Thursday, November 26, 2009

Precedential Presidents

In honor of the first Thanksgiving to be held during the presidency of an African-American, I have decided to compile a list of other "Precedential Presidents". Below are the presidents who broke the barriers of prejudice that barred various oppressed groups from serving in the cabinet, on the Supreme Court, and either a heartbeat away from or within the White House. While frequently the men and women chosen by these presidents and presidential candidates are the ones celebrated, I think it is important to remember that it was the courage of the statesmen who selected them that made their advancement possible. Enjoy!

Cabinet Members:
First Jew: Theodore Roosevelt (R) - Appointed Oscar Straus, 1906
First Woman: Franklin Roosevelt (D) - Appointed Frances Perkins, 1933
First African-American: Lyndon Johnson (D) - Appointed Robert Weaver, 1966
First Latino: Ronald Reagan (R) - Appointed Lauro Cavazos, 1988

Supreme Court Judges:
First Catholic: Andrew Jackson (D) - Appointed Roger Taney, 1836
First Jew: Woodrow Wilson (D) - Appointed Louis Brandeis, 1916
First African-American: Lyndon Johnson (D) - Appointed Thurgood Marshall, 1967
First Woman: Ronald Reagan (R) - Appointed Sandra Day O'Connor, 1981
First Latino: Barack Obama (D) - Appointed Sonia Sotomayor, 2009

Vice Presidential Candidates:
First Polish American: Hubert Humphrey (D) - Selected Edmund Muskie, 1968
First Woman: Walter Mondale (D) - Selected Geraldine Ferraro, 1984
First Italian American: Walter Mondale (D) - Selected Geraldine Ferraro, 1984
First Jew: Albert Gore (D) - Selected Joseph Lieberman, 2000

Vice Presidents:
First Native American: Herbert Hoover (R) - Selected Charles Curtis, 1928
First Greek American: Richard Nixon (R) - Selected Spiro Agnew, 1968

Presidential Candidates:
First Quaker: Herbert Hoover (R) - 1928
First Catholic: Alfred Smith (D) - 1928
First Greek American: Michael Dukakis (D) - 1988

First Catholic: John Kennedy (D) - 1960
First African-American: Barack Obama (D) - 2008


1) Roger Taney, as Secretary of the Treasury under Andrew Jackson, was the first Catholic to serve in a presidential cabinet OF WHOM I AM AWARE. There may have been other Catholics who preceded him, though, which is why I did not feel comfortable putting his name down.

2) Although the argument has been made that Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, should be considered the first Jewish presidential candidate, there are several factors leaning against such a judgment. Goldwater's only relationship to the Jewish community was the fact that his father was Jewish by birth and religion. That said, this same father converted to Episcopalianism before Goldwater was born and reared his son in that faith. Goldwater never identified himself as a Jew - culturally, ethnically, or religiously - in public or in private, and in no way participated in activities related to the Jewish community. Although the debate rages on as to what constitutes a "Jew", I feel very strongly that someone who openly proclaims that he is NOT a Jew, and whose only otherwise connection to the Jewish world is through a single parent who likewise severed his ties to the community before the child's birth, should not be considered Jewish.

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