“History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page.” – Byron
Can Jeb Bush win the White House? What would be the historical ramifications of a third president from the same family? Have we ever come close to such a moment before?
In fact, we very well might have had three presidents from the family of John Adams, our second president. His son, John Quincy Adams was the first son born to an American president and he, himself, became the sixth American president. His father was 89 years old and too feeble to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to see his son’s inauguration.
President John Quincy’s third son, Charles Francis Adams, was born on August 18, 1807 and was both the son and grandson of presidents. As in the case of Jeb Bush, many contemporaries of the younger Adams suggested that he was the best presidential material in the family.
Charles Francis Adams graduated from Harvard at age 17, apprenticed in law under Daniel Webster and became fluent in several languages. In 1858 he was elected to the House of Representatives. But his greatest service to the country came as Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London. Young Adams would be the third member of the Adam’s family to hold this position and he would hold it at a critical time. The Civil War raged in America and the Confederate government was close to receiving official recognition from the United Kingdom, the super power of its day. British clothing manufacturers were pressuring the government to make a deal and thus assure the steady supply of Southern cotton for their factories. Such a decision might have guaranteed independence for the South. Historian John S. Cooper states that Charles Francis Adam’s work was “arguable the greatest contribution to the Union victory made by any individual in the war.” It was a boast that included both Abraham Lincoln and Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant.
At a time when presidential candidates had to act coy and feign disinterest, Charles Adams was nominated for president in 1872 and again in 1876.
There are some uncanny historical similarities between the third Adams and the third Bush.
#1.) Both men are often referred to as better presidential material than the two presidents in the family who preceded them.
#2.) Both men are considered establishment figures with money and power behind their candidacy.
#3.) Both men are seen as ahead of their political parties in crafting new positions on the issues. Adams was anti-slavery early in his career, when it was a controversial position to take. And after the great Civil War finally put that issue to rest, he was an early advocate of civil service reform, the new controversy. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush is seen as taking positions on immigration that are too much, too soon, to allow him to win the GOP nomination.
But there are some big differences between the third would be Adams president and the third would be Bush president. Adams was more mercurial and politically risky than Bush, whose temperament is more cautious and circumspect.
Bush is eyeing the White House at a time when the national media and rival political parties have accepted family dynasties without criticism. The Clinton’s, the Cuomo’s, the Kennedy’s, the Paul’s and the Carter’s are just some of the political families who have fielded multiple candidates.
Adams opponents railed against the dynastic power of one family rule. And the national media was vigorously opposed. When Robert Todd Lincoln, a contemporary of Charles Adams, was promoted for president the national media publicly attacked the idea. Lincoln was the son of the beloved, slain President Abraham Lincoln, and like Charles had served as Ambassador to Great Britain.
The New York World warned that “rotten Republicanism has learned to revere things that savor of monarchy and aristocracy. It would transmit the Presidency as their fathers’ successors to crowns.” (All the Presidents Children, Simon and Schuster.) Joseph Pulitzer was aghast at the possibility declaring that no one should be elected president because of their father.
Jeb Bush represents one distinct difference from Charles Adams. He would be running for president within 30 years of his father and brother. The three Adams presidential candidates spread their political careers across 80 years and three generations. Some argue that it is too much, too soon for Jeb Bush. But then, his likely Democrat opponent in 2016 would be Hillary Clinton, whose president husband was impeached only sixteen years ago.
Knowing the Bush family, they will be prepared and then sit back and watch the polls. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. If they see an opportunity, they will take it. But the Bushes, like the Adams, will feel no need to hurry. Jeb Bush has a son, George P. Bush, who was just elected Texas Land Commissioner. He will be ready soon and might be the family’s “next man in.”
For more on political family dynasties read The Raising of a President.