. Money for schooling was scarce. Sam was the fifth of nine children. So he learned to be a butcher and barber to help pay the small fees to attend public school. When doctors diagnosed him with a nervous stomach forcing him to drop out, he devoted himself to his own private regimen of study, eventually passing the Texas state teacher’s examination.
After two years of teaching Sam was restless. He tried his hand at farming before finally discovering a more practical use for his persuasive personality. He ran for the Texas state House of Representatives and won. While serving his second term in the legislature, Sam married the beautiful Rebekah Baines. In 1908, the same year Lyndon Baines Johnson was born, Sam sought his third legislative term. An unfortunate financial collapse caused by the decline of the cotton market forced him to leave politics for ten years. During this hiatus, he earned a living as a rancher, realtor, and land speculator and he soon regained prosperity. Young Lyndon, though most definitely a “mama’s boy,” resembled his father and shared many of the same characteristics. He was precocious, ambitious, competitive, and determined. Sam could not help but make everything a competition. In the morning he would shake Lyndon awake before sunrise and holler “Get up, Lyndon, every boy in town already has gotten an hour start on you and you will never catch up.”[xcvi] Sam returned to the legislature in 1917. His most notable achievements were the historic preservation of the Alamo and the “Johnson Blue Sky Law.”[xcvii]
In July of 1937 Sam suffered a massive hear attack. That fall he died at home at the age of sixty. Lyndon Johnson would complete his father’s meager beginnings in politics with a public service career that spanned more than three decades, culminating in the presidency of the United States.
Rebekah Baines Johnson (Born: June 26, 1881 - Died: September 12, 1958.)
Growing up in McKinney, Texas, Rebekah Baines was exceptionally bright. In a different time she might have had political ambitions of her own but she was a realist and played the proper role for a young lady of her time. Rebekah channeled her ambition and drive into her son who would become our thirty-sixth president. Born to Ruth and Joseph Baines, the moment Rebekah opened her tiny blue eyes she would be her “daddy’s girl”. Tracing his heritage all the way back to Scotland, Joseph Baines came from a long line of highly educated Baptist preachers. In this tradition, Joe taught his beloved Rebekah to read at an early age. Rebekah attended college at Baylor University and was a freelance writer for several newspapers in the Austin area. Proudly Rebekah watched her father be appointed as the Texas secretary of state. Sadly he passed away before reaching his life-long goal of running for Congress.
Shortly before her father’s passing, he had introduced her to a young state legislator by the name of Sam Johnson. Crushed by the loss of her mentor and guide, she ran into the comforting arms of her new friend. Sam was an earthy, clever man with a boisterous laugh and a promising career as a rancher and politician. Rebekah, refined and beautiful, with her blue eyes and blonde hair seemed an unlikely match for the rough and rowdy rancher. But they were wed on August 20, 1907. A year later Rebekah would give birth to Lyndon Baines Johnson, the boy who would become president. Seeing her baby for the first time, Rebekah would understand “the deep purposefulness and true nobility”[xcviii] that had shone in her own father’s eyes. From that moment on little Lyndon became her number one project.
Life on a remote farm near the Pedernales River was a challenge but Rebekah would somehow provide the resources a future president would need. By his second birthday she had taught him the alphabet and by the time he was three he was reciting Longfellow. She poured her love of culture and education into all five of her children, but she worshipped her firstborn. Throughout his life, Rebekah was a constant support and actively encouraged his pursuit of politics. When he was elected to congress she wrote proudly that “today my faith is restored. How happy it would have made my precious noble father to know the first born of his first born would achieve the position he so desired….how dear you are.”[xcix] She would live to see him ascend to Majority Leader of the Senate but she died in Austin, Texas in 1958. Five years later, Lyndon Johnson would become president.
37. Richard Milhous Nixon (1969-1974)
Francis Anthony Nixon (Born: December 3, 1878 - Died: September 4, 1956.)
In his early teenage yearsFrank Nixon left lonely Vinton, Ohio, and set out on his own. Sporadic schooling in his tumultuous childhood made finding a steady occupation difficult. Frank tried his hand as a carpenter, painter, farmer, and even as a railway motorman. In 1907, he traveled to Southern California. He worked the rail line that went from Los Angeles to Whittier. Surprisingly, this brash energetic young Irishman won the heart of the quiet beauty Hannah Milhous. Seven years Hannah’s senior, Frank was opinionated, boisterous and lavish in his love of this simple sheltered Quaker girl. Only four months after they met, Hannah and Frank were wed on June 25, 1908.
During their first year of marriage things seemed promising; Frank had a job as a field-hand at the Jordan Ranch just east of Whittier. The small flimsy cottage that came with the job would be Frank and Hannah’s first home together. But financial worries seemed to plague Frank, and his inability to accept advice made things worse. His father-in-law set him up in a small orange farm but the project failed. His attempt at moving to the new community of Yorba Linda to grow lemons also failed miserably, inflaming his hurt pride. Finally he and Hannah eked out a living running a gas station and market.
Frank’s exuberant charm could be offset by a raging temper. Neighbors heard him yelling loudly at his boys.[c] Hannah, never confrontational, only offered the gentle criticism that “he could be very undiplomatic.”[ci] In Frank’s later years his charm faded and a meanness and bitterness set in that Hannah quietly endured. In 1947, Frank retired to a relative’s farm near York, Pennsylvania. Some wondered if he was reaching out to his son, who was now in close proximity, forging a political career in Washington D.C. He lived to see his son elected the vice president of the United States. But in 1956, after being bedridden for months and in declining health, Frank Nixon slipped away. He would miss his son’s mercurial rise and fall from power, his opening to China and the important role he would play in world history.
Hannah Milhous Nixon (Born: March 7, 1885 - Died: September 30, 1967.) Richard Nixon tearfully proclaimed his mother as a saint on his final day as president.[cii] Though Hannah would not live to see her son take the oath of the highest office in the land, her kindness gave him a soft place to land during his sometimes harsh childhood.
Born into the serene family of devout Quakers in Jennings’s County, Indiana, Hannah had an idealistic upbringing. Her gentle-spirited father, Franklin Milhous, a prosperous fruit tree farmer, decided to pack up the family and head west to promises of fertile land in California. Twelve-year-old Hannah quickly settled into a new Quaker community on the west coast. She enjoyed studies at Whittier Academy and her regular attendance at Whittier Friends Church. On a cold Valentine’s Day in 1908 her plans to pursue a career as a teacher took a backseat to the dashing but temperamental Francis Anthony Nixon. Despite her parent’s misgivings and concern over Frank’s ability to provide a living, they were married on June 25, 1908.
