Throughout U.S. history, 43 men have assumed the U.S. presidency—though the number will shoot up to 44 when Donald J. Trump is sworn in as the country’s 45th president on Jan. 20, 2017. (Grover Cleveland served two disjointed terms, becoming the nation’s 22nd and 24th presidents.)
While these men all held the same job, many of them are quite dissimilar from one another. None of their habits quite match up. Some smoked; many inhaled while others ostensibly did not. Some drank; Andrew Johnson, just then elected vice president, most notably had several beverages before Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration, giving an embarrassing drunken speech when it was time to perform his duties. Some swam religiously—like John Quincy Adams, who donned his birthday suit as he took a dip in the Potomac River every morning at 5 a.m. Some hated public speaking—like Thomas Jefferson who started the now-discontinued tradition of delivering a written State of the Union address.
Regardless of their unique preferences and hobbies, what they had in common was a willingness to assert themselves and their administrations on others. Bill Clinton, for example, was known to jog three times a week when he was in office. Unfortunately for the Secret Service—who advised him against it—these jogs would take place in public, creating quite the logistical nightmare for the folks tasked with protecting the president. Lyndon B. Johnson loved talking—so much so that he routinely held meetings with reporters and aides while taking a shit or micturating in the sink. (Historians say this was a way to exert power and control the conversation.)
What follows are a few anecdotes about American presidents and how they did things their own way.
Theodore Roosevelt, who served as president from 1901 to 1909, liked the outdoors. So he used his authority as the highest-ranking official in the nation to vastly expand America’s park service, doubling the number of properties it operated. Thanks to Roosevelt, places like Crater Lake and Devils Tower are protected forever.
Teddy liked the game of football, but he thought it could be better—and safer. So he influenced the decision makers at top colleges to legalize the forward pass, thereby reducing injuries and fatalities in what was then a spectacularly brutal game.
Though no other sitting presidents had ever ventured outside the United States for an official visit to another country, TR liked traveling. So in 1906, he traveled to Panama, a presidential first. He pretty much did what he wanted to do (except win on the Bull Moose ticket).
President from 1929 to 1933, Herbert Hoover is often remembered as the guy who was in charge when America sank into the Great Depression.
Maybe he wasn’t the best president, but he did help inspire the invention of a new sport. Once elected president, Hoover lamented the lack of opportunities he had to exercise—a plight of many presidents:
Getting daily exercise to keep physically it is always a problem for presidents. Once the day’s work starts there is little chance to walk, to ride or to take part in a game. Talking walks or rides early in the morning is a lonesome business, and the inevitable Secret Service guard when the president leaves the White House grounds is not enlivening company.
The solution? Hoover’s physician created a game called Hooverball, which is interestingly still played today. The game is a combination of tennis and volleyball, using a medicine ball. It’s hard to believe this game would exist if Hoover didn’t win the presidency and whine about exercising.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
If George Washington wanted a third term, he would have gotten it easily. But America’s first president declined to run again for a number of reasons, including his belief that one man should not hold so much power for so long. Washington’s decision to stop at two terms inspired all other second-term presidents to mimic his behavior on the dawn of their prospective third terms.
Until Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency, that is. FDR went on to win a third term, tradition be damned. And the people appeared to applaud his decision, as they elected FDR to a fourth term, too. In 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, which instituted term limits on the chief executive, was ratified. Perhaps, at least partially, because FDR issued the most executive orders of any president—by a long shot. Talk about doing things your own way.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ever wonder why presidents play so much golf? America can thank Dwight D. Eisenhower, who logged over 800 rounds on the greens when he was in office from 1953 to 1961.
During his first term, Eisenhower had a heart attack while he was on the golf course. He’d go on to recover. But when he ran for reelection, the public questioned his health. Eisenhower staged a series of publicity shots of him playing golf to set the public tension at ease.
The president had health problems for the rest of his life. But despite doctors’ orders, he continued smoking and eating whatever he wanted to eat.
He’s not president at the time of this writing, but it’s safe to say Donald Trump does things his own way. For example, despite all advice to the contrary coming from every fathomable direction, Trump still uses his Twitter account to share his thoughts on seemingly any random topic that pops into his mind.
Trump also ran a campaign that was—unconventional, to say the least. Still, he was persuasive enough to the point he won (in the Electoral College, at least). Trump defied all common sense—and all polls—and pulled out a historic upset. Somehow, his stubbornness gave him a path to the White House.
Disagree with their politics or policies all you like. But despite their philosophical differences, these men—and the rest of their unmentioned colleagues—were leaders (good or bad ones, depending who you ask). They all made their worlds fit them—not the other way around.
This is not to say you should behave like a boor and do whatever you want. But sometimes, as these men have proved, stubbornness gets you what you want: more open space, a new exercise routine, more time in office, a bigger contract or even the presidency itself.