All the focus on Presidents’ Day is typically around our most famous leaders, like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy.
Well, if presidents are your thing, the team at Learning Liftoff has put together Presidents’ Day activities to do with your kids, presidential fun facts and even obstacles presidents had to overcome before ascending to the highest office in the country.
But with all this talk about presidents, it got me thinking, what about the brothers and sisters of our presidents? Don’t they deserve some love?
Out of 44 presidents, there are approximately 219 siblings (not including half-brothers or half-sisters).
President Buchanan had ten siblings (four brothers and six sisters), which is the largest number. John F. Kennedy, part of one of the most famous political families in US history, had eight, including two brothers you may have heard of: Robert “Bobby” Kennedy and Edward “Teddy” Kennedy.
Over the last half century, presidential siblings have started to gain more notoriety in the media, and not all of it has been positive.
In an effort to focus on the good ones you may not have heard about on TV, in the news or even covered in history class, here are some facts about three presidential siblings who were important parts of history.
William Hawkins Polk
The younger brother of President James Polk, William Polk served in the Tennessee House of Representatives and as an ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (present-day Italy) during his brother’s administration. He also fought as a major in the Mexican-American War, which took place during his brother’s term as president. After President Polk died in 1949, William Polk served in the United States Congress in the House of Representatives. He died before the conclusion of the Civil War in 1862.
Polk is known for accomplishing a significant trade treaty with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies that lowered tariffs between the two countries. The goal was to place the United States, which was emerging as an economic power in the 19th century, on the same tariff level as Britain, France, and Spain. Three attempts had been made to secure a treaty dating back to 1833, and all had failed. But after months of preliminary work, Polk managed to secure a treaty after a three day negotiation. It was ratified in April 1946.
As the US expanded westward, war erupted between the US and Mexico. With his brother in the White House, William Polk joined the US army and achieved the rank of major. Polk and his unit, the “Third Dragoons” were famous for having pursued Mexican General Santa Anna. Later, it was two companies under Polk’s command that escorted a delegation to accept Mexico’s surrender and end the war in 1848.
William Polk was widely known throughout his political career as a unionist. Though he was born and lived in the south, he fought very hard to preserve the balance between both sides to ensure the union remained together. However, despite his longstanding opposition, he later supported succession for Tennessee and argued that the state had a right to defend itself from federal troops. Prior to the outbreak of war, Polk asserted that federal military action in the south was only adding fuel to the fire and stirring up tensions.
Though he never lived to see the end of the Civil War, Polk worked hard to sustain the union until his death in December 1862.
Rose Elizabeth Cleveland
Rose Elizabeth Cleveland was the younger sister of US President Grover Cleveland. She had the distinction of serving as First Lady for two years, while her brother was a bachelor.
In Washington society, Rose Cleveland was known as an intellectual. She served her duty as First Lady, but much preferred scholarly pursuits and giving lectures.
When President Cleveland married, Rose left the White House and became principal at the Collegiate Institute of Lafayette, Indiana. She also became the editor of Literary Life magazine. Later she would care for her mother until she died in 1882.
One of the facts not known by many Americans is that Rose Cleveland was a powerful voice for women’s rights and equality. With the women’s rights movement gaining momentum across the country, Cleveland and then prominent feminist Frances Willard published How To Win: A Book For Girls.
Cleveland also lectured and wrote and published several other books and essays reflecting on other great works, the art of conversation, and religious values. She believed strongly in the need for people to connect in meaningful ways with others. In You and I: Or Moral, Intellectual and Social Culture, Cleveland asks “If culture” is essential “with the purposes of living, what purpose is left to living when the You-and-I is excluded?”
One of her most famous quotes is: “We cannot touch humanity at large, except as we touch humanity in the individual. We make the world a better place through our concrete relationships, not through our vague, general good will.”
Milton Stover Eisenhower
Milton Stover Eisenhower was the younger brother of US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower served as director of information for the US Department of Agriculture, director of the War Relocation Authority, was president of three US universities (Kansas State, Pennsylvania State, and Johns Hopkins), and served as an advisor in the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Though he was only in the position for 90 days, one of Milton Eisenhower’s most important roles came when he was named director of the War Relocation Authority in 1942 and made responsible for the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Eisenhower opposed the mass internment. He tried to get US officials to allow women and children to remain in their homes. His requests were denied. He tried to create work programs and student leave programs. And he attempted to get the Federal Reserve Bank to protect property that Japanese families were being forced to leave behind. He also wanted to provide people relocated to other states with an opportunity to start new lives instead of living in concentrated communities. When all of his efforts failed and the strain of travel and the work became too much, Eisenhower resigned.
After the war, Milton Eisenhower went on as a presidential advisor and academic leader. He created research facilities and lecture series. He died in Baltimore in 1985.
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