Richard M. Nixon was born in a humble white bungalow on January 9, 1913 in Yorba Linda, California. He was the second of five children in a family of five boys. Hannah emphasized the importance of education, teaching Richard to read before he began school. Her kindness and encouragement of Richard’s dreams forged a strong emotional bond between the two. Along with raising her rambunctious brood, she was up at dawn each day to ensure that the family grocery store was ready for business. Hannah endured Frank’s unpredictable temper and doomed business investments, but her greatest pain came from the ravages of tuberculosis which took her oldest son, Harold, and next to youngest son, Arthur. Richard Nixon was devoted to his mother to the end. She passed away on September 30, 1967, at the age of eighty-two. The following year her son was elected president.
38. President Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
Leslie Lynch King (Born: July 25, 1886 - Died: February 18, 1941.) Gerald Ford was thirteen when he learned about Leslie Lynch King, a multi-millionaire who had made a fortune as a wool merchant. He married Gerald’s mother Dorothy Gardner on September 7, 1912. Unfortunately, their marriage was wrought with difficulty and thus, short-lived. Biographers, as well as Ford, write of King’s abuse toward his wife. She reportedly fled with her infant son, Leslie Lynch King Jr. to her parents’ home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Leslie and Dorothy were divorced within three years of their wedding.
Due to poor business practices, King reportedly lost his fortune. Yet, when he made his first introduction to his teenaged son, he did not appear to be financially strapped. Leslie had traveled to Grand Rapids to pick up a new Lincoln. While in Michigan he tracked his son to a local restaurant where he worked as a waiter. King introduced himself as Gerald’s father and asked the stunned boy to take a lunch break. The two ate together, and at the end of their meal, he gave his son twenty-five dollars. Gerald was in his last year of study at Yale when his biological father, suffering from asthma, died in Tucson, Arizona, unaware of the historic and healing role his president son would one day play for the nation.
.Gerald Rudolf Ford Sr. (Born: December 9, 1890 – Died: January 26, 1962.) Gerald Rudolf Ford’s father was killed in a train accident when Gerald was fourteen. As a result the boy earned an eighth grade education before dropping out of school to provide for his family’s needs. He started work in a paint store where he successfully learned the business that eventually enabled him to open the Ford Paint and Varnish Company.
On February 1, 1916, Gerald married Dorothy Gardner King, a beautiful young woman whom he met at church. With their marriage, he instantly became father to the young son born from her troubled first marriage, not only accepting the boy as his own but giving him his own name, Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr. The boy would become the thirty-eighth president. Gerald Sr. was a civic leader and member of many organizations and orders. His integrity earned more than just the respect of his Grand Rapids’ community. During the Depression when other businesses were folding, the DuPont Corporation extended credit to Gerald and the Ford Paint and Varnish Company. Customers knew they could count on Ford to stand behind his product, and DuPont believed they could trust him with an impressive line of credit in spite of the bank’s previous foreclosure on his home. Rather than laying off employees, Ford lowered every worker’s wage including his own to five dollars per week until the economy improved and could support better wages.
Ford was a strong Republican and a man who lived his faith. Both he and his wife continued to serve their community and to teach their sons values of family and faith. Dorothy Ford often said of her husband, “’If Dad would give as much time to the paint business as to public affairs, we’d be rich.’”[ciii] Ford had three strict rules for his four sons, tell the truth, work hard, and show up for dinner on time. Gerald Ford died at the age of seventy-two after slipping on a patch of ice, ultimately bringing on a fatal heart attack.
Dorothy Ayer Garner Ford (Born: February 27, 1892 – Died: September 17, 1967.) Born in Harvard, Illinois, she was educated at a girl’s finishing school, then attended college. However, she was swept away by the dashing young Leslie King after her first year of school. The couple was wed on September 7, 1912. However, their marital bliss was cut short when, on their honeymoon, a gentleman tipped his hat to the new Mrs. King. The jealous Leslie began slapping his wife without reprieve. Bouts of abuse continued followed by repentant moments that brought them back together. Their son Leslie Lloyd King Jr. was born on July 14, 1913, and sixteen days later, after being threatened by her husband with a butcher knife, Dorothy fled with her new baby to her parents’ home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Dorothy is noted for her strong faith in a loving and caring God. It was a faith that carried her through the heartbreak. Little was said about the reasons behind her failed marriage, but she found solace in her family’s home. There she met the enterprising young Gerald Ford. He was quiet but ambitious. Reluctant because of her tumultuous past, Dorothy was not anxious to risk another marriage. Yet when she was confident that Gerald would provide a good home and be a good father to her son, she consented.
Her judgment proved sound. Gerald established a reputation for integrity and love for his sons, especially the little adopted baby from Dorothy’s first marriage. While Gerald was building a prominent business, Dorothy was at home creating a home. Keenly aware of her own trials and hardships as a young bride, she devoted much of her life to helping others in need.
Much of her life revolved around Grace Episcopal Church. It was there that she originally met her husband. It was there that the two were happily married. And years later, it was there, sitting in her regular pew waiting for services to commence, that Dorothy Ford suffered a fatal heart attack. In 1974, Leslie Lynch King, Jr., the little baby she had brought into a troubled, abusive home, became president of the United States and helped heal the nation after the division of the Watergate years.
39. James Earl Carter Jr. (1977-1981)
James Earl Carter Sr. (September 12, 1894 - July 23, 1953.)Thirty years after the Civil War William Archibald Carter and his wife, Nina, celebrated the birth of their fourth child. (They would eventually have five children.) In true southern fashion, the boy was called by his middle name, Earl. He spent the first nine years of his life in Arlington, Georgia, his town of his birth. Then tragedy struck. His father was shot and killed by a business partner. In 1904, the remaining family moved to Plains, Georgia, to be closer to a supportive uncle. The move was to change Earl’s life. It was a small, dusty, town but Earl determined to conquer it. With his uncle providing moral support he was able to complete the tenth grade at Riverside Academy in Gainesville, Florida. The family could trace its lineage to the 1700’s and in all those years, no other Carter had ever achieved as much academically.
Thirsty for adventure, seventeen-year-old Earl took a job as a cowboy in Texas. After two years, he saved enough money to move back to Plains to launch the first of many successful businesses, an ice house. With the profits he started a laundry and dry cleaning business. His entrepreneurial career was interrupted by World War One where, despite poor eyesight, Earl rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps. Returning to Plains he continued his investments, opening a grocery store on Main Street and taking out a line of credit to purchase acreage.
In 1921, he met and fell in love with Lillian Gordy, a student nurse at the local private hospital. They met at a dance and although Earl was sure of “Lilly,” she needed some time. Her boss, Dr. Sam Wise, who would one day serve as the attending physician at Jimmy Carter’s birth, told Lillian that Earl had more ambition than anyone in town and that he would undoubtedly be a success in life. After a constant stream of notes and flowers Earl prevailed only to insist that Lillian finish her schooling first. They were married on September 27, 1923. Earl was twenty-nine and Lillian was twenty-five. Earl had hoped that a potato crop would pay for the reception and honeymoon but the yield was poor and the events were postponed. On October 1, 1924, at seven in the morning, the new couple welcomed the birth of the first of four children, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter Jr. He would become the first president born in a hospital.
