Top 20 Fascinating Facts About the American Presidency

Suggested by SMS

The American presidency is said to be one of the toughest jobs in the world and the people who have held it are some of the most fascinating. There is lot more responsibility for a U.S President since they are the Head of State as well as Commander and chief of the armed forces. However, the office of President is one that has a number of quirky secrets that not everyone knows. Hopefully this list will answer some questions as well as providing an in-depth look at one of the most fascinating jobs in the world. Here is a list of the top 20 fascinating facts about the American Presidency.

20. The President is a Lasting Office

The United States is a young country when compared with other countries. At just over 220 years old, the United States pales in comparison to the histories of such countries as France, Russia, China, and Japan. However, the United States could be said to have more luck in setting up a chief executive. When George Washington became President in 1789, France was ruled by a king (King Louis XVI), Russia was ruled by a czarina (Catherine the Great), China was ruled by an emperor (Emperor Kao Tsung), and Japan was ruled by a shogun. The only one of these executive offices that is still in existence today is President. Go ahead and brag, Americans!

19. The President Can Go to War, but Not “War”

Under the Article I of the United States Constitution, only the United States Congress can make an official declaration of war. This was meant to prevent the President from simply declaring war on his own. Even without this official power to “declare” war, Presidents have sent troops to “trouble spots” over the world, Vietnam being the most dramatic example of this. In response (but still seeking to find middle ground), Congress responded in 1973 by passing the War Powers Act, which provided that the President can send U.S. armed forces into action abroad only by authorization of Congress or if the United States is already under attack or serious threat. The War Powers Resolution gives the President the power to send troops without an official declaration of war, but requires that the use of forces must be terminated within 60 to 90 days, unless Congress authorizes such use (or extends the time period), and that the President attempt to consult with Congress beforehand (and provide updates thereafter). Since 1973, this provision has come into play in instances ranging from evacuations of U.S. embassies, intervention in Kosovo, the Persian Gulf War, and the Iraq War.

18. Presidents May Be Down, but Not Always Out

Usually, a President who leaves office (whether because of a failed re-election attempt or retirement) simply fades into the sunset, content to work on his memoirs and make speeches (for substantial fees, of course). However, not all outgoing Presidents were willing to give up – some even ran for President again. Five of these Presidents (Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover) were unsuccessful in their bids to recapture the Presidency. However, President Grover Cleveland was able to mount a successful comeback attempt, and served for four more years – the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms.

17. S Marks the Spot

Although you may know him as President Harry S. Truman, technically speaking, there is no need to put a period after the “S” when speaking of him. Why is that? Because the letter “S” is the full middle name of President Truman. The “S” represents his two grandfathers, both of whom had names prominently including the letter “S” (Truman’s paternal grandfather Anderson “S”hippe Truman, and his maternal grandfather “S”olomon Young). It appears that compromise-minded parents led to the unusual middle name for Harry. If you do use the period after the S, don’t worry — President Truman used letterhead bearing the name “Harry S. Truman.” If it was okay by Harry, it’s probably fine for you, too.

16. Twenty-Year Curse

Sometimes called the “Curse of Tippecanoe,” there was a disturbing pattern that began in 1840, in which each President who won election in a year ending in zero (such as 1860 or 1920) died in office. It began in 1840 with President William Henry Harrison (a.k.a. “Tippecanoe”), who died just 32 days after taking the oath of office. From there, the “Curse” fell upon President Lincoln (who was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865), President Garfield (who was assassinated by Charles Guiteau in 1881), President McKinley (who was assassinated by Leon Czgolgosz in 1901), President Harding (who died in office in 1923), President Roosevelt (who died in office in 1945), and President Kennedy (who was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald – hey, that is the official word — in 1963). President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, broke the so-called “Curse” and made it all the way through his entire 8-year term of office, although he had to survive the assassination attempt of John Hinckley to do so.

15. They Elect Presidents, Don’t They?

As everyone knows, the United States holds elections every four years for President and Vice-President. However, for well over a year in the 1970s, the United States had a President and Vice-President who were not elected by the people. This unique situation began in 1973, when Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned (in relation to an investigation to alleged bribes he took when he was the Governor of Maryland). In response, President Nixon appointed Rep. Gerald Ford of Michigan as Vice President. Just one year later, President Nixon resigned the following year in connection with the Watergate scandal, which left Vice President Ford as the new President in August 1974. With the Vice President’s office suddenly vacant, President Ford appointed Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York as the new Vice President. Thus, from August 1974 to January 1977 (when President Carter entered was inaugurated), the United States had two unelected individuals leading the country.

