Posts Tagged ‘presidents’

Know Your VPs: William King

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

This month, we’re profiling a few of the many men who have sat around waiting for the President to die or quit so that he could have his own day in the sun.

William Rufus King (1786-1853), our 13th Vice President (under President Franklin Pierce), was the highest-ranking Alabamian in US politics. He also had one of the shortest terms of any VP, dying of tuberculosis just 25 days after inauguration. King was so ill he had to be sworn in on foreign soil (he was in Cuba for a health cure).

Needless to say, he was not able to carry out many of his VP duties before he died. That might not have been a bad thing.

King served in the Senate for more than 30 years and was regarded as a steady, if second-rate, Senator. His was no blazing intellect. He had no gift for oratory when our nation passionately debated slavery, secession, and other matters of life-and-death import. King was known as a “moderate Unionist” (as if that’s somehow commensurate with owning slaves).

In the 1830s, King was arrested with fellow Senator Henry Clay for nearly dueling, but his career was uninspiring. King once vowed to act “mildly, but firmly, and I trust impartially. . . . Should I err, I look to my brother Senators, in a spirit of kindness, to correct my errors.” He didn’t leave much of a legacy.

We remember William Rufus King – when we remember him at all – because he was most likely our first gay Vice President. Throughout his life, whispers trailed him – most pointedly around his friendship with James Buchanan. The two had a close relationship, attended social functions, and lived together for 10 years. The wags of their time dubbed them the “Siamese Twins.” Andrew Jackson (classy man that he was), referred to them as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.” King and Buchanan planned to run together for president and vice president, but it was never to be.

A few years after King’s death, Buchanan became the 15th president of the United States. (And, according to pretty much everybody, he was one of our worst. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Although he may not have been our greatest VPOTUS, William King showed himself to be loyal to his partner: after King died, Buchanan called him “among the best, the purest and most consistent public men I have known.”

National Black Finger Puppet Month: Barack Obama

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

February is Black History Month, so we have decided to honor the occasion by posting about great African Americans we have immortalized as finger puppets.

Today we highlight the 44th president of the United States, BARACK OBAMA.


Here are some facts about Barack Obama and about UPG’s Barack Obama finger puppet:

Barack Obama is the first African-American president, the first president born in Hawaii, the first U.S. president to address the British Parliament, and the first president to endorse gay marriage.

The Barack Obama Finger Puppet is approximately 4″ tall.

“Barack” means “one who is blessed” in Swahili.

Barack Obama has won two Grammys and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Barack Obama is the 6th left-handed post-war president.

The Barack Obama Finger Puppet is also a magnet.

When he was living in Indonesia, young Barack Obama had a pet ape named Tata.

We were happy that Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008, because his likeness is much more conducive to designing a finger puppet than Hillary Clinton.

Barack Obama’s secret service code name is “Renegade.”

Black History / President Month: Our Black Presidents

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

It’s Black History Month, and also the month in which we celebrate our presidents on Presidents Day. So throughout February on the PhLog, we’re publishing a few posts about Black History as it pertains to our presidents.

Today’s post is about our black presidents.

We all know that Barack Obama is the first African-American president of the United States.

Or is he?

There have been rumors throughout US history that certain presidents had black heritage. Most of these claims were made by political opponents who were trying to cause a scandal. Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and Harding were all called black by their enemies.

Each of these claims are unverified and considered untrue by historians.

But there’s been one rumor about a president thought to be black that that keeps coming back: Calvin Coolidge.

Was Silent Cal silent about his true ancestry?

Coolidge was open about his Native American ancestry, which he attributed his dark features to. But was that the whole story?*


Calvin Coolidge: Passing?

*there is no historical evidence stating the contrary, but this is the internet so we’re allowed to spread unfounded rumors.

Black History / President Month: Black Presidential Candidates

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

It’s Black History Month, and also the month in which we celebrate our presidents on Presidents Day. So throughout February on the PhLog, we’re publishing a few posts about Black History as it pertains to our presidents.

Today’s post is about African Americans who ran for president.

Before Barack Obama, several African Americans unsuccessfully ran for president. Some received the nomination of minor parties, others tried for major party support and failed.

The first black candidate to appear on a presidential ticket was Frederick Douglass, but as VP rather than president. In 1872, Douglass ran alongside a woman – suffragist leader Victoria Woodhull. And in 1888, Douglass became the first black man to receive a vote for president at a major party convention (the Republicans).

In the many years that followed, a slew of African Americans ran on various fringe party tickets. George Edwin Taylor ran in 1904. Eldridge Cleaver and Dick Gregory in 1968.

In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for the presidential nomination of a major party. A Democtatic member of U.S. House of Representatives, Chisholm failed to win the nomination, but she did get the most votes for a female candidate at a major party convention in U.S. history.


Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination in 1984 and 1988. He failed to win, but he was quite a popular candidate in 1988, winning many primaries before losing to Michael Dukakis.

In 1988, Psychologist and activist Lenora Fulani was the first African American presidential candidate (and the first woman) to appear on ballots in all 50 states, under the New Alliance Party banner.

