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Anyone Can Be President, If They’re Family

Written on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 by

genea

 

When it comes to winning the presidency, it’s not just who you know, it’s a matter of to whom you’re related.

It’s been noted by many genealogists — and occasionally even the media — that all or nearly all (depending on who’s doing the research) of our presidents have been related to other presidents.

Obama, despite being born in a Kenyan hut — er, I mean Hawaiian hospital — is related to six presidents, including George W. Bush, whom he replaced.

His opponent Mitt Romney is also related to six presidents, including the Bushes.

Obama and the Bushes share an ancestor in Samuel Hinckley, who lived in the 17th century. You may recognize the Hinckley family name. It was John Hinckley Jr. who tried to assassinate President Reagan while the first Bush was vice president.

True trivia: Members of the Bush and Hinckley clans were scheduled to have a get-together later that week but cancelled it because of appearances after the shooting.

Another Hinckley, Gordon B. Hinckley, was president of the Latter Day Saints until he died in 2008, and was one of the people who advised Romney about running for the White House the first time.

President Clinton is also apparently a distant cousin of the Bushes, and he maintains close ties with the Bush family. In a July interview, former first lady Barbara Bush said that Clinton continues to call on the senior Bush, whom he regards as a father figure, and that the younger Bush and his brothers refer to Clinton as “my brother by another mother.”

It gets even stranger as you go further back in time. A young genealogist, BridgeAnne d’Avignon of Salinas, California, spent months piecing together the family trees of the presidents and found that with the sole exception of Martin Van Buren, they all shared a common ancestor: King John of England.

King John, also known as John “Lackland,” is remembered for two things above all else: signing the Magna Carta, and being the villain in the Robin Hood tales.

I’m not sure what that says about the character of our presidents. John Lackland was seen as a villain due to his incredibly high taxes and many unjust laws; on the other hand, he did sign the Magna Carta, limiting the king’s power, an important historical precedent to our Constitution.

Mathematically, though, it’s interesting to say the least. The fine points of familial descent are beyond me, but logic suggests that King John, after eight centuries, could easily have tens of thousands of direct descendants, if not millions.

But logic also suggests the same thing about the millions of people back in 1215 who were not John Lackland. No doubt there is no shortage of descendants of royalty and presidents in America, but what are the odds that every president would be a cousin of other presidents, much less a descendant of John Lackland?

This is the point where the media have trained people to toss their hands in the air and shout “conspiracy theory,” but these are merely facts, not theory. Whether there’s a conspiracy involved, that’s up to you to decide, since American journalists at major news outlets won’t touch the story.

It has been suggested that in presidential elections, the candidate with the most connections to other presidents wins. If that’s the case, then that may be no help for either candidate in the current election, both of whom are related to six other presidents.

There is a danger in acknowledging the apparently familial nature of presidential politics, and that is ofgiving in to the idea that your vote doesn’t matter, that it’s all just the same people in charge no matter who wins.

I don’t believe that’s true. As much as there appears to be a White House dynasty, each president has to win the office first to gain power, and he has to make at least some effort to appease his base if he wants to maintain power. Voters can and do hold a president’s feet to the fire. and not just during elections. Voter ire has blocked treaties and bad laws, and it has changed presidential appointments to courts and other offices.

Perhaps there is a hidden aristocracy in America, but don’t overlook the fact that our system still allows the people to exercise their power as well.

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