My greatest gift in semi-retirement has been the extra time I have allotted to reading. For the last eight years I estimate I have read three to four books each week or well over a thousand books since retirement. Although often overlapping my sleeping hours, to me, every page is worth it. I have found my interests transforming from reading philosophy, theology, psychology and social/anthropological material to history and especially historical fiction. The last category allows one to use their imagination and still get a picture of how life was or could have been in the past. James Michener was one of the best at this, although it was Ken Follett’s “Pillars of the Earth” that really got me hooked on historical novels.
Naturally, through my new interest in history, I have learned a lot about America’s presidents — some of it more than one really needs to know. A good way to clear my brain of this useless presidential trivia would be to ‘get it off my chest’ and transfer these presidential facts to my readers.
Clarence Darrow once said, “When I was a boy, I was told anyone could grow up to be president. I’m beginning to believe it.”
This statement played itself out recently when America elected its first African-American as president not once, but twice; and before that we elected George W. Bush who actually quoted, “I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn't here.”
We also elected him not once, but twice. Entire books have been written about "Bushisms," but whatever you thought of this man’s presidency, you have to admit he was rather an entertaining good ol’ boy from Texas who didn’t control the market on presidential quotations.
James Garfield served as president for about four months, of which 80 days were spent on his death bed. One of three presidents to be murdered while in office, he uttered this quote, “Assassination can no more be guarded against than can death by lightning.”
The other two assassinations involved more famous presidents — Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Ironically, they were both followed in office by men named Johnson, Andrew and Lyndon. More recently, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both survived assassination attempts, while President Warren G. Harding only served two years in office before succumbing to a heart attack in a hotel in San Francisco.
One of my favorite presidential quotes came from the “Father of our Country,” George Washington. I cannot guarantee its historical accuracy, but here is how I tell it.
What did Washington say to his men before they crossed the Delaware?
“Get in the boat men.”
Relatively unknown John Tyler had 15 children, the most of any president. His quote was, “My children are my principal treasure.”
Some of the better quotes came in the form of a president’s last words. President Ulysses S. Grant was the shortest. He simply uttered, “Water.”
Of the Roosevelts, Teddy said, “Doctor, please turn out the light.”
FDR stated, “I have a terrific headache.”
James Madison kept his humor to the end when he said, “I always talk better lying down.”
Just before he died, our nation’s second president, John Adams, uttered these words about our nation’s third top office holder, “Thomas Jefferson survives.”
He didn’t know that President Jefferson was to die later that same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence. Five years later on July 4, 1831, America’s fifth president, James Monroe, died at his daughter’s home in New York City; a penniless man.
I will close out the story with a quote from fourth President James Madison who closed out his life by uttering, “Nothing more than a change of mind.”