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30 Presidential Nicknames—Explained!

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From Old Granny to Uncle Jumbo, His Accidency to Grandfather's Hat, here are a few presidential nicknames, and how the commanders in chief came by them.

1. George Washington: American Fabius

Our first commander in chief earned this nickname based on the strategy he used to fight the British in the Revolutionary War, named for a Roman dictator who avoided large battles to engage in small ones. (But Washington might not have even known about that general and his strategy until a year after he began using it!) Another great nickname: Sword of the Revolution.

2. John Adams: Old Sink or Swim

John Adams got this nickname from a speech he gave: "Sink or swim, survive or perish with my country, is my unalterable determination."

3. Thomas Jefferson: Long Tom

At 6 feet 2.5 inches, Jefferson was six inches taller than the average height for men in his day, which earned him the nickname “Long Tom.” 

4. James Monroe: Last of the Cocked Hats

The man behind the Monroe Doctrine was the last of the major politicians of his day to have fought in the Revolutionary War, during which the Revolutionary fighters apparently wore cocked hats. 

5. John Quincy Adams: Old Man Eloquent

The second Adams to hold the office of president got the nickname during his time as a Congressman, for “his passionate support of freedom of speech and universal education, and especially for his strong arguments against slavery.”

6. Andrew Jackson: Sharp Knife

Native Americans bestowed this nickname for his fighting tactics (they also called him Pointed Arrow). 

7. Van Buren: Machiavellian Belshazzar

This moniker was not a compliment: It was given to Van Buren by his detractors for his insincerity in political matters.

8. William Henry Harrison: Old Granny

The “Granny” nickname got thrown around a lot back in the day. In Harrison’s case, Democrat detractors—including Van Buren—gave the 68-year-old this nickname to get across the idea that he was both ancient and out of touch. He came down with a cold three weeks after his inauguration; it turned into pneumonia and pleurisy, and he died soon after. Harrison was the first president to die in office.

9. John Tyler: His Accidency 

He was Harrison’s VP, and got this nickname when he became president after Harrison’s death.

10. James Polk: Young Hickory

Both Polk and his father were strong supporters of Andrew Jackson; in fact, the younger Polk was Jackson’s best ally in Congress. Jackson was Old Hickory, and Polk became Young Hickory. Polk was also nicknamed Napoleon of the Stump for his fierce oratory.

11. Zachary Taylor: Old Rough and Ready

Though he was a General, this military hero was more than willing to share the hardships of field duty with his troops, a fact that earned him his nickname.

12. Millard Fillmore: Wool Carder President

After Taylor died in office, Fillmore took over. Born in a Cayuga County, New York log cabin in 1800, Fillmore was apprenticed to a wool carder when he was 15—hence his nickname.

13. Franklin Pierce: Purse

The nickname Handsome Frank is self-explanatory, but sources don’t quite agree on why some called Pierce “Purse.” According to one source, it was a nickname given to him by his friends; another posits it might have been because of his wealth; and yet another says it was because of his involvement in the Gadsden Purchase, which brought lands from the states of Arizona and New Mexico into U.S. hands. Still others say the president pronounced Pierce that way.

14. James Buchanan: Ten-Cent Jimmy

The bachelor president got this unflattering nickname after he said that 10 cents a day was a fair wage for manual laborers. What a gaffe.

15. Abraham Lincoln: Grand Wrestler

Did you know that Honest Abe was a wrestler? He’s even been inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame.

16. Andrew Johnson: Sir Veto

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Johnson, who took over as president after Lincoln was assassinated, came by this nickname for his use of that privilege in those tumultuous years. He was also called The Tennessee Tailor because of his former profession. Another nickname whose source proves elusive: Daddy of the Baby.

17. Ulysses S. Grant: Unconditional Surrender Grant

Young Hiram Ulysses Grant (he dropped his first name and added the S. later, and it stood for nothing at all) was reportedly nicknamed “Useless” by his father. Ouch. Thankfully, his nicknames got better during the Civil War. After capturing Fort Donelson in Tennessee in 1862, he was called “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. Another awesome nickname: Great Hammerer.

18. Rutherford B. Hayes: His Fraudulency

So nicknamed because he allegedly stole the campaign of 1876 (more about that here).

19. James A. Garfield: Canal Boy

Like Fillmore and Johnson, Garfield got his nickname thanks to an old job: He ran away from home when he was 16 to work on the canal boats that took cargo from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. He wasn’t very good at it, though; during the six weeks he worked on the boats, he fell overboard 14 times and eventually contracted a fever and had to return home. You can read one account of his time working on the canal here.

20. Chester Arthur: Dude President

Sometimes called America’s First Gentleman, our 21st president got another nickname, Dude President, because of his sense of style.

21. Stephen Grover Cleveland: Uncle Jumbo

The only president to serve two non-consecutive terms tipped the scales at 250 pounds, so it’s no wonder that he earned the nickname Uncle Jumbo when he became Governor of New York in 1882 (his friends also called him Big Steve). Another nickname, bestowed upon him by the New York Sun, was Stuffed Prophet.

