The Forty-Four A Guide to our Presidents… in Verse

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The Forty-Four A Guide to our Presidents… in Verse "October 17, 2016

I have become obsessed of late with the Broadway musical “Hamilton” and, more specifically, the lyrical brilliance of its auteur, Lin-Manuel Miranda. This work has become a constant source of inspiration to me.

I share Lin-Manuel’s passion for storytelling in rhyme – particularly history. But while Lin-Manuel was growing up in The Heights (Washington), I was reared on The Island (Long), so our musical references differ. Still, as something of a tribute to “Hamilton,” in honor of President’s Day, and as a personal exercise in historical word play, here I present:


A Guide to Our Presidents — in Verse

It all started with…


When George’s gorgeous nation
Agreed they’d need a leader
He heeded our pleading and answered our calls
He didn’t have a party, but he held a lotta balls
The father of our country
The man was so respected
His legacy so monstrous
His monument was erected


Then came John Adams
A Massachusetts smarty
The burly, surly Fed’ralist
Who founded the first party
The office in its infancy he instantly
Stirs the kettle
Estranged a range of citizens
With alien and sedition
When it comes to one term, he created the tradition


Then up from Virginia
Came a fellow of such promise
The Sage of Monticello
But you can call him Thomas
He declared all men are equal
He declared our independence
Now a slew of different people
Can declare they’re his descendants


Member of the Revolution
Father of the Constitution
Some mad skillz at elocution
Damn big shoes for a Lilliputian
We’re talkin’ Madison
His lofty status in
Our nation that is in
No question
Nobody could keep his spouse down
But redcoats came and burned his house down


1816 brought us James Monroe
Who turned an eye to Europe and he said, “Ya gotta go!”
He bought Louisiana
He compromised Missouri
And said that Spain and Russia better rush out in a hurry


Now here’s John Adams
From the movie Amistad
While Jackson called corruption
Some others called him God
Some say it was his birthright
To follow his Dad, Since he
had the same name, all the people called him Quincy


The facts on Andrew Jackson
Are all a bit confusing
On the one hand honored populist
The other Creek abusing
He bravely fought the British, he bravely fought the banks
But half of Thanksgiving
Will not be giving thanks
His victories are numerous
His failings, too, are plenty
Though he hated paper money
We went and put him on the twenty


Now we look to Kinderhook
The Little Dutch Magician
Martin Van Buren was a man of erudition
Following Jackson was a task that seemed titanic
He succeeded as successor ‘til the big financial panic


Riding into victory was William Henry Harrison
In the War of 1812, this gen’ral led a garrison
He landed in the White House, the Whig party’s pride
He gave a long inaugural and then he promptly died


With Tippecanoe down – and falling on his face
The nation kinda wondered who would ever take his place
In fact this kind of vacuum had not occurred before
So Tyler set a precedent
Assumed the title president
But ended up his tenure on the way to Civil War


Suddenly the office was desired by all folk
But galloped in a dark horse by the name of James K Polk
Born in Carolina, he served in Tennessee
Expanded our nation from sea to shining sea
He fought to annex Texas
And then for his finale
He added on New Mexico and Oregon and Cali


The Whigs sought out a Southerner
A most popular populist, a
Military man of Monterrey and Buena Vista
Ready for a battle
Tore Texas asunder
Tough “Old Rough and Ready” soon enough was six feet under.


Then up to fill his office
And his shoes and maybe still more
Was a pillar of normality, by name of Millard Fillmore
Now Millard may be pilloried for skill-lessness in crisis
Still his options were to kill or he could seek more compromises.


Once Fillmore had fulfilled more than we ever thought he’d do
He lost his bid for president in 1852.
So in his place
Came Franklin Pierce
With war now inescapable
And woe to we, he proved to be
More debonair than capable


As Kansas bled
And Dred Scott fled
The people were electing
A Pennsylvania statesman to a abate the state’s bisecting
Buchanan was equivocal – a lawyer by profession
The doughface was in no place to avert the South’s secession
The country split, Old Buck mucked it
With failures wide and varied
With such big blunders no one wonders why he never married.


With the country torn asunder
And Fort Sumter’s forced surrender
The Union sought a leader
And could we find one greater?
A lanky litigator
Renowned Douglas debater
The Gettysburg orator
Then Great Emancipator
One called him a dictator
A Southern vindicator
Named Booth, the Lincoln hater,
Who went to Ford’s The-ayter
With a shot and a shout of the South in his mouth
And a leap to the stage, and a nation enraged
Hours later Abe met his Creator


With a nation in mournin’,
The VP was sworn in:
Andrew Johnson
Reconstruction was his credo
Fighting Congress with his veto
Civility soon seemed unreachable
But Johnson too proved unimpeachable


With Johnson leaving office
And the hopes of union scant
The Republic found a hero
Their old buddy, US Grant
He galvanized the angry south and rallied scalawags
He dug into old Dixie and bagged the carpetbags
His legacy in granting rights you couldn’t hold a candle
Alas his lasting legacy was governmental scandal


