Unknown Presidential Milestones
In the United States we remember a lot about our Presidents. The Chief executive is the de-facto representative of the country, so we absorb all the little details from his shoe size to the name of his dog. But in this relentless pursuit of Presidential Trivia, a few things go unnoticed. Here follows five historical tidbits you may not have heard about U.S. Presidents.
1. John Tyler the first (and only) President elected to a rebel government.
The civil war was a terrible conflict that left a scar on the United Sates of America. Brother fought against brother and noble ideas of progress grappled with traditions of institutionalized tyranny.
Some elected officials were faced with a difficult decision: which side to join? The question was not, “which side should I take up arms for,” but, “which side do I want to be in charge of.” The difference is subtle but important.
John Tyler was President of the United States from 1841-1845. He was the classic antebellum aristocrat. Born to a rich Virginia family, it seems he went into politics mostly because he needed something to do. Like many politicians before and after, wealth and connections helped Tyler rise to the highest office in the land despite his lack of flair. It also helps that he was never actually elected.
Less than a month after being elected, President William Henry Harrison got sick and died, leaving the White House open for Vice President John Tyler. He was the first Vice President to take on the executive role of the President. This, along with the annexation of Texas, was one of the only highlights of a largely un-remembered administration. He was given the nickname, “His Accidency,” for rising to power without proving himself in an election.
But His Accidency left us one more historical footnote. Like most presidents John Tyler retired to his home and his family at the end of his administration. Twenty years later Tyler re-entered the world of politics at the very worst possible time.
The first southern states seceded from the Union in 1861. John Tyler went to Washington as part of a peace movement. Maybe, through political compromise they could avoid war. When Congress rejected the compromise, which probably consisted of tax breaks for slave owners, Tyler and his southern peers did what any mature statesmen would do. They threw a temper tantrum.
When John Tyler failed to reach a compromise, he threw his hat in with the Confederates. He was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, but died before he could carry out any duties. This seems to have been a common theme of 19th century governments.
To this day, Tyler is the only President to have sided with a foreign and a rebel government. He was the only President whose death was not officially recognized in Washington. “His Accidency” learned something people throughout history have had to realize the hard way:
Joining a rebellion can bring great glory, but only if you win.
2. Edith Wilson is first Woman President (Sort of)
Woodrow Wilson was elected President of the United States in 1913. He was President during World War I, and was an early champion of the progressive movement. While many interesting things can be said about Wilson, the most interesting aspect of his administration is arguably his wife.
In 1914 Edith Galt married Woodrow Wilson, who was already the President of the United States. Wilson had recently been widowed, and his whirlwind romance with Edith was something of a scandal. Soon, though, more pressing issues turned away the scornful eyes.
As first lady, Edith Wilson served primarily as the President’s companion and confidant. However, she augmented her role with duties not usually performed by a normal companion.
“she began to screen his mail and limit his callers, soon alienating his most trusted advisor Edmund House and his loyal press secretary Joseph Tumulty. She was successful in eventually breaking the long friendship between Wilson and House, in November 1919.”
Later that year, Edith Wilson took control of the White House. Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke in October of 1919. Afterward he was unable to perform his duties. Usually, in the case of a debilitated President, the Vice President would take over, but this rule had not yet been written in stone.
Edith Wilson decided, completely on her own, that the President would not step aside. Instead, she would stand by Wilson’s side and help him perform his Presidential duties, including deciding what was “important enough” to trouble her husband as he, “lay disabled in his sickroom.” She referred to this period as her, “stewardship,” of the Presidency.
Edith Wilson was effectively in charge of the executive branch for the rest of her husband’s administration. She should perhaps share some of the glory with John Tyler for performing as President without ever being elected to the job. She could also be considered the first woman President, even if it wasn’t official.
This scenario was one of the reasons for the ratification of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which deals with Presidential succession.
3. Harding openly drinks at White House, during Prohibition.
In the United States, the 1920’s were a decade of conscientious people working together with effective government to create functional policies.
Warren G. Harding was President during this time. Along with some stuff about women’s suffrage and civil rights Harding’s administration was famous for its parties. It was sort of like a real-life, political version of The Great Gatsby. These parties were presumably full of Jazz music and strong drinks. Alcohol was illegal in the United States, but that didn’t seem to be a problem for Harding.
