Weird History 14 Presidents With Scandalous Problem Children  

Stephan Roget
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Scan any history book, and you'll find stories about First Kids who got into trouble. The sons and daughters of American presidents have been at the center of scandal after scandal for centuries, though most of the "shocking" details were overblown. It's hard not to sympathize with these children. Presidential families are always under an enormous amount of pressure, but the children, who have to grow up under the spotlight, are truly the ones who suffer from constant public scrutiny.

You might be surprised by these president's children who caused scandals. President Lincoln is widely regarded as one of the best leaders in United States history, but his son Robert was heavily criticized for attending university rather than fighting in the Civil War. And then there's George W. Bush, who was known as a party animal in his youth - a reputation he seemingly overcame by becoming president himself.

The number of controversial First Children is high, but that doesn’t mean that they were all bad people. Some of the so-called scandalous problem children of presidents were nothing more than free spirits who got a bad rap from the media. Others seem like real jerks. Like presidents themselves, presidential children run the gamut from great to catastrophic, and the news and public opinion are likely to hound them either way.


Theodore Roosevelt is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 Presidents With Scandalous Problem Children
Photo: B. M. Clinedinst/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Alice Roosevelt was the poster child for wild presidential children. Her father Theodore Roosevelt once said, "I can run the country or attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both." At a time when women had yet to gain many measures of equality, Alice eschewed social standards by smoking, gambling, chewing gum, and playing with guns. She even went about town with a pet snake.

Alice lived a party-heavy life, but she also cared about politics, as evidenced by the time she supposedly burned a voodoo doll of incoming First Lady Nelly Taft in the White House.

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James Madison is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 14 Presidents With Scandalous Problem Children
Photo: Joseph Wood/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

John Payne Todd probably deserves his less-than-great reputation. John was the stepson of James Madison, and a child from his mother Dolley Madison’s first marriage. John embarrassed his family with his out-of-control gambling and alcohol addictions. The President and First Lady repeatedly tried to send him to school or find him respectable work, but nothing stuck. John continued to spend money. The Madisons spent their retirement in relative destitution, and the problem was compounded when James died, leaving Dolley a widow.

The ever-pragmatic Dolley saved herself from bankruptcy by selling some of her late husband's papers to Congress. The agreed upon payment was delivered to her as an annuity, so John couldn't get his hands on his mother's money.

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George W. Bush is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 14 Presidents With Scandalous Problem Children
Photo: Eric Draper/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

George W. Bush’s daughters, Barbara and Jenna, attracted a fair share of attention during their father's presidency. They were criticized for underage drinking when they were 19 years old. Mostly, though, they got in trouble for their efforts to ditch their Secret Service detail whenever they wanted to party. They reportedly ran red lights to escape their escorts, and were once cited for underage drinking while in the company of several Secret Service guards.

Today, Jenna works as a news correspondent and magazine editor. Barbara serves as the head of a nonprofit promoting global health equity.

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James Garfield's Son Rode His Bicycle Down The White House Steps


James Garfield's Son Rode ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 14 Presidents With Scandalous Problem Children
Photo: Public Domain/via Wikimedia Commons

Irvin McDowell Garfield was the son of President James Garfield. Young Irvin wasn’t that much more rambunctious than the average child, but his escapades caused some concern. Irvin was found on multiple occasions riding his bicycle down the White House steps, which was considered a major no-no.

Irvin apparently grew out of this phase, and later became a lawyer.