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The Rushmore Report: Which Presidents Were the Most Religious?

Consistency is something of an American tradition – at least as far as our presidents are concerned. Forty-four individuals have served as Commander-in-Chief. (Grover Cleveland held two non-consecutive terms.) They came from 18 states, have all been male, and almost all claimed to be Christians. Only three were religiously unaffiliated: Jefferson, Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson. But who have been our most religious presidents?

Six stand out.

Jimmy Carter

Famous for being a Baptist Sunday School teacher, Carter is recognized as the first “born again” president. Prior to serving, Carter took a missionary journey in which he knocked on strangers’ doors and said, “I’m Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer, and I’m here to talk to you about Jesus Christ.” Carter read the Bible and prayed daily throughout his time in office, yet he would ultimately be rejected by the emerging evangelical right.

George W. Bush

This second-generation president was one of the most comfortable when it came to talking about his faith, as he courted religious leaders, and used overtly religious language to justify policy decisions. Bush once famously remarked,”I believe God wants me to be president.” So intense was his spiritual fervor that Steven Mansfield concluded, “Whatever else the presidency of George W. Bush imprints on American history, it will at least have granted the nation an opportunity to rethink the role of religion in public life.”

William McKinley

A proud Methodist, McKinley avoided drinking, swearing, and smoking. He was a regular church attender while in office and according to eyewitnesses was quite an enthusiastic hymn singer. He also believed that the government had a duty to spread both democracy and the Christian religion abroad. McKinley’s last words before death were reportedly, “Goodbye, goodbye all. It’s God’s way. His will, not ours, be done. Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee.”

James Madison

President Madison was a faithful Episcopalian who signed a federal bill to appropriate funds for Bible distribution. Madison served on the Congressional committee that established and selected Congressional chaplains and he encouraged all public officials to openly declare their faith. Later in life, Madison retracted many of his beliefs – arguing that government-paid chaplains and president-led prayers were unconstitutional. But he is still one of America’s most religious heads of state.

Abraham Lincoln

Though he often struggled with faith and even doubted the divinity of Jesus Christ, Lincoln often utilized religious language and quoted the Bible in public speeches. Many of Lincoln’s friends attested to his personal conversion, but Lincoln never explicitly declared it. He was not a formal member of any church, but only about a quarter of Americans were in 1860. Even still, Lincoln’s faith has been intensely felt among Americans since the time of his presidency, perhaps due to the conditions under which he served.

James Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the only clergyman to serve as Commander-in-Chief. He was lauded for his skill as a preacher, and he learned Greek in order to better understand the New Testament.

About the Author

Jonathan Merritt writes and blogs on issues pertaining to faith and culture.

The Rushmore Report: The Death of a President

The death of a president – it happened this week in history, 1881. James A. Garfield died of wounds suffered in a shooting two and a half months earlier. Much has been made of the assassinations of presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. But the death of Garfield was interesting in many ways. For example, Lincoln’s son was an eye witness. And despite the shooting, President Garfield didn’t have to die. This is his story.

Garfield was scheduled to leave Washington on July 2, 1881, for his summer vacation. On that day, Charles J. Guiteau lay in wait for the president at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, on the southwest corner of present-day Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.

President Garfield came to the Sixth Street Station on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech. He was accompanied by two of his sons, James and Harry, and Secretary of State James Blaine. Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (Abe Lincoln’s son) waited at the station to see the president off. Garfield had no bodyguard or security detail; with the exception of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, early U.S. presidents did not employ guards.

As President Garfield entered the waiting room of the station, Guiteau stepped forward and pulled the trigger from behind at point-blank range. “My God, what is that?” Garfield cried out, flinging up his arms. Guiteau fired again and Garfield collapsed. One bullet grazed Garfield’s shoulder; the other hit him in the back, passing the first lumbar vertebra but missing the spinal cord before coming to rest behind his pancreas.

Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wounds had the doctors attending him been more capable. Unfortunately for Garfield, most American doctors of the day did not believe in anti-sepsis measures or the need for cleanliness to prevent infection. Several inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor punctured Garfield’s liver in doing so.

Also, self-appointed chief physician D. Willard Bliss had supplanted Garfield’s usual physician, Jedediah Hyde Baxter. Bliss and other doctors who attended Garfield had guessed wrong about the path of the bullet in Garfield’s body. They had erroneously probed rightward into Garfield’s back instead of leftward, missing the location of the bullet but creating a new channel which filled with pus. The autopsy not only discovered this error but revealed pneumonia in both lungs and a body that was filled with pus due to uncontrolled septicemia.

We have had four presidential assassinations in American history. But only this one was the result, in part, of poor medical care. The death of a president – it happened 136 years ago this week.