Earl Carter continued to prosper. By 1927, he had generated enough profits to pay off his loan, increase his land holdings to 700 acres and offer loans to other Sumter County farmers. Eventually, most farmers in the area came to Earl for help and his land holdings grew to a sizable 4,000 acres. Living in rural Georgia in those days was not easy. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing for the Carters. But using advance crop rotation and diversification, newly effective insecticides and the latest agricultural machinery Earl was able to succeed when others around him were falling to the ravages of the Great Depression.
As his affluence grew, Earl did not neglect his family or civic duties. Since his wife was often absent helping neighbors deliver children or tending to their medical needs, he was the parent who dealt with the children. He took them to school, to church, and to social events and even helped with their homework. He served on the Sumter County School Board and was an early director of the Rural Electrification Administration. Earl was a member of the Plains Baptist Church, the local Lions Club, the Americus Elks and the American Legion.
Earl and firstborn Jimmy Carter were very close. “He was the center of my life,” the future president would say, “And the focus of my admiration. My daddy was the dominant personality in our family.” He described his father as his only friend. When Jimmy was a teen, Earl struck a deal. If his boy would not start smoking until after he turned twenty-one, Earl would give him his gold watch. Jimmy, alone in the family, hated smoking. All of his Jimmy’s siblings would die of pancreatic cancer, as would Earl. But the father’s favor had a barbed caveat. Earl held his namesake to a higher standard. Gloria Carter, Jimmy’s sister insisted that no matter how well Jimmy succeeded Earl would always insist he could have done better.
When Jimmy graduated high school in 1941, Earl was supportive of his dream to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. While his son attended classes at Georgia Southwestern College in Americus and Georgia Institute of Technology, Earl discussed the idea of an appointment to Annapolis with a local Congressman. In 1943, his father secured Jimmy the sponsorship and he was admitted to the Naval Academy. With his son advancing in the military, Earl was elected as the Sumter County representative in the House of Representatives of the Georgia General Assembly. Politically, the father and son disagreed. “He was quite conservative, and my mother was and a liberal,” Jimmy Carter would explain, “Although in our family we never thought much about such labels.”[civ]
At the time of his election to state office, Earl Carter was already suffering from the ravages of pancreatic cancer. He died at his home on July 22, 1953. Only then did the family learn of his considerable charity, especially toward his own tenant farmers. Returning from the funeral, Jimmy Carter made a life-altering resolution to resign from the Navy. He told his sister, “I want to be a man like my father.” At age twenty-eight, Jimmy returned to Plains, Georgia to manage his father’s farm and peanut brokerage business.
Bessie Lillian Gordy Carter (August, 15 1898-October 30, 1983.) James Jackson Gordy and Mary Ida Nicholson would have eight children of their own. Lillian or “Lilly,” as she was called, would be a middle child. When an aunt died, James and Mary happily took in their two children and when a grandfather died they accepted his widow. The Gordy home fairly bulged with thirteen children and relatives.
They were all fortunate that James Jackson, known as “Jim Jack” Gordy, always seemed to have a comfortable job. Most prominently, he was the postmaster for Richland, Georgia for twenty-one years and held positions as revenue officer and later a United States deputy marshal. If the living was fragile during tough economic times, the Gordy’s could count on the relative security of Jim Jack’s government jobs. Although enjoying politics, Mr. Gordy eschewed office himself offering instead his assistance to worthy candidates. Many of his liberal ideas impacted Lillian. He was supportive of a woman’s right to an education, considering his daughters the intellectual equal to any man. Although he lived in the Deep South, he believed in racial justice and equality. He believed that it was government’s responsibility to improve the quality of life and care for its citizens. Jim Jack enthusiastically supported a plan to have government fund free rural mail. Late in 1918, with World War One raging, he supported his daughter’s aspiration to become a nurse. But when the War came to an abrupt end all nurse training programs were phased out. Lillian was heartbroken but Jim Jack turned to Dr. Sam Wise, an old family friend. Dr. Wise was building a private hospital in Plains, Georgia and as a favor to Jim Jack agreed to his daughter on as a trainee.
In Plains, Georgia Lillian met the man she would marry, James Earl Carter, Sr. They were engaged in 1923 but Earl insisted that Lillian finish her nurse’s training before the wedding. For six months Lillian worked as a trainee in Atlanta, Georgia. During the separation, Earl placed weekly phone calls and visited twice, keeping the home fires burning. On September 26, 1923, they were married. Earl was twenty-seven. Lillian was twenty-five. James Earl Carter, Jr. was born on October 1, 1924, he would be the first of four children and grow up to become the president of the United States.
Earl and Lillian were the equivalent of today’s power couple but years before their time. Lillian earned a decent living as a surgical and private duty nurse, while Earl’s investments prospered. The financial security allowed Lillian to take on poor patients in need. She became a virtual doctor to the indigent of Sumter County, delivering babies and attending to their medical needs. With Lillian often gone for days at a time, Earl and a succession of nannies took on the extra duties of raising the children. “My childhood world was really shaped by black women,” Jimmy Carter would say. Lillian would later regret some of her choices, saying that Earl “had been a more affectionate father than I had been a mother.” But her family would be proud of her.[cv]
Working tirelessly for the poor of the community, Lillian knew nothing of Earl’s business. When he died in July of 1953, she was unprepared to manage his enterprises. First, the Georgia State legislature asked the widow to carry out her husband’s term. She quickly demurred, declaring herself unqualified to represent people who had elected a man of conservative views, while her own were defiantly liberal. Then, she was wholly unprepared to manage the farm and peanut warehouse business. With so many employees’ lives at stake, Lillian felt a solemn responsibility to act but there was only one person capable of helping her pick up the pieces and make it all work. In 1953 Lieutenant Jimmy Carter Jr. resigned from the Navy and a promising career, working on the nation’s first atomic submarine, returning home to Plains, Georgia, to help his mother run the family business.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Lillian descended into a deep depression which required months of medication. Her family rallied around her. When she learned of the need for a “house mother” at Auburn University, they encouraged her to take the job, believing that the busy life of a fraternity would help bring healing. She worked for the fraternity for over seven years. But her return to Plains, brought back renewed feelings and stifling boredom. Looking for a cause to support, she attended the 1964 Democratic Convention and became the cochairman of the Lyndon Johnson presidential campaign committee in Americus, Georgia. The action only inspired a greater desire for civic duty.
