It’s time again for the Presidential Talent Tournament! We’ve got some powerhouse competitors this month, so let’s jump right in with Gettysburg favorite Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike was a skilled sportsman and outdoorsman, who learned cooking, hunting, fishing, and cards from an illiterate river-dweller. He played every sport available to him, including football, baseball, boxing, fencing, horseback riding, gymnastics, and cheerleading. Not bad, considering that doctors wanted to amputate his leg in his freshman year. His greatest disappointment was not making the basketball team. If you needed help moving, Ike was the guy you called–he and his wife moved 35 times in 35 years! Later in life, he took an interest in painting and produced 260 oil paintings over 20 years.
Then, there’s Jimmy Carter, the only President to win a post-presidency Nobel Peace Prize for his pursuits in diplomacy, disease prevention, and humanitarianism. It’s probably safe to say that, out of all our Presidents, he was the greatest peanut farmer. In high school, he was a member of the Future Farmers of America, and was king of the basketball court, which surely would have made Eisenhower jealous. Today, Carter is widely regarded as more talented at being an ex-President than he was at being a President.
Let’s go back to the Founding Fathers with John Adams, our second President and the subject of an HBO miniseries starring Paul Giamatti. Perhaps his most defining skill was his ability to judge a man’s character. After all, it was he who nominated George Washington to be the first President! Eventually, he would be the one to nominate famed Chief Justice John Marshall, as well. Adams excelled as a political theorist and peacemaker–he brokered the peace treaty between the USA and Great Britain, following the Revolution, and it’s a good thing he did!
Rutherford B Hayes, our 19th President, was elected (barely) soon after the American Civil War and was renowned for the bravery he displayed in battle–he was wounded five times! His election was fiercely disputed, as he lost the popular vote, but rather than calling for a recount, a compromise was made: Hayes could have the presidency in exchange for the end of military occupation in the post-War South. His talents, in his own words, were “silence and brevity. I can keep silent when it seems best to do so, and when I speak I can, and do usually, quit when I am done.”
Last, but certainly not least, is Teddy Roosevelt, one of the most accomplished and most highly-regarded Presidents in our history, as well as the epitome of a “manly man.” From mastering taxidermy as a child to embarking on an African safari for the Smithsonian, his life was full of adventure and he was bursting with talents. Nature and zoology were central to his activities, and he wrote many books on both subjects. He is the only person to have received both the Nobel Peace Prize (for mediating the Russo-Japanese War) and the highest military honor, the Medal of Honor (awarded posthumously for his actions as leader of the Rough Riders at the Battle of San Juan Hill).