14. Being Popular Does Not Make You President

Most people have no trouble remembering the contentious 2000 Presidential election between Republican candidate Gov. George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Vice President Al Gore, in which Gore won the popular vote (i.e., total votes cast), but Bush ultimately won the electoral vote (and, thus, the Presidency). However, not many recall that 2000 was not the first time that the candidate that won the popular vote did not win the electoral vote. In fact, it happened three times prior to 2000: in 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote, but lost the election to John Quincy Adams; in 1876, Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote, but lost the election to Rutherford B. Hayes; and in 1888, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote, but lost the election to Benjamin Harrison. Although there have been many calls over the years for an overhaul of the U.S. election process (particularly the dissolution of the Electoral College), the process remains the same.

13. Yes, Virginia, You Do Have the Most Presidents

If there were a competition between the states for most homegrown Presidents, Virginia would win in a walk. You see, Virginia gave us eight Presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Wilson). Sadly, thirty-one states have never claimed a native son as President.

12. The Presidency is Swimsuit Optional

President Lyndon Johnson enjoyed swimming in the White House pool, but he enjoyed it a bit more than some might have liked. You see, LBJ swam nude in that pool (which was super-heated, allowing for this to occur), but that was not his only quirk. Old LBJ often held policy meetings with his staff while swimming in the pool, and required that all aides (all males, presumably) who were attending also swam nude as well. You can call it a strange motivational technique, but it could also be said that President Johnson was simply carrying on Presidential tradition. Over 100 years earlier, President John Quincy Adams regularly took pre-dawn skinny-dips in the Potomac River – in warm weather, of course.

11. Relatively Speaking, the Presidency is a Family Affair

There is little question that, with under 50 members in over 200 years, the Presidency is an exclusive club. However, the club seems a bit more exclusive the closer you look – all the relatives who have been President might make it seem that you have to check your family tree to get in the door. The most famous relatives were the two father-and-son combinations — President John Adams and President John Quincy Adams, and President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush. However, it doesn’t stop there. President William Henry Harrison was the grandfather of President Benjamin Harrison, President James Madison and President Zachary Taylor were second cousins, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a fifth cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt. To keep things simple, we left out the less direct relations (like all the “once removed” connections) – including those would make this a very, very long and complicated list.

10. Pets?

Our new Presidents search for just the right type of dog to take to the white house has kindled on significant press and public interest. But the White house has seen any number of pets in its time, John Adams kept horses and Thomas Jefferson kept a mocking bird for example, but some of them have been a little more outlandish then others. Thomas Roosevelt kept a virtual zoo during his long time spent at the White House including two terriers named Jack and Pete, a garter snake, five bears, a coyote, a lion, a hyena and even a zebra. But despite Roosevelt’s vast array of exotic animals John Quincy Adams might just have him beat; he kept an alligator in the East room of the White house!

9. The First American President

Martin Van Buren was the eight President of the United States from 1837 to 1841. He was the first President not born of British ancestry since his family came from Holland but he was also the only President not to speak English as a first language, (Dutch was his first language.) Despite this he was also the first President born an America citizen. He was born in 1782. Before him all his predecessors had been born before the revolution. He is also served as Secretary of State, Vice President, and President and the only other person to do that was Thomas Jefferson. So here he is folks, the First American President, he’s from Holland and he speaks Dutch, but histories funny like that.

8. Who becomes President if…?

The order of succession is well laid out in the Presidential succession act of 1947 and the vague nature of Article 2, section 1, clauses 6 of the Constitution was cleared up under the 25th amendment. However there are a number of questions people find themselves wondering about when it comes to the line of succession. These normally include very specific instances not always covered directly by these amendments. So for this fascinating fact here is an attempt to put some of those questions to rest.

Who becomes President if the President Elect is assassinated, or just dies, before he is sworn in? The Vice President elect, who then has to nominate a Vice president.

Who becomes President if both the President and Vice President die before the President Elect takes office? The speaker of the house until the President elect is sworn in.

Who becomes President if everyone is killed at the House of Representatives during the state of the Union address? During the state of the Union address one person specified in the line of Presidential succession is required to remain away, at the white house, in case this happens.

Congress’s power to enact the line of succession is stated in Article II, section 1, clause 6 of the Constitution and is back up by the 3 section of the 20th amendment.

7. The power of emergency powers

Okay so you’ve heard of Guantamo bay, right? Well what about everyone else? Can the president have us detailed for any reason, without trial? Yes, he can! In times of crisis the President has been known to claim emergency powers in order to cut through regulation and meet the need for immediate action. The most common use of these powers is to declare a State Of Emergency that allows FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to go around regulation and jurisdiction protocols in order to provide aid and assistance to those in need. But not surprisingly there have been a number of other uses for emergency power and one of them is throwing people in jail without trial. An example of this is when President Abraham Lincoln used emergency powers to suspended ‘habeas corpus’ (to present the body) in Maryland during the civil war, essential giving the option to imprison people without reason. The Supreme Court actually ruled this to be illegal, but the President simply ignored the ruling. President Ulysses S. Grant did the same in the 1970’s in South Carolina as part of a federal rights action against eh Ku Klux Klan.

