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Presidents’ Day: A Time to Examine the Presidents, Old and New

There’s nothing new about political drama from the White House.

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It’s Presidents’ Day, a day set aside each year to remember and honor past and present commanders in chief. In light of the recent contested election, a moment to discover some of the quirks and feuds from previous presidents is in order.

The Most Disliked President?

According to some, Donald Trump is the worst and most dangerous president to ever sit in the Oval Office. But the tenth president, John Tyler, was not seen very favorably either. After President William Henry Harrison died, Vice President Tyler felt that he should automatically take over, inspiring the 25th Amendment.

Tyler’s own party, the Whigs, expelled him, and all but one member of his own cabinet resigned because of his policies. He was also the first president to face impeachment. One newspaper editor dubbed Tyler a “poor, miserable, despised imbecile,” and The New York Times, in the former president’s obituary, called him “the most unpopular public man that had ever held any office in the United States.”  At his passing, President Abraham Lincoln did not even give a mourning speech or proclamation and the flags were not set to half-mast.

Presidential Bromance

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were great friends and enemies. The two future presidents once went to William Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon where they chipped off a piece of one of the writer’s chairs so that they would have a souvenir. But when it came to politics, that was a horse of a different color.

During an election year, the two were pitted against each other. Adams called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow.” And if you thought that was rough, Adams warned via a political ad what a Jefferson presidency would mean:

“The air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes.”

The two didn’t speak for years, but finally made amends in their old age. They even died on the same day, July 4, 1826, within hours of each other. Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson survives,” not realizing Jefferson had beat him to the grave hours before.

Inauguration Gaffes and Mischief

President Joe Biden’s inauguration was unusual. The newly-coronated leader surrounded the area with the National Guard while restricting the people from witnessing and taking part in the momentous event. But his wasn’t the only odd induction to the Oval Office.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant’s first inauguration in 1869 saw outright brawls. Apparently, the staff working the coat-check area couldn’t read the claim tickets, which angered the crowd as they waited impatiently to pick up their jackets. Fights broke out and some people were so frustrated, they left without claiming their belongings. Jim Bendat wrote in Democracy’s Big Day: The Inauguration of our President 1789-2009, that “Illiterate workers mixed up everyone’s coat claims, leading to fights among the men and tears among the women.”

Wanting to have a better experience – but failing miserably – for his second inauguration in 1873, Grant decided to add canaries to the festivities for the ball. He didn’t, however, take into account the freezing temperatures, which led to about 100 birds freezing to death.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of Lincoln, so much so that he wore a ring that contained a lock of Honest Abe’s hair during his second inauguration in 1905. He came by that gem as a gift from Secretary of State John Hay, Lincoln’s former personal secretary. During the former president’s autopsy, Hay reportedly paid $100 for six strands of hair to be removed. Later, Hay took one of those strands and had it mounted into a ring with an oval piece of glass over it.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Cowboy-up! The 1950s was a popular era for cowboys with such charismatic actors as John Wayne, “The Duke,” lighting up the screen. Eisenhower wanted to bring some of that frontier magic to his 1953 inauguration with Montie Montana, a movie star and rodeo rider. After turning down the idea that Montana would present the president with a ten-gallon cowboy hat, the rodeo rider showed off his talent by riding up to the parade stand on horseback and then lassoing the new president in front of a cheering crowd.

Richard Nixon

Unfortunately, Nixon took a page out of Grant’s not-to-do instructional manual and decided to encompass birds – or rather, the lack of them – into his Inauguration Day parade in 1973. The idea was to make sure pigeons wouldn’t ruin the big day by showing up and pooping on everyone. To achieve this feat, a chemical bird repellent was sprayed along the parade route. Unfortunately, that route became littered with dozens of dead pigeons.

Bill Clinton

It’s time to mix things up. Clinton did not want a traditional inaugural celebration complete with military cadets marching. For his momentous event, he instead had a reggae band and lawn-chair drill team in the parade. There was also a float with an Elvis Presley impersonator as well as members of Elvis’ original band.

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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