After a bizarre election lasting many days the
Nation eyes a compromise, in other words
Rutherford B. Hayes – he
Ended Reconstruction, which should have earned him praise he
Served without distinction
So his legacy be hazy


The next fat cat to be a resident
In the White House as our president
Was James A. Garfield, Ohio Representative
But his term would prove most tentative
2 July of ’81, his presidency would be done
He waited for a train to go
But met instead Charles J. Guiteau


Garfield’s term would go no farther
So in came Chester Alan Arthur
Fiercely resolute
Remarkably astute
Hilariously hirsute
He entered low but left on top
No, he’s not gonna shave off his chops


The Democrats were floundering
A drought they’d not believe and
Landed a new candidate
A man named Grover Cleveland
A pudgy, fudgy governor
With the moustache of a walrus
The American electorate didn’t all res-
Pect ‘im,
They elect ‘im,
Then summarily reject ‘im


The new president was Benjamin Harrison
His pedigree alone was begging a comparison
How was he different? Let me count the ways
For starters he was president for more than 30 days!


Cleveland came, and then he went; he went, and then he came
That’s why two of forty-four now bear the same name


Republicans were troubled and they veiled their worries thinly
They regrouped among their troops and then they mounted Bill McKinley
He won the war with Spain and burgeoned economic growth
He eyed the Philippines and Guam, electing to collect them both
He courted Puerto Rico and he claimed for us Hawaii
The he shook hands with an anarchist and in a week he’d die-ee


Rough Rider to the ready
A bully bear named Teddy
Came striding into office with a big stick in his fist
‘Twas young but not unqualified — just listen to this list:
Adventurist, Naturalist, Explorer and Reformer
Statesman, Author, Soldier and the former
Assistant of the Navy
So president was gravy
He busted up the trusts
And regulated rail
He brokered peace throughout the East
And built a huge canal.
The Era was Progressive
And Teddy was obsessive
By Nineteen-Eight, he’d filled his slate
Being savvy and aggressive


So Teddy took off westward
On a personal safari
And named his own successor
But soon he would be sorry
William Howard Taft, though, consistently congenial
Was eternally determined that he not be Teddy’s menial
Roosevelt, returning from his journey, challenged Taft
He set the Bull Moose Party loose and gave ol’ Taft the shaft.
William Howard’s hopes had soured, though he remained a mensch
He lost his bid, but big Bill did find power on the Bench


When Teddy picked a battle with his natural successor
They didn’t win, but ushered in a spectacled professor
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was a lifelong academic
Enacting acts and raising taxes soon was made systemic
Elected for a second term, Woodrow would face war
America gained prominence it never had before
Europe had its treaty
And Germany was broke
The Suffragettes had voting rights
But Wilson had a stroke


With Woodrow Wilson withering
He soon would be departing
So we easily elected
Ohioan Warren Harding
He came to office popular
His affairs remained a mystery
But Teapot Dome and mistresses
Have sullied Harding’s history.


A hand upon the Bible at a drug store in Vermont
Silent Cal was sworn into a job he didn’t want.
But Coolidge soon embraced the place that fortune found his fate in
And went about the Twenties with unregulated tradin’
After serving out his term, he made a bold maneuver
He hung his hat, said “That is that” and handed us to Hoover


Enter a geologist
The Commerce Secretary
Supported Prohibition, he
Envisioned competition, see
He saw his new position as a mission of Efficiency
Got into this spot allotting every pot a chicken
But once the markets tumbled
The financial plot would thicken
Some would cite the public dam that Hoover would construct
Still, quite a few historians say Herbert Hoover sucked


Then, Franklin D Roosevelt received the nation’s holler
A Navy man and scholar
Who saw a bright tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar
While others had reached eight years
FDR served through a dozen
The nation so adored him
Even more
Than Eleanor,
Who was both wife and cousin
Holy moly, Yo!
Look at his portfolio:
He fought the War both West and East
While South, he pushed Good Neighbor
Roosevelt chose for his belt
Both olive branch and saber
And with the whole entire world embroiled in imbroglio
It was no match for this man who, unrattled, battled Polio.
And though he was so robust and so deft in repertoire
His health soon failed and we were left bereft of FDR


The country wept as in he crept — a well-heeled politician
Truman was a true man in Missourian tradition
The Nazis had surrendered but the Japanese fought on
So Harry made a scary call and soon the War was done
But on its heals a colder war was brewing under Stalin
The Communists had iron fists — Korea soon had fallen.
Despite uniting nations and establishing his doctrine
This underdog was always dogged by Commies who had bloc-ed ‘im.


