14 Presidents With Children Who Caused Scandals

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's Daughter Burned Voodoo Dolls And Had A Pet Snake
    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.

  • James Madison's Stepson Left His Family Broke
    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.

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

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

  • Abraham Lincoln's Youngest Sons Were Infamous Hellions
    Photo: Mathew Brady / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite his serious, presidential demeanor, Abraham Lincoln had a reputation for being a wild youth. Apparently that trait was genetic. Lincoln’s two youngest sons, Tad and William, were known around Washington as troublemakers. The two often pulled pranks on unsuspecting White House guests.

    William died young, and Tad was left to his own devices - but he kept making mischief. In one memorable stunt, Tad had a yard sale out front of the White House, in which he tried to sell his parents’ clothes. In another incident, he tied a bunch of goats to a sled and had them pull him through an official reception.

    He's also credited with beginning the presidential tradition of pardoning a turkey on Thanksgiving each year.

  • John Adams II was a third generation presidential child, as the son of John Quincy Adams and the grandson of John Adams. Unfortunately, John followed a different path than his famous family members. He gained a reputation as a coward for refusing to fight back when slapped around by a political rival at a White House party, and the constant harassment he received drove him into alcoholism.

    John also battled his brothers for the affections of their first cousin, and when he won, he married her in a White House ceremony that several family members refused to attend.

  • Theodore Roosevelt's Son Roller Skated Around The White House

    Quentin Roosevelt was very much his father’s son. Like Theodore Roosevelt, Quentin was fearless, and didn’t care what others thought of him. He could often be found roller skating around the White House, and sometimes he did so with pet snakes wrapped around his arms. This no doubt made young Quentin a terrifying sight to many a diplomatic guest, something he often took full advantage of.

    Quentin and his "White House Gang" carved a baseball diamond into the White House lawn, broke furniture, and threw snowballs at Secret Service guards. But Quentin eventually grew out of this troublesome phase, and eventually became a war hero. He died at age 20 during World War I.