Almost Presidents: Sons of presidents who almost won the White House themselves

September 26, 2012

Eight men who might have been president.

Everybody knows that there were two sons of presidents who became president themselves.  John Quincy Adams, son of our second president, John Adams, was elected the sixth president of the United States.  And George W. Bush, who was the son of  George Herbert Walker Bush, was elected the 43rd president.  But there were many others who thought about it and eight who either declared or were promoted for the position or were highly expected to run.

1.) Charles Francis Adams

Charles Francis Adams was the son and grandson of presidents and might have become one himself.  He was fluent in several languages, graduated from Harvard at age seventeen and was elected to the House of Representatives.    As Ambassador to the Court of St. James during the American Civil War he is credited with many for keeping England from supporting the Confederacy.

2.) John Van Buren

Many said he was a better lawyer, businessman and politician than his father.  But when “Prince John” as he was called, was elected to the House of Representatives he kept fighting his fathers old battles.
(Please see Bill McKern’s comments below. He has documentation showing that this congressman, with the same name as the president’s son, was not, in fact that John Van Buren. It is a convincing argument and shows many books and articles – including this one –  to be wrong.)

3.) Robert Todd Lincoln

After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln rose to prominence in America.  After graduating from law school, every major corporation looked to his services and many offered him positions on their board of directors.   Within decades he became one of the richest men in America and was a cabinet officer and an ambassador.  Heads of State who visited America, often stopped to call on Mr. Lincoln as well.  But many were concerned that his political rise was unhealthy.   At one point, no less than Joseph Pulitzer, himself, railed against the possible presidency of Mr. Lincoln “simply because he is the son of a president.”

4.) Jesse Grant

Jesse Grant, son of President Ulysses S. Grant, joined his mom and dad on their famous round the world trip during their retirement years.  Jesse fell in love with the lavish lifestyle foreign potentates showered on the son of a former head of state and succumbed to their flattery.  Failing to understand how American elections worked, and living in cultures where power rested in a few families, many foreign leaders anticipated that Jesse Grant, himself, would one day be an American president.  It all apparently went to Jesse’s head.  He eventually returned to America and announced he was running for president but the press and the public largely ignored him and his campaign fizzled.

5.) Theodore Roosevelt , Jr.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was on the fast track to the presidency.  His father had been appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy on his way to the White House, and so had his cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt.  So when TR, Jr. received the same appointment many expected the pattern to be repeated.  But fate did not comply.  Ted served as governor of Puerto Rico and the Philippines.  He was a hero in World War II but recent disclosures show a jealous FDR restricted his press coverage.  TR, Jr. was the only General to land with his own troops on the first wave, on the first day of the Normandy D Day invasion during World War Two.  He died shortly afterward and was awarded the Medal of Honor in absentia.

6.) Robert Taft

Senator Robert Taft, son of President William Howard Taft, is considered by many to have been one of the top five greatest lawmakers in American history.  He ran for president three times and very nearly won the Republican nomination in 1952.

7.) John Eisenhower

John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, son of President Dwight Eisenhower,  is one of America’s greatest military historians.  He served as U. S. ambassador to Belgium in the Nixon administration. In the 1960’s, the Democratic National Committee commissioned a private poll which showed John Eisenhower as their most formidable Republican opponent for president, beating out both Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller but Eisenhower was not tempted.  He is in retirement and is the oldest living child of a president.

8.) John F. Kennedy, Jr.

Many observers believed that JFK, Jr., son of John F. Kennedy, had the best chance to retrace his father’s steps and win back the White House for a Kennedy family member.  Kennedy never traded on those expectations and wisely kept his own counsel about any political ambitions.  His sister made a brief appearance in public life, jockeying for appointment to the Senate.  It did not go well.  JFK, Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999.  He was 38 years old.
Caroline Kennedy’s public moment

Caroline Kennedy in the Senate? An historic perspective

December 7, 2008


I am getting a ton of calls from journalists wanting some historical context for Caroline Kennedy’s likely appointment to the U. S. Senate.   Even one of the presidential historian – talking heads has checked in, asking for example, if there have been other children of presidents who have served in the Senate.  “Just Adams and Taft, right?” one famous historian wanted to know.  Gotta make sure before going onto TV to tell the world.

Yep, just Adams and Taft.  Caroline Kennedy would make three.  Although there have been eight who served in the House of Representatives, four in the cabinet, five ambassadors and two governors, both Bushes.

Of course, Kennedy is not in yet.  Presumably she would be appointed to finish the term of Hillary Clinton, whom President Elect Obama is going to make his Secretary of State.  A lot of history there.  Clinton will be the first former first lady to serve in the cabinet, although Eleanor Roosevelt was Ambassador to the United Nations and Edith Galt Wilson practically ran the whole country for her incapacitated husband.


U. S. Senators who were children of presidents

1.) John Quincy Adams was the first son born to an American president.  Born in 1767 to John and Abigail Adams, he was a bit of a child prodigy, who accompanied his father on foreign trips and was serving at the ambassadorial level for the new United Sates in his twenties. He served as a U. S. Senator from Massachusetts from 1803 – 1808.  He would later be an ambassador again, secretary of state, and president before returning to the House of Representatives in his later years.

2.) Robert Taft, son of the 27th president, William Howard Taft, served as a Senator from Ohio from 1939 – 1953.  He ran for president three times, and for awhile, was considered a front runner in the 1952 election.  Although a Republican, Taft was named one of the five greatest senators of all time by a committee chaired by Caroline Kennedy’s own father, then Senator John F. Kennedy.

Referred to as “Mr. Republican,” Bob Taft was the father of the modern conservative movement.

If Caroline Kennedy becomes the third presidents’ kid to serve in the U. S. Senate, there were three others who tried and failed, two of them ran for the elusive California seat.


The other candidates for the U. S. Senate who were children of presidents

1.) U. S. “Buck” Grant, Jr. was at the heart of a major scandal, talking his father, the former president, into joining the ill fated Grant and Ward brokerage firm.  Some concluded that the only thing that saved the young Grant from prison was the conclusion that he was more incompetent than culpable.  Years later, when he tried for a comeback by entering into the race for the U. S. Senate from California, the old charges resurfaced along with new ones, including bribery.  The new charges were eventually proven to be false, the product of “dirty politics.”  But the race was lost.

2.) Maureen Reagan ran for the Senate from California in 1982.  Her own father, who was then president, refused to break his pledge of remaining neutral in primary battles and wouldn’t endorse her.  Maureen lost.  She tried again for the House of Representatives and lost.  But Maureen is the only child of a president to serve as the Chairman of a major political party.  During her father’s second term, and in spite of White House aides trying to shoot down the idea, thinking that her public persona was only a reminder to the masses that Reagan had been married and divorced, she was elected the Republican National Co-Chairman.

3.) John William “Jack” Carter, a millionaire investment consultant, and eldest son of President Jimmy Carter, ran for the Senate from Nevada in 2006.  Carter won the primary and might have pulled off an upset against a well heeled opponent but Carter became gravely ill in the last months of the campaign and was hospitalized.  Most say he has a political future if he wants it.