The Presidential role call

I’m about to tread on familiar territory. I surprised myself by finding this old post in a search. It only goes back to last May. Quoting from it spares me having to reframe the reminiscence:

When I was a kid my Dad (his son-in-law) and I were talking about history. One of us challenged him [my Grandfather George Robb] to list all the presidents from Washington to Lyndon Johnson in order. He did it with no hesitancy. That’s not all that surprising. His family was steeped in post Civil War politics. There is an old family story about the time my Grandparents, Winona and George Robb, arrived late at a Robb family gathering. When My Grandmother asked if they had missed anything a sister-in-law told her not to worry. The men were talking presidents and were only up to Warren Harding.

I’ve never been able to recall the presidents in order from the Ninteenth Century. There were two pools of them that gave me trouble. The first trouble spot were the ones from Jackson to Lincoln were I was unclear about a stretch of six of them. That’s eight presidents really but I knew that Martin Van Buren followed Jackson and that Buchanan preceded Abe. That left the troubling six. I’ve known that Polk was in there because Abe bedeviled him over the War with Mexico. I knew that there was a Taylor and a Tyler the former being a Mexican War hero. I knew that Millard Fillmore was in there too. Poor Millard has been the butt of many jokes. I found this webpage while trying to locate a cartoon ghost of the old president that I was sure made the rounds years ago.


It turns out I was right about that cartoon ghost of Millard Fillmore.

During this stretch of six presidents there were three political titans sharing the stage with Andrew Jackson. They were all legislators, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. Like US Senators today their legislative leadership made them targets when they pursued their Presidential dreams and so more obscure politicians and generals got elected in their stead. According to My Reading List I read the book about them The Great Triumvirate in 1995.

There has been one more troublesome stretch of presidents for me – the ones in office around the time of my Grandfather Robb’s birth. That was the “Gilded Age” of big money and forgettable presidents between Grant’s successor Rutherford B. Hayes and Teddy Roosevelt’s predecessor the assassinated McKinley. That’s another five (including Grover Cleveland twice). I started a book about that period of history last May that again was about a legislative titan, House Speaker Reed. That book was mentioned in the May post linked to previously. I set that book aside when the School Board decided to remove Art Johnston and its sitting under a pile of books next to the computer. I’ll get back to it eventually. He was one of the heroes in JFK’s Profiles in Courage. Perhaps when I finally read it, it will help me with that second stretch of less memorable presidents.

I’ve always been far better versed in Twentieth Century US history. Heck, I lived through the last half of it so I’ve had that century’s presidents down cold since college. There have been 44 of them so far. The Bush Boys call each other 41 and 43 for short. It sure would be nice though to be able to impress my grandson’s like my Grandfather impressed me when I was a kid.

To that end I’ve gotten into a new book that is putting some meat on the bones of that first troublesome stretch of presidents. I mentioned buying The Presdident’s War a few posts ago but I’ve been poking into it in the last couple of days. I’m up to page 66 a little before Abe Lincoln takes office. These fellows turn out not to be quite as forgettable as I thought. Even the much maligned Millard Filmore managed to acquit himself pretty well during his single term as President. Last night before turning in I read a harrowing anecdote about Franklin Pierce which was new to me.

Pierce had been a successful politician for some time when his retiring wife finally prevailed on him to abandon politics for a normal life. He jumped in one more time to her chagrin and got himself elected President. When he was heading back with her and his only child after his victory to put his household in order before assuming the Presidency the train they were riding jumped its tracks and fell fifteen feet onto rocks. The crash smashed his young son’s skull in in front of both parents. His wife wore black for his full term but Franklin still angled for a second term which did not come to pass. That was typical of many of his fellow presidents in the 1800’s. Single terms and presidential deaths while in office help explain why there were 23 presidents in that century compared to seventeen in the next (counting Adams, McKinley and Clinton only once despite their terms bleeding into a second century).

Perhaps I need to go back to Kid Rock since the Faure’ channel is putting me to sleep before I proof read this post. No. I’ll upload it now and clean it up later. Maybe. ZZZZZZZ

About the author