9 Presidential Kids Whose Antics Made News
People hold figures in the public eye to excruciatingly high standards. But what if the particular figure didn't ask to be there? When the sons and daughters of our nation's presidents are thrust onto the national stage, their childlike antics, teenage rebellions, and less-than-exemplary behavior can make national news, even after they've left the White House behind.
1. Amy Carter
People probably expect the children of presidents to be politically active—but maybe not so politically active that they wind up arrested. Amy Carter, the daughter of one-term president Jimmy Carter, was arrested four times: Three times for protesting South African apartheid, reportedly with her father’s permission, and once while protesting CIA campus recruiting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she was allegedly blocking the buses that were carrying away other arrested protestors. While this time she didn’t claim to have her father’s permission, she did say her father would have been proud of her for her actions. Unfortunately, all this protesting took up a lot of her time, and in 1987, she was reportedly dismissed from Brown University for failing to keep up with coursework.
2. Alice Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt once said of his daughter, Alice, "I can be President of the United States, or I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!" When her mother died from Bright’s Disease shortly after her birth in 1884, Alice was raised by her aunt Anna until her father remarried in 1886. Princess Alice, as she was nicknamed, was the party girl of her time, not to mention a fashion icon and nonconformist. She was known to smoke in public, chew gum, and even carry her snake with her to parties. To her father's chagrin, this combination made her very popular with the masses. So, in an effort to put her celebrity to productive use, Roosevelt sent his daughter on the 1905 "Imperial Cruise" in which Alice joined several Washington figures as a goodwill ambassador on a jaunt around the world. At one point, Alice was said to have jumped fully-clothed into the pool onboard the ship, urging a Congressman to join her.
3. Quentin Roosevelt
Alice wasn’t the only Roosevelt child to dance to the beat of his or her own drummer. Quentin, the youngest of TR’s kids, was "a fine bad little boy," as his mother was wont to say. But he was also the leader of the "White House Gang," a name coined by the president himself. Growing up in the White House allowed for all sorts of hijinks by this gang of rowdy boys, which included future President Taft’s son and the children of other Washington notables. With Quentin at the helm, the group carved a baseball diamond into the White House lawn, shot spitballs at the portrait of Andrew Jackson, and even launched "attacks" on other Washington buildings. Quentin once brought three snakes, wound around his arms, as he entered the Oval Office on roller skates. According to the New York Times [PDF], he skated into the room, where his father was having a meeting with Attorney General Bonaparte, who "hurriedly ascended the back of his chair."
"What's the matter?" Quentin asked. "Aren't they lovely snakes?" (Later, when one snake tried to eat the other, the President extricated the would-be meal and got back to work.)
While Quentin got a rambunctious start in life, he eventually calmed down. He attended Harvard and got engaged to Flora Payne Whitney, the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the country at the time. After some time at Harvard, he joined the U.S. Air Service, and died in 1918 after his plane was shot down in France.
4. Patti Davis
Opposing your parents’ political views is one thing. Doing so—quite vocally—when your father is the president is another thing altogether. While her father was in office, Patti openly opposed the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, going as far as to participate in demonstrations against her father’s policies. After writing two fictionalized accounts of her childhood, in 1992 she published a memoir outlining exactly how horrible it was growing up a Reagan, noting her father’s distance and her mother’s tendency to pop pills and slap her daughter for any perceived misstep. Railing against her family was not her only interest: She was also a singer and part of the rock and roll community at the time, spending four years living with the guitarist of the Eagles, Bernie Leadon. Patti remains an active political voice but, although she continues to discuss her tangled family life publicly, she seems to have softened on her father's memory. She no longer publicizes the memoir and, in fact, it isn't even listed on her website.
5. and 6. Willie and Tad Lincoln
Have you ever been in a department store and watched unsupervised children destroying things while their parents did something else? Then you understand what Willie and Tad Lincoln, two of Abe Lincoln’s sons, were like. In fact, Lincoln’s law partner even referred to Willie and Tad as “the little devils,” as chaos would inevitably ensue every time the boys were allowed in the office.
After Willie’s untimely death at the age of 11 due to an illness—likely typhoid fever—Tad remained at the helm of White House mischief. From hosting an impromptu yard sale to sell his parent’s clothing on the White House lawn to hitching goats to a sled and riding it through a reception hosted by the First Lady, Tad managed to keep life at the house interesting for his parents and visitors alike. As he got a little older, Tad settled slightly and, like the others in his family, became a fan of the theater. In fact, when Lincoln was assassinated, Tad was watching a play at a different theater. He died of what historians think was tuberculosis at the age of 18.
7. and 8. Barbara and Jenna Bush
Unlike the other members of this list, the Bush girls are recent enough for most readers to remember their antics. In 2001, the 19-year-old twins Barbara and Jenna were cited by police in Texas for underage drinking. Allegedly, the girls would attempt to shake their Secret Service detail by leaving the White House unannounced and even running red lights. At the time of the citation, they were surrounded by Secret Service, who allowed the police to apprehend the girls. As punishment, the twins headed to Camp David for a parental admonishing from dad, President George W. Bush, and mom, Laura Bush. While this incident was Barbara’s first brush with the law, it was not Jenna’s. One month earlier, Judge Elisabeth Earle had ordered Jenna to take alcohol awareness classes for another misdemeanor. Earning such hard media criticism for fairly average teenage behavior inspired the girls to become strong advocates for first children. When Malia and Sasha Obama were criticized by a GOP staffer on Facebook for what they wore to a Thanksgiving-themed event, Jenna Bush admonished the slam on the Today Show, calling herself "fiercely protective" of the girls, who had no choice in their position. Upon Obama’s inauguration, Jenna and Barbara Bush even wrote an open letter to Sasha and Malia urging the girls to "surround [themselves] with loyal friends. They’ll protect and calm you and join in on some of the fun, and appreciate the history." Hindsight is 20/20.
9. John Payne Todd
John Payne Todd was the adopted child of James Madison and son of Madison’s wife, Dolley, from her first marriage. John’s father and younger brother died in the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic, and he was just 2 years old when his mother married James Madison the following year.
While John collected art and participated in diplomatic missions befitting a first child, he also gambled and drank away much of his family's money after the Madisons left the White House. In 1826, this affinity for gambling landed him a short stint in a debtor’s prison. John’s behavior devastated his mother, who wrote, "every feeling of my Soul is wounded" as she attempted to figure out how to handle her son.
James Madison endeavored to shelter his wife as much as possible from knowledge of their son’s indiscretions. Without Dolley knowing, Madison would sell off acreage of their land to pay John’s debts. However, when Madison died, he could no longer protect his wife from the knowledge of her son’s debts. Dolley was forced to sell Montpelier, the family’s plantation. She also sold Madison’s papers to Congress, which paid a yearly fee to the widow, preventing John from being able to take the money all at once. Upon his death in 1852, John used his will to free his slaves. Due to his outstanding debts, this was contested by his debtors. However, the slaves were granted their freedom in 1853.