Trivial Presidential Trivia

The life of an untenured professor is a busy one, not to mention rarely free from the relentless pressure that you should be doing something “productive” with your time.  For this Chicano, that means doing things other than updating this lovely blog.

So, to find a little balance in my work life, I thought I’d offer up a little something that might make your day a little more interesting, something that doesn’t take up too much of my time in the process.  The result: Presidential Trivia! Ever since I was a little chicanito in the 80s, I’ve been a fan of trivial factoids related to the US Presidency, one of the many tendencies in my early life foreshadowing my present life as a historian.

So enjoy!


  • Only two US Presidents took their oath on something other than a Bible.
  • John Quincy Adams tooks his oath on a stack of US laws, out of his love for the rule of the same.
  • Franklin Pierce refused a Bible for his oath, stuck, as he was, in a spiritual crisis after the death of his 12 year-old son (post-election).  Pierce also opted not to “swear” to “faithfully execute” his office but instead chose to “affirm.”  He is the only one to have made such a choice.
  • Llyod Bentsen got 1 electoral vote for Prez in 1988, from West VA elector Margaret Leach (she was protesting the Electoral College system). He is the last person to receive an electoral vote who was not one of either of the two major parties nominee for President. Of course, he was the Democratic nominee for VP that year.
  • JFK was the first President elected with a 50 state electoral map.
  • The first nationally televised presidential debates were the ones between JFK and Nixon in1960. Nixon was widely considered to have flopped, and he learned his lesson. The second debate contest to be televised didn’t happen until 1976, when Carter debated incumbent Ford.
  • Jimmy Carter was the first US President to be born in a hospital.
  • Among his many jobs, Lincoln is the only US President to have served as a Postmaster (New Salem, IL, from 1833-37).
  • John Tyler–who served only one term as president, from 1841-45–didn’t retire quietly. He served in the Confederate Congress from 1861-62 making him the only US president to serve in the Confederate Government.
  • James K. Polk holds the record for shortest term as a “former US President.” He died 3 months after leaving office.
  • At least 3 US Presidents killed Latin Americans in Latin America (by their own hand): Zachary Taylor (General in during the US-Mexico War); Ulysses S. Grant (soldier during the US-Mexico War); and Teddy Roosevelt (who left his position as Secretary of the Navy to go fight in the Spanish-American War in Puerto Rico).
  • Lyndon B. Johnson was the first US President to say the words “Mexican American” in public remarks as president.
  • Two US Presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998). The Senate acquitted both.
  • With a tenure of 32 days, William Henry Harrison holds the record for shortest time in office.
  • At upwards of 360 pounds, William Howard Taft was the fattest president in US history.
  • Only one president was a bachelor when elected: James Buchanan.
  • 8 US presidents died in office. 3 of those were assassinated.
  • The last president born in the 1800s was Dwight D. Eisenhower (born 1890).
  • Herbert Hoover set the Presidential record for living the most years after leaving office: just over 31 years 7 months. This record has a chance of being beat in a two years. Carter will beat Hoover if he makes it to 2012 (he’ll be 88 years old if he does). George H.W. Bush tops Hoover in 2024 (if he makes it to 100). Bill Clinton in 2032 ( when he’ll be 86). And George W. Bush has to wait until 2040 (when he’ll be 94).

Letter from Chair of Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego

This letter began circulating this past weekend.

Dear Chancellor Fox:

As a Full Professor who has spent her whole 20-year career at UCSD, as Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department, and as a woman faculty of color who has faced many indignities over the years, I write to ask you to exercise your leadership today to declare a state of emergency and close down the campus–in recognition of the shattered state that the campus is in.

Since the “Compton Cookout” incident, many students and faculty of color and their allies have devoted countless hours to do your/our job of teaching about racism on campus and of ensuring that UCSD lives up to its mission as a place of learning–in the most profound sense of that word. Their labor–physical, mental, emotional, intellectual–goes uncompensated, unrecognized, and even mocked by the largely apathetic UCSD community. Because they have had to put aside their study, their teaching, their research, their writing, to do the university work, they will again bear the brunt of the costs of being at a university that views “diversity”, at best, as a benign celebration of multiculturalism and “economic empowerment.”

As many of us face down today in the shadow of a noose, we ask that you share in this labor and that you ask the ENTIRE community at UCSD to share in this labor. To not do so will be to benefit, once again, from the labor of the marginalized and maligned at UCSD.

Every crisis can bring forth great change. You have an opportunity to participate in this movement of change in a real and fundamental way. Please do so, or we risk a campus that will be deeply divided for years to come. The campus will be shut down, one way or another. It’d be in our best interest that you are the one to shut it down.

Yen Le Espiritu
Professor and Chair
Department of Ethnic Studies
University of California, San Diego

Racial crisis at the University of California

If you haven’t heard the recent news from the University of California, you can read about some of it here, here, and here.

This week, on March 4th, educational access activists across the state have called for a “Day of Action” where it is expected many of the California’s UC and Cal State campuses will be effectively shut down due to walkouts.

The issues of affordable and accessible (and safe) public education is one that is dear to me. As a former student of the University of California–and a former representative in both the Graduate Student government there as well as the statewide student government, UCSA–I can honestly say the issues being discussed and fought for right now are as big and as important as it gets in this society. They have been ever-present in student politics of the last 50 years, as California expanded its public education system for the baby boom while taking bold steps to make sure it would never be as good or as affordable for subsequent generations.

Layered onto this funding and educational rights fiasco, are the various instances of campus hate crime sweeping the state. UCSD is but one example. UC Davis experienced an act of vandalism on their LGBT center last week. I’ve heard about less public campus incidents at two other Cal State campuses. Even my own campus had a racially-motivated act of vandalism last week.

While it might seem like these issues are disconnected, they are not. Fundamental to the challenges before us as a society is our ability to create a space in higher education for generations of students who have not had (historically) the opportunity to achieve a college degree. This is not just an about individual opportunity. It is, quite simply, justice. We have a right to education as much as we have a right to eat, to breathe, and I would add, to work.

Education is the one proven way to create meaningful and lasting social change.