President’s Day is a holiday dedicated to all of the U.S. presidents, both past and present. It is a day where Americans can reflect upon and remember the actions of historic presidents like George Washington as well as the more recent presidents who were elected during our lifetime. This day gives us reason to recall the incredible feats of President Abraham Lincoln, who preserved the Union throughout the turmoil of the American Civil War, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who guided the U.S. during economic depression and world war. Also, this day allows us to commemorate the tragedies of past presidents like the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas during the presidential motorcade. Most Americans are aware of the well-known presidents and their claims to fame. However, presidents are people, too, and they have lived through some interesting periods in American history. Behind every presidential figure lies a trove of fascinating facts about their lives.
We believe that the man or woman elected as president cannot be some average Joe off the street. Although one must certainly be qualified to be president, all of the men elected to office have had their shortcomings. Thomas Jefferson—founding father, writer of the Declaration of Independence, and 3rd president of the U.S.—gravely feared public speaking. In fact, during his entire presidency, he only delivered two speeches. He is not the only president with a phobia. Ulysses S. Grant, the acclaimed general of the Civil War and 18th president of the U.S., could not bear the sight of blood. Yet, he led the Union army to victory in the bloodiest war the United States has ever experienced. Unlike Jefferson and Grant, whose concerns are understandable, other presidents had irrational fears. For example, the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, was afraid of electricity. Since it had just been invented, Harrison often refused to flip light switches in the White House, believing he would be electrocuted if he did. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president who led the U.S. through World War II, was deeply superstitious. It was common for him to refuse to dine with thirteen people or travel on the thirteenth day of the month as a safety precaution. Like any other person, presidents have fears and concerns that contradict the heroic persona we often think we see them in.
Some of the presidents were incredibly rugged men who lived during periods that we have no experience in. Many of them grew up on the frontier where the wilderness spread for miles and unknown people resided. They developed tough characteristics that they carried with them into their presidency for both their benefit and downfall. The 7th president, Andrew Jackson, is commonly known as the presidential bad-boy of American history and for good reason. Throughout his life, he fought in one-hundred duels (which were legal in his day). Duels were serious ordeals; many famous Americans of that period were involved and sometimes killed in these confrontations. Jackson was shot twice during his tenure as a dueler, once taking a bullet in the chest and another in the arm. Along with Old Hickory (Jackson’s nickname), Abe Lincoln was also a tough guy. Lincoln had a talent in wrestling, winning nearly three-hundred matches during his day. His towering frame gave him the advantage in wrestling matches, making him a formidable opponent to all who challenged him. Both of these presidents were the types of people you did not want to mess with unless you had a good reason.
Throughout history, presidents have had a lasting impact on the United States. Martin Van Buren, 8th president of the U.S., impacted the language we speak today in a very unique way. During his election campaign in 1840, he went by the nickname: Old Kinderhook. In order to create a snappier way of saying this mouthful of a nickname, people referred to him as “OK.” His supporters would lug around signs with the initials on it and, little did they know, we still use “OK” to this day. In fact, it is one of the prominent words in our everyday language.
As humans, we all possess interesting facts about our lives. Every president, from the most prominent to the nearly forgotten, has a fascinating side to his life story. Though we create presidents to be larger-than-life figures, they are people, too, with mistakes, fears, desires, and stories.
Written by Jack
Hapsis, Emmanuel. “Weird Facts You Never Knew about the U.S. Presidents.” KQED, Feb. 2016. https://www.kqed.org/pop/20516/weird-facts-you-never-knew-about-the-u-s-presidents.
History.com Editors. “Presidents Day 2019.” History.com, Aug 2018. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/presidents-day.