Sunday, March 9, 2014

Presidential Tidbits

Presidential Tidbits


When I was growing up, my brother and I got hooked on the presidents and trivia about them. We played with presidents' statues, colored in presidential coloring books, read presidential biographies and other books. We got to know the presidents very well, picked our favorites and least favorite. We got to be experts on presidential trivia.

So I thought I'd share some of the more interesting stories with you. I did try to choose items that most people don't know about. I hope you enjoy these "tidbits".

Trivia Tidbits on the Presidents

Every president is also a person. And each of the people who has held the office of president has an interesting story to tell.

Since I can't tell you everything there is to know about every president, I decided that, for President's Day July 4th and every day of the year I would give a list of the presidents and a tidbit or two about each.

Presidential Tidbits

  • 1
    George Washington did not take a salary as a general in the Revolutionary War. He "only" charged for his expenses. His "expenses", however, were, shall we say, expensive. (The expenses turned out to be far greater than a salary would have been.) So when he became president and tried to "cut the same deal", congress voted it down and insisted he take a salary. I was considered the government's first austerity plan. See more about George Washington and See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 2
    John Adams was a prodigious letter writer. When he was away on governmental work or diplomatic missions he would write often to his wife, Abigail, and his son John Quincy, often writing several letters per day. Abigail, who Adams described as my dearest friend wrote to him too, as did John Quincy. See more about John Adams and my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 3
    Thomas Jefferson's reputation for being kind to his slaves may be exaggerated. When he died, most of his slaves were sold off to pay off his debt. The exceptions were Sally Hemmings and her children. Sally was Martha Jefferson's half-sister (by Martha's father and his slave Betty Hemmings) and widower Jefferson had a long-term relationship with her (it was accepted in the South in those days for slave owners to have relationships with their slaves). See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 4
    James Madison who grew up in Virginia, spent his college years in New Jersey at Princeton University. When he died, he was the last signer of the Constitution to pass away. He was 2nd cousins with Zachary Taylor (their shared great-grandfather's name was James Taylor).

  • 5
    James Monroe was Jefferson's minister to France when the Louisiana Purchase and negotiated the Louisiana Purchase for the US. He also was president during the "era of good feeling" and was the only president to get all but one electoral vote in the election (the one elector voted for John Quincy Adams because he wanted Washington to remain the only president elected by a unanimous vote of the electors).

  • 6
    John Quincy Adams was James Monroe's Secretary of State and, as such, he was the Author of the Monroe Doctrine. JQA also defended the Amistad slaves and went back to congress after his presidential term, fighting against slavery until his death. See more about John Quincy Adams my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog
  • 7
    Andrew Jackson was almost the first presidential victim of an assassin. The would-be assassin, Richard Lawrence, had two pistols, expertly primed and in excellent condition, fired at the president from point blank range with each pistol. Both guns misfired and Jackson was unscathed. See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 8
    Martin Van Buren was the last vice-president to be elected president as a sitting VP until George Bush Sr. He was Andrew Jackson's chosen successor but was defeated for reelection by "Tippecanoe and Tyler too".

  • 9
    William Henry Harrison was the only president who had a grandson who later became president. Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president. He also had the shortest presidential "reign" -- 1 month from his long, winter, inaugural speech he died of pneumonia.

  • 10
    John Tyler was the most "fatherly" of presidents. Tyler had 15 children (though there was no time when all 15 were alive) with two wives: Letitia and Julia. Tyler's second wife, Julia, was thirty years younger than he, the biggest age gap between a president and his wife. Julia almost called off the wedding after the accidental death of her father, but decided that Tyler filled the void in her life that her father's death created.

  • 11
    James Knox Polk was the only Speaker of the House to become president. He was also the first Dark Horse President. He had one term, pretty much fulfilled all his campaign promises, didn't run for reelection, went home and, promptly died before his 54th birthday. (Whether or not you agree with his policies of "Manifest Destiny" with a touch of racism, you have to agree that he was one of the most hard-working presidents.) See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 12
    Zachary Taylor never voted in a presidential election until he was on the ballot. The former General (Hero of the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War), who was the second president to die in office, was father-in-law to a gentleman named Jefferson Davis (until Sarah Taylor passed away, leaving the future Confederate President a temporary widower). See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 13
    Millard Fillmore, after his short presidency (finishing off Taylor's term), was nominated for president by theNational Union Party also known as the Know-Nothing Party.