When Lillian was sixty-eight, she saw a public service announcement for the Peace Corps. She laughingly told her children she was signing up. But what began as a flight of fantasy eventually became reality. She formally jointed the organization in 1966, studied Marathi and Hindi languages at the University of Chicago, and traveled to Vikhroli, India. The posting lasted for two years, with Lillian writing glowing letters home to her children. “I didn’t dream that in this remote corner of the world… I would discover what life is really all about. Sharing yourself with others and accepting their love for you is the most precious gift of all.”[cvi]
During Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, Lillian became an international figure. She made more than 600 speeches to show her support and privately counseled her son behind the scenes. Lillian Carter won the hearts of America with her blunt, straight talking style. When Jimmy was elected, she attended the inaugural proceedings, thoroughly enjoying her role as the nation’s “First Mother.” And she would visit the White House often. In February of 1977, she returned to India as a representative of the United States for the funeral of President Fakhruddin Ali of India. Carter described his mother as “an extrovert, very dynamic, inquisitive in her attitude about life, compassionate towards others.”[cvii] She died of cancer in 1983. She was eighty-five.
40. President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
John Edward “Jack” Reagan (Born: July 13, 1883 - Died: May 18, 1941) John Reagan, known by all as “Jack,” was born in Fulton, Illinois, to John and Jennie Reagan. His parents were common, hardworking people, the father earning income as a worker in a grain elevator. Both parents died of tuberculosis within days of one another, leaving six-year-old Jack, his sister, and brother orphans. The three children were immediately separated. The brother and sister went to live with their uncle, William Reagan, while Jack was sent alone to Bennett, Iowa, to live with his Aunt Margaret and her husband Orson G. Baldwin.
It was while living with the Baldwin’s that Jack had his first taste of salesmanship working as a clerk in his uncle’s store. At the age of sixteen, Jack returned to Fulton and entered the work force full-time as a salesman for J.W. Broadhead Dry Goods Store. A second generation Irish-American Catholic, Jack fell in love with Nelle Clyde, a petite optimistic Protestant. Jack was already demonstrating a weakness for alcohol, but Nelle seemed to think she could love him out of the illness and married him anyway in a Catholic service, November 8, 1904. Jack’s sales work led the couple from one small Illinois town to another, finally settling in Tampico in 1906 where he became involved in community affairs, serving for a stint as a city councilman. On February 6, 1911, a second son Ronald Wilson Reagan was born. In 1914, Jack was on the move again. Within a four year period they lived in Chicago, Galesburg and Monmouth before finally returning to Tampico. The Great Depression may not have affected the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the Bushes or the Carters but Jack Reagan was devastated. After losing a job on Christmas Eve, Jack’s days as a salesman were finished.
As a liberal Democrat, Jack Reagan worked diligently on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential campaign and afterward was rewarded with a position in the Works Progress Administration in Dixon, Illinois, providing food and food scrip to families, and finding jobs for the unemployed but poor health forced him to quit.
When Ronald Reagan’s acting career began to flourish, he sent money to support his parents. After signing a contract with Warner Brothers, he purchased a home for them in California, and Jack took a studio job managing his son’s fan mail for twenty-five dollars a week. Notwithstanding Jack’s weakness for alcohol, he was a noted storyteller and an honest man, both gifts which were passed onto his son. The senior Reagan instilled in his boys an “abhorrence of religious and racial bigotry.”[cviii] He would not allow them to view movies that glorified bigotry or hatred. As a traveling salesman, he slept in his car on a cold winter’s night rather than stay at the town’s only hotel which refused to offer service to minorities.
When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980, the Kremlin leaked stories about the alcoholic problems of the father, hoping it would weaken his election chances. Jack Reagan was mercifully deceased. In Reagan’s autobiography, Where’s the Rest of Me?, Reagan refers to his father as “a man who might have made a brilliant career out of selling but he lived in a time—and with a weakness—that made him a frustrated man.”[cix]
One of the highlights of Jack’s relationship with his son was attending the premiere of his first significant film, Knute Rockne--All American. The event was held in South Bend, Indiana, home of the Notre Dame University Fighting Irish football team. Ronald Reagan introduced his father to his all-time favorite movie star, Pat O’Brien. The elder Reagan and O’Brien, both Irishmen who loved the bottle, hit it off immediately, becoming drinking buddies for the final weeks of Jack’s life. He died suddenly of heart failure. Throughout his life, Ronald Reagan continued to glory in the movie role of the Gipper. Till the very end, until Reagan was completely overtaken by Alzheimer’s, he would speak of the football player he personified in the film. And he would often quote the line from the movie, to “win one for the Gipper.” Ronald Reagan would go onto the governorship of California, the White House and a heroic role in ending the Cold War but he could not let go of his last link to the man who had raised him and a time when the father had been unabashedly proud of the son.[cx]
Nelle Wilson Reagan (Born: July 24, 1883 – Died: July 25, 1962.) She was born into a large, loving family in Fulton, Illinois, the youngest of seven children. Like her future husband, Jack, she received a minimal education but unlike Jack she was an optimistic young woman, devout in her faith and compassionate toward others, making it a practice to visit any acquaintance ill or in prison. At twenty-three, she was working as a salesclerk alongside Jack Reagan. It was already apparent that jack was struggling with alcohol but Nelle knew no defeat or sadness, strong in her conviction that alcoholism was an illness not a moral failing, she responded to her colleague with open friendship.
Nelle Wilson and John “Jack” Reagan became husband and wife in a Catholic ceremony in 1904. Their marriage would not to be one of ease, however, marked by her husband’s uncontrollable drinking binges and perpetuated by their continued moves throughout the Illinois countryside. Nelle turned instinctively to her faith for strength and hope. As an accomplished seamstress, she worked to help stretch the family’s means in difficult times, and, in addition to their schooling, she tutored her young sons, Neil and Ronald.
Born in 1908, John Neil was baptized in the Catholic Church. But as her marriage worsened, Nelle reverted to the Protestant faith of her childhood. By the time of Ronald’s birth on February 6, 1911, Nelle was the spiritual leader in the home and her youngest son was raise according to her own version of scripture. Nelle often drew on support from her family, staying with a sister or brother during difficult periods. Regardless of the situation, she continued to support Jack and taught her children to love and respect him. “We should remember how kind and loving he was when he wasn’t affected by drink,” [cxi] Regardless of where they lived or where her husband worked, Nelle’s benevolence and optimism continued unabated. Ron was taught “that all things work together for good to them that love God.” Either as a distraction or as a complement to their daily routine, Nelle organized drama recitals and plays in the small towns where they lived. It was young Ronald Reagan’s his first taste of the theatre.
When Reagan began to draw a salary from his radio broadcasts, he sent money home to support his parents. Nelle was able to finally quit working. Until they moved into their California home purchased by Ronald in 1939, Nelle had never lived in a home that she could call her own. She died in California in 1962, at the age of seventy-seven when her Ronald was a rising television personality. Greatly affected by his mother’s death, that year Reagan retired from his work as a spokesman for General Electric, left the board of the Screen Actors Guild and switched his membership from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. Two years later his nationally televised speech in behalf of the Republican presidential nominee catapulted him into national prominence.