 

The Rushmore Report: Seven Things You Didn’t Know about Ronald Reagan

Like none other, Ronald Reagan scaled the heights of both acting and politics. The conservative icon is still the man by whom all Republican candidates are measured. He served as President of the Screen Actors Guild during the golden age of cinema, and as the 40th President of the United States. But there are seven things you probably didn’t know about The Gipper.

1. Love for jelly beans

President Reagan loved jelly beans. During his tenure in the White House, the Jelly Belly company sent tons of jelly beans to the White House. They did this because their jelly beans were on display in all the meeting rooms where cameras were present. Talk about smart advertising!

2. Incredible generosity

While Governor of California and President of the United States, he received countless letters from constituents. And he read as many letters as he could. Often, he received odd requests for personal financial assistance. Nancy Reagan said he would sit at his desk for hours, writing out checks for $5,000 to people he would never meet.

3. He wanted to play baseball

Reagan loved baseball. He even dedicated May of 1983 as National Amateur Baseball Month, in an effort to get more kids out to play the sport. His favorite team was the Chicago Cubs, though he never got to see them win a World Series.

4. Reagan was a squirrel’s best friend

The president loved feeding the squirrels on the White House lawn. They became so used to him that they’d come right up to him for their daily treats. But when Reagan’s second term neared its end, he knew his successor, George Bush, was no fan of squirrels. So he left a farewell note in his White House desk, for Bush to pass along to the squirrels. It read: “Beware of Bush’s dog.”

5. Only divorcee

Throughout history, we have had single presidents and married presidents, but only one divorced president – until Donald Trump. Known as a consummate family man, Reagan had been married to Jane Wyman from 1940-1948, long before meeting Nancy.

6. Once a Democrat

Born in 1911, Reagan lived through the Great Depression, and was impressed with President Franklin Roosevelt’s compassion for the poor. Like most of his era, he pledged his allegiance to the Democratic Party as a young man, But by the early 1960s he registered as a Republican.

7. Biggest presidential landslide ever

In his bid for re-election in 1984, Reagan won the biggest Electoral College landslide ever. While winning 49 of 50 states, the final tally in the Electoral College was 525 for Reagan and 13 for Walter Mondale.

The Rushmore Report: Top Ten Campaign Gaffes in Presidential History

To say “presidential gaffes” is to repeat oneself. Recent memory recants some of the most unbelievable gaffes in presidential history. From Rick Perry’s “oops” comment to Dan Quayle’s “a mind is a terrible thing to never have” we have lots of candidates for our Top Ten list. We will limit our list to the last 50 years. This will make all Americans proud.

1. John Kerry – “I was for it before I was against it.”

Under attack for changing his mind on important issues, the 2004 Democratic candidate defended his switch on a funding bill. “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.”

2. George McGovern – “I’m 1000 percent behind my running mate.”

When the media revealed that 1972 Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton had undergone electroshock treatment for depression, McGovern stood by his man – until the next week, when he dropped him from the ticket.

3. Gerald Ford – “We liberated Poland.”

In the first presidential debate of 1976, President Ford said that Poland had become free of Soviet domination. The problem was, it hadn’t.

4. Michael Dukakis – the wordless gaffe

Without saying a word, the 1992 Democratic nominee blew the election. Wanting to look tough on defense, he took a ride in a tank, staged for a campaign ad. But he looked like a little boy with a big helmet. The Democratic ad soon became a Republican ad.

5. Howard Dean – the scream

The one-time Democratic front-runner blew up in 2004. He yelled “yee-haw” after a narrow loss in the Iowa caucuses. Then he listed states he promised to win, followed by the most awkward scream in political history.

6. Barack Obama – “They cling to guns or religion.”

Running in 2008, the Illinois Senator mocked conservatives during a closed-door California fundraiser. Explaining the frustrations of small-town, blue-collar voters, he said, “They cling to their guns or religion.”

7. Barry Goldwater – embraced “extremism”

In 1964, the conservative stalwart gave his acceptance speech in San Francisco. He proclaimed, “Extremism in the pursuit of justice is no vice.” He then suffered the most massive loss in political history.

8. Gary Hart – “Follow me.”

When rumors circulated that Democratic candidate Gary Hart was having affairs, he invited the media to “Follow me around. It will be boring.” Soon after, the Miami Herald caught Hart in an affair with Donna Rice on a boat named “Monkey Business.”

9. George Romney – “I was brainwashed.”

While running for the 1968 Republican nomination, Senator Romney did himself no favors. He said, “When I came back from Vietnam I just had the greatest brainwashing that anyone can get.” He didn’t win the nomination.

