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Presidential Fathers: Responsible for Their Kids and the Country – Lesson


Portrait of George Washington with his family. Painted by Edward Savage, an American painter and engraver. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Being a parent is difficult – but imagine being the leader of a nation, too!

Father’s Day is a time to celebrate dads and to thank them for all that they have given their children. Being a parent is hard, but imagine that responsibility coupled with being the leader of a nation. On this day, let’s look at the presidential fathers.

Author Joshua Kendall wrote a book titled First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama, which talks about the commanders in chief and their children. Not all presidents had kids of their own, including George Washington, who helped raise his wife’s children.

John Adams was the second president of the US. Kendall noted that he was “an authoritarian father and authoritarian president.” He and his wife had six children, but just four survived. It is said that Adams told his son John Quincy that he would either be president or a failure, and the son went on to become the sixth president.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, who became America’s third president in 1801, believed in family values. In 1789, he wrote to his brother Randolph that, “no society is so precious as that of one’s own family.”

Jefferson and his wife Martha had six children, but only two daughters survived to adulthood. According to Kendall, Jefferson was “America’s most articulate advocate of freedom,” but, “with his daughters he was a control freak.”


Woodrow Wilson reads to his wife and three daughters. (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Historians suggest Jefferson may have also had up to six children with a slave at his plantation, Sally Hemings. The situation is not clear, but it appears two of the children, born into slavery, were allowed to “run away” to the North. One died in infancy. The others were freed in Jefferson’s will, after his death.

Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th president at the age of 42. He was the youngest president in the nation’s history. Teddy, as he was affectionately called, enjoyed playing with his children. He used to stage pillow fights and playacted like a bear, using an upturned table to represent his den. “He had a young family and they loved playing in the White House,” Kendall said. “He used to stop working at three o’clock and go and play tag in the attic.”

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, had three daughters with his first wife, Ellen. Just two years into his presidency, Ellen died, and their oldest child Margaret took over the duties of First Lady to the White House. The girls were well educated and talked endlessly with their father about universal suffrage (voting rights for all).


View of Rosalynn Carter, daughter Amy, and President-Elect Jimmy Carter on stage (Photo by Benjamin E. ‘Gene’ Forte/CNP/Getty Images)

Jimmy Carter was the 39th president. He and his wife had four children, and Jimmy liked to engage his kids with talks of politics. When he was running against Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election, Jimmy told his audience during a televised debate, “I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry and the control of nuclear arms.” Amy had only been 13 at the time.

Amy used to roller skate in the east room of the White House. Her doll’s house is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Some former leaders guide their children into working in the family business, or help them develop their own political careers. The 45th president, Donald Trump, has five children and most of them helped him in some way during his term in the Oval Office.

The current president, Joe Biden, had four children: three with his first wife, Neilia, and one with his current wife, Jill. Now 79 years old, he has seven grandchildren, too – their ages range from about two to 28 years old.