Presidents without posterity

After our recent presidential election, and following up on my recent post regarding some interesting facts about presidential descendants, this post relates to our presidents who do not have any descendants. There are actually quite a few in this category – almost one out of four. While only one president never married (James Buchanan), several presidents had no children, or their children died young or as adults, and in one case a president’s descendants died out after several generations.

Presidents with no living descendants:

 

  1. George Washington, married, no children, adopted his wife’s grandchildren
  2. James Madison, married, no children
  3. Andrew Jackson, married, no children, adopted his wife’s nephew
  4. James Knox Polk, married, no children
  5. Millard Fillmore, married, two children died unmarried and childless
  6. Franklin Pierce, married, three sons who died young (his youngest son was killed tragically at 11 years old in a train accident two months before his father was inaugurated as president)
  7. James Buchanan, never married, no children
  8. Abraham Lincoln (see below)
  9. Chester Alan Arthur, married, three children. His only surviving grandchild, Chester Alan Arthur III, died in 1972 (married three times, but no children)
  10. William McKinley, married, two daughters died young

Abraham Lincoln is a more complicated example. Three of his four sons died young, and only Robert Todd Lincoln had children. Of Robert’s three children, his two daughters married, resulting in three great-grandchildren of the martyred president. Of these, the great-granddaughter Mary Lincoln Beckwith (1898-1975), died unmarried without children. Her elder cousin Lincoln Isham (1892-1971) married but had no children of his own.

Abraham Lincoln is a more complicated example.

Some controversy surrounds Lincoln’s youngest great-grandchild, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith (1904-1985), who married three times. His second wife had a son in 1968 with Robert listed on the birth certificate, but in the subsequent divorce proceedings, Robert denied paternity, citing an earlier vasectomy, and doctors testified that Robert was “permanently sterile.” Still this son was paid some money to surrender any claim to Lincoln charities, has the middle name of Lincoln, and declines to discuss the circumstances of his birth.

Warren G. Harding, while having no children with his wife, had an illegitimate daughter with Nan Britton, whose paternity was corroborated more recently with autosomal DNA testing. Harding, like two of the first four presidents, was a stepfather; Washington and Madison were the others. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be the first Vice President who is a stepmother.

Note

Thomas Jefferson’s wife had a son by her first marriage who died a few months before she married Jefferson. Woodrow Wilson’s second wife Edith had a son by her first marriage who only lived for a few days, twelve years before her marriage to Wilson.

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About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

7 thoughts on “Presidents without posterity

  1. It could be helpful and instructive to check the ancestry of the stepchildren of VP-elect Kamala Devi (Harris) Emhoff.

    Tentatively and preliminarily, it appears these two children can be tracked back to early New England: possibly the Mayflower (Alden, Mullins) plus surnames such as Gilman, Jacob, Otis, Southworth, Carpenter, Peabody/Pabodie, John & Priscilla Alden.

    If so, this occurs through the ancestry of the first spouse of Douglas Craig Emhoff;, who is Kerstin/Kersten Jennifer Mackin.

    Contact me if this hasn’t been pursued and/or if more details of what I’ve preliminarily found are of interest.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Child. I highly recommend that you read Bettye Kearse’s recently published “The Other Madisons.” She and her family have strong evidence that they descend from James Madison. I found her book to be a compelling read.

  3. I wonder, on the piece about Abraham Lincoln: If Lincoln Isham who died in 1971, was anyway connected with the Isham House in Hartford, Ct., a house on the national register ?

  4. Would be interested in hearing more about the proof of The Other Madisons. There are enough of the Madison and Taylor kin about for DNA testing.

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