10. Al Gore – “I invented the Internet.”

Vice President Al Gore ran for president in 2000. During a tough primary race against Bill Bradley, when speaking to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, he ticked off his qualifications to be president. “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet,” he claimed. He became tagged a serial exaggerator, and it may have cost him the election.

Bess Truman Is Born – 1885

Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Wallace was born in Independence, Missouri, on this day in 1885. An unassuming woman who died in 1982, Bess was best known as the wife of Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States. From the time her husband entered politics in 1922, she was active in her role as his wife and future first lady, while raising Margaret, the couple’s only child.

Harry Truman, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fourth vice president, became president in 1945, following FDR’s death, and then was elected to another term in 1948. It was the said around the White House that the Trumans were the most tight-knit family ever to live there – although for three of their presidential years, they lived in the Blair House while the interior of the White House was gutted and repaired. Bess had insisted that the historic residence be carefully renovated, instead of being replaced.

The Bible promises a new home for us in heaven. And unlike the White House, it is in no need of renovation.

The Rushmore Report: 25 Fun Facts from Past Presidential Inaugurations

Friday, Donald John Trump will take the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States. This brings to mind 25 fun facts of inaugurations past. Do you know who the youngest president was? The oldest? Who was the first to be sworn into office in Washington, D.C.? Who gave the longest speech? Whose was shortest? Keep reading!

Here are 25 fun facts of presidential inauguration history.

1. In 1953, Texas-born Dwight D. Eisenhower was lassoed in the reviewing stand by a cowboy who rode up to him on a horse.

2. JFK’s inauguration almost went up in flames when the podium caught fire as Cardinal Richard Cushing was delivering the invocation.

3. One of the most awkward moments of inauguration history occurred in 2009, when Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed the oath during Obama’s public ceremony – putting the word “faithfully” in the wrong place. It was a small slip of the tongue, but since it raised concerns that Obama may not have been properly sworn in, they repeated the 35 words, in the right order, in private the next day at the White House.

4. The most botched oath goes to Lyndon Johnson, who took the vice-presidential oath during JFK’s inauguration “without any mental reservation whatever,” instead of “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”

5. Jimmy Carter took his inauguration in stride when he walked from the Capitol to the White House in the ceremony parade. (The only other president to do so was Thomas Jefferson.)

6. Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration became so wild that the police had to be called in.

7. Thomas Jefferson was the first president to be sworn into office in Washington, D.C.

8. Theodore Roosevelt – not John F. Kennedy – was the youngest man inaugurated into office, at 42 years of age.

9. Ronald Reagan was our oldest president to take office, just 17 days short of his 70th birthday.

10. Bill Clinton’s second inauguration was the first to be live-streamed on the Internet.

11. Bill and Hillary Clinton attended a record 14 inaugural balls.

12. While tickets for this year’s ball are being scalped for as much as $12,500, the 400 tickets to James Madison’s celebration went for just $4 each.

13. William Henry Harrison gave the longest speech – 100 minutes – in a snowstorm. (He got sick and died a month later.)

14. The shortest speech was given by George Washington – just 135 words.

15. The only president to kiss the Bible as he was sworn in was George Washington.

16. Washington was the only president to ad lib his oath of office, ending it with “so help me God,” setting a precedent for future presidents.

17. Teddy Roosevelt went off script when he concluded his oath with “And thus I swear.”

18. John Quincy Adams was the first of three presidents to not use the Bible while being sworn in, opting to place his hand on a constitutional law volume instead.

19. John Quincy was also the one to break the dress code mold – opting to wear trousers instead of the traditional knee breeches.

20. An estimated 1.2 million people attended Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration. (President Obama drew 1.8 million in 2009.)

21. In 1909 William Taft was sworn into office as nearly 10 inches of snow fell – still an inauguration snowfall record.

22. Franklin Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937 was the rainiest – 1.77 inches.

23. James Buchanan’s inauguration in 1857 was the first to be photographed.

24. Robert Frost became the first inaugural poet when he spoke at John F. Kennedy’s swearing in.

25. The most expensive inauguration was Barack Obama’s in 2009, with a bill of more than $150 million, two thirds of which was financed by private donors.

The Rushmore Report: America’s Ten Richest Presidents (Before Trump)

When Donald Trump takes the oath of office Friday, he will become the richest president in U.S. history. Forbes estimates his net worth to be about $3.7 billion. But aside from Mr. Trump, who are the wealthiest presidents ever? The following list is adjusted for inflation, so the figures represent today’s dollars. The president who ranks #1 may surprise you.

10. John F. Kennedy – $1 million. Kennedy ranks lower than most would have expected, because while the family tops any other U.S. president’s wealth, JFK didn’t directly own the family’s assets, as it was shared in a trust with other family members.

