President Grandpa: How The Lives of First Grandkids Play Out

A cartoon of President Benjamin Harrison wearing his granddad's larger hat suggests he could never fulfill the heroic image of his grandfather Presidnt William Henry Harrison, whose bust stares down at him from the wall.

A cartoon of President Benjamin Harrison wearing his granddad’s larger hat suggests he could never fulfill the heroic image of his grandfather Presidnt William Henry Harrison, whose bust stares down at him from the wall

If his runs for and wins election to state office, 36-year old George Prescott Bush, or “P.” as he’s often nicknamed would be his family’s fourth-generation male to enter politics as a profession, a “dynasty” begun sixty-one years ago, in 1952.

George Washington Parke Custis in the only photograph of him, taken as an older man.

George Washington Parke Custis in the only photograph of him, taken as an older man.

But his filing paperwork to pursue Texas elected office in November and his declaration two weeks ago that, “We for sure are running, the question is the office,” represents an even older tradition of Presidential Grandchildren entering public life with a strong and often sentimental draw on the legacy of their grandfathers.

Henry Adams.

Henry Adams.

George Washington Parke Custis was the grandson of Martha Washington by her first marriage and thus never blood-related to the first President who raised him as a son, but as long as he lived this first “First Grandson” George W.P. lived his entire life by his identifying himself with President Washington.

Truman's grandson Clifton Daniel placed a wreath to honor those killed by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

Truman’s grandson Clifton Daniel placed a wreath to honor those killed by the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

In the cases of those who lived with the same famous last name of their “President Grandpa” it was also more often a case of seeking the glow of a sunny name – as opposed to Presidential Children who often ran away from what they perceived as the shadow of such legacy, having more frequently suffered from people viewing them not as individuals but replications of their famous fathers.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph (Thomas Jefferson Foundation)

Thomas Jefferson Randolph (Thomas Jefferson Foundation)

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, lacking the discipline and control exercised by parents over children, is almost always entirely free of dark memories and instead filled with gentler and more joyous times.

It’s no different among Presidents and their grandchildren.

Historian Henry Adams offered little objectivity in his loving version of the life of his grandparents John Quincy and Louisa Adams.

It was Thomas Jefferson “Jeff” Randolph who vociferously went on record to claim his grandfather had not fathered children by Sally Hemings.

His mother Martha Jefferson Randolph, who grew up with Sally, her half-aunt, never did.

Eleanor Roosevelt with her grandchildren by her daugher Anna, Ellie, John and Curtis.

Eleanor Roosevelt with her grandchildren by her daughter Anna, Ellie, John and Curtis.

Curtis Roosevelt signing his book. (Wikipedia)

Curtis Roosevelt signing his book. (Wikipedia)

In just the last decade David Eisenhower, Clifton Daniel and Curtis Roosevelt, grandsons of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry Truman and Franklin D. Roosevelt, have written warm though honest memoirs about times with their grandfathers and revealed more human elements about these Presidents.

Andrew Patterson, after serving a diplomatic mission given him by the only Democratic President (Cleveland) to serve between his grandfather Andrew Johnson and Woodrow Wilson returned to live the rest of his life in Johnson’s home, opening one room to the public as a shrine of presidential objects.

Even those who never played in the halls of the White House have been compelled to do their part.

Harrison R. Tyler in front of his home, the presidential residence and historic home of his grandfather John Tyler.

Harrison R. Tyler in front of his home, the presidential residence and historic home of his grandfather John Tyler.

In one of the most remarkable feats of presidential generational spans, the grandson of the 10th President, John Tyler is still alive and thriving at tennis at the mere age of 82.

President Tyler was born in 1790. He had two wives and children by both. When he was 63 years old his son Lyon Gardiner Tyler was born. Lyon also had two wives and children by both. At the age of 75, he fathered Harrison Ruffin Tyler.

A. J. Patterson.

A. J. Patterson.

Not only the genial old-school gentleman Mr. Tyler one of the most knowledgeable sources on his grandfather’s political career and presidency, he and his exuberantly engaging wife Payne live in the President’s home on the James River in Virginia, Sherwood Forest Plantation.

As did A.J. Patterson, Harrison and Payne Tyler found a way to make a house a home – while also figuring out a way to share it with the public as a presidential historic home which can be toured.

Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy's grandson.

Jack Schlossberg, President Kennedy’s grandson.

Though still a college student who never knew his grandfather John F. Kennedy, Jack Schlossberg has already evidenced a public commitment to the legacy of his mother’s father, defending the record of his presidency in a New York Times editorial.

