This Presidential election is underway and the final showdown is just a few months away now. It has never looked more obvious that America is f***ed, and while the world should be scared, this is going to be one heck of a ride.
One of the perks (or downsides) to living in our time is that a massive amount of information is available about each candidate. We know Bernie Sanders has praised numerous foreign regimes that have committed atrocities and others that are completely falling apart. We also know about Donald Trump‘s personal life and his choice statements. Finally, we know about Hillary Clinton‘s sketchy past, including defending a child r***ist in court, her part (or massive failure) in the Benghazi attack, and this email scandal that won’t go away.
In the past, there was far less information readily available, and many people didn’t know their Presidential candidates like they do now. I’m still not sure whether that is a blessing or a curse. But with this in mind, thanks to books written by diligent historians, we are getting more acquainted with past leaders. Here are fifteen dirty, nasty, ridiculous facts you didn’t know about past U.S. Presidents.
15. Lyndon Baines and His Johnson
LBJ was the President during most of the Vietnam War; taking over for Kennedy after his assassination. He held office between 1963 and 1969, and we can’t say this subtly, he was nearly obsessed with his manhood. He had his staff modify his shower with the request to have an extra jet in the shower that sprayed directly at Lyndon Jr. Furthermore, he was known to whip it out in front of staffers on occasion, referring to it as “Jumbo” and often saying things like “have you ever seen anything as big as this?”. His biography also involved stories of him urinating wherever he felt, such as in the parking lot of the Congressional office buildings, for example.
14. James Buchanan: Probably Gay
Obviously being gay is no big deal today. “Love who you love” is a popular philosophy and sexual preference is no reason to judge anyone. Back in the 1800s however, being homosexual was a different “ball game”. Pun originally unintended, but I like it and I’m quietly laughing now.
James Buchanan was a Democrat who served as President from 1857 until 1861, and never married. He only ever courted one woman during his youth, and spent nearly his entire adult life as a bachelor. While some believe Buchanan to have been asexual, it is far more likely that he was gay. He shared a residence with William Rufus King, a senator from Alabama, for about ten years in the 1830s and 40s and the two were often spoken of as a couple by those who knew them.
King was sent to France as an ambassador in 1844, and based on correspondence between the two, it is clear that there was more going on than just a platonic friendship. The following is from a letter written from King to Buchanan: “I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation.” Even in the 1800s that’s not something a man writes to his drinking buddy. But then again, good for them, love is love.
13. Millard Fillmore: Married His Teacher
Fillmore became President in 1850, after Zachary Taylor died of one heck of a stomach bug. Some say he was assassinated, but these rumors are largely unsubstantiated. What is clear however is that Millard Fillmore first met and fell in love with Abigail, the woman he would later marry, when she was his teacher at New Hope Academy.
This isn’t really that scandalous, as he was 19 when they met, and they were married when he was in his mid 20s. Still however, their relationship started when he was her student and this kind of thing adds up to a misuse of authority these days.
12. Andrew Jackson: Basically Invincible
This isn’t a dirty secret by any means, but tales of Andrew Jackson’s dueling, pain tolerance and impressive longevity are too awesome to leave out. But before we get to that, Andrew Jackson is one of the most controversial Presidents out there, due to the Indian Removal Act, and the Trail of Tears. But his politics aside, the guy was tough as nails. You may know him from the twenty dollar bill, but we know him as a duelist whose survival was a miracle.
During the Revolutionary War, he was captured by the British, starved and ended up getting smallpox. His mother and brother died around that time, and he was left with nobody, and nearly lost his own life. He fought with disease several other times in his life, but malaria, smallpox and starvation could barely make a dent in him.
He fought in over 100 duels, mainly defending his wife’s honor, as she may have still been married to another man when she and Jackson tied the knot. It took little more than mention of this fact to make him blow his stack and demand a duel. He was shot twice; with one bullet hitting him in the center of his chest, and another mangling his arm. He did not have the bullet in his chest removed, and later refused amputation of his arm. The fact that he lived to 78 was a miracle.
