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These early dates and the limited group of colonial families from which the Presidents arise from is something we should find more than just simply “interesting”.  It is more than some peculiar historical oddity .  Sixteen of these Presidential families arrived before 1677 and fully a dozen arrived before 1640.  Indeed the only Presidents whose families were not already established before  the Declaration of Independence in 1776 were Buchanan, Arthur, Wilson and Kennedy.  Surprisingly, for all that he plays on a Kenyan father, this also includes President Obama.

None arrived after the Civil war of the 1860’s.  And it was after the Civil War that the great flow of migrants came.  The greatest flow and maxima year for immigration was as late as 1907 and not one child of their number has yet sat in the White House.

Today’s population shows an increase of fully a third in a hundred years from two hundred million to just over three today and yet the Heads of State are drawn from families of those who had arrived in the first boats.

A table to show the first landing of their ancestor in America

No; President Ancestor settled Date
1 Washington Virginia 1656
2 Adams Massachusetts 1638
3 Jefferson Virginia 1677
4 Madison Virginia 1653
5 Munroe Maryland C 1641
6 Adams Massachusetts 1638
7 Jackson S. Carolina 1765
8 Van Buren NY 1631
9 Harrison Virginia 1633
10 Tyler Virginia 1604
11 Polk Pennsylvania 1700
12 Taylor Virginia 1635
13 Fillmore Massachusetts 1704
14 Pierce Massachusetts 1633
15 Buchanan Pennsylvania 1783
16 Lincoln Massachusetts 1635
17 Johnson Carolina 1778
18 Grant Massachusetts 1630
19 Hayes Connecticut 1680
20 Garfield Massachusetts 1630
21 Arthur 1815
22 & 24 Cleveland Massachusetts 1635
23 Harrison Virginia 1633
25 McKinley Pennsylvania 1743
26 T. Roosevelt Before 1648
27 Taft Massachusetts 1678
28 Wilson Philadelphia 1807
29 Harding Rhode island Before 1669
30 Coolidge Massachusetts 1630
31 Hoover Maryland 1738
32 F D Roosevelt NY 1692
33 Truman Virginia Before 1783
34 Eisenhower Philadelphia 1741
35 Kennedy 1848
36 Johnson Virginia Before 1662
37 Nixon Delaware 1731
38 Ford Virginia Before 1853
39 Carter Virginia 1637
40 Reagan Illinois 1823
41 Bush TBA TBA
42 Clinton TBA TBA
43 Bush TBA TBA

Of their family connections many of those families who are not Presidents are connected to Senators and Representatives, Governors or Mayors.  Several have been Vice Presidents including the previous incumbent, Dick Cheney.  Others take who take offices such as Secretaries of State like Hilary Clinton are failed candidates for the Oval Office.  Yet more appear as diplomats or senior members of the armed forces.

So it is clear that “family” in some form is important in American Political life – though not in the way of Dynasty.  Dynasty has a sense of exclusivity – within these ruling families – which simply is not there. Yes, true, the Harrisons were Presidents, being a father and his grandson.  John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams were both Presidents as indeed are papa Bush and baby Bush.  But there the dynasties finish as far as Presidents go.  Rather, they form an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a form of political control where power rests in a small group of players – individuals, corporate bodies or families.  Some are military in nature, others more resemble the mafia.  Examples of oligarchies of individuals would be the triumvirates of late Republican Rome and these naturally can be understood to be short lived by their very nature.  With companies, several such oligarchies -or cartels as they are usually termed – have existed in the past and still do today.  OPEC, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries or the “Seven Sisters” group of oil companies, are examples that exercised great power in the 1970’s.   Cartels are most effective when they control the supply of essential elements of the economy such as energy.  The latest such is the Gas Exporting Countries cartel controlling supply of natural gas supplies to Europe.

The United States has long recognised that such economic cartels, where they exercise such controls, are unfair to the customers of the good supplied, and have sought to strike down those they can reach through acts such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Acts.  However, when it comes to cartels of political influence exercising control of the democratic process, far from seeking to remove these also in the name of their consumers – the electors – they rather entrench such cartels or oligarchies.

An oligarchy is not rule by the rich although wealth does help.  It is better to think of it as rule by a privileged cadre, as a kind of club where the barriers to entry are significant.  I want to know who are in this club, how long it had been in existence, and whether it still holds power over the office of President of the United States.

But the sources of information on these Presidents are surprisingly limited and remarkably difficult to find.

Copyright David Macadam 2010