Certainly this unique family legacy is not confined to grandsons.

Susan Eisenhower.

Susan Eisenhower.

Eisenhower's grandchildren David, Ann ande Susan playing in the Oval Office, 1954

Eisenhower’s grandchildren David, Ann ande Susan playing in the Oval Office, 1954

In our times there is perhaps no better example of a Presidential Grandchild who grew up in the White House and has struck the healthiest balance between continuing the legacy of “Granddad” while developing and maintaining her own professional career than Susan Eisenhower, a public policy strategist, media commentator and writer whose blog can be read on WordPress here at susaneisenhower.com.

Among presidential grandsons alive today, two have also matured to make headlines of their own. Christopher Cox, the son of President Nixon’s daughter Tricia and her husband Ed, who married in the White House Rose Garden, made a run for a Suffolk County, Long Island Republican primary race for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Christopher Cox in front of his 2010 campaign office for a Republican U.S. Congresssional nomination in Suffolk County, New York. AP

Christopher Cox in front of his 2010 campaign office for a Republican U.S. Congresssional nomination in Suffolk County, New York. AP

But his wedding to the daughter of a Greek-American billionaire, attended by guests including Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger made many more headlines.

James Carter IV, a grandson of Jimmy Carter who spent some time living in the White House as a child, may have been an important factor in the 2012 election.

James Carter . (The New Republic)

James Carter . (The New Republic)

An independent Democratic Party opposition researcher, he stumbled upon the Youtube clip of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney which led him to its creator who provided the further portion which captured his famous remarks about half of all Americans “believe they are victims.”

Carter was responsible for bringing the clip to the media, resulting in a liability Romney never shook. He considered it ironic justice since Romney had also frequently belittled his grandfather’s presidency.

Lincoln's grandchildren.

Lincoln’s grandchildren.

It’s not rosiness or revenge for all Presidential grandchildren, however. The trauma of their grandfather’s assassination, their grandmother’s commitment to an institution for mental health problems and the public obsession with their family turned Abraham Lincoln’s one grandson and two granddaughters, Abraham, Mamie and Jessie into what might be termed celebrity hermits: the press never stopped attempting to report on their lives for the public, a move which made them wary of all strangers and any publicity. Mamie had a child and Jessie had two, but none of these three Lincoln great-grandchildren had any children and so the most famous President’s direct line of descendants died out.

Julia Grant Cantacuzene.

Julia Grant Cantacuzene.

Some returned or remained in the city of their idyllic childhoods, though not all were elevated to the equivalence of American royal family members. Born in the White House, Julia Grant Cantacuzene was only a toddler when she joined the wives and daughters of Cabinet members who received the public at the New Year’s Day Reception. Her great wealth and luxurious life in Europe was a result of her marriage to a White Russian count, diplomat and Chief of Staff to Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, Prince Mikhail Mikhailovich Cantacuzène, not as Ulysses S. Grant’s granddaughter. Living to almost 100 years old, she continued to frequent White House social events as late as the LBJ Administration.

Cameron Reagan in 2000.

Cameron Reagan in 2000.

On the other hand, Mary Jackson Wilcox, also born in the White House as the daughter of Andrew Jackson’s adopted son, encountered financial struggle. Though she wrote about her sweet childhood in the old mansion, she had to support herself as a government clerk.

Entirely apart from any experiences related to his grandfather Ronald Reagan, his sole grandson, Cameron Reagan, made unwanted headlines in 1999, 2001 and 2010, arrested on various charges, at one time homeless and unemployed.

And while fond memories of their grandfathers in the White House may have propelled several grandsons into politics, they either won or were defeated based on their ability to address the real problems of the times in which they themselves lived.

Bob Taft.

Bob Taft.

Perhaps the most successful was Robert A. “Bob” Taft, Jr. who served in the U.S. Congress from 1963 to 1965, then again from 1967 to 1971. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1970, but lost his re-election bid in 1976.

Although the twenty-third President Benjamin Harrison never knew his grandfather, ninth President William Henry Harrison, he is the only presidential grandchild to be elected to the highest office.

Perhaps no single presidential grandchild has managed to keep the memory of his grandfather more alive and also had fun with it than George Cleveland.

Doing first-person re-enactments of Grover, George is a dead-ringer for him.

Grandson and President George Cleveland impersonating his grandfather President Grover Cleveland.

Grandson and President George Cleveland impersonating his grandfather President Grover Cleveland.

