B. CRAIG GRAFTON - BOOK REVIEW: CRADLES OF POWER: THE MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTS BY HAROLD J. GULLAN
Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
Cradles of Power: The Mothers and Fathers
of the American Presidents
By Harold J. Gullan
Cradles of Power is a 360 page book by historian Harold J.Gullan about the parents of the presidents of the United States from Washington to Obama and how they influenced their presidential sons. The book takes them in chronological order and devotes a few pages to each, giving each their due, even Millard Fillmore.
What first caught my attention about the book though is that on the cover there is this darling picture of Gee Dub, G. W., George W. Bush that is, as a little baby sitting on his mother’s knee. The look of pride and joy on his mother’s, Barbara Bush’s, face as she looks at her son is priceless. It will literally melt your heart.
Anyway about the book, this book makes no political judgment about any of our presidents. All are treated fairly and no unkind words are spoken about any of them which is kind of a refreshing pause nowadays.This is because the book is not really about any of them anyway. It is about the people who raised them, their parents or step-parents. And some of these people weren't exactly decent human beings. They weren’t like the Andersons (Father Knows Best), or the Nelsons (Ozzie and Harriet), or the Cleavers (Leave It To Beaver) on television that some of us grew up with. Some came from quite dysfunctional families. And yes Virginia there were dysfunctional families back then. It is not a new phenomena.
A couple of our presidents grew up with parents or step parents who were alcoholics and violent and abusive to their spouses. Usually it is the man with the drinking problem but for one president it was both his parents that drank. I’m not going to tell you who that was or who the others with alcoholic problems were. Read the book and find that out for yourself. And oh yes don’t forget to read about Lemonade Lucy too.
Most presidents though had loving parents who actually believed that in fact their son was special and blessed and destined for greatness. Thus they pushed him accordingly and did everything in their power to make that greatness happen. And it did. Their son became president.
Each president’s chapter begins with the ancestor of that president who first got off the boat from Europe. A lot of presidential ancestors were of Scotch Irish descent, the Scotch Irish being political refugees of the day back then from England. A lot of them settled in New England and then from there their descendants pushed westward with the country. Many future presidents grew up in the Midwest.
Some of the presidents came from literally dirt poor, that is they didn’t own any land or if they had they lost it due to hard times, ancestors. Others came from very successful stock who greatly increased their land holdings and wealth. With those different backgrounds and how their parents responded to them while raising their presidential son is what the book is about.
Also this book tells us about those presidents who grew up with step parents and how they interacted with their stepson. Those with step fathers of recent history include Ford, Clinton and Obama. And the prize for best step mother of a future president goes to Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln. She loved her Abe dearly and in return he loved her dearly also. He was deeply indebted to her for her guidance through the hard times of his youth on the early frontier. She lived to see him become president and couldn’t have been prouder of him than if he had been born to her.
On the other hand Lincoln and his father did not get along at all. Lincoln couldn’t wait to leave home at 21, the age of majority back then, and become a free man. Read the book and find out why.
There are a few of other things that I gathered from the book about our presidents. First was that a lot of them lost a parent at an early age in their lives. Second most of them were highly educated graduating from prestigious colleges. But some like Lincoln and his successor were only self taught. And third a noticeable number had middle names that were their mother’s maiden name. Read the book and find out who besides Millard Fillmore carried their mother’s maiden name. And finally a couple of them, and they were distinguished presidents, had red hair. I only throw that in because I still have red hair.
If there is a criticism of this book, it’s that sometimes it delves a little too much into the history of the grandparents of the president's parents and after a while the genealogical chart becomes hard to follow. But that doesn’t detract from the book any. It just confuses one temporarily.
One other note, this author makes a point of citing quotes from the biographers of each president when he writes about them. Thus quotes from noted historians Ambrose, Kearns, McCullough and others appear throughout the book.
And finally this book also makes the point that our presidents were influenced as much by their mothers as their fathers even though most grew up in a time when fathers ruled the roost. There is a president of recent origin who had quite the mother, a character so to speak, and another in the not too distant past who raised her son as a girl the first few years of his life and never really gave up control of him.
So read the book and find out about our presidents’ parents, if you’re an American that is. And if you’re not, still read it. It’s enjoyable. And don’t you worry none you Chester A. Arthur and Millard Fillmore fans, your man gets his due.