We celebrated St. Valentine’s Day yesterday, February 14, a day when we reflect upon our good fortune that we have that special person in our life, our Valentine.
Next Monday, February 20, government officials grant us a holiday to consider the forty-five Presidents, all men. Because Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, officials count him twice, as #24 and #26. Thus, we give honor to forty-four men.
First President George Washington was born on February 11, 1731, by the Julian calendar, but after British officials adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, his official birthday was moved to February 22, 1732, a full year and eleven days later.
As far is known, Washington loved his wife Martha and was faithful to her. Throughout the American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783, he may have returned to their home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, once, in September of 1781, just prior to the final battle at Yorktown.
Martha though joined him often at the front lines, and then, years later, after George was elected President in 1786, they moved into the Macomb House in New York City, the seat of the Federal Government then, and remained there together for two four-year terms.
If George Washington had a prior Valentine, it was for Virginia, his first and constant love.
Second President John Adams loved Abigail his wife. There is no evidence of any mistress. John and Abigail wrote hundreds of letters to each other throughout their married life, whenever he was away. If John had a Valentine, it was for Independence from Great Britain.
Third President Thomas Jefferson is a more complicated enigma.
He married Martha Skelton, on January 1, 1772, and over the next ten years she gave birth to six children, but just two lived, Martha and Maria. The pregnancies weakened Martha’s body and contributed to her premature passing on September 6, 1782, at the age of thirty-three.
Jefferson was overcome with deep sorrow. Locked in his room, over several days, the future President paced the floor, until his grief began to subside. His daughter Martha wrote, “The violence of his emotion. To this day I cannot describe it to myself.”
Much has been written in recent years about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, after his wife’s passing. Sally also gave birth to six children. What is odd is that Jefferson’s wife Martha and Sally shared the same dad, and thus were half-sisters.
You can read how the historian Fawn Brodie sifted through the data in her 1974 book, Thomas Jefferson, An Intimate History, or how Annette Gordon-Reed did the same in her 2009 book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.
The two historians, and others, concluded that Thomas Jefferson most likely took a mistress, a young biracial slave girl named Sally Hemings, an example of “the South’s culture, that of immense hypocrisy, and terrific moral problems, not easily solved.” She was his Valentine.
Fourth President James Madison was devoted to his wife Dolley. Raised a Quaker, she displayed a happy personality and a warm heart. “To this day she remains one of the best known and best loved women of the White House.” In Dolley, James won a Valentine.
Sixteenth President Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. He and Mary Todd, his wife, shared one thing, their joint ambition for him to attain the Presidency, and that they did.
However, their differences were well defined. His best quality was his sense of humor that he used to disarm his enemies. He failed though with Mary Todd, who had no sense of humor.
Of her husband, she was bitter and said, “He is of no account when he is at home. He never does anything except to warm himself and read. He never went to the market in his life. I must look after all that. He is the most useless, good-for-nothing man on earth.”
It is no wonder that he said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
If Lincoln ever had a Valentine, it was his love for his sons and his love for the Union.
If a president can win and retain a sweet Valentine, it helps to ease the burdens of the job.