November brings some of the lesser-known Presidents into the spotlight, but just because they’re not as “cool” as Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt doesn’t mean they don’t have awesome talents in a Napoleon Dynamite kind of way.
First up is Franklin Pierce, born November 23, 1804. In his time, he was very popular, and has been described as thoughtful, charming, and even handsome (he could have used some hairstyling tips, however). He was such a successful lawyer that he was offered a number of esteemed placements, all of which he turned down. His recall was impressive: Pierce was the first to recite his inaugural address from memory. The funny thing is, Pierce was nominated (and subsequently elected) not for his strong views, but for his lack of them. Nobody knew where he stood on the slavery and he ended up winning in a landslide. Historians now view Pierce as one of the least effective Presidents, but democrats then tried twice more to nominate him—he declined.
A predecessor to Pierce, James K Polk was born November 2, 1795. He achieved great things in his time as President: the opening of the Smithsonian Institution, the beginning of the US Naval Academy, and the first steps in the construction of the Washington Monument. He could probably match Teddy Roosevelt for toughness; in 1812 he had urinary stones removed while wide awake and with brandy for his only anesthetic. Polk was also a man of his word: he promised not to run for a second term, and delivered on that promise, then promptly died three months later as if to underscore the point.
Like Polk and Pierce before him, Warren G. Harding was a “compromise” candidate, but don’t underestimate him. He was very bright, graduating from college at age 17 and launching directly into a newspaper career that was one of the most successful in the nation. When a newspaper nemesis gave him bad press, he took his shotgun and demanded a retraction; a few years later, he boldly married the daughter of his rival. In a talent show, Harding would probably display his mad cornet skills—he competed in festivals and played in a number of bands. Many consider him to have been the most musical President…he even played with the band that performed at his nomination! In his words, “I played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet.”
Finally, November saw the birth of Zachary Taylor in 1784. He was a short-lived President (as was Harding) and did little of consequence (as did Pierce). He had a reputation as a military leader, having fought the Native Americans (but also defended their lands from white settlers). In the war against Mexico, he led a successful attack on Monterrey, the “un-destroyable” city. Maybe it isn’t a “talent” per se, but he was also renowned for his habit of swearing colorfully.