And then in 2008, Barack Obama became the first African-American major party nominee and was elected president.

It’s Black History / President Month!

Monday, February 4th, 2013

It’s February, which is Black History Month in the US, and it’s also the month in which we honor our presidents on Presidents’ Day.

In honor of this confluence of events, we’re writing a series of posts this month about black history as it pertains to our presidents.

Let’s start with an easy one.

Which US Presidents owned slaves?

1. George Washington


Slavery was with us from the very beginning. Many of the founding fathers were slave-holders. George Washington was no exception.

Washington owned over 200 slaves in his lifetime, inheriting his first ten slaves at age eleven. However, later in life, Washington expressed strong support for the abolition of slavery, and he was the only major founding father to free his slaves upon his death. Although as President, he signed the Fugitive Slave Act and sent money and weapons to defeat the slave rebellion in Haiti. Nobody’s perfect.

2. Thomas Jefferson


Jefferson had a problematic relationship with slavery, to say the least. He owned hundreds of slaves, yet was an opponent of the slave trade. But he was also against the practice of masters freeing their slaves because he thought it would make slave uprisings more likely.

And then there was Sally Hemings, the slave with whom Jefferson had several children. Eventually Jefferson allowed her to “escape,” but he kept his other slaves his entire life, and they were sold upon his death to settle his numerous debts.

3. James Madison


James Madison was strongly opposed to slavery, believing that slavery was bad both for the slaves and their masters. Still, he owned slaves his entire life, so you have to take that with a grain of salt. Later in life he became the president of the American Colonization Society, which moved free blacks to Africa.

Madison brought Paul Jennings, a slave, to work as his personal servant in the White House.  Jennings is noted for writing the first White House memoir after he bought his freedom from Daniel Webster in 1845.

4. James Monroe


James Monroe owned dozens of slaves, and like his predecessors, brought slaves to Washington with him.

Monroe considered slavery to be a blight inherited from the country’s former colonial masters and proposed that his home state of Virginia emancipate and deport its slaves. He was also a supporter of the American Colonization Society, and the capital of Liberia, where freed slaves were eventually resettled to, was named Monrovia in his honor.

5. Andrew Jackson


Andrew Jackson was a wealthy slaveholder. He bought his first slave, a young woman, in 1788, and eventually became a slave trader himself. He owned over 150 slaves at the time of his death. Slaves were in fact the source of Jackson’s wealth; unlike other early presidents, he acquired his wealth through the exploitation of slaves and slave labor. Also, unlike his predecessors, Jackson didn’t appear to have any problem with slavery.

6. Martin Van Buren


Van Buren was a defender of slavery as constitutionally sanctioned and was inflexible and uncompromising of his support in continuing the institution.

Once he was out of office, however, Van Buren was considered an abolitionist, and was the candidate for president of the Free-Soil Party. Although his argument against slavery was that white labor couldn’t compete with enslaved black labor, rather than the fact that human beings should not be enslaved.

Van Buren’s family owned several slaves, and as a young man he owned a slave named Tom. Tom escaped, and rather than reclaim him, Van Buren sold him to the man who captured him for $50. He did not own slaves while in the White House.

7. William Henry Harrison


Harrison was our first Whig president, the one with the shortest term (32 days), the first president to die in office, the only president whose grandson also was elected president, and the oldest person elected to the office until Ronald Reagan. And he owned slaves.

Harrison was considered to be a bit of a moderate on the slavery issue, and brought his slaves to states where they could become indentured servants and could eventually “earn” their freedom.

Harrison had six children with one of his slaves, and was the great-grandfather of civil rights activist and NAACP president Walter Francis White.

8. John Tyler


Tyler came from a slaveholding family and inherited 13 slaves upon his father’s death. He remained a slaveholder his entire life. He was an ardent supporter of the Confederacy when the Civil War began, and was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.

Tyler had 15 children – more than any president – and allegedly fathered a 16th with one of his slaves.

9. James K. Polk


Polk was a slaveholder throughout his life. His will stipulated that his slaves would be freed after the death of his wife, but the Emancipation Proclamation beat her to it; otherwise his slaves wouldn’t have been freed until his wife’s death in 1891.

10. Zachary Taylor


Taylor wasn’t the last slaveholding president, but he was the last person to hold slaves while serving in the office.

Taylor owned 100 slaves while running for the presidency, and this was considered to be a political asset in courting the Southern vote. Although as president, he angered Southerners with his consistently moderate positions on slavery. When secession threatened, Taylor vowed to personally head the army and hang any rebels. The threat helped stave off civil war for a few years, but in one of those twists of history, his daughter married Jefferson Davis, and his son would become a Confederate General.

11. Andrew Johnson


Andrew Johnson owned eight slaves. Born into poverty, he bought his first slave when he was a state senator and moving up the world. He wasn’t for emancipation during the Civil War, and when he was military governor of Tennessee, he convinced Lincoln to exempt Tennessee from the Emancipation Proclamation.