9. Franklin D. Roosevelt – $66 million. Much of Roosevelt’s wealth was inherited.

8. Bill Clinton – $75 million. Unlike the others on this list, the bulk of Clinton’s wealth has been accumulated after leaving office, mostly through speeches and book deals.

7. Herbert Hoover – $82 million. Hoover made his fortune as a mining company executive and accumulated valuable holdings in several mining companies.

6. Lyndon B. Johnson – $108 million. LBJ inherited a small piece of land in Texas and built it up into the 1,500-acre ranch that became known as the Texas White House.

5. James Madison – $112 million. The fourth president’s fortune came from real estate after he inherited land from his father.

4. Andrew Jackson – $131 million. Jackson became wealthy from land speculation and was one of three investors who founded Memphis.

3. Theodore Roosevelt – $138 million. The 26th president was born into a wealthy New York City family and made money from valuable real estate.

2. Thomas Jefferson – $234 million. Like other presidents, he also inherited a real estate fortune.

1. George Washington – $580 million. Our country’s first president made his enormous fortune as a land speculator.

Where Did the Teddy Bear Come From?

Writer, naturalist, soldier, and 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, died on this day in 1919. He was 60 years old. Born to a socially prominent family, he grew from a frail child into a tirelessly energetic promoter of forward-looking policies on the national, global, and environmental fronts. The youngest man in history to become president (age 42), Roosevelt served from 1901 to 1909.

During his administration, he strengthened the federal government’s role in domestic matters and led the country toward greater involvement in world affairs, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. A military hero before assuming the presidency, Roosevelt won national acclaim as the leader of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. However, he is also remembered as an ardent conservationist. After the president refused to shoot a bear cub on a 1902 hunting trip, a toy maker named a stuffed bear after him, and the ubiquitous teddy bear was born.

You have to admire a tough guy like Teddy Roosevelt who appreciates the creation of God.

The Rushmore Report: Charlie Sheen Calls for Trump’s Death – Where’s the Media Outcry?

Following the death of actress Debbie Reynolds, Charlie Sheen tweeted that God should “take” the president-elect next. Predictably, there has been virtually no media response. Can you imagine the rage we would have seen in the mainstream media had a conservative actor called for the death of President Obama when he was first elected to office?

This was Sheen’s tweet: “Dear God, Trump next, please! Trump next, please! Trump next, please! Trump next, please! Trump next, please! Trump next, please!”

When he received some negative response (not much), Sheen dug in with another tweet:

“The media’s reaction to last night’s tweet is insanely emblematic of the panoramic timorousness, draped vastly and wantonly, across any and all expressions of hope or joy, that we now dare to publish or impart. Oh, by the way, I was talking to God, not you.”

Apparently, God has signed up on Sheen’s Twitter account.

From this amazing hate-filled statement, I draw two conclusions.

1. It’s okay for the left to call for the death of a Republican president, but if a conservative pundit even criticizes a black Democratic president, he is immediately branded as a racist.

2. You don’t need a Twitter account to communicate with God.

Election Day

Today is an election day for the ages. But there was another huge election day. It happened 152 years ago today – November 8, 1864. That was the day Abraham Lincoln was elected to a second term. Little did they know how short that term would be.

On November 8, 1864, Northern states overwhelmingly endorsed the leadership and policies of President Lincoln when they elected him once again. With his reelection, any hope for a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy vanished. At this time, Lincoln faced many challenges to his presidency.

The war was now in its fourth year, and many were questioning if the South could ever be fully conquered militarily. Union General Ulysses S. Grant mounted a massive campaign in the spring of that year to finally defeat the Confederate army of General Robert E. Lee, but after sustaining significant losses at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, the Yankees bogged down around Petersburg, Virginia.

Some of the Radical Republicans were unhappy with Lincoln’s conciliatory plan for the reconstruction of the South. Many Notherners had never been happy with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which converted the war from one of reunion to a crusade to destroy slavery. Weariness with the war fueled calls for a compromise with the seceded states. Five months after Lincoln’s reelection, the collapse of the Confederacy was complete.

The lesson of the 1864 election is that elections have consequences. Lincoln’s opponent would have likely signed a peace treaty with the South that would have sealed the permanence of the Confederate States. By this time tomorrow, we will probably know who our next President will be. And this election will have consequences.

There is another lesson from the 1864 election. Memories fade. Can you name the Democratic nominee who lost to Lincoln in 1864? I didn’t think so. His name was George B. McClellan. He was a Union General who would go on to be elected Governor of New Jersey. But he lost his race for the presidency. And today, no one remembers his name.

It’s hard to imagine ever forgetting the names of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But fast forward to the year 2168. It will have been 152 years since this dreadful election. Perhaps the nation will no longer remember the election of 2016 – or its candidates. One can only hope.