6. The Presidential seal and…another first President?

Some people like to say that the first President was not George Washington, but John Hanson. In fact this man, pictured above, was the third President of the Continental Congress from 1781 to 1782 but he was the first to hold the office for a full year. If anyone can claim the title of the most mythic figure in America history, it might just be this guy! But despite how it sounds the ‘President of the Continental Congress’ was not an executive position but in fact comes closer to being an earlier version of the Speaker of the House. Still he was a very early figure in the making of the country and if nothing else he was definitely the man who approved the Great Seal of the United States.

5. Time limits no man, unless you are president

It is the 22nd amendment that sets term limits for the office of President. Under that amendment it might be possible for someone to assume a third term if they serve less than two years by ascending to the office by means other than an election, (say an assassination or impeachment). But this amendment was passed in 1947 and only ratified in 1951, which meant that Franklin Roosevelt, who served from 1933 to 1945 was not effected by it. As if this wasn’t fascinating enough, Franklin Roosevelt also ran for a FOURTH term in 1944 and WON. He died three months into his fourth term and the result was that the little known Harry S. Truman became the 33rd president of the United States. No other president has ever served more than eight years and yet Roosevelt managed to serve for12 years. Before Roosevelt Ulysses S. Grant tried for a third term in 1880 but did not receive his party’s nomination, and Theodore Roosevelt tried for another term in 1912, four years after he finished his second term, but was beaten by Woodrow Wilson in the election.

4. Can the President have anyone killed?

The President of the United States is also the commander and chief of the armed forces. As such any action taken during war is, in the end, his call. In that sense the President is able to kill anyone he feels will benefit the war effort. But if you are talking about assassination, maybe even personnel vendettas, or when there is no a state of war then the restrictions on the President become remarkably unclear. The Constitution of the United States was framed to keep ultimate power way form any one person or government branch. This is known as a system of checks balances. But the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, for example, was termed by some as an ‘Imperial presidency’ because of the role he maintained for himself (four terms, remember?). Still technically the President cannot do anything illegal, that exceeds resources, or that goes against a previous commitment. But as we have seen a President is also able to suspend law and regulations for short, and prolong periods of time even though the courts and Congress are able to declare a Presidential order invalid, or illegal. The answer may be found in the constitution of the United States which made sure that the country was a democracy, (republic technically), of the people. In a sense then, the President could kill anyone, if he could win recognition of the act from the people of the United States and Congress, or make sure that no one ever knew about it. This could bring the power of Executive Privilege into sharper contrast.

3. Does the President pay taxes?

Yes the president does have to pay taxes but only on his salary, which is $400,000 a year. The constitution prohibits raising the salary of a sitting President but the money has increased over the years to keep up with inflation. The last raise was signed by President Clinton in September 1999, and took effect in January 2001. (Although if you want to be exact the 25,000 George Washington was paid would actual translate into around 550,000 in today’s money.) Most people who take the office are rich before they being elected and would most d make more money in the private sector. (So they’re not in it for the money.) But the President and his family are also provided one of the best qualities of life imaginable including free trips on Air Force One and Marine One, living in the white house, private showings of new moves, private boxes at theaters, and deciding which famous paintings you want on your walls from the national gallery and all of this is tax free. Also since 1949 the President and the Vice President have been also to enjoy a non taxable expensive accounts currently set at $150,000 a year, along with a non taxable travel account of $100,000 a year and an entertainment account of $19,000 a year.

2. Fit as a President

There have been a number of Presidents less then honest about there health in the history of the office. Franklin Roosevelt is now well known to have suffered from paralysis, and John F. Kennedy concealed his Addison disease while he was in office, and has been called the sickest man ever to take office. But it is Chester A Arthur was also afflicted by a condition he concealed form the public. Arthur’s was actual a sufferer of Bright’s disease, or what we now call nephritis, a kidney disease. There is still no known treatment for the disease which can develop into several fatal strains of kidney disease and can exhibit symptoms as severe as restricting breathing, vomiting, fever and back pain. It can also severely restrict a person’s daily activity. Still it didn’t stop Chester A. Arthur from trying for a second term!

1.Lefties rule!

Yes there are patterns in Presidential history, and this one has an extra twist. So far there have been 43 Presidents, (because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms making him both the 22nd and 24th President) and only seven of them have been left-handed; James Garfield, Herbert Hover, Harry S Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton. That would mean a candidate is far more likely to become President if he or she were right handed, you would think so right? But the fact is that out of the seven Presidents who have been left handed all but one of them, James Garfield, have severed in the last 80 years! So to get elected President these days you are far more likely, (statistically speaking), to get elected if you are left handed. In case your wondering yes Barrack Obama is a leftie, but so is John McCain. On the other hand, (no pun intended), Hillary Clinton is right handed and she lost the nomination. In any case Obama’s Election makes him the eight left-handed President, and the seventh to serve in the last 80 years. So Lefties really do rule!