11. William Howard Taft: Got Stuck in a Bathtub
Most of the recent Presidents have at least looked fairly fit. Obama, both Bush Sr. and Jr, Clinton, Reagan, all look (looked) like they move around from time to time and eat right. Of those mentioned above, Clinton is probably the heftiest, but he still looked like a healthy man. Other pudgy Presidents were Grover Cleveland, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. But these guys had nothing on William Howard Taft. Taft got to well over 350 lbs during part of his presidency and at one point got stuck in the White House bathtub, only to have it replaced with a more suitable one. If some of us got stuck in a bathtub, we may consider that a sign to put down the Krispy Kreme and do some crunches, but not Taft.
Obviously we aren’t intending on fat-shaming here (because apparently that’s a thing now) but there’s a difference between people who like beer and chicken wings and a behemoth who gets stuck in a bathtub. Hate-Tweet me if this is offensive.
10. A Few Presidents May Have Been Klan Members
Most of the early Presidents of the United States were openly racist. It didn’t used to be a problem. Some of the more recent Presidents have been accused of racism. Ask Kanye West what he thinks on the issue. William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, and Harry Truman are five Presidents most often cited as members of the Ku Klux Klan. Most of these accusations are backed by little or no reliable evidence, but Harding and Truman are the most likely to have had ties to the organization.
A high ranking Klan member claimed that Harding had been confirmed as a member of the organization during his time in office, but other sources have denied this. Truman on the other hand, paid the membership fee at least once while he was a judge in Missouri. This was done because the Klan were powerful in the area and he was up for reelection. Politics is, and always was a dirty game.
9. Thomas Jefferson: Fathered Children With a Slave
It still seems to baffle some people to hear that founding fathers of the country that was supposed to be “based on freedom” owned slaves. By all accounts, in today’s world, when people of different races have a kid together, it’s pretty normal. This was not the case at the time, of course, and the rumor that Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, had an affair and several children together after the death of his wife, was a popular propaganda tool throughout the 19th century.
The scholarly debate is still going on today, but many believe that the evidence points to Jefferson having fathered six children with Hemings; four of which made it to adulthood, and were ultimately freed, along with their mother, after his death in 1826. Again, this is a weird sort of feel-good story today, but back then, this was the equivalent to a hypothetical relationship between Donald Trump and an undocumented Mexican immigrant with a criminal record.
8. George W. Bush: Margie Schoedinger
Remember that friendly sounding Texan who many people called “born-again”? Well, Dubya is no stranger to controversy and has a very mixed reputation. While the partying he did in his youth and the details, or lack thereof with regard to his military service, have been through the media ringer, many people forget that he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman named Margie Schoedinger, in 2002. She claimed to have been drugged and abused by Bush and a few men who called themselves FBI agents. The story was not covered widely in the mainstream news, but under a year after she filed her lawsuit, she was found dead of an apparent suicide.
While we will likely never know the truth of this one, predictably, conspiracy buffs have had a field day with this one.
7. Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush: Alleged Extramarital Affairs
Everybody knows about the Bill Clinton affair with Monica Lewinsky (in excruciating detail), most know about his other affair with actress Gennifer Flowers, and most know that John F. Kennedy had a “thing” with just about everything that walked, including Marilyn Monroe. We already mentioned Jefferson’s affair, but few know about these other men who fooled around on their wives.
Warren Harding allegedly had two affairs while he was in the White House, and fathered one child with one of the women. Franklin Roosevelt had a fling with his wife’s secretary. She found out and the two almost split up, but stayed together for political reasons. LBJ messed around with a woman named Alice Glass for years, a relationship that his wife Lady Bird (not her real name), apparently knew all about.
The elder Bush has been accused of having a relationship with Jennifer Fitzgerald, one of his assistants. Many believe that Woodrow Wilson had a lengthy affair with socialite Mary Peck.
6. Ronald Reagan: Selene Walters
Before he turned to politics, Ronald Reagan was an actor. Most people know this, but what many of his fans and critics may not know is that an actress by the name of Selene Walters, claimed that she was sexually assaulted by Reagan in the early 1950s. She claimed that he had shown up at her house late at night and violently forced himself on her. When the details were laid out in a 1991 book, Reagan never admitted nor denied anything. The allegations were discussed in the media but only briefly, and with no consequence for the alleged perpetrator.
