In order to celebrate Presidents’ Day, here are a few interesting (to me at least) items about our past leaders.
Note, this is not politically motivated and I will try to avoid any mention pro or con of the current president. For fun facts about him, see this earlier column I wrote.
First of all, Presidents’ Day is always celebrated on the third Monday of February, but it is never actually on the birthday of any of the four presidents who were born in February (George Washington, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan). It is this year, however, on the birthday of Ivana Trump, the first wife of current President Donald Trump. Rats, I already mentioned him! You can’t avoid it! How does he do that?
President Ulysses S. Grant was once pulled over and fined for driving his horse-drawn coach too fast (while he was president) in Washington, D.C. He was driving the coach, and that must have been a bizarre scene.
I imagine it went like this: “Hey buddy, pull over.” “But I’m the president!” “Sure, you are, sure you are. Do you even have a license for this horse? Hold on while I telegraph in his horseshoe number.”
George Washington won unanimously in the first official U.S. Presidential election. In the election of 1789, 10 of the 13 states voted (North Carolina, Rhode Island and New York abstained) and each elector had two votes. Washington received a vote from each of the 69 electors. Take that every other President!
John Adams received 34 electoral votes to come in second, so he was named the Vice President. Earlier in his career, Adams (and this is awesome) wrote for two different newspapers under two different pen names, and argued both sides of the issues with his different pen names.
When Washington was elected in 1789, there were no political parties. Two parties formed during his first term in office. So it’s Washington’s fault!
President Harry S. Truman’s middle name is actually just “S”. It was compromise between family names, and is unfortunately not related to Superman or anything cool like that.
While everyone knows that Washington was the first President, many argue that John Hanson was really the first U.S. President. Under the Articles of Confederation of the U.S., Hanson was the first President of the Congress of the Confederation. He was unanimously elected in November 1781 by the Congress, which included our friend George Washington. The “presidents” of the Congress in the Articles of Confederation each held one-year terms, and Hanson was the first. The Articles of Confederation did not have an executive branch, which is why he is not usually referred to as the first president. Hmmm, no executive branch, was that really such a bad idea?
The term “O.K.” has a complicated history I won’t get into here (it somehow means oil correct), but the term became popular in a large part due to President Martin Van Buren, who was referred to as “Old Kinderhook” because he was raised in Kinderhook, New York. During the campaign between Van Buren and Harrison, OK Clubs formed to support Van Buren, and the clubs helped to popularize the term. So the next time you say, “O.K.” think of President Marty or just say “Old Kindherhook” instead.
The term “Teddy Bear” comes from a stuffed toy bear that was given to President Theodore Roosevelt.
After President George H.W. Bush famously got sick in public in Japan, throwing up in public in Japan became known “bushuru.”
While everyone knows that Washington was the first President, but many argue that Hanson was really the first president, others contend that Samuel Huntington was really, really the first president. Huntington was elected President of America’s Continental Congress in 1779 and was President at the time that the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the country in March 1781 and before Hanson could be elected in November. So since the U.S. was an official country then, that makes him the first president, right?
In October 1912, and this is crazy to think of, Roosevelt was shot in the ribs before giving a speech in Milwaukee. He insisted on giving the speech anyway (with the bullet inside him!), and led off his remarks by saying, ““Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” He then unbuttoned his vest to show his blood-stained shirt, and then pulled out his 50-page speech, which the bullet went through. The speech and his coat may have saved his life by slowing the bullet, which was later found lodged against his fourth right rib. Only after giving his speech did he go to the hospital.
An assassin once tried to shot President Andrew Jackson, but both of his guns misfired and Jackson ended up chasing the man with his walking stick.
President John Tyler had 15 children, eight by his first wife and seven from his second wife. He was 30 years older than his second wife and was age 70 when his 15th child was born.
In 2012, three of his grandchildren were still alive and were the subject of a New York Magazine article. Isn’t that crazy? He was president from 1841-45, and three of his grandchildren were still living in 2012. (I am not sure if they are still alive or not).
The eight children from Tyler’s first wife apparently did not approve of the marriage to the second wife so they did not attend the wedding.
After Tyler left the Presidency, he went on to be elected to the Congress of the Confederate States of America. This did not sit well with the U.S government, and when he died in 1862 the flags were not lowered at half-staff.
President James Madison was the shortest president at 5 feet 4 inches, and weight less than 100 pounds.
William Taft owned the last presidential cow.
While our latest Presidential campaign was pretty ugly, the 1800 campaign between Adams and Thomas Jefferson is considered one of the ugliest ever. Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson in the 1796 election and Jefferson became the vice president. Jefferson then won the 1800 election. Adams blamed the loss partially on the unpopularity of the national days of fasting he proclaimed while president.
Jefferson and Adams died on the same day, July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
If you have a few minutes this year on Presidents’ Day, I hope you will look up some information on the past presidents. It may confuse you to think about whom you should consider as a president, but hopefully after you see more of the bizarre facts about our past leaders, when you look at our current political situation you will feel much more Old Kinderhook.