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Monday, February 18, 2008

We Are the Mediocre Presidents

"We are the mediocre presidents.
You won't find our faces on dollars or on cents!
There's Taylor, there's Tyler, there's Fillmore and there's Hayes.
There's William Henry Harrison,
“I died in thirty days!”
We... are... the...Adequate, forgettable,
Occasionally regrettable
Caretaker presidents of the U-S-A!"

Ah, President’s Day: when the few people who reflect on this day do so, they usually think of Washington and Lincoln, the two presidents whose birthdays Presidents Day usually falls between. But the holiday is called “Presidents Day” not “Presidents Who Matter Day”. So with that in mind, here’s a look at some fun presidential facts focusing on those lesser known presidents.

Martin Van Buren (aka Martin Van Who?) was the first president born in the United States: the preceding Presidents were all born when the United States was still known as“the colonies” and drinking the King’s tea.

William Henry Harrison is perhaps the best known of the mediocre Presidents, being famous for dying in “thirty days.” It is believed Harrison died of pneumonia brought on by delivering the longest inaugural address in American history (8,444 words which took nearly two hours to deliver) on an extremely cold and wet March 4th without wearing his overcoat, followed by an inaugural parade through the streets. One has to wonder how many people actually heard his speech, in a day lacking mass communication and delivered in such miserable weather. The condition was later worsened by the fact that Harrison was unable to properly rest following his inauguration as he was deluged at the White House by office seekers, as was the custom at the time. Perhaps the country was better off having a man who lacked the good sense to at least wear a coat in the rain last only thirty days as President.

John Tyler was Harrison’s Vice President and thus, most likely to become president upon Harrison’s death. However, this was the first time a president had died in office and the rules of succession were not made very clear by the framers of the constitution. Tyler took it upon himself to take the presidential oath of office, initiating a custom that would influence all future successions (but remained a custom until the 25th Amendment was passed in 1967). Often referred to as the “Acting President” or “His Accidency”, Tyler was not taken seriously. Shortly after taking office he vetoed almost the entire Congressional agenda of his Whig party members and was officially expelled from the party, becoming known as “the man without a party.”
Tyler was also the president with the most children: 15. So, you know, good for him.

Zachary Taylor, the last southerner elected until Woodrow Wilson, was elected on the strength of his popularity as a general in the Mexican War. He had a short tenure as president, dying in office shortly after a Fourth of July ceremony celebrating the groundbreaking of the Washington monument, at which he consumed a snack of iced milk and cold cherries, which, combined with heat stroke, is considered by most historians to have killed him.

(Incidentally, Americans used to really love electing generals as presidents. Twelve presidents were formerly generals: Washington, Andrew Jackson, William H. Harrison, Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, U. S. Grant, Hayes, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Bemjamin Harrison, and Eisenhower. Which means there is still hope for General Hawk in ’08)

James Buchanan was the only president to never marry and may also be the only gay President, as rumors of his homosexuality circulated at the time of his election based on the close relationship he shared with his predecessor’s Vice President. Also, he was the president right before Abraham Lincoln and really didn’t do much to ease sectional strife, kind of dropping the ball on that whole “War Between the States” thing.

Rutherford B. Hayes shows us that Dubya wasn’t the first Republican to steal an election; that honor belongs to “Rutherfraud B. Hayes” as Democrats would come to refer to him following the election. Hayes lost the popular vote to his heavily favored opponent, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden by about 250,000 votes in the election of 1876. However, four state’s electoral college votes, three of which were southern states still under military rule, were contested. To win, a candidate had to muster 185 votes. Tilden was short just one and Hayes had 166. 19 votes were being disputed.
A special electoral commission was created to decide the election, comprised of congressmen and Supreme Court justices. Two days before the inauguration, the commission voted along party lines, 8-7 to give Hayes all the remaining votes, and the presidency.
After some southern Democrats threatened rebellion over what they believed was the theft of the election, an agreement put forth by key Republican leaders, known as the Compromise of the 1877, was reached to placate these Democrats. It stated that Hayes would pull federal troops out of the South and end Reconstruction, and include a southern Democrat in his cabinet.
After all this hullabaloo, you’d think Hayes would want a good stiff drink. He might have, but his wife, who was a vocal leader of the temperance movement, did not, and thus all liquor and wine was banished from the White House for the duration of his presidency.

William Taft is the only President to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and thus the only former President to swear in subsequent Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. He thought of his time as Chief Justice to be the high point of his career: allegedly he once said, "I don't remember that I ever was President."
Also, Taft weighed eight metric tons and was, needless to say, the heaviest president. He once got stuck in the White House bathtub, and had to have a larger one installed to accommodate his girth.

Gerald Ford is the only president to never be elected in a popular election. After Nixon VP Spiro Agnew resigned, Ford, Speaker of the House at the time, was chosen to replace him, and then became president when Nixon himself resigned.

3 comments:

  1. baroness van bitzenhoferFebruary 18, 2008 at 9:17 PM

    My favorite is James Madison... He is the shortest president we've had. :o)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I also have a soft spot for Madison; in addition to being our shortest President, by all accounts he was also our first "nerd" President, and the only President to hold the country together during an invasion of a hostile army.

    I didn't include him because I refuse to think of him as mediocre :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. LOL - man you are one super nerd.

    That taft is one handsome man - i especially like his mustache.

    -S

    ReplyDelete

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