Thursday, February 22, 2018

American History Expressed in Presidential Lives

Earlier this week we celebrated Presidents' Day, the holiday formed from the consolidation of the former holidays of Washington's Birthday (on February 22nd) and Lincoln's Birthday (on February 12th) into a single day* to honor those who have served as the nation's chief executive.

Each president has his (there haven't been any hers yet) own story, and the history of the United States has been shaped by the personalities and actions of those who have occupied the nation's highest office. But there's another interesting way to view the intersection of presidential lives and American history ...

This interesting article by Philip Bump appeared in the Presidents' Day issue of The Washington Post - All of American History Fits in the Life Span of Only Three Presidents. This diagram, which I adapted from the article, makes the point:

The United States was founded in 1789, when Martin van Buren (our eighth president) was seven years old. 

William Howard Taft (our 27th president) was born in 1859, when van Buren was 77 and the United States was 70.

George H. W. Bush (Bush 41) was born in 1924, when Taft was 65 and the United States was 135. Mr Bush, of course, is still alive.

Thus, the lifespans of these three presidents cover all of the history of the nation.

I find this fascinating, as it helps to humanize our history and put it in a context we don't often consider. With any luck, we will look back many years from now at the Trump era as an unfortunate one-term (or less) diversion from a line of generally well-meaning and responsible occupants of the White House.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow, when we look at our latest collection of Great Moments in Editing and Signage.


* Yes, this is an oversimplification. Read the article to which I linked for the full story.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

In a nutshell, it demonstrates that our country is a recent one.

Dave Peterson said...

A couple years ago I traced my genealogy on and found that, going back as far as about 1580 and coming forward to 1986 (or about 400 years), seven ancestors covered (with small gaps and overlaps) the entire time frame. At least for my family, if someone survived to adulthood, they were remarkably long-lived.

Mike said...

228 years and counting. Hopefully we have a few more to go.