Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Shining Stars and Rogues: Presidential Offspring in American History (Part 1)

May 13, 2020

Shining Stars and Rogues: Presidential Offspring in American History (Part 1)

tags: Abraham Lincoln,presidential history,Donald Trump

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

Thirty-Three Presidential offspring played an influential role in American life and deserve the term “Shining Star,” or in some cases, “Rogue” for their contributions to public life. 

John Quincy Adams was of course the son of 2nd President John Adams, serving as the 6th President of the United States, having earlier served as ambassador to several European nations, US Senator, and Secretary of State.  After his Presidency, he served for 17 years as a Congressman from 1831-1848, fighting the evil of slavery.

His son Charles Francis Adams served as US Ambassador to Great Britain during the Civil War, helping to prevent British recognition of the Confederate States of America.  He also was the Vice Presidential candidate on the Free Soil Party in the Presidential Election of 1848, continuing the fight of his late father, who died earlier in 1848.  He also built the first Presidential Library in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1870, on the land of the Adams National Historical Park.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Sr (son of 10th President John Tyler), was for thirty years the President of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and published many historical works.  He became controversial as an historian in the 1910s with his regular and constant criticism of Abraham Lincoln (informed by sympathy to the Confederacy), and two of his sons are still alive at this writing in 2020, making them the only surviving grandchildren of any 19th century President.

Robert Todd Lincoln served as Secretary of War for Presidents James A. Garfield and Chester Alan Arthur from 1881-1885, and then was US Ambassador to Great Britain under Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland from 1889-1893.  He was also President of the Pullman Car Company from 1897-1911, and participated in the dedication ceremonies for the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.

Harry Augustus Garfield served as President of Williams College in Massachusetts from 1908 to 1934, and was head of the Federal Fuel Administration under President Woodrow Wilson from 1917-1919.  He also practiced law and taught history and politics at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and at Princeton University, where he first met Wilson.

James Rudolph Garfield served as Commissioner of Corporations at the Department of Commerce and Labor from 1903 to 1907 under President Theodore Roosevelt, conducting investigations of the meat packing, petroleum, steel, and railroad industries.  Then, he was Secretary of the Interior under Roosevelt from 1907-1909, gaining a reputation as a leading environmentalist.

Abram Garfield became renowned as a major architect, who practiced in Cleveland, Ohio, and contributed a substantial number of major works on the National Register of Historic Places, specializing in residential architecture, including the Garfield Library in Mentor, Ohio, at the National Historic Site of President Garfield.

As the 20th century began, we saw the first controversial “rogue” child of a President, and the first woman to gain public notice.  Alice Lee Roosevelt, born to Theodore Roosevelt’s first wife on Lincoln’s Birthday 1884, and losing her mother two days later, would grow up to be highly popular and controversial at the same time. A beautiful debutante who became a fashion icon and instant public celebrity, Alice went out of her way to be controversial in her utterances and actions, and often was seen as scandalous in her behavior.  She married the future Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth, but it became later known that her only child, a daughter, was fathered by Idaho Republican Senator William Borah, rather than her husband.  She became a major critic of her cousins, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and ridiculed the looks of the future First Lady from a young age onward.  She was strongly conservative Republican in her political views in her later life. She was truly a character, unique in many ways, among children of Presidents, and she died at the advanced age of 96 in 1980.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr, oldest son and first child of his father’s second marriage, carried the burden of his father’s name, a heavy burden at times.  But Ted Jr. served honorably and significantly in both World Wars, including landing at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, sadly dying of a heart attack a month later.  He also served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge for three and a half years from 1921-1924, as well as Governor of Puerto Rico under President Herbert Hoover from 1929-1932, and Governor General of the Philippines during 1932. These posts he resigned when his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt won the Presidency, and they remained rivals hereafter.

Kermit Roosevelt, the second son of his father, also served in both World Wars, and as a young man had traveled with the former President on his African Safari and Nature Expedition in 1909-1910. He later went on his father’s Scientific Expedition into the Amazon River Basin in Brazil in 1913-1914.  His father almost died on that expedition from malaria, and Kermit also was very sick and became depressed, a condition that would remain with him all of his life. Sadly, he committed suicide by a gun shot to the head while on base in Alaska in 1944.

Ethel Roosevelt Derby, youngest daughter and fourth child of her father, kept a low profile while her father was President, very different from her half-sister, Alice.  She did not like to draw attention to herself.  She served as a nurse in France in World War I, and in the Red Cross in World War II.  She also worked to make Sagamore Hill a National Historic Site, and was one of the first women to serve on the Board of Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History. She was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, just like her first cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, and she was noted as a “liberal Republican” in her political views.

Archibald Roosevelt, the third son of his father, also served in both World Wars and was wounded in both, including in the Pacific campaign against Japan in World War II in Australia.  He received many honors and awards for his military service.  After World War II, he engaged in many controversial conservative political causes, including joining the right wing John Birch Society, and speaking out against “socialism” on college campuses, including Harvard University.  He also expressed racist statements in public speeches and publications, and referred to the ongoing McCarthyism accusations of a great “international Communist conspiracy”.

Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son and child of his father, was only 20 when he was killed in air action in France during World War I.  He was a pursuit pilot in the US Army Air Service, killed in aerial combat over France on Bastille Day (July 14, 1918), and is the only child of a President to die in combat.  His father never recovered from his youngest son’s death, and passed away less than six months later on January 6, 1919, at the age of 60. Many wonder whether Quentin would have pursued public office had he lived.

William Howard Taft’s son, Robert Alphonso Taft, became a United States Senator from Ohio, serving from 1939 to 1953, and being a potential Presidential candidate in 1940, 1944, 1948 and 1952.  He gained a reputation as “Mr. Conservative,” seen as the national leader against more liberal East Coast Republicans, who steered the Republican Presidential nomination to Wendell Willkie in 1940, Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 and 1948, and Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.  Taft gained a reputation as an opponent of the New Deal, and a noninterventionist before American entrance into World War II, and he sponsored the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.  He also opposed foreign aid, the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and US involvement in the Korean War under President Harry Truman.  He served a few months as Senate Majority Leader in 1953 before cancer led to his death in July of that year.  A Robert Taft Memorial and Carillon was constructed on Constitution Avenue north of the US Capitol in Washington, DC in 1959.  The US Senate in 1957 honored Taft as one of the five greatest US Senators in its history, with portraits adorning the President’s room off the Senate floor.

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