For the first time in American History, both major party candidates are legitimate first-generation Americans.
Unlike the majority of “first-generation” Americans, the candidates didn’t have fathers who followed the familiar pattern of immigrants, leaving their native land for the United States to settle here to become citizens.
The President’s father was born on June 18, 1936 in Rachuonyo, near Lake Victoria, in Kenya when it was still a British colony.
His parents’ marriage ended when Barack, Sr. was nine years old, and he was later raised by his stepmother Sarah. The grandfather was a worldly man, having enlisted in the British colonial army and traveling through Europe, India and Africa. When the British learned that Onyango Obama was involved in the Kenyan independence movement, however, he was imprisoned in 1949 for six months and subject to tortures which left him with permanent disabilities.
The President never met his grandfather, who died in 1979, before his grandson first visited Kenya several years later.
It was during a trip to Zanzibar, that the President’s grandfather converted from Catholicism to Islam. In contrast, the President’s father, Barack Obama, Sr. converted from Islam back to Christianity, becoming an Anglican as a young student in missionary schools. In 1954, he married his first wife, Kezia, in a tribal ceremony and they had a son and daughter. Five years later, he won a scholarship to study economics in the U.S. and student stipends of the program were underwritten by the family of John F. Kennedy, who would be elected President the following year.
Enrolling at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1959, a year later he began dating Ann Dunham after they met in a Russian language class. They married in Wailuku on the island Maui in February of 1961 and the future President was born seven months later. Barack Obama, Sr. told his new wife that he was divorced from his first wife, which was untrue.
A month later, the new Mrs. Obama took her baby and returned to Seattle, to continue her education at the University of Washington until June of 1962. That same month, her husband earned his University of Hawaii bachelor’s degree in economics, within three years and began a Harvard University graduate fellowship program in economics, earning a master’s degree.
The couple didn’t see each other again while married; Ann Dunham filed for divorce in January of 1964 and Barack Obama, Sr. returned to Kenya in August of 1964, where he was employed as an oil company executive and then a government economist. He made one return trip to the United States, in December of 1971, to see his ex-wife and son, the future President recalling of the visit:
I only remember my father for one month my whole life, when I was 10. And it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized, like, he gave me my first basketball and it was shortly thereafter that I became this basketball fanatic. And he took me to my first jazz concert and it was sort of shortly thereafter that I became really interested in jazz and music. So what it makes you realize how much of an impact [even if it's only a month] that they have on you.
Barack Obama, Sr. died in a car accident on November 24, 1982 in Nairobi. He holds a unique status among the President’s fathers: since he was in the United States on a temporary student visa, he was considered a “foreign national,” not an immigrant, since he never sought to remain as a citizen.
Three other Presidents, Andrew Jackson, James Buchanan and Chester Arthur, had fathers who were born in Ireland (the mothers of Jefferson and Wilson were born in England, while Hoover’s was born in Canada).
As unprecedented as the status of the President’s father may be, that of his political opponent in this fall’s presidential election is equally so, for its own entirely unique fact of an American family which left the U.S. to immigrate to a foreign country, only to return a generation later.
Mitt Romney’s great-great-grandfather Miles Park Romney converted to Mormonism in their native England, then immigrated and settled in the Utah in the 1840s, where their son Miles Archibald was born. His wife Hannah Hill, born in Ontario, Canada and her Scottish immigrant parents all converted to Mormonism and moved to Utah, her father taking multiple wives. Miles and Hannah married in 1862, and had ten children, all born in Utah, including son Gaskell, who is the grandfather of Mitt Romney. In 1886, to escape arrest under the legal ban of polygamy four years earlier, Miles A. Romney took Hannah and his other wives and thirty children and immigrated to Mexico.
This George Romney is the father of the presidential candidate.
He was five years old when his father emigrated from Mexico back to the U.S. By then, the Mormon Church or the Church of Latter-Day Saints as it is called, had banned polygamy.
The families of the fathers of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, however, share one more extremely rare bit of heritage history among American families. The great-grandfathers of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had the exact same number of wives – five each.
Making the potential outcome of the 2012’s presidential election even more unique would be if Romney is elected, making Ann Romney the First Lady. Her father was also an immigrant and her husband’s election would mark the first time in history that both a President and First Lady were first-generation Americans.
All the more interesting is this postscript provided by reader Brian Nix: in 1856 first-generation candidate James Buchanan ran against Republican candidate John Fremont – who was the illegitimate son of a French immigrant.
- Hawaii goes radioactive on Obama’s eligibility (wnd.com)
- Obama, Romney: Who’s Buying Whom? (minyanville.com)
- Barack Obama calls Mitt Romney ‘George’ in latest election gaffe (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Buzz | Sorry again, birthers (kansascity.com)
- Mitt Romney Releases Official Birth Certificate To Reuters (mediaite.com)
- Battleground NH: Indies key in Romney backyard (kansascity.com)
- One More Dubious Story in the Obama Family Saga (americanthinker.com)