Nel's New Day

February 18, 2013

Thoughts about the Presidents

Today is Washington’s Birthday, a federal holiday created in 1880. Technically George Washington’s birthday isn’t until Friday, but in 1968 Congress moved all federal holidays to Mondays. Back when I was in school, we celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Now people call the Monday before the 22nd “President’s Day” and ignore Lincoln’s birthday, but Congress never changed the name.

It’s a quiet day today. Congress has disappeared for ten days and can’t do any damage except for the stupid comments that keep coming out of their mouths. Because there’s the feeling that all presidents are commemorated on this day, here are a few facts about past presidents, sort of a mini-history/trivia lesson.

Although history books teach that George Washington was the first president of the United States, he was actually the eighth. The “Presidents under the Articles of Confederation” had the official title of “President of the United States in Congress Assembled.” Before these seven presidents there were 16 Presidents of the Continental Congress, but John Hanson was the ninth of these and the first to hold the title “President of the United States.” Hanson’s Birthday would postpone the federal holiday almost two months to April 14.

Although the Constitution requires that presidents be born U.S. citizens, the first seven presidents were not “natural-born citizens” of the United States, as the Constitution requires. Of course, that was because they were all born before there was a United States. Since then, however, controversies have arisen from time to time about this constitutional requirement.

Because the Constitution does not define “natural born,” the law has had to create a definition. The first one came from the Naturalization Act of 1790: “The children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens.” Later Title Eight of the U.S. Code filled in some gaps.

The argument about presidential citizenship flared up after “birthers” declared that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii and thus ineligible for the presidency. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) sent a memo, dated April 3, 2009, to Congress echoing the Naturalization Act and claiming that the definition of “natural born” would “include a person born abroad to parents who are United States citizens.”

President Obama was not the first president whose citizenship was questioned. The one other president who had only one U.S.-citizen parent, Chester A. Arthur, was rumored to have been born in Canada. Arthur became president after President Garfield was shot and killed.

If the place of birth were at issue, eligibility could have been questioned for Vice-President Al Gore, born outside of the United States in Washington, D.C. and for candidates Barry Goldwater, born in Arizona Territory, and George Romney, born in Mexico. The birthers never questioned the eligibility of John McCain to become president, who was born either at the Coco Solo Naval Air Station or in a civilian hospital in Colon City, Panama, according to his birth certificate. Neither place was identified as United States territory at the time although a 1937 law retroactively conferred citizenship on people born in the Canal Zone after February 26, 1904 and in the Republic of Panama after that date who had at least one U.S. citizen parent employed by the U.S. government or the Panama Railway Company.

One president was not even a U.S. citizen when he died. John Tyler, the 10th president, died in Virginia on January 8, 1862, as a citizen of the Southern Confederacy.

Over two dozen federal legislators have proposed constitutional amendments to change the requirement of natural-born citizenship for the presidency, usually because of a preference for a candidate. Rep. Jonathan Bingham (R-NY) introduced one in 1974 to allow Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to become eligible, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) presented the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment in 2003 to make then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) eligible for the office.

By the 21st century, people expected the president to have college degrees, but ten presidents have not earned one, the most recent being Harry S. Truman. While in office, eight presidents owned slaves before it became illegal, and another four others also owned slaves while they were not sitting presidents. The last president to own slaves while in office, Zachary Taylor, had 100 on a Mississippi plantation. Ulysses S. Grant, freed his slave, William Jones, in 1859.

Only one president, James Buchanan, was never married. He was described as nearly inseparable from Alabama senator William T. King, who was known as “his wife.” Documents show that Buchanan was undeniably “the first gay president,” not Barack Obama as a sensationalist Newsweek cover proclaimed.

Four presidents became president after they lost the popular vote, the most recent being George W. Bush. The others were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison—all in the 19th century. Two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached and acquitted, and a third, Richard Nixon, resigned before the impeachment process moved to trial.

In this case, history is stranger than fiction when one considers the frenzied impeachment of Bill Clinton during the last few years of the 20th century.

In honor of my left-handed partner, I want to add that eight presidents, including President Obama, have also been left-handed.

As of 2013, not one woman has served as U.S. president, unless you include the powerful wives of Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan. In the rest of the world, women have been elected president in Argentina, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. Another 50 countries have had women heads of state. Another 13 countries have had women representatives of heads of state. Six Muslim countries have elected women heads of state. 

Yellow: Female head of government; Blue: Female head of state; Light Green: Female head of state/government (combined); Dark Green: Female head of state and female head of government

Yellow: Female head of government; Blue: Female head of state; Light Green: Female head of state/government (combined); Dark Green: Female head of state and female head of government

Rumors proliferate, however, that former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with an approval rating of over 70 percent, may be a 2016 presidential candidate. Would she run against Ryan? Or Rubio? Or Christie? Or another Bush? Or another Paul? Or, or, or?

1 Comment »

  1. Is Hillary Clinton left-handed perchance?

    Like

    Comment by lynchly — February 18, 2013 @ 8:48 PM | Reply


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