Lincoln and Washington

Like many Americans, I plan on spending Presidents’ Day weekend going to all of the incredible mattress sales happening around our fine country, while reflecting on the great men –– yes, after 245 years, all of our presidents have still been men –– who have held that sacred office. There are always the most famous favorites who come to mind –– George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are usually ranked at the top, with Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy comfortably slotted in the honorable mentions. Throw in some of the more “controversial” presidential picks like Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton and you have some of the most influential presidents in American history. Of course, that’s not too many, especially considering there were like forty others.

Yes, tucked deep in the annals of U.S. presidential records are some of the most forgettable white men you’ve never read about, with the exception of all the others who weren't elected president. This means that mathematically, only one-fifth of the presidents in our country’s nearly 250 years actually turned out to be worth their weight in red, white and blue. Unfortunately, this also means that around 80 percent of our presidents have essentially equated to the opposite of Nat King Cole’s classic song, “Unforgettable.” Unlike our famous or consequential presidents, these men didn’t lead the nation through any wars or write any founding documents, or take any stands for civil rights. While some of them did have wild names like Millard Fillmore, the wildest thing is that almost a sixth of these forgettable presidents were from Ohio.

Now, I know how Ohioans love to be number one –– and while this isn’t quite college football, it is a new spin on an old Ohio gloat. For years, I was always taught that Ohio and Virginia had birthed the most presidents, meaning more of these special white men were born in these two states than any other state. However, Virginia's presidents certainly have the upper hand –– in addition to Washington, Jefferson and Wilson, Virginia boasts other American luminaries like James Madison and James Monroe. Meanwhile, Ohio’s first president was technically William Henry Harrison, but even he was actually born in Virginia and is only claimed because he was an Ohio politician when he won the presidency. Of course, he then got sick and died after only being president for 30 days, so it wasn’t the most inspiring start.

Fortunately, the next Ohio-born president was Ulysses S. Grant, who was objectively our state’s most consequential, especially in the aftermath of the Civil War. Grant held the federal government and American republic together in those formative years, only to see the bulk of his work (with Reconstruction and other reforms) traded away by another Ohioan who became president due to The Compromise of 1877. Yes, America’s 19th president Rutherford B. Hayes was basically “given” the presidency after the controversial election of 1876 and in exchange, he removed the final federal troops from three Southern states. This effectively ended the Republicans’ Reconstruction rule over the recently defeated South, which ushered in one hundred years of racism and a few decades of mediocre presidents.

Among them were two other Ohioans, James Garfield –– who was assassinated within a few months of taking office –– as well as Benjamin Harrison, who was William Henry Harrison’s grandson and pretty much just known as the guy who beat and then also lost to Grover Cleveland, making Cleveland the only president to serve two separate terms. After that came William McKinley, who –– like Garfield –– was also assassinated. A few years after that, the next Ohio president was William Howard Taft, who was mostly famous for being so fat that he got stuck in a White House bathtub. And lastly –– but totally least –– is Ohio’s final president, Warren G. Harding. While Harding did beat another Ohioan to earn the presidency in 1920, his term was marred with scandals and he died after two years on the job.

And that was it. After Grant saved the union following the Civil War, Ohio was a reliable source for presidents for a few decades. However, they were all such duds that eventually Americans had enough. Since then, there have been some quixotic presidential campaigns from such Ohio Republicans as Robert Taft or John Kasich, or even Democratic congressmen like Dennis Kucinich and Tim Ryan, but for now the U.S. has decided to go with other options. After all, it’s a big country and all these forgettable presidents can’t just come from one place! That’s why this Presidents’ Day, feel free to borrow a theme from another February holiday and show these forgettable Ohio presidents some love. Just don’t do it at the mattress sales or they will ask you to leave.