Writer’s Block: Presidential Déjà Vu

By Corinne Wnek

I love reading about the history of our country because it makes me remember what an amazing people we are. I’m especially hooked on the events leading up to our independence from England. It is inspiring that the founding fathers could rise above personal rivalries, and sometimes intense dislike for one another, to come together for the good of the nation. Ever since 1776, our country has been blessed with many presidential superstars who helped make the United States, as we know it, a force to be reckoned with.

And then there are a few other presidents whose names are barely recognizable but, nevertheless, have much in common with many modern presidents. You might be interested to know, for instance, that like Barack Obama, our 21st president, Chester A. Arthur, also had his birthplace and citizenship questioned when he was elected in 1881. Political opponents alleged that Arthur was born in Canada and therefore not eligible to be president, a fact he vigorously denied until his death.

Martin Van Buren, on the other hand, was the first president who really was born in the United States and therefore was unquestionably a citizen. Although all the presidents who came before him were also born here, their births occurred before this country was legally independent from England. In reality, this still made them British subjects, according to many historians.

Think sex scandals only happened on Bill Clinton’s watch? Read on. President Grover Cleveland, the original Jersey boy from Caldwell, was known among friends as ‘Uncle Jumbo’, one presumes for his enormous stature. But his presidency was rocked when he was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock, more than once. In fact, this President had quite the reputation with the ladies and a cadre of mistresses, much to the embarrassment of his wife who, nevertheless, chose to stay by his side. Could you imagine such a thing happening today?

Does Mitt Romney’s enormous wealth bother you? You might find it interesting that many of our early presidents were just as wealthy, relatively speaking. George Washington, over his lifetime, was worth nearly $525 million! Most of his money came from 10,000 acres of prime land he owned in Virginia and a nice inheritance, courtesy of his wife Martha. And then there were the 300 slaves he owned, among other things.

Washington’s salary, by the way, was calculated to be two per cent of the total US budget back in 1789. Not bad for a public servant. Thomas Jefferson, our third president, was worth about $212 million while James Madison, our fourth president, was middle class in comparison to his predecessors. Madison’s lifetime worth was only $101 million.

Maybe I should encourage my daughter to get involved in politics because guys like these are what I call ‘son-in-law material”.

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