41. George Herbert Walker Bush (1989 -1993)
Prescott Sheldon Bush (Born: May 18, 1895 – Died: October 8, 1972.)The first of a long line of public servants in the Bush family, Prescott Sheldon Bush set the example for his children and influenced the nation with his high-minded idealism. “My father was the real inspiration in my life,” said presidential son George Herbert Walker Bush, “He was strong and strict, but full of decency and fairness.”[cxii] Born in Columbus, Ohio,Prescott was the oldest son of four children born to Samuel Prescott Bush and Flora Sheldon. S. P., as the father was called had left an early career with the Pennsylvanian Railroad to make his fortune with steel. Prescott saw the effects of hard work by watching his father climb from a mechanical engineer to a twenty-year reign as president of Buckeye Steel. S. P. also encouraged health and athleticism, as one of the first assistant coaches of the Ohio State University football team.
Prescott, or Pres as he was called, resumed a tradition, interrupted by his father, of earning a degree at Yale University. He excelled in sports, academics, singing and debate. His popularity secured him a position in the secret Skull and Bones Society, a tradition that would impact two future presidents in the family. After graduating from Yale, Prescott joined the army where he served as captain in the 158th Field Artillery Brigade during the first World War.
Like his father before him, Pres set out on his own, moving to St. Louis where he began a career in sales. In a long business career that spanned decades, Pres became a partner at the prestigious New York firm of Brown Brothers Harriman, eventually serving on the board of directors of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Prudential Insurance Company, the Pennsylvania Water and Power Company and Pan American Airways.
Never one to ignore a private life as an exchange for a powerful profession, he married the first girl he fell in love with, Dorothy Walker. They would have five children together, four boys and a girl. The second son, George Herbert Walker Bush, was born in Milton, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1924 and would grow up to become the forty-first president. Prescott was a man who understood the importance of the father within the family dynamics. George Bush recalled that his parents practiced “an old-fashioned way of bringing up a family with generous measures of both love and discipline.”[cxiii]
Subscribing to a philosophy that one must take car of the family first and then enter public life, Pres Bush used his vast network of friends and millionaire status to launch a public career. In 1947 he was named chairman of the Connecticut State Finance Committee of the Republican Party. By the end of the next year, he served as a delegate-at-large to the Republican National Convention. In 1950, the Republicans nominated Pres for the U.S. Senate. He lost to William Benton by approximately 1,000 votes but ran again two years later and won. President Eisenhower named Pres on a list of ten best candidates for the 1960 Republican presidential nominations. In 1972, with his second son serving as United Nations Ambassador, Prescott Sheldon Bush died of lung cancer at the age of seventy-seven.
Dorothy Walker Bush (Born: 1901 – Died: November 19, 1992.) Dorothy Walker was the daughter of George Herbert Walker, a successful businessman who co-founded the largest private investment house in the history of Wall Street. An avid sportsman, he was the founder of golf’s Walker Cup and served as the President of the U.S. Golf Association. Walker demanded athletic excellence from all of his children including Dorothy. She was raised to develop her own skills in basketball, golf, baseball, swimming and tennis. In 1918, she was the runner-up in the Women’s National Tennis Tournament. Her competitive spirit was easily be linked to her father’s need to be the best.
If sports ruled, education was a close second. Dorothy’s family enrolled her in a private school in St Louis, Missouri and then sent her on to one of the nation’s renowned finishing schools, Miss Porter’s in Farmington, Connecticut. As was the custom for the times, great importance was placed on “the proper” marriage. In the summer of 1919, Prescott Bush announced his engagement to Dorothy. They were married at the Church of St. Ann in Kennebunkport, Maine, on August 6, 1921. Dorothy raised all of her five children to respect good-natured competition. According to her family, when she was nine months pregnant with her first child, Prescott Jr., she was participating in a friendly softball game. She hit a home run, went into labor and was rushed to the hospital.
Known as “Dottie” within the family, she instilled a sense of humility and perspective in the family. Braggarts were cut down to size. Her famous son George was on the receiving end of her advice even into the White House. After a severe stroke, ninety-one-year-old Dorothy Walker Bush died in 1992, only days after her son was defeated for re-election by Bill Clinton. The president would say, “My mother’s kindness, and discipline, and values inspired me all my life.”[cxiv]
42. President William J. Clinton (1993 - 2001)
William Jefferson Blythe (Born: February 27, 1918 - Died: May 17, 1946.) “Few American presidents have had so little idea of their family’s past as William Jefferson Clinton.”[cxv] Even his biological father’s date of birth is controversial. Many official reference books and military records place the date as February 21, 1917. The Clinton Library declares that he was born on February 27, 1918.[cxvi] Blythe was born near Sherman, Texas, to a large family. The sixth of nine children, he was in his early teens when his father was stricken with colon cancer. William dropped out of school taking a job at a local dairy to help provide for their family. In a set of circumstances eerily repetitive of other presidential fathers, Blythe’s own father died young and total responsibility for his mother and younger siblings fell to him. Unable to meet the family’s financial needs, the bank foreclosed on their farm, and the family moved into a rental apartment.
Over the next few years, Billy Blythe entered into a series of marriages that resulted in children and divorces. He met Virginia Cassidy at a hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana. His girlfriend had been suffering from appendicitis and he was there to comfort her but when Virginia, a student nurse, walked into the room his affections quickly transferred. The couple was married before a justice of the peace two months later on September 3, 1943 and a few weeks after the wedding he was bound for the Mediterranean on an army troopship. World War Two took him to Africa and Italy where he worked to repair heavy equipment. In December, 1945, with his years of service were complete; Bill Blythe was honorably discharged and returned to his young bride.
Bill earned his living in sales, first auto parts and then heavy equipment. They purchased a home in a Chicago suburb. With Bill on the road throughout the Illinois region, a pregnant Virginia temporarily stayed with her parents. On May 17, 1946, Bill drove to pick up his wife. Near Sikeston, Missouri, a front tire blew sending his car reeling. It rolled twice and landed in a ditch. Bill Blythe was apparently thrown from the vehicle. While his injuries consisted of a “scratch on his forehead and a bump on the back of his head,” he landed face-down in standing water.[cxvii] His body was found two hours after the accident. Cause of death was drowning.
