10 Things You Didn’t Know About Presidential Parents

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By Harold I. Gullan, Author

Harold I. Gullan, author of Cradles of Power

1. As she aged, the perplexing Mary Ball Washington became ever more vocal in her protestations that her son, General George Washington, was not providing for her sufficiently. So much so that the Virginia House of Delegates proposed raising a pension for her.

2. In their final emotional meeting, Sarah Bush Lincoln predicted that a terrible fate awaited her “best boy,” Abraham. He would be killed four years later. She would die of natural causes after another four years. Of the four American presidents who have been assassinated, a remarkably modest number in view of so many publicized plots, three of their mothers (Lincoln’s a stepmother) have outlived them.

3. Abigail Adams felt the nation “had need” of her son John Quincy, becoming the only first mother to see her son as a potential president.  John Adams, who of course had already been president, didn’t join in that call. He hoped John Quincy would return home to join him in a law practice to finally make some money for the family.

4. Injured and ailing, Andrew Jackson and his older brother had been taken by the British to a fetid prison camp some forty miles from their home. When she heard the news, their resourceful mother Elizabeth somehow managed a prisoner exchange and personally brought her sons and a few of their friends the arduous way home. Her older boy was too far gone to make it, but she willed Andrew back to health, the only one of her three sons to survive the War for American Independence.

5. “Mother McKinley,” as she was known throughout the nation among the many devout first mothers, harbored the hope that one day her favored son William would become a Methodist bishop. Alas, she had to settle for the presidency. When asked if she were not still proud of her son, she replied that she was “happy for his sake.”

6. Harry Truman’s family, like many in the South, long retained their resentment at everything the Union Army and the Republican Party represented—from its depredations during the Civil War. When Truman’s elderly mother came to visit him in the White House (and take her first plane ride) she not only wouldn’t sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom, but she wouldn’t even enter it.

7. Their names even sound presidential—Leslie Lynch King Jr. and William Jefferson Blythe III. However, because of divorce and death, we know them as Gerald Rudolf Ford Jr. and William Jefferson Clinton. Their fathers and stepfathers could hardly have been less alike. Ford Sr. was an admirably supportive authentic father. Beyond his gentle grandfather, Bill Clinton had no strong male role models growing up.

8. “Rud” Hayes could describe his father vividly and delighted in telling his friends all about his exploits. So did James Abram Garfield in terms of his own father. The remarkable thing is that neither boy had even met his father. Both men had died when their wives were in labor. All this information had come from the boys’ devoted mothers, Sophia Birchard Hayes and Eliza Garfield. Life was so tenuous on the American frontier that this became at least a semblance of continuity.

9. Dapper John Edward Reagan was both a drunkard and a lifelong failure, but that is only part of the story. His son Ronald said of him, “He was the best storyteller I’ve ever heard and the strongest man of principle I’ve ever known.” He added that Jack Reagan was “filled with a love of justice and a hatred of bigotry.” Once, on the road, he nearly died of pneumonia when he slept overnight in his car, offended that the only hotel in town wouldn’t extend its invitation to him to any traveling salesman who happened to be Jewish.

10. Joseph P. Kennedy’s first choice to be the nation’s first Catholic president had been himself. However, when he heard Franklin Roosevelt would run in 1940 and had his own falling out with the president in terms of foreign policy, Kennedy’s focus turned to his eldest son, named for him, who was already showing exceptional ability. When Joe Jr. died near the end of World War II, it almost killed his father as well. Ultimately the mantle fell to a second son who had not demonstrated much interest in politics. However, John F. Kennedy would surprise everyone.

-Harold I. Gullan, Author
Cradles of Power

Cradles of Power
By Harold I. Gullan
ISBN: 978-1-5107-0533-3

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