Degrees of separation from Obama to Washington?

On the news of Obama’s choice of Lincoln’s bible to use at the inauguration, I was musing how many steps it takes to get between the two of them. And then I figured why not take it all the way? I was only using presidents who knew (or I thought were likely to know) each other, I don’t have the background knowledge to do better (via cabinet members or congresspeople or the like).

I can see going from Obama -> Carter -> Nixon -> Ike -> FDR -> TR.
I can see going from Washington -> John Quincy Adams.
But I don’t see the best way to go in between…

Any help?
Mods: Sorry if this should go in another forum…

Can we assume that every president even met his predecessor and successor? Are there known exceptions to this?

And you might do better to consider long-term congresspeople. Did Obama know Strom Thurmond?

Did Obama’s father meet JFK?

Obama didn’t overlap Thurmond. Byrd, though? Byrd took office in 1959 according to Wikipedia, during Ike’s term. So then we go Obama -> Byrd -> Ike -> FDR -> TR. That actually only saves us one person from above…

Maybe TR gets back to Lincoln in only one shot via some old Civil War general who was also in the Spanish-American War? Wheeler?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

TR appointed him to the Supreme Court.

If he was at Fort Stevens, as the legend goes, they met there. (and if not, surely Holmes was travelling in the circles where he would have met people who we can trace back to Washington.

Or, we can surely trace FDR to Taft or Harding… and they met Lincoln’s son, who, I am told, met Abraham once or twice.

Hmm. FDR was in Wilson’s cabinet, Taft preceded Wilson.
So FDR -> Wilson -> Taft -> Robert Lincoln -> Abe Lincoln?

John Quincy Adams served in the House until 1848, overlapping Lincoln’s time there. So that seems easy enough:

Washington -> JQA -> Lincoln -> Robert Lincoln -> Taft -> Wilson -> FDR -> Ike -> Byrd -> Obama?

FDR surely met Harding in 1920, when FDR was the democratic vice-presidential
nominee, and Harding ran and won as the republican nominee for president.


Barack Obama was in All-American Presidential Forums on PBS Moderated by Tavis Smiley (2007) with Hillary Rodham Clinton who was in The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1993) with Billy Preston who was in The Nat King Cole Show (1956) with George Washington.

I can’t confirm all the links without visiting a good library, but I think maybe it could go Washington > JQ Adams > Roscoe Conkling > Grover Cleveland > John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald > Ted Kennedy > Obama

This chain is one step longer but I’m more confident about the links: Washington > Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee > Robert E. Lee > Simon Bolivar Buckner >Grover Cleveland > John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald >Ted Kennedy >Obama

Why not just go back through every President in succession? Did any POTUS ever take office without ever meeting his predecessor?

A little bit of looking on Wikipedia shows that Roscoe Conkling passed the bar and started his political career as a DA in Oneida County, NY in 1850, two years after Adams died, so I’m doubtful they ever met.

I tried making links with people who belonged to political dynasties in the hopes they might have known important old people while still youths. He isn’t well remembered today, but Conkling’s father Alfred was a big man in NY politics in his day and the elder Conkling certainly knew JQ Adams. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I’m guessing it’s pretty likely the younger Conkling met JQA at least once.

I believe the goal is the shortest route possible.

Yep, that was the intention.

Actually, it’s kind of neat to realize that John Quincy Adams met both Washington and Lincoln.

Almost as neat as thinking that according to TWDuke, Billy Preston is also on the shortest chain between George Washington and Yoko Ono. :wink:

I might make the first step from Washington to his step-grandson and adopted son George Washington Parke Custis, who lived until 1857, and was prominent enough to have known a lot of important people. Like Henry Lee, he gives a single step to Robert E. Lee, his son-in-law, but he lived nearly 40 years longer into the 19th century than Henry Lee did.

Correct, Wheeler served as a CSA general and a USA general in the Spanish-American War both in Cuba and the Philippines. Did he meet Lincoln - unknown - though they certainly knew of each other.

Well, if that’s the standard, Obama knows of Washington.

I thought the chain was to be through presidents. I just happened to be reading last night a book which told an anecdote that a very young FDR met Cleveland who told him that his only wish for him was that he was never president. Cleveland may have met Lincoln, but is even likelier to have met some ante-bellum president.

I assumed this was through relation… not meeting. What “counts”? Having a conversation? Knowing each other on a first name basis? Or one simply seeing the other? I’m just confused as to what standards are being used.

TR goes to Lincoln in one shot through John Hay who was Lincoln’s private secretery as a young man and later became TR’s Secretery of State.

(FWIW, there is substantial historiacal evidence pointing to Hay as the actual author of the eloquent letter to Mrs. Bixby signed by Lincoln during the Civil War. That’s the letter that became famous in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Also, in the movie The Wind and the Lion, a fictional film based on a real historical incident, Hay is portrayed by John Huston. He has a small role, but the scene where he is made to look foolish my the Japanese diplomats is the best one in the movie, IMO.)