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Presidential Trivia

Monday, February 21, 2011, 07:19 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

Presidential Seal

Even though the name of today’s observed holiday is Washington’s Birthday, so many people erroneously refer to it as “Presidents Day” that I thought it would be a good time to impart upon you, my dear readers, a little bundle of useless information about the 43 men (but no women, yet) who have served as President of the United States. Their chronological place among Presidents is indicated in parentheses.

  • Yes, only 43 people have been President, even though history shows that we’ve had 44 Presidents. One of them, Grover Cleveland (22 and 24), is the only one to have served non-consecutive terms and is thus credited with two presidencies.
  • Cleveland, incidentally, is one of four Presidents to have been known by his middle name rather than his first name, which was Stephen. The others were Hiram Ulysses Grant (18), Thomas Woodrow Wilson (28), and John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (30)
  • The middle initial “S” in President Grant’s name was the result of an error on his West Point nomination. It didn’t stand for anything, but he ended up using it anyway.
  • The middle initial of President Harry S. Truman (33) doesn’t stand for anything either; it was given to him by his parents, both of whose fathers’ names started with “S.”
  • We’ve had eight Presidents who were juniors by virtue of having the same first and middle names as their fathers. Besides Coolidge, other Presidential juniors are James Madison (4), John Tyler (10), James Buchanan (15), William McKinley (25), Gerald Rudolph Ford (38), James Earl Carter (39), and our current President (44), whose legal name is Barack Hussein Obama II despite the fact that his father was also Barack Hussein Obama. (I once had a boyfriend who was similarly named, just because his parents preferred the suffix II to Jr.)
  • Despite sharing first names with their fathers, neither President John Quincy Adams (6) nor President George Walker Bush (43) is a junior because of the differences from their fathers’ middle names; the elder President Adams (2) apparently didn’t have one, and the elder President Bush (41) has two, Herbert Walker.
  • The Adamses and the Bushes are our only father-son Presidents.
  • William Henry Harrison (9) and Benjamin Harrison (23) are our only grandfather-grandson Presidents.
  • The Presidents Roosevelt, Theodore (26) and Franklin Delano (32), were mere fifth cousins to one another. But FDR’s wife, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was Teddy’s niece.
  • Two Presidents had names different from those they received at birth. President Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., and President William Jefferson Clinton (42) was born William Jefferson Blythe III. Both men legally took the surnames of the stepfathers who raised but didn’t adopt them.
  • Clinton’s birth name technically makes him our only President to be a III.

Moving on from names, here are a few interesting tidbits about the party affiliations of our Presidents:

  • George Washington (1) was our only non-partisan President. After him, all our Presidents belonged to political parties.
  • John Adams was our only Federalist President.
  • John Q. Adams was our last Democratic-Republican President.
  • Andrew Jackson (7) was our first Democratic President.
  • Millard Fillmore (13) was our last Whig President and the last President not from the Democratic or Republicans parties.
  • Abraham Lincoln (16) was our first Republican President.

A few facts about age and timing of birth:

  • Theodore Roosevelt was our youngest President, taking office at age 42 upon the death of President McKinley.
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy (35) was the youngest person ever elected President. He was 43 when inaugurated.
  • Seven other Presidents were under 50 when they took office: Clinton, Grant, Obama, Cleveland, Franklin Pierce (14), James Abram Garfield (20), and James Knox Polk (11).
  • The oldest man ever to become President was Ronald Wilson Reagan (40), who turned 70 less than a month after his inauguration.
  • Martin Van Buren (8) was the first President born after Independence.
  • John Tyler was the first President born after the ratification of the Constitution.
  • Warren Gamaliel Harding (29) was the first President born after the Civil War.
  • Jimmy Carter was the first President born after World War I.
  • Bill Clinton was the first President born after World War II.
  • One final word on age: the youngest people currently eligible under the Constitution to be President were born in February 1976.

A little about the tenures of some of our Presidents:

  • The shortest-serving President was also the first to die in office. William Harrison succumbed to pneumonia one month after his inauguration.
  • Other Presidents to die of illness while in office were Zachary Taylor (12), Warren Harding, and Franklin Roosevelt.
  • Four sitting Presidents were assassinated: Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy.
  • Beginning with William Harrison, who was elected in 1840, every President elected in a year ending in zero died in office until President Reagan broke the streak in the 1980s.
  • John Tyler was the first Vice President to assume the Presidency due to death. Theodore Roosevelt was the first to do so and then get elected to another term.
  • Our longest-serving President was Franklin Roosevelt, serving slightly more than 12 years. No other President served more than eight years. The 22nd Amendment, ratified not quite six years after Roosevelt’s death, henceforth limited Presidential terms to two elected terms plus, if applicable, less than half of a vacated term (as in the case of a Presidential death).
  • Andrew Johnson (17) and Bill Clinton are the only two Presidents to have been impeached. Both were acquitted.
  • Richard Milhous Nixon (37) was the only President to resign before completing his term.
  • Gerald Ford was the only person to serve as President without ever having been elected President or Vice President. He was appointed VP under Nixon after the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew and assumed the Presidency upon Nixon’s resignation.

Most of our Presidents served in Congress, state governorships, and/or the Vice Presidency before becoming the nation’s chief executive. There are a few notable exceptions:

  • George Washington was a Revolutionary General and the first Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army prior to becoming our first President.
  • Unlike Washington, who was primarily a farmer but served in the military to help win independence, Zachary Taylor was a career soldier, fighting in several conflicts including the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War and becoming a Major General.
  • Another successful military leader who became President was Ulysses Grant, a legendary Union General during the Civil War.
  • William Howard Taft (27) was a U.S. Circuit Court Judge before serving as President and the 10th Chief Justice of the United States afterward, making him the only President to have also served in the Judicial Branch of the federal government.
  • Herbert Clark Hoover (31) was an engineer, international humanitarian, and Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge before his own election as President.
  • Dwight David Eisenhower (35) was a well-known Army General during World War II, was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and served as President of Columbia University before becoming President of the United States.

Having said all that, I feel a little bad for the five Presidents I left out: Thomas Jefferson (3), James Monroe (5), Rutherford Birchard Hayes (19), Chester Alan Arthur (21), and Lyndon Baines Johnson (36). There, I don’t feel bad any more.

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