March 18 – Happy Birthday to Cleveland and Calhoun

Posted on March 18, 2014

There have only been 75 men, so far, to serve as President and/or Vice-President of the United States. (Notice: zero women. So far. We gotta change that!)

There are 365 days of the year. (Once in a while, 366 days.)

My un-informed gut feeling is that the chance that there were two birthdays of the presidents/VPs on the same day would be really slim, since there are almost FIVE TIMES as many days of the year as there are former presidents and vice-presidents.

This is not quite what I had in mind
when I mentioned "the birthday paradox."
But my educated brain tells me that it is not at all surprising to find that President Grover Cleveland and Vice-President John C. Calhoun share a birthday. I know about the birthday paradox, and it turns out that, in any group of 75 people, there is a 99.9% chance that two people will share a birthday!

Did you know that there are two presidents who share a birthday? Both Warren Harding and James K. Polk were born on November 2. 

And there are three vice-presidents born on the same day: Abraham Lincoln's first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin; Calvin Coolidge's vice president, Charles G. Dawes; and John Kennedy's vice president, Lyndon Baines Johnson (later president himself) were all born on August 27!

Mr. Cleveland
Born on this date in 1837, Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States. He is the only person who served two non-consecutive terms.

Cleveland was elected (in 1884) as a bachelor (one of only two bachelors elected president) and became the first president to be married in the White House. (John Tyler, who was a widower when he was elected president, got remarried while serving as president—but not in a White House ceremony.)

During Cleveland's 1888 reelection race against Benjamin Harrison, he got more votes than Harrison but still lost because he had fewer electoral votes. There were a lot of accusations of fraud, and many historians believe that Cleveland should have won the electoral vote, too. Some have said that there are some similarities between this election and the 2000 contest between Al Gore, who won the popular vote but lost the election, and George W. Bush. There were some big-time problems with ballots and charges of fraud during that election, too!

Cleveland ran against Benjamin Harrison again in 1892. This is strange: neither presidential candidate went out campaigning! Harrison's wife was dying at the time, and so Harrison of course wanted to be with her. Out of respect for Mrs. Harrison and his opponent's desire to be with his sick wife, Cleveland also refrained from actively campaigning.

Amazing, huh?

That time, Cleveland won against Harrison by a landslide.

Mr. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun served as the United States' 7th Vice-President. He was in the interesting position of serving as V.P. under John Quincy Adams, but then running AGAINST Adams in the 1828 election—running instead with presidential hopeful Andrew Jackson, and winning. So he had two terms as Vice-President, but under different presidents with different political party affiliations.

(At the time, political parties were in major flux; there wasn't a stable two-party system.)

Calhoun did a lot to promote slavery. When many other Southern white people regretted the obvious ethical problems with slavery but explained that it was a “necessary evil,” Calhoun insisted that it was a “positive good.” He was a “war hawk” who worked in Congress to declare war against Britain (the War of 1812), and he firmly thought that states had the right to secede from the union if their rights were somehow diminished. Even though he died before the Civil War started, his war-hawk nature and states' rights ideas obviously helped lead the nation to the Civil War.

In the last paragraph, I said that John C. Calhoun “firmly thought” blah blah blah. I'm thinking that “firmly thought” is too mild a phrase—because Calhoun was admired by some and criticized by others as a “cast-iron man” because he held onto his ideas so rigidly.

The weirdest and worst thing I read about Calhoun was that he was chosen as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators of all time in 1957! I'm sure he had his good qualities, but I would hardly choose a war-hawk pro-slavery anti-union senator as one of the top 5!!!

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