White House Fun: Living It Up at the Best Public Housing in America

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‘I Can’t Wait to Leave’

Of course, sexual scandals are not unfamiliar to the White House, especially in recent years. Some of our past leaders tried to insulate themselves with what might be considered hysterical prudishness.

James and Sarah Polk were all business. “No vacations, card games, horse races, billiards, dancing and — on Sundays — no music,” is how Anthony describes Sarah.

Dancing was actually banned, although Sarah did start the tradition of playing “Hail to the Chief” when the chief executive enters the room.

In 1849, after one term, Polk couldn’t wait to leave. He wrote, “I feel exceedingly relieved that I am now free of all public cares. I am sure I shall be a happier man in my retirement than I have been during the four years I have filled the highest office.”

Anthony duly notes that 103 days later Polk died.

James Buchanan, the bachelor president (who some historians speculate was gay) also couldn’t wait to exit. His message to incoming President Abraham Lincoln: “If you are as happy, my dear sir, on entering this house as I am leaving it and returning home, you are the happiest man in the country.”

Problem Kids On top of all the other pressures, there’s the kids to think about. Only 10 presidents and first ladies had no living children while in the White House. “One of the worst things in the world is being the child of a president!” Franklin Roosevelt said. “It’s a terrible life they lead.”

Roosevelt’s elder cousin, Theodore, put it a little more bluntly, telling folks he could either be president or control his daughter but he “couldn’t do both.” The notion of the problem child goes back to the very beginning of White House history. John Adams once said, “My children give me more pain than all my enemies.” His son Charles suffered from alcoholism and eventually died during his brief stay in the White House.

But in true White House fashion, Adams used the tragedy for political advantage. Rather than receive Jefferson at the executive mansion after Jefferson defeated him in a re-election bid, Adams snubbed him, claimed he was still mourning his dead son. “It was a lame excuse, considering that Charles had been buried three months earlier,” Anthony writes.

“Adams hadn’t attended the burial, but he had appeared at numerous public events since then.”