Truman was assumin’ he would lose his next term badly
He preempted, didn’t tempt it and he gave the nom to Adlai
But Americans chose Ike
Since he felled the German Reich
In the European Theater
He’s a leader we could like
So after stormin’ Normandy the soldier soldiered on
He raced the Reds to space
And built up our prosperity
He faced off with the Soviets
With nuclear temerity
Historians agree this five-star president was great
He built up our country and built the Interstate
So, when you’re stuck in traffic, blessed hour after hour
You should know the name to blame, it’s Dwight D Eisenhower


While Ike’s VP was sweating under TV camera’s scrutiny
A handsome, first-term Senator led a Massachusetts mutiny
The Kennedys went all the way ‘cuz younger folk loved them a lot
Jackie and her Jack arrived and welcomed us to Camelot
We have to wonder what would be had Kennedy live longer
Would he have made errors or perhaps our country stronger?
But, despite the Bay of Pigs and at the risk of sounding callous
Cuba was a safer place for Kennedy than Dallas


With POTUS slain
He’d board the plane
Poor Jackie by his side
And LBJ began his reign
As a nation loudly cried
This towering Texan started flexin’ political muscle
While steady growth would bring the checks in, Johnson set to tussle
He gave us his Great Society
Arts and education,
Public service, War on Poverty, hope throughout the nation
But he also gave us escalation
Troops into Saigon
It seems the never-ending war was Johnson’s Vietnam


Lyndon turned in home successes and overseas distresses
By ’68 he’d lost the State and campuses were messes
So Richard Nixon cast his chits in and fin’lly found the White House
With an end to war and a Chinese tour, it seemed Dick’s in the right house.
Apparently he felt so too and clamored to stay in it
Through bugs and thugs and burglary, he’d steal it instead of win it.
Richard tendered resignation in summer ‘74
And Nixon got his last few licks in before we couldn’t push him anymore.


With the Nixon eruption
And endless corruption
The country’s shattered faith would need to be restored
We sought another Lincoln
But we got ourselves a Ford
The people wanted vindication
For which the nation had a hard on
But Gerald was a gentle man,
You have to beg his pardon


A beneficiary of conservative insurgency
And capitalizing on a sense of energetic urgency
Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer, eked his way to president
But hostages, Russians and nuclear combustions
Would make the voters hesitant
Carter seemed to lack the teeth to face the gath’ring storm and
So a California actor came to give his best performance


Americans captured in Iran
Soviets in Afghanistan
Economical malaise
And gas lines that went on for days
These were all our nation plaguin’
Enter Ronald Wilson Reagan
The Great Communicator captured minds through phrases bold and witty
The people soon were so enraptured by Ronnie’s famous shining city
He took on Russia’s Gorbachev
And said to “Tear this wall down”
He fought with unions, drugs, Grenada
And sought to bring them all down
Unfortunately illness came
And so did Iran-Contra
Despite his failing memory
Hope remained his mantra


Picking up where Reagan left, his Veep began to run
A nasty battle soon ensued, though won Bush 41
The former CIA director earned some folk’s derision
By failing to articulate if, in fact, he had a vision.
He told us all to read his lips
And promised tax reform
He pushed Iraqis out of Kuwait
By stirring up a Storm
But lo, his pledges soon rang hollow
And Bush levied new taxes
The folks were pissed, his party hissed
And sent Bush off to Texas


Beating Bush in ’92 was a Boomer from Arkansas
Young Bill Clinton hit the scene, came back and lit a spark and saw
The country’s Democratic Party triumph in both houses
And Bill and Hill came into fill the White House as First Spouses
Though Clinton had charisma and brilliance to match Prince Valliant’s
He spent much of his second term answering for his dalliance
Still, Clinton stayed in office with a surplus that we’d beg to see
His sax and sex and vast success
Is his perplexing legacy


The millennial election was a much-contested contest
George and Al were tangled in a much-debated conquest
But vicious ads and hanging chads and a Supreme decree
Saw Dubya in the White House. So welcome 43!
It wasn’t long ‘fore it went wrong and towers tumbled down
And Bush stood at Ground Zero shouting words that would resound
The nation soon would find itself embroiled in two wars
We wonder if Bush ever wished these troubles were Al Gore’s
Then a hurricane came and devastation reigned
The man saw his approval was slipping down the drain
Still he battled Kerry and summarily deposed him
And after eight full years of Bush, some claim we never chosed him.


How does a new famed
Son of a Kenyan
With the middle name Hussein
Suddenly, insanely
Grow up to be a president —
The White House’s first black resident?
His name’s Barack Obama
He’s a rock in face of drama
Faced Iraq and killed Osama
But now faces Islamic State,
A Congress that is full of hate
A country that’s not only straight
The man’s got oratory flair
But folks ask, does Obama care
His orders sorta give some vapors
Someone better check his papers!


We find ourselves in sweet ‘16
With troubles wide and ranging
And hope on the horizon in a world that’s ever changing
So who will the next POTUS be?
Who will have the pedigree?
Who will keep this ode alive?
Good luck to Number 45!

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