Presidents Day is easily my sixth favorite holiday closely behind my birthday and far ahead of Arbor Day. However, this Presidents Day I am extremely disappointed for two reasons. First, apparently at the University of Arkansas, Presidents Day isn’t significant enough to warrant cancellation of school and, with today being a Monday, I really hate that. Second, I realized that out of all the 44 presidents to hold office, people only really know or care about a handful.
That’s a sad thought! Everyone knows about FDR, Washington, and Lincoln. Recently Teddy Roosevelt has made a surge thanks to his “masculine” image and Kennedy has always held a spot in people’s hearts, but what about the other 39? Today, my goal is to commemorate a couple of presidents who you probably have never heard of, but should definitely know! This list is in no particular order and a lot of these presidents actually sucked at their job, but I think they still deserve to be remembered.
Martin Van Buren – Starting things off is Martin Van Buren. The eighth President of the United States, Van Buren was popular at the beginning of his term as he rode on the tailcoat of Andrew Jackson, but by the end of his only term in 1841, he was a despised man. This was mostly due to the Panic of 1837 which Van Buren could not combat thanks to the policies of the ever popular Jackson. So in the end, Van Buren got the blame for the mini-depression and would later say, “As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it”.
Van Buren didn’t do much while actually president so why is he on this list? It’s because of his rocking hair and sideburns combo! Seriously, how do you do that?
William Henry Harrison – Next the list of forgotten presidents is Van Buren’s successor, “Old Tippecanoe” aka William Henry Harrison. Aside from a weird nickname given to him after his success in battling Indians in 1811, W.H.H. was known for his “Log Cabin Campaign.” In the 1840 presidential race, Van Buren’s Democrats tried to make Harrison seem less appealing to voters by painting an image of him as an old man who would rather “sit in his log cabin drinking hard cider” than run the country. To be honest, Harrison was extremely old to be running for president since he was 67 at the time, but instead of attacking Van Buren, Harrison adopted the image and posted flyers of him hanging out by a log cabin with a huge keg of hard cider by him. This made him seem like one of the common people, especially since Americans at the time loved their booze more than their families, and Harrison won.
But the weirdest part about William Henry Harrison is the fact that he was only president for 30 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes. After catching pneumonia three weeks into his presidency, Harrison died on April 4, 1841 – exactly one month into his term. Thus, Harrison holds the record for shortest presidency ever. Maybe it was all the hard cider…
William McKinley – Elected in a time when the two biggest policy issues were the tariff and currency, McKinley’s presidency covered the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. To be honest, no one really cares about McKinley because he can be lumped into the group of presidents between Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. However, in terms of foreign policy, there were some interesting developments during his tenure. McKinley led America to victory in the Spanish-American War (which I’m sure everyone knows all about) as well as expanding American influence globally by pursuing open for all trade in China and gaining American possessions in the Pacific.
The reason I have McKinley on the list of presidents who deserve to be remembered has nothing to do with his policies, but with his death. McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 by an anarchist and was the third president to be assassinated when he died on September 14. Normally I’d say just being shot isn’t significant enough to be on this list. I mean, Teddy Roosevelt got shot once and continued to deliver his speech for another hour after deciding the bullet lodged in his chest wasn’t bad enough. But it was McKinley’s last words that I think are important. As he took a turn for the worse and only had a little time left, his wife began crying and shouting “I want to go too! I want to go too!” It was then that McKinley turned to her and said with his last gasp, “We are all going.”
William Howard Taft – If you have heard of William Howard Taft, it is probably because you heard the myth that he was a president so fat that he got stuck in the White House bathtub. While that story is most likely untrue, it is true that he rode a water buffalo while in the Philippines. It was probably the only animal that could hold his weight to be honest and if you don’t admire the photograph of the scene then you need to leave.
Herbert Hoover – Another president whom you may know simply because he was the president before FDR and was unfairly blamed for the Great Depression, Hoover was also a badass human being. Before becoming president, Hoover was head of the U.S. Food Administration during WWI and was famed for his humanitarian efforts in war-ravaged Belgium. Also, because he had made a small fortune in the mining industry, Hoover donated every cent of his presidential salary to charity. When the Great Depression hit however, Hoover’s efforts were not effective on the scale needed for a full recovery.
What makes Hoover good enough for this list is the fact that he invented the sport that has become the single most popular game in the world and is covered 24/7 on ESPN – Hooverball. What, you’ve never heard of it? It’s the most played sport of Herbert Hoover Predidential Library and Museum employees and you probably see highlights of annual tournament on Sports Center’s Top 10 all the time. The sport was invented in order to keep Hoover fit– something that was probably on the mind of every president after Taft! However, in case you missed the last championship and have been living under a rock, the game is similar to volleyball, but with a 6 lb. medicine ball instead. The best part is that, according to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association, “Good sportsmanship is required.” With an official rule like that, you aren’t going to see any Hooverball players spiking the ball and doing a dance to rub it in the losers’ faces– something that I of course have never seen personally in my athletic career as I win everything…
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So from killer sideburns to a calorie-killing sport, a presidential term just over 30 days to a president’s weight far over 300 pounds, and finally some eloquent final lines, it is clear that the United States has seen a wide variety of presidents. Though varying in popularity and success of policies, it is important to remember that each of the 44 Presidents were people just like you and me. They had emotions, dreams, and aspirations. As kids they probably never thought they’d ever become a politician. As teenagers they fell in and out of love so many times that John Hughes could make them into a movie. Finally, as presidents, they did the best they could with the cards handed to them.
No matter what your political affiliation, never forget where you come from and the fact that the person on the other side of the voting booth is a person too. The American system isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got and the office of the presidency is one of the toughest in the world. My hope is that maybe you’ll be reminded that people are just people and it is dangerous to imagine them as anything more. Really, don’t be intimidated by the frowns in the old photos. I’m sure Taft would’ve love to grab a burger at the local diner, Hoover’d have a great time playing some Hooverball on a sunny day with friends, and Harrison would always be down to chug some hard cider at the pub down the street. Just because people are from the past, it doesn’t mean they aren’t connected to us. We are Americans, we are humans, we are people.
Have a great Presidents Day!