22. Benjamin Harrison: Grandfather’s Hat

Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison; he was also rather short, standing just 5 feet 6 inches tall. Though he tried to distance himself from his grandfather, Harrison didn’t succeed. He reportedly got the nickname “Grandfather’s Hat” because Democratic cartoonists often drew him standing next to a huge version of his grandfather’s beaver hat (or wearing it) and also because Republicans campaigned for him with a song called “Grandfather’s Hat Fits Ben.”

23. William McKinley: Wobbly Willie

McKinley earned this nickname for his reluctance to enter into a war with Spain in 1898 over Cuba. Theodore Roosevelt, then the assistant secretary of the Navy, said that McKinley had “no more backbone than a chocolate eclair.”

24. Theodore Roosevelt: Telescope Teddy

This “speak softly and carry a big stick” president got this nickname because, when out West in 1900, he had all of his rifles fitted with small telescopes for long-distance shooting in addition to his very thick glasses.

25. Woodrow Wilson: Coiner of Weasel Words

This nickname was reportedly given to Wilson by Teddy Roosevelt. You can read the speech where Roosevelt accuses the president of creating such words here.

26. John Calvin Coolidge: Silent Cal

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Turns out our 30th president was a pretty quiet guy. According to the New York Times, someone once said he spoke so infrequently that “every time he opened his mouth, a moth flew out.”

27. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: The Sphinx

By December 1939, FDR was being called The Sphinx by reporters and cartoonists because of his penchant for secrecy regarding whether or not he would run for a third term in 1940. So at the annual Gridiron Dinner for White House correspondents on December 9, 1939, the president was presented with an 8-foot tall Sphinx statue in his likeness. It was designed by James D. Preston, Assistant Administrative Secretary of the National Archives and former Superintendent of the Senate Press Gallery, based on caricatures by cartoonists Peter Brandt of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and James T. Berryman of the Washington Star. You can see the Sphinx in the FDR Presidential Library.

Another great nickname for FDR: Houdini in the White House.

28. Ronald Reagan: Teflon President

A nickname bestowed upon Reagan by Patricia Schroeder, a Democratic congresswoman from Colorado. “I got the idea of calling President Reagan the ‘Teflon president’ while fixing eggs for my kids,” she wrote in USA Today in 2004. “He had a Teflon coat like the pan.”

29. George W. Bush: Shrub

A nickname given to the president by liberal columnist Molly Ivins, who went to high school with him.

30. Barack Obama: Barry O’Bomber

This nickname was given to No. 43 by his high school basketball crew for his jump shot.

BONUS: Herbert Hoover, the Hermit Author of Palo Alto

Though I couldn’t find any real documentation for why Hoover was given this nickname, it was too good not to include. It’s possible that the president acquired it after his term was over, when he retreated to his home in Palo Alto, California, and wrote a series of letters and essays attacking FDR’s New Deal. The hermit part doesn’t quite make sense, though; Hoover traveled a lot after his presidency. Any insight? Leave it in the comments below!

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise stated. 

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Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
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In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
Astrid Riecken, Getty Images

This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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History
Alexander Hamilton’s Son Also Died in a Duel
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
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When Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, the scene must have been eerily familiar to the former Secretary of the Treasury. After all, his son died in a similar setting just three years earlier.

On November 20, 1801, 19-year-old Philip Hamilton and his friend Richard Price had a run-in with a young lawyer named George I. Eacker at Manhattan's Park Theatre. A supporter of Thomas Jefferson, Eacker had delivered a Fourth of July speech that harshly criticized the elder Hamilton, and his son was apparently determined to take revenge.

On that fateful day in November, according to biographer Ron Chernow, Price and the younger Hamilton "barged into a box where Eacker was enjoying the show ... [then] began taunting Eacker about his Fourth of July oration."

As onlookers started to stare, Eacker asked the two young men to go into the lobby, where he called the pair "damned rascals." Tempers rose, and although the trio went to a tavern in an attempt to settle their differences, they failed miserably. Later the same night, Eacker had a letter from Price challenging him to duel.

Customs of the time meant that Eacker had little choice but to accept or face social humiliation. He and Price met that Sunday in New Jersey, where the penalties for dueling were less severe than in New York. They exchanged four shots without injury—and considered the matter between them closed.

Philip Hamilton wasn't so lucky. Cooler heads tried to negotiate a truce with Eacker's second, but their efforts were also for naught. Once the duel had been scheduled for November 23 on a sandbar in today's Jersey City, the elder Hamilton advised his son to preserve his honor by wasting his first shot—by waiting until Eacker fired first or firing into the air, a move the French called the delope. The intent was to cut the duel short, and, if the other side fired to kill, plainly show they had blood on their hands.

Philip seemed to follow his father's advice. For about a minute after the duel officially began, neither man made a move. Then, Eacker raised his pistol, and Philip did too. Eacker fired, and Philip shot back, though it may have been an involuntary reaction to having been hit. The bullet tore through Philip's body and settled in his left arm. Despite being rushed to Manhattan, he died early the next morning.

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr also departed to New Jersey, this time Weehawken, to settle their infamous differences. This time, the elder Hamilton fired the first shot—and he aimed to miss. (According to his second, anyway.) Burr, on the other hand, seemed to have every intention of connecting with his target. He shot Hamilton in the stomach, and the bullet lodged in his spine.

Just like Philip, Hamilton died the next day.

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