  • 14
    Franklin Pierce and his wife, Jane, had three sons. By the time he was elected president, two had died. The third and youngest, Benjy, came with them to Washington, DC but never made it there. The train they were on riding down to Washington from New Hampshire derailed. Benjamin Pierce was the only casualty, and died in front of his parents horrified eyes. See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 15
    James Buchanan was a bachelor. He also had a very unusual vision problem -- he had one eye nearsighted and one eye farsighted. The President was too vain to wear glasses, so often he would cock his head to see better. Most people didn't know about this and thought Mr. Buchanan was an elitist. See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 16
    Abraham Lincoln was a pretty good country lawyer. He used to do a lot of work for the railroad. When he would go to court representing the railroad, he came in a suit, looking very business like, and won a lot of landmark cases for the railroads.

    One time, though, Honest Abe sent the railroad his bill and they balked. They thought his fee was unreasonable and refused to pay. So the future president took the railroad to court. But this time, he wore "country" clothes and talked like a hometown country lawyer. The jury identified with him as the "everyman" being taken advantage of by the big mean corporation and found for him. The railroad wasn't bitter, though. They paid Lincoln his fee and even hired him again after that. See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 17
    Andrew Johnson was rewarded for his loyalty to the Union (he was from Tennessee, a Confederate state) with the Vice Presidential nomination for Lincoln's second run for the White House. When Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson became president.

    Johnson angered the radical Republicans by being lenient on the South. They impeached him, but Johnson was acquitted by one vote. By the time he left office, tempers had died down and people realized that the impeachment had been politically motivated. Johnson then returned to the Senate, where he was cheered. Johnson shook hands with all, even the people who had tried to remove him from the presidency, and all was forgiven and forgotten.

  • 18
    Ulysses Simpson Grant (whose name at birth was Hiram Ulysses Grant) was a man who loved his family and had a hard time when he was away from them. When his work took him to places other than home, he missed his wife and children so much that he drank.

    The best tribute to his family, though, was his desire to help them before he died. So he dictated his memoirs to Mark Twain while he was dying from throat cancer. The book helped to support his family after he died. See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 19
    Rutherford Birchard Hayes's wife wouldn't serve alcoholic beverages in the White House, so she earned the nickname "Lemonade Lucy". When Hayes died, his last words were, "I know I am going where Lucy is."

  • 20
    James Abram Garfield was the first president whose mother outlived him. This, of course, probably had something to do with his getting shot and subsequently dying at a very early age.

    In actuality, he could have lived longer had the doctors not been so intent on removing the bullet from gunman Charles Guiteau. Garfield's body had formed a cyst around the bullet, protecting him. But the doctors' instruments hadn't been sterilized and the poking and probing for the bullet they never found led to septicemia which is what ultimately killed the president.

  • 21
    Chester Alan Arthur of New York became president when Garfield died a few months after being shot by a disgruntled office seeker. Arthur revamped the civil service system, taking the appointments away from the president and awarding positions based on merit.

  • 22
    Grover Cleveland (whose dropped his real first name, Stephen) was the second bachelor elected president. He married his ward, Frances Folsom, daughter of his late law partner, while in office. When they left the White House after losing to Benjamin Harrison, Frank Folsom Cleveland told the staff they'd be back in 4 years. They were.

  • 23
    Benjamin Harrison was widowed while in office. He later married his late wife's niece (who had moved into the White House to live with them). His children were not so pleased that he married their first cousin.

  • 24
    Grover Cleveland was the only man to serve two non-consecutive terms as president. He also was the first president to have a cancer operation while in office (he had his jaw replaced with a vulcanized rubber jaw).

  • 25
    William McKinley had a lucky carnation. One day, he was at the Buffalo exposition, shaking hands, when he gave his lucky carnation to a young girl. Within hours, he lay dead, shot by assassin Leon Czolgosz.