Next: The Grandsons of President George Bush Eager to Enter Politics in Florida and Texas


Categories: First Daughters, First Families, First Sons, History, Presidential Grandchildren, The Eisenhowers

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8 replies »

  1. Carl, I had forgotten about a lot of these more modern grandchildren. I guess I’m beginning to show my age. Amazing what a head of Kenndy hair Jack Schlossberg has. He could almost be a younger brother to the late John Jr. Some good memories of the Eisenhower, Cox and Carter grandchildren too. Thanks again for another really interesting article with photo updates. Namaste

    • And these are only a few, of course. Three are more Carter, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Nixon, LBJ grandchildren but I tried to focus more on those who’ve taken public if not political roles. And you are so welcome – and your enthusiasm and appreciation means a lot to me; greatly appreciated.

  2. I had the unexpected pleasure of being ‘found’ by a presidential grandson, a few months ago, on Facebook. George Cleveland found me and called me, later that day. My wife and I had the honor of visiting his late uncle and aunt, Francis Grover and Alice Cleveland, in Tamworth, New Hampshire in the Summer of 1991. We had the most enjoyable conversation.

    I was able to tell him something that he did not know about his grandfather. As a teenager, in upstate Fayetteville, NY, Grover dated Clara Fuller. Clara became close friends with Grover’s youngest sibling (and White House hostess) Rose. It was Rose, who encouraged Clara to go into teaching. Clara settled in the Ossining, NY area and opened the prestigious ‘Miss Fuller’s School for Girls.’ My dear friend, Elizabeth S. Underhill, was a graduate of Miss Fuller’s School in 1911. ESU went on to earn her law degree for NYU Law School, where, Elizabeth Harrison Walker, the youngest daughter of President Benjamin Harrison.

    Elizabeth and her whole family (and the county, at the time) were rock-ribbed Republicans. ESU delighted in telling people that her brother was born the day before Benjamin Harrison was sworn into office. Robert Lindley Murray Underhill (1889 – 1983) went on to earn his PhD from Harvard and later taught mathematics and philosophy. He was also an avid mountain climber. In a remarkable ‘six degrees of separation,’ Robert’s wife, Miriam, was the son of Robert Lincoln O’Brien (1865-1955), who was the private secretary to Grover Cleveland, during his 2nd non-consecutive term. O’Brien later became editor and publisher of ‘The Boston Herald’ newspaper.

    • Thank you William. Interesting connections. I intend to write more about Rose Cleveland at some point.Someone recently said to me ‘the world was so much smaller then,” and I think we can see that here by how people knew each other more closely in one way or another.

  3. DEAR SIR,

    PLEASE REVISE THE TEXT UNDER THE CARTOON OF BENJAMIN HARRISON AT THE TOP OF THE ” PRESIDENT / GRANDPARENT ” ARTICLE.

    THE CARTOONIST IS – VERY OBVIOUSLY –
    A GREAT ADMIRER OF EDGAR ALLEN POE’S
    IMMORTAL ” THE RAVEN. ”

    THE BUST ABOVE BENJ. HARRISON IS THAT
    OF PALLAS ( SEE THE POEM ) AND THE
    ” RAVEN ” SITTING UPON THE BUST HAS
    – CLEARLY SEEN – THE HEAD OF BENJ.’S
    GRANDFATHER / PRES. – WILLIAM HENRY
    HARRISON .

    BASIC POINTS – OF CLASSIC AMERICAN
    LITERATURE, AND HISTORY.

    DOUGLAS LEVISON

    • Thank you for your suggestion Douglas, but there is no need to change the caption. I don’t agree that the cartoonist is a great admirer of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven.” The bust is not of Pallas but rather of President William Henry Harrison. The white-bearded figure perched on the bust is the face of Senator James G. Blaine, who was known at the time by contemporary political junkies to have great influence with Harrison – and he was appointed to a second term as Secretary of State by Harrison.

  4. Very cool article. Loved it. And now there’s another presidential grandson that made headlines — Jason Carter, who ran for Governor of Georgia in 2014 and lost by a significant margin to incumbent Nathan Deal.

    • Lindsay, first of all I really appreciate you making the effort to write. It’s really satisfying to see articles published some time ago are still being read. I was following Jason Carter’s race, I think he was challenging an incumbent so the odds were against him. Something tells me we’ll see him in another future race. I think politics can be like acting. Once in the blood it’s hard to think of doing anything else. Thanks again for writing.

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