“Under Harding guests came in two categories. The run-of-the-mill guests were kept downstairs where they were served fruit juice. But Harding’s cronies, and other privileged guests, were invited upstairs, where liquor flowed like water.” – Prohibition: Thirteen Years that Changed America by Edward Behr, pg. 114
I believe liquor always flows like water, because it is a liquid. But that’s not the point. The point is, by drinking in the White House with his cronies during Prohibition, Harding demonstrated a belief that government officials didn’t have to follow the rules they made.
I wonder if that will turn up somewhere else in history?
4. Presidential Bastards
A. Warren Harding:
Drinking in the White House wasn’t the worst thing Warren G. Harding ever did. He was involved in so many sex scandals that, if he were alive today, we would see at least one late-night comedian’s head explode.
One such scandal involved a mistress of the President. She was a pretty young woman who couldn’t deal with the shame of adultery. When Warren Harding refused to divorce his wife and marry her, the poor girl committed suicide. There are rumors of another mistress being forced to have an abortion, and more bearing Harding’s illegitimate children.
If it sounds like Harding had a lot of mistresses, it’s because he did.
Harding had so many mistresses that some of his aides functioned as pimps. Harding was even caught by his wife having sex in an Oval Office anteroom, leading the president to say: “It’s a good thing I am not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can’t say no.”
B. Grover Cleveland:
President Grover Cleveland has a similar tale. In December of 1873 sales clerk Maria Halpin was walking down the street in Buffalo, New York. She passed Grover Cleveland, who invited her to dinner. “He was pretty ‘persistent’ about it, Halpin would later recall.”
After the meal, Cleveland escorted Halpin back to her room at a boarding house. This was where, according to Halpin, “Cleveland sexually assaulted her “[b]y use of force and violence and without my consent,”
A few weeks later Halpin found out she was pregnant. The following September she gave birth to a boy, not in the Cleveland house but at a hospital for unwed mothers. The boy was named Oscar Fulsom Cleveland, after Grover Cleveland’s best friend.
Of course, this whole story could be hearsay. It certainly didn’t effect his political ambitions. Seven years after the incident, Cleveland was elected governor of New York as, “Grover the Good.” And he would later win the presidency, twice!
Still, he could have considered using a different campaign slogan.
5. Two presidents had the same middle initial. Both times it meant nothing.
Names are very important. Many times your name is the first thing another person knows about you. If you are seeking power and influence, you want to present your name in a way that reveals strength, but doesn’t give away so much that a sorceress can use it to control you.
A great way to make your name sound stronger is to use a middle initial. A middle initial takes a regular name, like John Adams, and makes it sound distinguished, like John Q. Adams. George W. Bush made such good use of his middle initial that his father started using two middle initials! A movie with Michael Fox might be ok, but you know a movie starring Michael J. Fox will be great.
A middle initial can make a weak name strong, and a strong name iconic. Using this technique can be a problem, though, if you do not have a middle name.
If you don’t have a middle name, you can’t have a middle initial. So what can a young go-getter who was deprived of a full, civilized name by their hippie parents do?
They can take a page from the book of two American Presidents who had no middle initial, so they just made one up.
A. Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman is famous for using the most destructive weapon ever unleashed by man at the end of World War II, and for the humanitarian efforts to help rebuild a world that was destroyed by war. So he has a mixed record.
Truman had the herculean task of following Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the White House. Roosevelt was a well-loved and effective politician who would have continued on as President had he not died in office.
Was Truman concerned? Sure. It was a tough act to follow. But he wasn’t worried, because Truman had a secret weapon. A good name with a strong middle initial beats a long name that is turned into nothing but initials. Harry S. Truman beats FDR, at least in the arena of nomenclature.
When asked about his name, Truman said,
So maybe he didn’t completely make the middle initial up. But Truman chose to use S., and not A. or Y. He knew S. was the best, probably because of one of his political predecessors.
B. Ulysses S. Grant
The Union military commander during the Civil War had a name that evoked military traditions of antiquity. Ulysses S. Grant lived up to the designation both in his military victories and his policies as president. But maybe he had an easier time than he should have. People would follow a man named Ulysses to the ends of the Earth, and Grant knew it. That’s why he changed his name.
Ulysses Grant was actually born Hiram Ulysses Grant. He wisely dropped his first name to give the thing a more dignified sound.
Simply dropping the first name wasn’t quite enough. In a move that demonstrated his brilliance he added the “S”. to his name. Unlike Truman, Grant didn’t even have the decency to make up a story about being named after his grandfathers or something.
If Grant admitted that the “S” stands for nothing, shouldn’t it be an N? Or maybe he chose “S” as an initial because it would then match the initials of his country. U.S., United States.
If you are looking to make history, just add an S to your name. Things will work out from there.