Presidents Closely Related

Chief Executives Who Were Sons, Grandsons and Cousins

George W. Bush wasn’t the first American president to be related to an earlier president. Lots of old presidents were distant cousins, especially during the first 100 years of the Republic when the country’s population (and the pool of likely candidates) was much smaller than today. Even Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon were distant cousins.But George W. Bush and his father, George Bush, were one of the few pairs to share close blood ties. Here’s a closer look at that select group.

Father-Son: John Adams and John Quincy Adams

JOHN ADAMS (1797-1801) and JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (1825-1829) were, like the George Bushes, father and son.The elder John Adams was the nation’s second president, having been its first vice president under George Washington. He was also a second cousin to Revolutionary firebrand Samuel Adams. John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives in 1830, becoming the only president to serve in Congress after his term as chief executive. (His eldest son, George Washington Adams, is the only presidential child ever named after George Washington; he makes an appearance in our feature Death By Yacht.)John and John Quincy Adams were also great-grandfather and grandfather (respectively) to the historian and author Henry Adams.

Grandfather-Grandson: William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison

WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON (1841-1841) and BENJAMIN HARRISON (1889-1893) were grandfather and grandson. The elder Harrison is famous for his super-short term of office: he died one month after catching a bad cold at his inaugural. 48 years and 13 other presidents then passed — including a lot of one-termers like Polk, Pierce and Arthur — before grandson Benjamin Harrison took office.

The younger Harrison also has the distinction of serving his one term between the two terms of Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897).

Fifth Cousins: Roosevelt and Roosevelt

THEODORE ROOSEVELT (1901-1909) and FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT (1933-1945) seem like they ought to be closely related, but the tie was merely distant: they were fifth cousins.

Teddy Roosevelt was closely related to Franklin’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt, who was his niece. (She was the daughter of Teddy’s brother Elliot.) Bonus relatives: Martin Van Buren was a third cousin twice removed to Theodore Roosevelt, and President Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) was a fourth cousin thrice removed to FDR.

The Roosevelts were the first two presidents in this feature to serve more than one term: the Adamses and the Harrisons were all one-termers.

Father-Son: George Bush and George W. Bush

GEORGE BUSH (1989-1993) and GEORGE W. BUSH (2001-2009) were separated only by the two terms of Bill Clinton, who defeated the elder Bush in the elections of 1992.

The two Bush administrations were close enough to have some advisors and officials in common, including Dick Cheney (Secretary of Defense under the elder Bush, vice president under George W. Bush.) There’s also a canine connection: George W. Bush’s springer spaniel Spot was a daughter of Millie, famous “First Dog” under Bush the elder.

Close Call #1: The Tafts

President WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT (1909-1913) was the father of ROBERT TAFT, who became a powerful Republican senator from Ohio. (So powerful, in fact, that he was nicknamed “Mister Republican.”) Robert Taft was a top candidate for the GOP nomination in 1952, but he was narrowly beaten by World War II hero Dwight Eisenhower. Thus was a Taft dynasty denied.

“Ike” went on to win the presidency that year in a landslide. (Bonus connection: Eisenhower’s Democratic opponent was Adlai Stevenson, whose grandfather was vice president under Grover Cleveland.)

Close Call #2: The Kennedys

President JOHN F. KENNEDY was assassinated in 1963 and succeeded by his former rival, Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-69). Johnson won reelection in 1964, but in 1968 he announced that he would not seek another term, throwing the Democratic nomination open to other challengers.

Kennedy’s younger brother ROBERT F, KENNEDY jumped into the race. RFK won Democratic primaries in Indiana, Nebraska and California before he too was shot by an assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, in June of 1968. (The general election in November was won by the Republican candidate, Richard Nixon.)

Had Robert Kennedy’s candidacy succeeded, he and JFK would have been the first brothers to be president.

Close Call #3: The Doles

Kansas senator BOB DOLE won the Republican nomination for president in 1996. Dole had been a respected senator for many years (and had even been Gerald Ford‘s running mate in 1976) so it was a big thing when he resigned from the Senate to press his campaign. Alas for him, he was defeated in the general election by the incumbent, Bill Clinton.

Three short years later his wife, ELIZABETH DOLE, threw her own hat into the ring, forming an exploratory committee for a run at the 2000 GOP nomination. Her run was short: she gave up the race even before the New Hampshire primaries, succumbing to eventual president George W. Bush.

But the Doles became the first husband and wife to run for president. Hillary Clinton ran in 2008, making (with Bill) the second pair of spouses to have run.

From Closely to Directly Related

Do you enjoy close family relationships?

See our feature on the remarkable ties of CLAN KENNEDY.

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