And let’s face it – Johnson was an incompetent racist and probably the worst president the US ever had. He certainly was the worst person for the job at the time in which he was thrust into that office.

Still, Johnson was considered to be a very kind slave owner, and he told Frederick Douglass that he never sold a slave. But he didn’t free his slaves – they were confiscated by the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out and Johnson was appointed military governor of Tennessee by Lincoln in 1862. In any case, late in life he was on very good terms with some of his former slaves.

12. Ulysses S. Grant


Ulysses S. Grant was the last U.S. President to have owned a slave.

Wait – Grant? The Union hero of the Civil War?

Grant’s wife Julia Dent was the daughter of a slave owner, and Grant used his father-in-law’s slaves on one of their family farms in Missouri. Julia’s father gave Grant a slave named William Jones. But Grant was a failure at farming, and ultimately had no use for a slave. Grant freed William Jones, rather than selling him, although he was in desperate need of money at the time.

That’s a total of 12 slave-owning presidents, more than one-quarter of all US presidents. Notable early non-slave-owning presidents were John Adams and his son John Quncy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and Franklin Pierce.


Theodore Roosevelt – King of Pets

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt was a nature lover who loved animals and loved to hunt them too.  His father was a co-founder of the American Museum of Natural History, and a young Theodore donated his personal collection of specimens to the museum.

The Teddy Bear was named after him.  And his rambunctious children also loved animals.

Roosevelt beat other presidents by a long shot when it came to pets.  The Roosevelts owned nearly 30 animals.

Here’s a partial list:

Jonathan Edwards, a small bear
Bill, a lizard
Admiral Dewey, Dr. Johnson, Bishop Doane, Fighting Bob Evans, and Father O’Grady, guinea pigs
Maude, a pig
Josiah, a badger
Eli Yale, a blue macaw
Baron Spreckle, a hen
a one-legged rooster
a hyena
a barn owl
Peter the rabbit
Tom Quartz and Slippers – cats
Jonathan – a piebald rat
Emily Spinach, daughter Alice’s garter snake (named “because it was as green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily”)
Algonquin, a calico pony

Among their many dogs were Sailor Boy, Jack, Skip, Pete, and a small black Pekingese named Manchu, which Alice received from the last empress of China during a trip to the Far East.

We suspect it was a hard time to be a White House janitor.

Presidential Pets

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

It’s animal month on the PhLog, and today’s post focuses on the pets of U.S. Presidents.

Woodrow Wilson's sheep

The tradition of having an animal companion in the White House goes back to before we had an actual White House, when George Washington was president.  Not only was Washington the father of our nation, he was also the father of the American Foxhound.

No first family is complete without a first pet.  Just as all presidents have to be folksy and love babies and the “common people,” no one would elect a president who didn’t like pets.

There were a few pet-less presidents (Arthur, Pierce, Polk), but one of them, Millard Filmore, gets a pass because he was a founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Benjamin Harrison and his goat "Old Whiskers." Plus his kids and a dog.

Some interesting White House pets:

John Quncy Adams and Herbert Hoover owned alligators.  Adams kept his in the bathtub.

Presidential parrots go back to Martha Washington, and White House parrot owners include Grant, McKinely, and Theodore Roosevelt.  Kennedy had parakeets.

James Buchanan had a herd of wild elephants given to him by the King of Siam.

Abigail Adams had a dog named Satan.  So, yes, Satan has slept in the White House.

Andrew Johnson didn’t have a pet, but during the dark days of the impeachment process, he befriended and fed a family of mice he found in his bedroom.

The last cow to live in the White House was during the Taft administration.  And no, that is not a fat joke.

Pauline Wayne, the last White House cow

Woodrow Wilson had a flock of sheep that grazed on the White House lawn.  Their wool was sold to collect money for the Red Cross in World War I.  The flock included a tobacco-chewing ram named “Old Ike.”

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy held his son John’s Welsh terrier in his lap during many tense moments, petting him to relax.

Mr. Lincoln “was fond of dumb animals, especially cats. I have seen him fondle one for an hour,” wrote Treasury official Maunsell B. Field.  His son Tad had a pet goat he would drag around the White House.  You can read more about Lincoln’s wide love for animals here.

Calvin Coolidge had a virtual zoo in the white house. Besides a whole slew of dogs, they had birds, cats, raccoons, a donkey, a bobcat, lion cubs, a wallaby, a bear, and a pigmy hippo.

White House pets have not been free from politics.

While running for Vice President, Richard Nixon used the story of his dog Checkers in an important speech.  And FDR, who loved his Scottish Terrier Fala so much he was buried next to him, struck back against Republican criticism with the so-called “Fala Speech.”

And who can forget the national debate about what kind of dog the Obama family was going to get.  The measured, public, thoughtful discussion that captivated the media.  Much more interesting than healthcare.

But one presidential family was the pet champion, and they’ll get their own post on Wednesday.

You can read about these animals and more at the Presidential Pet Museum website. (Yes, there is a Presidential Pet Museum, which is where these photos come from.)

Truman's dog Feller