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When Power and Glory No Longer Matter

March 26, 2014

Calvin Coolidge became President of the United States in August 1923.  Less than one year later, when the 1924 election campaign had scarcely begun, his younger son died.  In his autobiography Coolidge wrote: “We do not know what might have happened to him under other circumstances, but if I had not been President he would not have raised a blister on his toe, which resulted in blood poisoning, playing tennis in the South Grounds… When he went the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him.”

Five other Presidents lost a child either when they were in office or about to take office.  John Kennedy’s son Patrick lived only two days.  John Adams lost his thirty-year-old son Charles to alcoholism shortly after losing the election of 1800.  “Polly” Jefferson died near the end of her father’s first term as President.  Lincoln had not completed one year as President when his eleven-year-old son Willie died.

Perhaps the most tragic story is that of Franklin Pierce.  He and Mrs. Pierce had already lost two children, one at age four and one only three days old.  President-elect Pierce was traveling with his wife and their eleven-year-old son from Boston to Concord, New Hampshire when the train derailed.  The parents were hardly injured, but their hearts were crushed as they witnessed the death of young Bennie Pierce.  During the next four years Mrs. Pierce would seldom appear in public.  Her Aunt Abby became the official White House hostess in her stead.  After a disastrous four years of sectional disputes Pierce was not renominated by his party.

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