Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Shining Stars and Rogues: Presidential Offspring in American History (Part 2)

May 13, 2020

Shining Stars and Rogues: Presidential Offspring in American History (Part 2)

tags: presidential history

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.

For part 1 of this series, see here

Franklin D. Roosevelt had five surviving children, all of whom were in some way involved with their parents, with the four men all serving the military in World War II, and all controversial in some way or other for their business dealings.  Outside observers thought they took advantage of their political position as sons of the President, and it rings true upon examination.  And all had multiple marriages.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the only daughter and namesake of her mother, lived at the White House in 1944-1945, and kept the secret that her father had resumed his earlier affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, which caused alienation from her mother after she revealed the truth upon FDR’s death in April 1945. His daughter had accompanied her father to the Yalta Summit meeting with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill in February 1945.

James Roosevelt, FDR’s oldest son, served in the House of Representatives from 1955-1965.  Earlier, he had served as Administrative Assistant, Secretary, and White House Coordinator for eighteen government agencies between 1936 and 1938.

Elliott Roosevelt served as Mayor of Miami Beach, Florida from 1965-1967, and wrote books giving intimate details of the life and affairs of his father. He was seen as scandalous, and was accused of and investigated for scandals by Congress, but no action resulted against him.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., who looked the most like his father, served as a New York Congressman from 1949-1955, and as Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1965-1966, as well as earlier serving on the President’s Committee on Civil Rights for President Harry Truman in 1946.

John Aspinwall Roosevelt, the youngest son, veered away from his family’s politics, becoming a Republican, alienating his mother and brother Elliott.  He was the only son who did not seek elective office, but was controversial as the other brothers in his business dealings.

Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of Harry and Bess Truman, became notable as a concert singer, actress, and journalist, but also wrote historical biographies of her parents and a well received series of murder mysteries centered around government buildings.

John Eisenhower, the only surviving child of Dwight D. Eisenhower, spend his career in the military, and then as Ambassador to Belgium from 1969-1971 under President Richard Nixon.  He also wrote several military histories, and a short biography of President Zachary Taylor.

Caroline Kennedy gained more attention as a Presidential daughter than anyone other than Alice Roosevelt.   Being in the White House from ages 3-6, she was regularly the center of attention, and had to bear the loss of her father, later the loss of her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, and then the tragic death of her brother, John F. Kennedy, Jr in a small plane accident in July 1999.  Her public contribution was as US Ambassador to Japan under President Barack Obama from 2013-2017.  

Her brother had published a political magazine, George, from 1995 until his death. He was often considered a potential political candidate for the Senate, and maybe, the Presidency. In that regard, he can be compared to Quentin Roosevelt, TR’s son, tragically killed in World War I, but thought of as likely to have a future political career.

Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Ronald Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman, became notable as a conservative talk show host on radio, and as a political commentator and author. 

 His half brother, Ron Reagan, Jr, the son of  Reagan’s marriage to Nancy Davis, has been a liberal political commentator and radio talk show host, and they have been in regular conflict over the legacy and record of their father.

George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara had three children who became notable,  George W. Bush became the 43rdPresident of the United States from 2001-2009, and both parents survived to see him in office throughout both terms, and were the only Presidential couple to do so, as JQ Adams only had his father alive when he was elected, and the elder Adams died in the second year of his son’s one-term presidency. Before his presidency, George W. Bush had served six years as Texas Governor from 1995-2001.

Additionally, Jeb Bush served as Governor of Florida from 1999-2007, and sought the Presidency unsuccessfully in 2016.  Many political observers thought it would have been Jeb, rather than George W., who would have sought the Presidency in 2000, if he had not lost his first race for Florida governor in 1994, the year his brother won the Texas governorship. 

Neil Bush became controversial from his business dealings, personal contacts, and the business of his educational corporation under the “No Child Left Behind” policy promoted by his brother during his years in the White House.

Chelsea Clinton, the only child of her parents, has been involved in the activities of the Clinton Foundation, and is an author of several children’s books.  She also campaigned actively for her mother in her 2008 and 2016 Presidential campaigns.

Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter of George W. Bush, has been a public figure as a news personality, author and journalist, and presently cohosts the Today show on NBC, after being a contributor to the show since 2009.  

Finally, three children of Donald Trump and his first wife Ivana have become highly prominent and controversial. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump have been responsible for the Trump Organization activities, but also have engaged in constant political disputes, promoted conspiracy theories and false information, and have aroused anger among environmentalists with their publicity surrounding their big game hunting in Africa of endangered species, including elephants and leopards.  Also, Donald Jr. was involved in Trump Tower meetings with agents from Russia, discussing spreading misinformation about Hillary Clinton, his father’s 2016 Presidential opponent.

Ivanka Trump, married to Jared Kushner, is a Presidential advisor to her father, along with her husband. Both are unpaid, but have a great impact on public policy that is seen as controversial due to ethics concerns. Their roles ignore the nepotism law of the US government passed in the mid 1960s, banning White House activities of relatives. She has gained business dealings, particularly trademarks in China, while serving as Senior Advisor in the Oval Office.

So the major “rogues” in some form were Alice Roosevelt and Archibald Roosevelt, both children of Theodore Roosevelt; the sons of Franklin D. Roosevelt; George H. W. Bush’s son Neil Bush; and the three older children of Donald Trump.  And when history is recorded in the future, it may well be that the Trump children will stand out as more “roguish” than the others.

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