John Eisenhower’s Death Makes Caroline Kennedy “Dean” of First Kids

 

John Eisenhower.

John Eisenhower.

 

Five days before Christmas Day, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, the second and only surviving son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower died at his Maryland home. He was ninety-one years old.

John Eisenhower, far left, with his wife Barbara and parents Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower at his father's 1953 Inaugural Ball.

John Eisenhower, far left, with his wife Barbara and parents Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower at his father’s 1953 Inaugural Ball.

John Eisenhower was one of the last First Kids who was able to live a relatively anonymous life during the time his father was President. That was likely due to the fact that by then he was an adult father of four children.

Those four children, the President’s grandchildren, garnered the lion’s share of media coverage all during the Fifties. Grandson David mimicked his famous granddad “Ike” in playing golf alongside him, and even had the presidential retreat “Camp David” named for him.

John Eisenhower stands at the back as his son David celebrates a western-theme birthday party in the White House, complete with TV cowboy actor Roy Rogers (far left) and Dale Evans (far right)

John Eisenhower stands at the back as his son David celebrates a western-theme birthday party in the White House, complete with TV cowboy actor Roy Rogers (far left) and Dale Evans (far right)

Granddaughters Anne and Susan were often photographed alongside grandmother Mamie and her Weimaraner Heidi, on the White House grounds. Youngest Mary Jean was even christened in a Blue Room ceremony.

John Eisenhower had followed his father’s path, enrolled at West Point and then saw active duty during the Korean War.

He figured unwittingly in the feud between his father and outgoing President Harry Truman, when the latter recalled John from the front to attend his father’s 1953 Inauguration – a move Ike felt was a pull of rank and show of privilege, which he abhorred.

John Eisenhower followed his famous father, General Eisenhower, into a military career.

John Eisenhower followed his famous father, General Eisenhower, into a military career.

To the President, it became vitally important that his son was never captured and potentially held as a prisoner of war by the North Koreans, a move which the father felt might jeopardize his being able to remain chief executive.

In Ike’s second term, John accepted an executive advisory position in his father’s Administration and often found himself the victim of the President’s famous red-hot temper, blamed more often than other staffers and credited less for accomplishments.

Still, loyally, he helped his father in retirement to draft his best-selling memoirs.

Barbara and John Eisenhower join Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower at a public ceremony,

Barbara and John Eisenhower join Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower at a public ceremony.

It was not until John authored his own history of the Mexican War, following his father’s death, that this First Son felt he had finally escaped his father’s overwhelming shadow to emerge on his own by accomplishing something, he said, his father “could not do.”

At the 2000 State Dinner hosted by the President and Mrs. Clinton in honor of the White House Bicentennial, I had a chance to speak briefly with him, recalling how he quipped it took a “very long time” before he felt he was his own person. By all accounts he found his mother Mamie to be loving but “smothering” in her fears for his well-being long decades after he’d become an adult. When I once wrote asking him for an interview about her, he politely declined, writing that he’d “rather not speak publicly about my mother.”

John Eisenhower at a White House luncheon marking his father's centennial.

John Eisenhower at a White House luncheon marking his father’s centennial.

Despite his independent accomplishments, however, Eisenhower could never entirely escape being known as the son of one of the world’s most famous and celebrated figures: especially as he aged, John Eisenhower’s facial resemblance to Dwight D Eisenhower was strikingly uncanny.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of President Nixon and like her father-in-law John Eisenhower, one of the few presidential children.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of President Nixon and like her father-in-law John Eisenhower, one of the few presidential children.

Besides earning a well-deserved reputation as a military historian and a person who loved the craft of writing, this Presidential Child earned another footnote as the father-in-law of another Presidential Child: in 1968, his son David married Julie Nixon, the daughter of President-elect Richard Nixon.

His son’s father-in-law later named John Eisenhower to the position of Ambassador to Belgium.

It is the recently-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy who now ranks as the senior member or “dean” of the twenty-six living children of Presidents.

Caroline Kennedy in February 2013. (Getty)

Caroline Kennedy in February 2013. (Getty)

Her father, John F. Kennedy, served as President immediately after Dwight D. Eisenhower. The rank of “dean” of presidential children was held relatively briefly by John Eisenhower, only since the 2008 death of Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry S. Truman.

Although Margaret Truman was born in 1924, making her younger by two calendar years than John Eisenhower, her father’s presidency had immediately preceded that of his father’s.

Caroline Kennedy and Luci Johnson at a Washington ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the JFK-LBJ inauguration.

Caroline Kennedy and Luci Johnson at a Washington ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the JFK-LBJ inauguration.

Although 56 year old Caroline Kennedy is the senior among presidential children in terms of historical chronology, she was only three years old at the time her father was inaugurated President in 1961.

She is not the eldest by age among the offspring of U.S. Presidents.

Among the group, she is actually preceded by seventeen others by this measure.

Born in 1944, Lynda Bird Johnson will be 70 years old in three months; she is now the eldest among the pool of living presidential children.

Tricia and Julie Nixon at the January 2013 centennial celebration of their father. (Nixon Foundation)

Tricia and Julie Nixon at the January 2013 centennial celebration of their father. (Nixon Foundation)

Michael Reagan.

Michael Reagan.

Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Ronald Reagan and his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, is the next eldest, born on March 18, 1945.

He is followed by Tricia Nixon, who was born eleven months later.

A bit of coincidental oddity then takes places, with four presidential children all born within a five-day range over a three-year period.

Jack Carter.

Jack Carter.

George W. Bush, the eldest son of President George Bush and, of course, himself, a President, was born on July 6, 1946.

Luci Baines Johnson was born on July 2, 1947.

Jeff Carter. (Wire Image)

Jeff Carter. (Wire Image)

The next day, Jack Carter, Jimmy Carter’s eldest child, was born, on July 3, 1947.

Julie Nixon Eisenhower was born July 5, 1948.

The next in the timeline are two presidential sons born in 1950, Mike Ford (March 14) and Chip Carter (April 12).

Two presidential sons and one daughter were born in 1952: Jack Ford (March 16), Jeff Carter (August 18) and Patti Reagan (October 21).

Patti Reagan [Davis] speaking at UCLA, 2013.

Patti Reagan [Davis] speaking at UCLA, 2013.

Then come brothers Jeb and Neil Bush in 1953, and Marvin Bush and Steve Ford in 1956.

The Ford children: Mike, Jack, Steve and Susan,

The Ford children: Mike, Jack, Steve and Susan.

Susan Ford shares a July 6 birthdate with George W. Bush, but was born eleven years after him, in 1957.

She is four months older than Caroline Kennedy, who was born on November 27, 1957.

Following Caroline Kennedy, presidential children by birth order are Ron Reagan (May 20, 1958) and Doro Bush (August 18, 1959).

Neil Bush.

Neil Bush.

Then comes a stretch of eight years before the birth of another living presidential child (John Kennedy, Jr. born in November of 1960 died in 1999), Amy Carter whose birthdate is October 19, 1967.

Amy Carter with her father in recent years.

Amy Carter with her father in recent years.

After Amy Carter’a 1967 birth comes an even longer thirteen-year period during which no presidential children were born.

That stretch is broke by Chelsea Clinton’s birthdate in February of 1980, followed a year later by Barbara Bush and her sister Jenna, the twin daughters of George W. Bush.

And then comes another long stretch without any presidential children being born; it is a record-breaking seventeen years between the birth of the Bush twins in 1981 and that of incumbent First Daughter Malia Obama, who was born July 4, 1998.

Malia Obama in recent weeks.

Malia Obama in recent weeks.

Malia Obama is also one of the six living presidential children born within the five-day range from July 3 to July 6.

Sasha Obama, 2013.

Sasha Obama, 2013.

The youngest of the group is current First Daughter, formally named Natasha Obama but known as Sasha.

Born on  June 10, 2001, she will become a teenager in six months. She is the only Presidential child born thus far in the 21st century.

Oddly, there were no Presidential Children born during the 1930s – nor were any Presidents or First Ladies.

In recalling the life and times of John Eisenhower as First Son, one is also struck by another curious fact.

Not since the end of the George Bush Administration twenty years ago has there been anything but Presidential Daughters.

First Daughter Margaret Truman was included in a 1950 painting with her parents President Harry Truman and First Lady Bess Truman. (Historical Society of Missouri)

First Daughter Margaret Truman was included in a 1950 painting with her parents President Harry Truman and First Lady Bess Truman. (Historical Society of Missouri)


Categories: First Daughters, First Families, First Sons, Presidential Children & Grandchildren

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17 replies »

  1. Another great blog – your attention to detail makes all the difference. Was Mrs. Eisenhower’s “smothering” in part due to the death of her first son?

    Best wishes to you and Ceasar for the New Year.

    David/Chicago

    • Thank you David. I hope to continue the website all through 2014 with hopes it will prove successful. As far as your question: while I hesitate to speculate too deeply about the private emotional state of people without there being at least a decent amount of documentation from the individual in question, I would say that yes – her fears about physical harm coming to her son John, even once he was an adult father, were based on the terrible emotional trauma she endured while watching her first son slowly succumb to scarlet fever.

  2. I especially found this article interesting because I had one of those things you ponder at 2 a.m. and was wondering if presidential daughters outnumber presidential sons. Every president I could personally remember seemed to have only daughters or predominantly daughters.
    I also have have your book about the first ladies———after reading it and learning about their lives, I found I liked and respected them all, even the ones I hadn’t expected to like.

    • First of all, thanks so much for writing Gloria – I appreciate it. As far as whether there are more presidential sons or presidential daughters – there are so many arbitrary ways to determine that. For example, should it relate only to those who lived during their father’s presidency – or to those who survived through their father’s presidency? Would one count baby Patrick Kennedy (who died while his father was president after just a few days of life) the same way one might include Cal Coolidge, Jr. who died in the White House as a teenager after his father was President for less than a year? What about Robin Bush, the daughter of George and Barbara Bush who died long before her father became President? It’s an interesting question in that there will never really be a definitive answer, always dependent on how one defines a “presidential child.” And then there is the terminology – like “children of the White House” in which case certainly John Eisenhower’s three daughters and one son would figure largely – more so than him, perhaps. I’m glad the book First Ladies led you to the conclusion it did. And as you know well, even the term “First Lady” seems almost arbitrary in that, at its widest definition, it includes many others who were not wives of presidents. You also raise a subtle point too in your observation about those you remember as presidential children. Although George Bush and Ronald Reagan had sons who made the news in their own right while their fathers were President, you have to go back to Steve Ford and Jack Ford, who briefly lived in the White House for periods during their dad’s brief presidency, to find a First Son in residence there Anyway, thanks for writing.

  3. As always, a well-done and interesting article. Have any announcements made about funeral arrangements? Will he be buried in Kansas with his parents?

    • Thank you Eric for your kind words. No public word on the funeral and burial arrangements for John Eisenhower. Although he was a published author and had made occasional commentary on his father in his latter years, he essentially identified himself as a private citizen and so I think his family has honored that view.

  4. Thanks for your article about this very accomplished man. Mr. Eisenhower was interviewed for C-SPAN’s Presidential series in 1999 and he gave such thoughtful and insightiful answers to the questions asked about his father that he really impressed me. The video can still be seen online in the C-SPAN archives and is well worth a watch.

    • I appreciate your comments – and also thank you for providing the notation about John Eisenhower’s C-Span interview. I’ve seen it and truly it is so valuable not only for historical purposes but as a lesson of balanced understanding of a parent. I believe it did take him time to process what it meant to be the “son of,” both positively and negatively.

      • One comment that Mr. Eisenhower made in the interview about himself that I found to be most interesting was that he said that he often felt that he was wearing an “Ike mask” because he looked so much like his father. The process of what it meant as you say to be the “son of” and having his own identity must have been made even more complex given his striking resemblance to his father.

        • Absolutely. Did you see that picture of him at the Ike centennial? I mean – he’s a dead ringer for his dad. An entirely different sort of pressure that FDR, Jr. felt – the expectations being spread among the 4 FDR sons, or that John Kennedy felt – especially since his mother applied cautious child psychology to ensure that he always honored and revered his father but never felt the need to live up to him.

        • In so many respects, I think Presidential Daughters have an easier process of integrating their “dad” with their “President.”

  5. As ever Carl, an interesting read. It is striking how closely John Eisenhower resembled his father not only in looks, but in the quiet, deliberative way both men spoke. David Eisenhower’s excellent book on his grandfather, “Coming Home to Glory” also sheds some light on how devoted and loyal John was to his father and mother.

    I am looking forward to the many new and enjoyable Presidential “finds” you’ll be publishing in the future Carl. Thanks so much.

    John W

    • Thank you John for your kind remarks. And I couldn’t agree more with you about “Coming Home to Glory. In fact, I believe the article I wrote about the book was the second or third one ever to appear here! And thank you for the encouraging words about the website articles. I will attempt to continue to sustain it for another year. I do enjoy the research and discoveries made along the way – I just wish it didn’t take too long. I have begun an effort to monetize it this year, more of which will unfold as the months go by. Happy 2014 to you.

  6. So many presidents, like the Confederate president Jefferson Davis, had direct or indirect connections to the Mexican War, a conflict mostly forgotten but essential for understanding so much of American history. It would be really interesting to examine these connections more closely. Now, because of your article here, I want to read John Eisenhower’s book–now I see that links to that war extend even beyond the presidents themselves, to other members of their families. You always make me think things I’d never have thought otherwise!

    • Well of course for me there is no President more closely associated with the Mexican War than Zach Taylor. I hope to write a bit more about him actually on here despite his being such a “long-ago” Prez. And Polk – from the political perspective. I respect Taylor much more than Polk – although I realize that isn’t conventional thinking. And too Pierce who earned a bit of an awkward reputation for his service during the war. I remember reading John Eisenhower’s book at the time it came out – and it is what really introduced me to the entire subject of the Mexican War. Thanks for writing – and a good 2014 to you. Thank you also for your loyalty and friendship here.

  7. Fascinating article, as always! I’m curious on one point though–did I misread this to say that both Jeb & Neil Bush were born in 1953? Obviously that could not have been the case; I believe Neil was born in 1955. Just a minor point of clarification . . . unless I missed something here. 🙂

    • Yikes – thought I had that right – but seems that it was wrong – will double-check. Thank you for that, sorry for delay – far behind in correspondence and responding to comments here.

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