On August 19, 1946, eight months after his father’s returned from the service, William Jefferson Blythe IV was born by Caesarean section. His name would later be changed to Bill Clinton and he would become the forty-second American president. Virginia first learned of her husband’s previous marriages during her son’s campaign when eager journalists reconstructed the family histories. By then she had no reason to doubt his true love for her or his honesty. In The Comeback Kid: the Life and Career of Bill Clinton, Clinton’s own words describe his father’s impact on his life and career: “Most kids never think about when they might die. I thought about it all the time because my father died at twenty-nine, before I was born.”[cxviii]
Roger Clinton (Born: July 25, 1909 – Died: November 8, 1967.) Roger Clinton was born in Arkansas, one of five children. His first marriage, to Ina Mae Murphy, lasted fifteen-years ending in 1948 with charges of abuse. Roger first met Virginia Kelley Blythe during her days as a nursing student but there had been no relationship. When they met again, years later, in 1947, he was still married to Ina Mae. But Virginia missed that fact and chose to ignore the stories of his drinking, gambling, fighting and womanizing.[cxix] They were married on June 19, 1950.
The problems that had plagued Roger in his first marriage and throughout his life did not vanish with a new exchange of vows. After selling his Buick dealership in 1952, he moved his family to Hot Springs, Arkansas. There, he quickly gambled away any chance for a better life. “Roger’s beatings, verbal abuse, and drunken, jealous rages were common and chronic.”[cxx] When Bill was fourteen, he was finally big enough and strong enough to intervene on his mother’s behalf.[cxxi] He had seen enough and stepped into their dispute to protect her. But the cycles of abuse followed by repentance continued. On May 15, 1962, Roger and Virginia were divorced. On August 6, 1962, they were remarried.
Diagnosed with cancer in 1965, Roger began to make some changes. While enduring radiation treatments at Duke Medical Center, he began to communicate with his son Bill. His stepson would drive from Georgetown on the weekends to see him, and in between visits, he would write words of encouragement. “Write me more,” Bill suggested, reaching out to his stepfather, “People-even some of my political enemies-confide in me.”[cxxii] At the end, Bill Clinton and his mother kept vigil day and night for the failing Roger Clinton. Their stormy lives together were finally calmed. Liquor, gambling, and violence were gone, and at fifty-eight, Roger Clinton died.
Virginia Dell Cassidy Blythe Clinton Dwire Kelley (Born: June 6, 1923- Died: January 6, 1994.) She was born and raised in Hope, Arkansas to a mother named Edith, who provided in-home care and a mild-mannered father named Eldridge, who was an iceman. The tender care her mother gave to patients seemed in direct contrast to the abuse she rained down on her daughter. People in the small town were accustomed to Edith’s heavy makeup, just as Virginia became accustomed to her mother’s heavy-handed discipline. Neither Edith nor Eldridge trusted the other’s fidelity, and so their daughter’s childhood was less than stable. In spite of struggles in her home, the intelligent young Virginia excelled in school while serving as a waitress at The Checkerboard Cafe. Her goal was simply to complete high school and leave her small-town home in search of something better.
As a young lady, Virginia moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where she studied nursing at the Tri-State Hospital. It was as a student nurse that she walked into a patient’s room one day and met Bill Blythe for the first time. He was comforting a girl friend who was a patient at the hospital, suffering from appendicitis. Bill and Virginia began a relationship that within weeks led to her first marriage.
Soon after exchanging their vows, Bill was shipped overseas, stationed in Africa and later Italy, but mercifully away from the frontlines of World War II. While the young bride waited for her husband’s return, she finished her nurses training and returned to Hope, Arkansas, to live with her parents. Bill received his honorable discharge on December 7, 1945 but died five months later in a freak automobile accident. Eight months later, on August 19, 1946, Virginia’s baby, William Jefferson Blythe, was delivered by Caesarian section.
Once more Virginia moved in with her parents. Forty-five year-old Edith accepted the role of “grandmother” with more love and enthusiasm than she had the role of “mother.” And perhaps to get out of the house, Virginia began dating again. One boyfriend, Roger Clinton, lived in nearby Hot Springs but was the owner of a Buick dealership in Hope. The fact that he was married man supposedly escaped Virginia but her mother was livid.[cxxiii] At one point, lonely and on the hunt, Virginia moved to New Orleans to become a nurse-anesthetist, leaving her young son in her parents’ care and enjoying the night life of the Big Easy.
On June 19, 1950, in a ceremony that was unattended by Virginia’s parents or her young son, Virginia Blythe became the bride of Roger Clinton. Roger and Virginia Clinton and her son Bill Blythe moved into their Hot Springs home. Their marital bliss was short-lived. Roger’s alcoholic binges generally precipitated physical abuse. Several recorded instances reflect the dangerous environment. In one notorious instance, police were called to the house after Clinton fired a gun at his wife. The bullet lodged in the wall, between Virginia and her young son. Abusive situations were always followed by repentance, and each time, Virginia would concede. In 1962 the couple divorced and remarried each other. Shortly after this last reconciliation, Bill Blythe changed his name to Bill Clinton. Virginia remained married to Roger until his death of colon cancer in 1968. There would be two more marriages. One was to Jeff Dwire, a hairdresser in Hot Springs. He, too, had a questionable past, but the two remained married until he died in 1974. And there was a final marriage to Richard Kelley, a food broker.
In January, 1993, when her son stood on a platform to take the presidential oath of office for the first time, Virginia Kelley already knew that she had breast cancer. But she would not allow the weight of her own personal tragedy darken the joyous event. A year later she was dead. She had faced many challenges and struggles throughout her life but from the very beginning she had recognized her son’s great potential for leadership and had lived to see her instincts proven right.
43. George Walker Bush (2001 - )
George Herbert Walker Bush (Born: June 12, 1924 - )The second son of Prescott Sheldon Bush and Dorothy Walker, George Herbert Walker Bush lived his early life in privilege. When still an infant, his family moved to an exclusive suburb of New York City, Greenwich, Connecticut. In the midst of the Great Depression, Bush enjoyed the privileges that came with wealth. He was driven to school by his father’s chauffeur Alec. Bush attended the Greenwich County Day School and played on the baseball, football, soccer and tennis teams. At age thirteen, Bush enrolled at the Philips Academy, an all-boys, college-preparatory school in Andover, Massachusetts. He excelled in extracurricular activities becoming the senior class president, captain of the baseball and soccer team, manager of the basketball team, president of the Society of Inquiry, and an editor for the school paper.
Inspired by the surge of patriotism following Pearl Harbor, young Bush joined the navy on his eighteenth birthday and became the youngest aviator in American history. He flew in 58 combat missions and logged 1,228 flight hours in just thirty-nine months. He was one of only four pilots in his squadron to survive the war. On a dangerous mission in 1944, as his plane descended to its target, it was struck by antiaircraft fire. Despite the risks and with the plane in flames, Bush continued to his target, dropped his payload, and made it back out to sea. He was twenty years old.
Arriving home on Christmas Eve 1944, George Bush married his nineteen-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce. Within two month of receiving his naval discharge, George Bush enrolled in Yale’s accelerated program, which granted degrees for veterans in two and a half years. During this time, Barbara became pregnant with their first child, George Walker Bush. He was born on July 6, 1946. Although the boy lacked his father’s full name, family and friends often referred to him as “Junior”.
