Yes, that story American children all learn about George Washington chopping down the cherry tree and not being able to lie to his father is a myth!
In honor of this year’s Presidents’ Day on the 18th, here are some facts about those who have held the highest elected office in the U.S.. Some show they were just like us (many presidents have had pets) and not like us (some presidents kept wildlife as “pets”). They also reveal how much has changed since George Washington became our first president in 1789: Washington, for instance, was not born an American and did not have a college degree.
1) The eighth president, Martin van Buren, was the first to be born a U.S. citizen.
2) Presidents like having pets. Many have had dogs; Andrew Jackson had a parrot who cursed. John F. Kennedy and his family had a quite varied menagerie as did Theodore Roosevelt.
3) Earlier presidents certainly were not worrying about keeping what we would consider exotic (and, now, endangered) species as “pets.” Thomas Jefferson had two bear cubs and Martun Van Buren, two tiger cubs.
4) Ten presidents (including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Harry S Truman) did not have a college degree.
5) Eight early U.S. presidents (including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison) owned slaves while serving in our country’s highest office.
6) Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln movie depicts the 16th president heroically working to have the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed. But the historical record reveals that Lincoln wasn’t exactly the “most compassionate” of presidents. He gave the order for the largest mass execution on U. S. soil: On December 26, 1862, 38 alleged Native American raiders were hung by Lincoln’s order in Mankato, Minnesota.
7) Only one president, James Buchanan, never married. He is described as nearly inseparable from Alabama senator William T. King, who was known as “his wife.”
8) Andrew Johnson was not only the only tailor to become president and the first president to be impeached. He also sewed his own suits.
9) Attempts to alleviate the suffering of the 20th president, James A. Garfield, after he was shot on July 2, 1881 led to navy engineers creating what may have been the first air conditioner. Garfield was struck by two bullets and became more and more ill from infection. Six tons of ice and an air blower were part of a device to give him relief in the White House from Washington D.C.’s summer heat. Garfield died 80 days after he was shot — and the invention that brought relief to a mortally injured president is now one that needs regulating, as it is heating up the world.
10) So far, not a single woman has been elected as U.S. president. But women have been elected as president in Argentina, Finland, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Liberia, Malawi, Malta, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka– the U.S. clearly needs to do some catching up here.
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