  • 26
    Theodore Roosevelt's brother Eliot died before his daughter got married. So Uncle Theo (he hated being called Teddy) dutifully gave away the bride when his niece Eleanor married his 7th cousin Franklin. See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 27
    William Howard Taft was never as happy as president as he was later in life as Chief Justice of the United States. Taft was also the heaviest president (usually over 300 pounds) and one of two presidents buried in Arlington National Cemetery (John F. Kennedy was the second).

  • 28
    Woodrow Wilson (who dropped the name Thomas, his given first name) was president when the US got involved in World War I. After the war, Wilson tried to get the US to join the League of Nations. His whistle stop tour trying to get public opinion on his side may have led to his stroke. His first wife, Ellen, died while he was president and he married widow Edith Bolling Galt, a descendant of Pocahontas (See more about Edith Wilson and her famous ancestor
  • 29
    Warren Harding, for better or worse, there's not a lot to say about Harding. He was not a good president, not a good husband, but a good friend to people who took advantage (leading to the Teapot Dome Scandal). See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 30
    Calvin Coolidge (He dropped his first name John), The White House became a menagerie while the Coolidges were in residence. The Presidential Mansion became home, along with Coolidge, his wife Grace (a teacher of the deaf) and their two sons, to six dogs, two cats and a raccoon named Rebecca. See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 31
    Herbert Clark Hoover started his career as an Engineer. He and his wife were in China during the Boxer Rebellion and Lou Henry Hoover (his wife) helped with a lot of the relief efforts. But the Hoovers were, despite being Quakers, the first presidential couple married by a Catholic Priest. See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 32
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president whose wife didn't have to change her name. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (she dropped the Anna and used the Eleanor) was the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt's brother Elliot. She and Franklin were distant cousins. See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 33
    Harry S Truman -- There seems to be a lot of discussion about Truman's middle name. In actuality, his middle name was S -- therefore, there should be no period. His parents had two people they wanted to name him for, both with names starting with an "S". Because they couldn't decide which name to choose, so they went with the "S".

    In later years, in deference to everyone else, Truman often did put in the period.
    See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 34
    Dwight David Eisenhower's grandson married the daughter of his vice president (who was later a president himself), Richard Milhous Nixon. David Eisenhower married Julie Nixon while Nixon was president. See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 35
    John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first president to be a veteran of the Navy.
    Kennedy was the only president who had his brother as an Attorney General. Robert Kennedy, who might have been the first brother of a president to be president but for an assassin's bullet, was also AG under Johnson and was also a senator from NY State.

  • 36
    Lyndon Baines Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor (whose nickname from childhood was Lady Bird). They had two daughters -- Lynda Bird and Lucy Baines, so that all of them had the initials "LBJ". See my choices for top 10 presidents in this blog

  • 37
    Richard Milhous Nixon was recruited right out of Whittier College to run against a seemingly unbeatable Democratic candidate for the House. By using innuendo and calling his opponent a communist, Nixon won the election.

  • 38
    Gerald Rudolph Ford was born to Leslie Lynch King and Dorothy Ayer Gardner. He was named after his father. When he was less than 2, his parents divorced and his mother married Gerald Rudolf Ford. The baby was renamed after his stepfather and never knew the senior Ford wasn't his father.

    When he was 17, Mr. King approached him and told him that he was Gerald's father. Ford didn't believe him and asked his mother. It was only then that he found out the truth about his birth and his parentage.

  • 39
    James Earl Carter was the first president born in a hospital and the first president who was a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis. See my choices for bottom 10 presidents in this blog

  • 40
    Ronald Wilson Reagan's favorite snack was jelly beans. His favorite flavor was licorice, according to his presidential library.
    Web link to this information.

  • 41
    George Herbert Walker Bush was the first president to have two middle names.

    Before Grant, only three presidents had middle names, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison and James Knox Polk. Since Grant, only three haven't had middle names -- Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt (Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge all dropped their first names -- Stephen, Thomas and John respectively -- and went by their middle names)

  • 42
    William Jefferson Clinton was the first Rhodes Scholar to be president. He was also the second president impeached.

  • 43
    George Walker Bush was the second "son of a president" to become president. He was the first father or son president to win two terms.

We Survived these 10 Presidents, Amazingly Enough!