After his Yale graduation and following a long family tradition before him, George H.W. sought to make his own fortune, independent of his father’s help. He and Barbara decided to risk their future in search of “black gold” in the Texas oil business. During the next twenty years the family would move into twenty-eight different homes in seventeen cities across the country before settling to some degree of permanence in Midland, Texas. During these years the family added another child, Pauline Robinson Bush. She died of leukemia in 1953, two months before her 4th birthday. By 1959, George Sr.’s oil business was booming. The family moved to Houston to be near the action for offshore drilling opportunities.
While in Houston, George H.W. began developing his public life. He became the Harris County Republican party chairman and failed in two bids to follow his father into the U. S. Senate. He was elected to the U. S. House of Representative, appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, the U. S. representative to China and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. By 1980 he was serving as Ronald Reagan’s vice president.
In 1988, George H. W. Bush was elected the forty-first American president. His measured tone helped seal the end of the Cold War and the unraveling of the Soviet Empire. In 1995, when his son, George W. Bush, was inaugurated as the governor of Texas, George H.W. offered him a special gift with a simple note attached. “Dear George, these cufflinks are my most treasured possession. They were given to me by Mom and Dad on June 9… in 1943 when I got my Navy wings at Corpus Christi. I want you to have them now… You are ready for this huge challenge. You’ll do just fine. You’ll be strong, honest, caring governor… You have given us more than we ever could have deserved… We love you. Devotedly, Dad.”[cxxiv] In January 2001, George Walker Bush took the presidential oath of office himself and followed his father’s footsteps into the White House.
Barbara Pierce Bush (Born: June 8, 1925 –)Barbara Pierce Bush is the only woman who has witnessed both her son and her husband take the oath of office as president of the United States. Her charismatic, common sense nature has not only impacted three presidencies, Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, but has won the hearts of the American public. Born into a moderately wealthy home, her father Marvin Pierce made his money publishing, most notably as the president of McCall’s in New York. Raised in an upscale suburb of Rye on Long Island Sound, Barbara was the third of four children. Her mother, Pauline Robinson, was a daughter of an Ohio Supreme Court justice. As a gracious woman of the turn of the century, Pauline placed high importance on social standing and appearance. From Barbara’s perspective, she gave most of her time to her eldest daughter Martha, while Barbara lacked the graces that Pauline prized. Martha was attractive and well-mannered, while Barbara developed early weight issues and had a proclivity for roughhousing with her father and playing a variety of unladylike sports. When in her teens, Barbara shot up to a leggy five foot eight, blossoming overnight into a slender, attractive young woman. She thoroughly enjoyed her time at Rye Country Day School where she excelled in sports and mischief-making. She was sent to Ashley Hall, a finishing school for girls in Charleston, South Carolina.
During a fateful Christmas break of her junior year, she accompanied old friends from Rye Country to a formal dance. It was there that she met young, handsome, George Herbert Walker Bush. They were married on January 6, 1945. A year and half later they had the first of six children, George Walker Bush. He would become the forty-third president.
When her husband graduated from Yale in 1948, the couple moved to west Texas to start a new life. On October, 11, 1953, her three year old daughter Robin died of leukemia. George W. took his mother’s emotional well-being personally. After the death, Barbara was overtaken with grief. “I felt I could cry forever.”[cxxv] With the father often gone, George W. helped pull her out of her despair. She recalled a turning point when she overheard seven-year-old George talking with his friends, politely explaining that he would not be able to play with them that day because he needed to cheer up his mother. George W. and his mother clearly share the same self confidence. A family friend would conclude, “It’s like you cloned Barbara to get George.”[cxxvi]
As a first lady and a first mom, she is supportive but not encroaching. Even as she watched her husband take jobs and make policies that did not fall in line with her own beliefs, she did not voice her objections publicly. Instead of overt, public demonstrations, she prefers quietly to promote universal causes, primarily in education and literacy. She has published numerous bestselling books, donating much of the profits to national literacy groups. During her son’s campaign, Barbara became an unobtrusive confidante whose wisdom was widely respected.
[i] “Man who was restless”: James Thomas Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man, (Boston and Toronto: Little Brown and Company, 1974) p.4.
[ii] “Shortly before his”: Don Higginbotham, George Washington Reconsidered, (University Press of Virginia, 2001), p.260.
[iii] “The guide who”: Harold I. Gullan, Faith of Our Mothers, p. 12.
[iv] “no public business”: Jeff C. Young, p. 8.
[v] “My father’s education”: Harold I. Gullan, First Fathers: The Men Who Inspired Our Presidents (New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2004), p. 13.
[vi] Orange County Committee: Jeff C. Young, p. 19.
[vii] Patrick Henry’s letter: Ibid
[viii] “Very worthy and”: Stuart Jerry Brown, The Autobiography of James Monroe (Syracuse University Press, 1959), p. 21.
[ix] Campbelltown Academy: William A. DeGregorio, p. 75.
[x] “A very amiable”: Ibid., p. 21.
[xi] “amazing roar of cannon”: Faber, Doris, p. 153. This is probably an exaggeration. Most sources place her ten miles from the scene and able to barely hear the distant rumble of cannon.
[xii] Faber, Doris, p. 226
[xiii] Jeff C. Young, p. 38.
[xiv] Maria Van Buren’s birth date: She was actually baptized on January 6, 1747 and thus some historians put the year of her birth 1746.
[xv] “The Harrison family”: Freeman Cleaves, Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press) p. 1
[xvi] Gullan, Harold I., p. 62
[xvii] DeGregorio, William A., p. 139
[xviii] Roommate to Jefferson: Oliver Perry Chitwood, p. 3
[xix] Gullan, Harold I., p 56
[xx] Young, Jeff C., p48
[xxi] DeGregorio, William A., p.151
[xxii] Gullan, Harold I., Faith of our Mothers, p. 65
[xxiii] Charles Grier Sellers, James K. Polk: Jacksonian (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1957) p. 61
[xxiv] “A rigid Presbyterian”: Eugene Irving McCormac, Ph.D. James K. Polk: A Political Biography (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1922) p. 1
[xxvi] Jeff C. Young, p. 56.
[xxvii] “Only a woman”: Brainerd Dyer, Zachary Taylor (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1946), p. 2.
[xxviii] “Third pregnancy complicated”: Jack K. Bauer, Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985), p. 2.
[xxix] Young, Jeff C. , p. 61
[xxx] “He immediately loosened”: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Life of Franklin Pierce (New York: MSS Information Corporation, 1970) p. 8.
[xxxi] Franklin Pierce at death of father: Roy Frank Nichols, p. 421.
[xxxii] “Weak on the side”: Ibid., p. 10.
[xxxiii] Gullan, Harold I., p. 90
[xxxiv] Ibid, p. 93
[xxxv] Gullan, Harold I., p. 84
[xxxvi] The Birth date of Lincoln’s stepmother is much in question. This date comes from Betty Elliot at the Lincoln Log Cabin Site.
