What you don’t know is all the presidents who battled alcoholism and depression, and lots of other really weird stuff. Some of these surprised me quite a bit, as I’m sure they will you, too. In the spirit of election day tomorrow, let’s re-visit some more fabulous did-you-knows from our nation’s presidential past.
- George Washington was sterile. In Washington’s case, ol’ Martha birthed four children pre-G.W. but was unable to conceive in her 40-year marriage to our first president. Washington wouldn’t admit it to himself—in fact, he often said that if Martha died and he started bumping uglies with a new main squeeze he’d have tons of little Washingtons, no problem—but he couldn’t have kids.
- So was James Polk, whose sterility came from having a bladder stone removed (ouch!).
- Warren G. Harding was believed to have been infertile his whole life, but turns out his little boys worked just fine in the form of an illegitimate daughter who came out of the woodworks four years after Harding died. Because he had a childless marriage, most believed he was infertile, but in 1927 when his bastard daughter wrote a book it certainly shook up that theory. Modern geneticists generally agree that this “Nan Britton” lady was Harding’s daughter, killing any possibility of him ever being as awesome as George Washington.
- Thomas Jefferson may have had Asperger Syndrome. Was the man that wrote our Declaration of Independence autistic? Asperger is a high-functioning form of autism that allows the patient to come off extremely intelligent but socially daft. Not everyone agrees with this diagnosis 200 years after the fact, but support of the theory includes Jefferson’s shyness, his inability to relate to other people, his lack of comfort and charisma in public speaking, and obsessive behaviors like spending much of 54 years remodeling his house and walking around with a pet bird on his shoulder. Pundits argue that autism must be diagnosed from observing childhood behaviors, not adult behaviors, and since a fire burned up Jefferson’s childhood home and history, there’s no way to tell for sure. Still, there are a few books out there that make a compelling case.
- John Tyler experienced several years of paralysis. Nobody really knows what specifically was wrong with Tyler, but his paralysis forced him to take a two-year hiatus from Congress in his pre-presidential years. He did eventually recover, but that still sucks. Could’ve been a tick, some say. Others site numerous diseases as potential culprits.
- James Polk at one point suffered from “debilitating diarrhea.” I can’t imagine how not fun that must have been. Even less fun is going down in the “annals” of history as being the guy with explosive doo-doo disease.
- Abraham Lincoln was slightly cross-eyed and may have been colorblind. For years people have generally agreed that Lincoln was colorblind, but more recent evidence calls that into question. At present, there is nothing to prove definitively that Honest Abe couldn’t distinguish between colors. The cross-eyed thing was real, though. Something genetic, though you really couldn’t tell just by looking at him.
- James Garfield suffered from anal fissures. I just keep thinking of that episode of “The Office” when Dwight is going through everyone’s diseases to pick a new health plan and gets to this disease. “Anal fissures? Very funny. Like that’s even a real disease.” Poor President Garfield. I bet there was a Dwight combing through his health insurance plan back then, too.
- Teddy Roosevelt, because of a detached retina was blind in one eye, but also was deaf in one eye. Essentially, he was only half a man. Nah, I’m just kidding. Actually, Roosevelt was one of the biggest badasses the Oval Office ever saw. I bet you’re wondering how that little retina got detached? He hosted a boxing match at the White House, and he got hit pretty hard in the eye. THAT’S how you go blind, gentlemen! As for the deaf thing, that came as a result of a childhood ear in infection. Sort of lame, I guess, unless it was an infection he contracted during a boxing match! Maybe via use of unclean gloves?
- Woodrow Wilson may have had dyslexia and ADHD. President Wilson didn’t learn to read until he was 12 years old as a result of the dyslexia, but he taught himself shorthand to get him through school. The man just worked really hard to get over his disability and eventually graduated from Princeton and then law school at the University of Virginia. Kinda gangster in his own way. He and Theo Huxtable are the only famous dyslexic people I know.
- JFK had Addison Disease. Some have called John Kennedy’s cover-up of this adrenal-failure disease the best smokescreen in presidential election history. In 1947 Kennedy was diagnosed with Addison’s by a doctor in London, and it was so bad that he almost died on the boat ride back. He was given his last rights and everything. By the time the 1960 presidential race came along he denied ever having had the disease, even though it continued to bother him after various surgeries in the early ‘60s. Had he not gotten shot, he may have died on his own. For the record, he also had a couple of sexually transmitted ailments which couldn’t have helped his case either. Why cheat on Jackie O? She was a hottie in her day!
- Jimmy Carter spent his presidency and later life battling severe chronic hemorrhoids. The source I read to get this information literally listed it as “severe chronic hemorrhoids.” I’ve got to believe that’s worse than just play old hemorrhoids. Like, regular strength Preparation H wouldn’t get the job done.
The following presidents reportedly suffered from some sort of depression:
- John Adams – his health broke down several times over the course of his life, due largely in part to a few severe bouts with depression. No Zoloft back then, either, so he had to play it hardcore style and just deal. Couldn’t have been fun.
- Thomas Jefferson – Jefferson died broke, despite keeping meticulous records of his finances, and combined with some serious back issues, depression was imminent in his final years.
- Abraham Lincoln – Apparently most of the “evidence” to prove this is in his facial expressions and general demeanor during hard times in his life, like when his mother died, his fiancée Anne Rutledge died, and when he was having marital issues with Mary Todd, who was legitimately insane. He also lost two children during their childhoods and dealt with a whole lot of crap while running the Civil War. If not depression, then at least a really serious bout of sadness. The difference being that one of those can be diagnosed, and the other is just an everyday human emotion. Personally, I don’t know anywhere near enough to draw a conclusion about Abe’s situation.
- Calvin Coolidge – His sixteen-year-old son died of sepsis during his presidency, and most close to him agreed that he was never the same.
- James Buchanan – Our country’s only bachelor president, some believe that Buchanan was a homosexual because of over two decades of living with a fellow male senator and his failure to ever get married. I suppose keeping that sort of secret would drive a man to the bottle, right?
- Andrew Johnson – This guy was so bad that he went to his inauguration drunk. He got up on the pulpit and started rambling really offensive things about other higher-ups, and eventually someone had to usher him to his seat just to get him to shut up. It rubbed off on his sons, too. His kid Charles was killed in a drunk driving accident—but this was before cars. He died falling off his horse. You can’t make this stuff up.
- Ulysses S. Grant – The guy that won the Civil War for the union was a drunk, sure, but reportedly a very happy drunk. In this guy’s case, drinking made him awesome. When he was Union General under Lincoln, Abe knew he was on the sauce and hired him anything. One more reason to love Ulysses S. Grant.
- George W. Bush – He’s not an alky anymore, but we all know he was at some point. Like we needed more fuel for the Bush Hate Fire.
- Poor old Franklin Pierce had a little touch of both depression and alcoholism. Being in Washington alienated him from his friends, and as a result he got bummed out and started drinking. Then, he met a good woman who got his ass in shape. But eventually he was so horrible as a president that his own party wouldn’t re-nominate him. This, along with a few other mitigating factors, drove him back to the bottle, and he eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver.