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Childless Presidents

Historical Facts | July 25, 2019

John F Kennedy (1917 - 1963), American president-elect, with his wife Jacqueline (1929 - 1994) at the christening of their son John F Jr. (1960 - 1999) in Washington. Source: (pinterest.com)

When we elect a president to lead our country, we are also, indirectly, electing a First Family that includes presidential children ... usually. Nearly all of our former presidents balanced the demands of being the Commander-in-Chief with fatherhood, but not all. Did you know that five of our former presidents did not father children? Let's look at the childless presidents of the U.S.

George Washington was deeply distressed that he and Martha did not have children. Source: (history.com)

George Washington

He may have been the father of our country, but he wasn't a biological father. George Washington was 26 when he married Martha Dandridge Custis, an older widow with two young children. Although Washington raised his step-children, George and Martha didn't have any offspring of their own. Historians have two theories as to why this is. One theory claims that a bout with smallpox several years prior to his marriage had left him sterile. The other theory suggests that Martha was no longer able to conceive after a difficult and traumatic labor and delivery with her second child. 

In all likelihood, the United States has already had a gay president, James Buchanan. Source: (pennlive.com)

James Buchanan

The "bachelor president," James Buchanan, has the distinction of being the only unmarried U.S. president. Most likely, he was gay. Buchanan did have an alleged girlfriend, Anne Caroline Coleman, but it appears that Buchanan was only interested in her for her money. The 15th president did maintain a close relationship with Alabama senator William Rufus King, who also served as Vice President under Franklin Pierce. Buchanan and King even lived together. The American public, however, was accustomed to seeing the First Lady, therefore Buchanan adopted his orphaned niece, Harriet Lane, and she served as a hostess for White House dinners and events. 

A medical procedure in his teens left James Polk unable to father children. Source: (startribune.com)

James Polk

"Young Hickory" James Polk was a president whose goal was expanding the holdings of the United States through his Manifest Destiny mantra, but he was not able to expand his own family to include children. Polk, who served as president from 1845 to 1849, was married to his wife, Sarah, for 25 years, but the couple remained childless. As a boy of about 17 years old, Polk suffered a painful bout of urinary stones that required surgery. The procedure was done without anesthesia (Polk was only given a few shots of brandy to dull the pain) and without antiseptic. It was successful in that it removed the stones, but the surgery left Polk as sterile as his operation was not.

Andrew Jackson married the same woman twice, yet never had any children. Source: (theamericanconservative.com)

Andrew Jackson

In an interesting coincidence, both Young Hickory and Old Hickory were childless presidents. In modern times, Andrew Jackson has been vilified for his treatment of Native Americans and his habit for dueling, but what's less known is his proclivity for bigamy. Jackson was married twice---to the same woman, Rachel Donelson Robards. It seems Rachel's divorce from her first husband hadn't been finalized when she married Andrew Jackson the first time, so it was not valid. But even after they married for the second time, the couple never had any children of their own. They did, however, take in Jackson's nephew and several orphaned children.

Recent DNA testing has proven that Warren Harding should be removed from this list. Source: (history.com)

Warren G. Harding

By all accounts, the 29th president, Warren Harding, was trapped in a loveless marriage. He married the daughter of his biggest political rival, Florence Kling DeWolfe, perhaps to spite his foe or perhaps because she was so persistent in her pursuit of him. Either way, it appears that their marriage was not a happy one. In fact, Harding was rumored to have had at least four affairs during his marriage to Florence, some occurring while he was president. Officially, Harding had long made the list for childless presidents, but in 2015, a DNA test result proved longtime rumors that Harding did father a child with one of his mistresses, Nan Britton.

Tags: American presidents

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.