5. Grover Cleveland: Worst Sex Scandal In U.S. Political History?
We would have included Grover Cleveland among those Presidents who had extramarital affairs, but what he did was terrible and happened before he was married. He relentlessly pursued a woman named Maria Halpin, and one night after she finally went to dinner with him, he forced himself on her and threatened to “destroy her” if she went to the authorities. She became pregnant and shortly after the baby was born, Halpin was taken to an insane asylum and her son was taken, and eventually adopted by someone else, to be raised out of her care. While it was uncertain whether the man who would become the President was actually the father of this child, he did go out of his way to see him separated from his mother and destroy her reputation.
4. Franklin Roosevelt: Japanese Internment
Franklin Roosevelt is frequently portrayed as a praiseworthy character in American history and a champion of the Democratic party’s history. He apparently saw the United States through the Depression (some economists have suggested that his “New Deal” just prolonged it) and World War Two. What many people forget is the camps. After the Bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japan was the enemy, but the United States did not only take their rage out on the empire spreading across the Pacific Ocean. Rather, FDR ordered that over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast be rounded up and put into concentration camps. The vast majority of these people were second or third generation, and therefore United States citizens.
3. Ulysses S. Grant: The Most Corrupt?
If we talk about corrupt and unethical administrations, the most recent ones come to mind, possibly because they are fresh in our heads. Between Bush Jr and Obama, the Patriot Act, NSA spying on citizens (and everyone else), and the ongoing drone controversy (just to name a few examples) are just the tip of the iceberg. However, back in the late 1800s, another Presidential administration was making playing fast and loose like it was going out of style.
While he is popularly remembered as a hero of the American Civil War, President Grant’s time in office was rife with corruption and scandal. Accusations of nepotism (favoring friends in decision making processes and consideration for jobs) were thrown around throughout his eight years. Black Friday refers to several investors tied to Grant who destroyed the American economy in 1869. Several of his closest subordinates took bribes, and there was of course, the Whiskey Ring controversy in which public officials and whiskey makers pocketed millions in what was, at the time, a massive tax evasion operation.
Of course, everyone has their own take on who the most corrupt President is, so let’s hear them in the comments section.
2. Abraham Lincoln: Racist Even for His Time
Obviously it depends who you talk to, but a startling amount of Americans consider Abe Lincoln to be one of the best American Presidents in the country’s history. He freed the slaves, and ended the American Civil War. Of course, plenty of people today can’t stand Lincoln because his actions during his time as President were detrimental to the individual states’ right to make their own decisions. But I digress, as this all gets away from the point that Lincoln did not care about black people. He freed the slaves not because of any enlightened views on human rights or anything like that, but rather as a slight to the southern states.
His views on black people included a belief in racial inferiority, a strong preference for segregation, revulsion at the prospect of interracial marriage, and he even once said that he considered biracial people a threat to American society.
1. Richard Nixon: Unwittingly Played a Major Part in Cambodian Genocide
Everybody knows about Watergate, but one of Nixon’s decisions during the Vietnam War had terrible consequences for the people of Cambodia.
For those unfamiliar with the topic, the Cambodian Genocide happened after the Cambodian Civil War, in the late 1970s. Different estimates on the death toll range from a million people to three million. Either way, it’s a startling number. The Communist Khmer Rouge (translated: Red Khmer), went on a rampage throughout the country killing or enslaving anyone who they deemed to be an enemy of their communist state.
With regard to the Vietnam War, when Nixon came to power, one of his buzzwords was “Vietnamization”. This policy entailed scaling back American involvement in the war, and empowering the South Vietnamese to fight their own battles. To do so however, Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger determined that one of the best ways to do this was to bomb certain areas in Cambodia (neighboring Vietnam) where North Vietnamese fighters were hiding out and staging attacks.
This bombing campaign and the invasion that accompanied it, destabilized many rural parts of the country, causing many affected people to join the Khmer Rouge, who would in turn, carry out the horrible acts in the late 1970s. Obviously there were other factors at work, but Nixon and Kissinger were influential in Cambodian events in the early 1970s that led to that country’s late 70s tragedy.