[xxxvii] Ibid.,p. 98.
[xxxviii] “Died, in this”: Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989), p. 20.
[xxxix] Harold I. Gullan, Ibid.
[xl] “Success in American”: Jerald F. terHorst, Gerald Ford and the Future of the Presidency (New York: The Third Press, 1974), p. 27.
[xli] “Mindful of his”: Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters (New York: The Library of America, 1990) p. 22
[xlii] “her steadiness”: Harold I. Gullan, Harold I., Faith of our Mothers, p. 108.
[xliii] “I seem alone”: Ibid., p. 109.
[xliv] “Your father was”: Editors Harry James Brown & Frederick D. Williams, The Diary of James A. Garfield (Michigan State University Press, 1967) p. ix.
[xlv] “Eliza I have” Faber, p. 161
[xlvi] “no man has”: Editors Harry James Brown & Frederick D. Williams, Ibid.
[xlvii] Doris Faber p. 159
[xlviii] Ibid., p. xiv
[xlix] “And think of it”: Thomas C. Reeves, Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975), p. 5.
[l] Cleveland’s ancestry: The first of Richard’s American ancestors had emigrated from England to Plymouth in 1635, as an indentured servant.
[li] Cleveland integrity: Jeff C. Young, p. 105.
[lii] “Character is not”: Allan Nevins, Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (New York: Dodd Mead & Company, 1948), p. 5.
[liii] Doris Faber, p. 226.
[liv] “Do you know”: Ibid.
[lv] Jeff C. Young, p. 107.
[lvi] Ibid., p. 108.
[lvii] “I pray for”: Ibid., p. 228.
[lviii] Jeff Young p. 116
[lix] “whatever you be” Young p. 114
[lx] Doris Faber p. 222
[lxi] Official White House Website on Presidents
[lxii] “My father, Theodore”: Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons), p. 7.
[lxiii] “This the happiest”: Jeff C.Young, p. 122.
[lxiv] “Roosevelt told me”: Ibid., p. 125.
[lxv] Doris Faber, p. 149.
[lxvi] ”a man never” Young, P. 127
[lxvii] “I do not” Faber, P. 134
[lxviii] William A. DeGregorio, p. 410.
[lxix] Jeff C. Young, p. 135.
[lxx] “His passionate love”: Ibid., p. 134.
[lxxi]“The patient guide”: Ibid., p. 140.
[lxxii] “My darling Woodrow”: Harold I. Gullan, Faith of our Mothers: The Stories of Presidential Mothers from Mary Washington to Barbara Bush, p. 168.
[lxxiii] “The most beautiful”: Eleanor Wilson McAdoo, The Woodrow Wilsons (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 3.
[lxxiv] Jeff C. Young, p. 144.
[lxxv] Ibid., p. 147.
[lxxvi] Doris Faber, p. 220.
[lxxvii] “I was extremely”: Harold I. Gullan, First Fathers, p. 181.
[lxxviii] Doris Faber, p. 217.
[lxxix] “There was a touch”: Ibid., p. 219.
[lxxx] “His was a pleasant”: Jeff C. Young, p. 158.
[lxxxi] “He was the”. Jeff C. Young, p. 160.
[lxxxii] “He was the father”: Jeff C. Young, p. 172.
[lxxxiii] “Never, never”: Ibid., p. 169.
[lxxxiv] “Oh fiddlesticks, if”: Doris Faber, p. 84.
[lxxxv] “If he’d been”: Ibid., p. 95.
[lxxxvi] “I’m glad Harry”: Ibid., p. 95.
[lxxxvii] “I loved my”: Jeff C. Young, p. 173.
[lxxxviii] “Father was the”: Ibid.
[lxxxix] Severe beating: Dwight Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988.)
[xc] Doris Faber, p. 68.
[xci] Ibid., p. 69.
[xcii] “Which One”: Ibid., p. 79.
[xciii] “Second best is”: Ibid., p. 59.
[xciv] Jeff C. Young, p. 185.
[xcv] “The architect of”: Ibid.
[xcvi] “Get up Lyndon”: Doris Faber, p. 42.
[xcvii] Jeff C. Young, p. 194.
[xcviii] “The deep purpose”: Doris Faber, p. 41.
[xcix] “Today my faith”: Ibid., p. 46.
[c] Doris Faber, p. 29
[ci] “he could be” Ibid., p.29
[cii] Richard Nixon tearfully: Doris Faber, p.19
[ciii] “If Dad would”: Bud Vestal, Jerry Ford, Up Close: An Investigative Biography (New York: Coward, McCann & Geogheagan, 1974), p. 49.
[civ] “In our family” Author’s interview with Jimmy Carter, 1981.
[cv] “more affectionate”: Harold I. Gullan, p. 255.
[cvi] “I didn’t dream”: Harold I. Gullan, p. 316.
[cvii] “An extrovert”: Degregario, p. 618.
[cviii] Young, Jeff C. The Father’s of the American Presidents, p. 220
[cix] “A man who might”: Ronald Reagan, p. 23.
[cx] Last link: In the author’s last conversation with Ronald Reagan in 1992, he once more told stories about the exploits of the Gipper. Author’s interview with Ronald Reagan, 1992.
[cxi] Gullan, fathers, 259
[cxii] “My dad was”: Author’s interview with George Herbert Walker Bush, 1988.
[cxiii] “generous amounts”: Ibid.
[cxiv] “inspired me”: Ibid.
[cxv] “Few American presidents”: Nigel Hamilton, Bill Clinton: An American Journey – Great Expectations (New York: Random House, 2003), p. 3.
[cxvi] Blythe’s birthday: See Facts About the President for the Feb. 21 date. The Clinton Library has determined that the correct date is Feb. 27, 1917. Kane, Podell & Anzovin, p. 499. Correspondence with Linda Dixon at the Clinton Library. Chelsea Clinton was also born on Feb. 27.
[cxvii] Ibid., p. 232.
[cxviii] “Most kids never”: Charles E. Allen and Jonathan Portis, The Comeback Kid: The Life and Career of Bill Clinton (New York: Birch Lane Press, 1992)
[cxix] “Penchant for drinking”: Jeff C. Young, p. 230.
[cxx] “Roger’s beatings, verbal”: Ibid., p. 236.
[cxxi] Bill Clinton and stepfather’s abuse: Bill Clinton, My Life, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004) p. 45.
[cxxii] “Write me more”: Ibid, p. 237.
[cxxiii] “The truth was”: Nigel Hamilton, p. 38.
[cxxiv] “Dear George”: Cited by Harold Gullan, p. 283.
[cxxv] “I felt I could” Harold Gullan, p. 357.
[cxxvi] “Cloned Barbara”: Ibid., p. 358.