America’s White House dynasties

One of the greatest fears of the Founding Fathers of the United States was the emergence of a new tyranny of a monarchy or oligarchy. A strong independent and republican strain rebelled against the idea of power being concentrated in the hands of the few. They were even more repelled by the idea of nepotistic families dominating politics in the fledgling nation. But America has never been entirely free of strong political families, and there have been two father and son presidents, almost 200 years apart.

On 4 March 1825, John Quincy Adams became the sixth President of the United States. He was also the first son of a President to occupy the White House, the second child of John Adams, the country’s second President. He would not, of course, be the last – just under 200 years later George Bush, the USA’s 41st President, would see his son, George W. Bush, become the 43rd President.

Father and son - the 41st President of the United States (George H W Bush) with the 43rd (President George W Bush) By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Winn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Both the Adams and Bush family’s influence extended beyond the confines of the White House. Jeb Bush, a younger son of the elder George Bush, was the Governor of Florida. Bush influence extends beyond the immediate nuclear family of the former President – two members of the family have served as U.S. Senators and another sat as a Supreme Court Justice.

Outside of politics, the family have seen success as bankers, industrialists and advisors to other leading politicians. A new generation of the Bush family are now lining up to take higher office, with pundits speculating about a presidential run by Jeb Bush.

The Adams family were no less prominent in their time, forming what historians have since referred to as the ‘Adams political family’. As well as the two Presidents, the family boasts a Governor of Massachusetts, a U.S. Congressman and ambassador to the United Kingdom and a Secretary of the Navy.

John Adams, the second President and father of the sixth President (John Quincy Adam)

More impressively, the family is connected with Presidents Millard Fillmore, William Howard Taft, and Calvin Coolidge and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, through common (if distant) descent from Henry Squire.

Whilst no other families have managed to pull off father and son presidencies, there are other political families that can boast multiple Presidents (the Harrisons and the Roosevelts) and political families such as the Kennedys and Tafts who boast one President and a plethora of other appointments.

The Harrisons of Virginia produced Presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison, the 9th and 23rd Presidents respectively along with a number of Governors of Virginia and holders of national office.

The Roosevelts of New York produced two of the 20th centuries most prominent politicians, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 26th and 32nd Presidents respectively. Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s First Lady, was also a Roosevelt by descent as well as marriage.

The Roosevelts of New York - Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D Roosevelt

Descendants of Robert Taft (1640 – 1724) have served as state and national legislators, an ambassador and a series of state Governors. The most prominent of all the Tafts, William Howard Taft, was both the 27th President of the United States and, afterwards, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The Kennedys are probably the most prominent of America’s current political families, the Democratic equivalent of the Bush family. They also boast Senators, U.S. Representatives, a state Governor, Ambassadors and a U.S. Attorney General.

In 1787 as the Constitution Convention was drawing to a close, Benjamin Franklin was asked by Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The United States has kept its republic and ordinary citizens can rise to the very top (see Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as recent examples). But it certainly has, perhaps unavoidably, something approaching a political aristocracy who wield considerable influence.