Thanks to the Checks and Balances of the US Government, We Can Even Manage Through Bad Presidents


Top (or Bottom) Ten Lists are by necessity very subjective. This one is no exception. But as a longtime presidential trivia buff, I feel qualified to judge the presidents on their contributions to society and the world.

Presidents: The Bad and the Ugly????

I'm a presidential trivia buff. So, one year, with President's Day coming up, I decided to put together my list of my (bottom) ten least favorite presidents.

Bottom Ten Presidents

Since my criteria for who are the ten worst presidents in totally subjective and might not have anything to do with what happened during the specific president's tenure as president, I have listed them in chronological order (according to "what number president" each was) -- I also have listed why I consider each one as part of this list:
  • Andrew Jackson:

    I put Jackson on this list mostly because of what he did to John Quincy Adams during his presidency (see my list of Top Ten Presidents and more about The Adamses here on this blog) and because he was crazy enough to fight duels. Jackson saw himself as a president of the people, but the only people he was president of was ruffians.
  • Zachary Taylor:

    A nice man, but not cut out to be president. Zachary Taylor was a General and had never voted in a presidential election until he ran for president. After about a year as president, he died, possibly from food poisoning. The most interesting thing I can say about him is that his daughter Sara's widower was Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederate States of America.
  • Franklin Pierce:

    A very intelligent man who was a bust as president. A northerner with southern leanings in the years leading up to the Civil War, his presidency was hampered by family problems -- his youngest (and only surviving son) Benjy was the only casualty (his parents saw him die) in a train derailment on their way to Washington, DC, to take the reigns of government. An able statesman, but this family tragedy just "did him in" president-wise.
  • James Buchanan:

    Another Northerner with southern sympathies, also a tragic figure (he never married -- in his 20s, his fiancee died under mysterious circumstances -- at her sister's home -- possible suicide??? -- after they had a fight).
  • Ulysses Simpson Grant:

    A good family man and a good general, he hit his peak during the Civil War as the General that Lee surrendered to. But he just wasn't cut out to be president. He knew two songs -- one was Yankee Doodle and one wasn't.
    A family man who missed his family when they weren't with him, and though he wasn't a very good president (his presidential was marred by scandal, though he wasn't involved in the wrongdoing) he showed his greatest courage by dictating his memoirs to Mark Twain while dying of throat cancer (so he wouldn't leave the family he loved penniless).
  • Warren Gamaliel Harding:

    A newspaper man from Marion, Ohio, he was far too conservative for his times and far too unintelligent to make an effective president. He trusted his friends too much and died before the s*** hit the fan (the Teapot Dome Scandal). Some think his wife poisoned him (because of his numerous affairs or, possibly, to save him the embarrassment of the scandal).
  • Calvin Coolidge:

    Austere Yankee from Vermont, a good balance for the garrulous Harding, Coolidge became president when Harding died. Though he was more intelligent and more serious, he didn't do much to prevent the Great Depression.

    Also had his presidency marred by personal tragedy (his son Calvin Jr. died from blood poisoning caused by infection of a blister he got by playing tennis with his brother on the White House lawn).
  • Herbert Hoover:

    An engineer, his first job out of Stanford (and after his marriage to Lou Henry) was in China. The Hoovers were in China during the Boxer Rebellion and helped coordinate relief efforts. Hoover was a millionaire before he entered politics (he was Harding's Secretary of Commerce). Lived long enough (he died at the age of 90) to outlive his reputation as the man who caused the Great Depression (he didn't really cause it but he did nothing to prevent it).
  • Dwight David Eisenhower:

    Another general who wasn't cut out to be president. Allowed Joseph McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committee to run rampant. The only good thing he did was an accident -- he appointed Earl Warren Chief Justice of the US. Lucky for us, because Warren was one of the best Chief Justices who ever served.
  • James Earl ("Jimmy") Carter:

    What can you say about a man who "lusted in his heart", was attacked by a "killer rabbit" while rowing and allowed the hostages to be held by Iran's new revolutionary Islamist government. He set the stage for the crisis we are now experiencing. His recent book is a collection of lies, but he doesn't let the truth stand in the way of his ego.