The press is excited over the prospects of a clash between two dynasties led by Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. It may not happen. But the subject is marketable and news is a business. So let’s dig a little.
John Adams, who followed George Washington, was our second president and founder of the dynasty. (In my Webster’s, dynasty is defined as “a sequence of rulers from the same family, stock, or group.”) John’s son, John Quincy Adams, was president number 6. He won the presidency in 1824. Like his father, he served a single term.
As America went on its own in 1776, Abigail Adams, the wife and mother of the gentlemen just cited, spoke up. She urged her husband to include women in the new order: “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors! Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Her husband took no heed.
The election of our 9th president, William Henry Harrison, in 1840, and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd, in 1889, gave us our second dynasty. The rub here is that Benjamin Harrison narrowly lost the popular vote but won the electoral votes to beat Grover Cleveland. At 68 Grandfather Bejamin was the oldest man before Ronald Reagan to become president. He is remembered not for what he did but for what he didn’t. He didn’t know enough to come in from the cold. He insisted on delivering an inaugural address lasting one hour and 40 minutes outdoors on a stormy March day without wearing a hat, gloves or overcoat. He died a month to the day after he was sworn in on April 4, 1841.
The Bush dynasty is the only one still in business but Hillary surely will have her say before it’s over. And no doubt, Bill, too.
In our own time the media have celebrated the Roosevelts as the model of a political dynasty. In the Ken Burns’ film about Teddy and Franklin, the two distant (fifth) cousins, Theodore Roosevelt, Republican, and Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat, were portrayed as strong leaders and reformers. Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin’s wife and Teddy’s favorite niece, was a voice for the dispossessed. I was on the planet in the FDR years, a young kid, it’s true, but the film recalled the headlines and radio broadcasts of a teetering world. Franklin, from an early age, idolized Teddy, his senior by some 24 years. His life-long ambition was to succeed him in the White House.
Years before he became president Franklin said in a commencement address at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, “The menace to the nation would not come from four or eight years of liberal or even radical control of government, but from too many years of conservative government which would fail to keep up with the new and startling developments of the future.” It was the sort of speech TR could have made as well. Now that’s a real family dynasty for you!
Originally published in the San Leandro Times.