John Adams


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: John Adams

What: 2nd President of the United States (1797-1801), 1st Vice President of the United States (1789-1797), signatory of the Declaration of Independence, statesman, diplomat and Founding Father

Where: Born Braintree (now Quincy, Massachusetts); died Quincy, Massachusetts

Why: First one-term president, first Ivy League president (Harvard), member of the influential Adams political family, one of the most important Founding Fathers of the United States.

When: Born October 30, 1735; died July 4, 1826

“The happiness of society is the end of government” – John Adams


John Adams was born in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts in 1735. He attended Harvard University and became a lawyer. He rose to prominence as an opponent of the 1765 Stamp Act, becoming one of the pre-eminent advocates of independence. His firm belief that everyone should be treated fairly led to him defending the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre in court. As a representative from Massachusetts during the Second Continental Congress, he helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence, and as ambassador to France represented the United States during the peace negotiations with Great Britain that led to the Treaty of Paris and the ratification of the United States’ independence.



He served as the first Vice President under George Washington, and after Washington stepped down he ran for President under the Federalist ticket. He defeated his long-time rival Thomas Jefferson, who became his Vice President. During his presidency, Adams peacefully resolved the 1798-1800 Quasi-War with France and passed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, which many believed violated the First Amendment, which protected free speech. Adam’s lost his re-election to Thomas Jefferson and died the same day as Jefferson on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Adam's signature on the Declaration of Independence

Adam’s signature on the Declaration of Independence

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George Washington


Part of the P.O.T.U.S Series

Who: George Washington

What: 1st President of the United States (1789-1797), commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and Founding Father of the United States

Where: Born Westmoreland County, Virginia; died Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Why: First and only President to be elected unanimously (twice), first and only sitting President to command a standing field army during the Whiskey Rebellion

When: Born February 22, 1732; died December 14, 1799 (age 67)

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth” – George Washington


Born into a wealthy family in Virginia, George Washington had always wanted to be a soldier. Appointed a major in the provincial militia in 1753, he fought in the French and Indian War, yearning for but not receiving a commission in the British Army. He married Martha Custis in 1759. He was a delegate to the First Continental Congress. After the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the breakout of the American Revolutionary War, Washington attended the Second Continental Congress in military uniform, and was appointed commander-in-chief of the newly created Continental Army. He did not win many of his battles, but did not let the British destroy his army either, and eventually forced the British surrender at Yorktown with the help of the French navy.


Unanimously elected President by the Electoral College, Washington was acutely aware that everything he did set a precedent, and took great pains to avoid any notion of monarchy. He chose the title ‘Mr President’, established the cabinet form of government, a standing army and a national bank. His farewell address warned against foreign intervention, a policy that would stand for a century, and political division. He declined a third term, setting another precedent for the unwritten rule of a two-term limit, and died two years after his retirement at his home in Mount Vernon of an infection. Washington is immortalised as the ‘father of his country’, with his birthday a federal holiday and many monuments and memorials dedicated to him all over the United States.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant


Who: Led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, self-appointed Commander of the Faithful

What: Jihadist militant terrorist group

Where: Founded in Iraq, current sphere of influence extends into Syria

Why: Claims the status of an independent caliphate for its territory in Iraq and Syria

When: Founded at Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, became known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004, proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq on October 15, 2006 and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on April 9, 2013

“Our objective is clear. We with degrade and ultimately destroy [IS]” – Barack Obama

The area controlled by ISIL (red), and claimed by ISIL (yellow)

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was formed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as Jamāʻat al-Tawḥīd wa-al-Jihād or ‘The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad’ in 1999. The group achieved early notoriety after the 2003 invasion of Iraq for suicide attacks on Shia mosques and civilians, and was inadvertently incubated by the US when many of the leaders of the Iraqi insurgency were detained together at Camp Bucca. In October 2004, al-Zarqawi swore fealty to Osama bin Laden, and the group became known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Osama bin Laden saw his terrorism as the precursor to a caliphate he never expected to see in his lifetime. In 2006 ISIL established its caliphate and began to capture central and western Iraq for its Sunni Islamic state.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the Islamic state, shown here in June 2014

The group grew, despite many high-level members (including al-Zarqawi) being captured or killed. After the US-led coalition left Iraq, ISIL recovered from several difficulties to become the supreme jihadist militant group in the region, especially after Mosul was captured in June 2014. ISIL follows an extreme interpretation of Islam, promoting religious violence and aims to reject all religious innovations, seeking to revive the original Wahhabi, conservative Sunni Islam that it believes to be purer. ISIL is notably Shiaphobic, persecuting Shi-ite Muslims. It is almost unilaterally designated a terrorist organization and deemed to be dangerous. Unlike many other terrorist groups however, ISIL maintains a level of professionalism, printing a recruiting magazine, Dabiq, in several languages and maintaining a presence on social media. It is also responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, especially Shi’ite Muslims, a number of beheadings of Western journalists and aid workers, and the immolation of Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh.

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The President of the United States


The President of the United States

Who: Currently Barack Obama, see full list below

What: Head of state and head of government of the United States of America

Where: 6 New Yorkers, 6 Ohioans, 5 Virginians, 4 Massachusites, 3 Californians, 3 Illinoisans, 3 Tennesseans, 3 Texans and 1 each from Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Why: Office created in an attempt to unite the thirteen colonies after the American Revolution, whilst also avoiding any resemblance to monarchy

When: First President took office in 1789, can serve for a maximum of two four-year terms.

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The position of President of the United States has been occupied by 43 separate people from eighteen different states. He is the ceremonial figurehead of the United States and head of the executive branch of government (the other two being judicial and legislative, headed by the Supreme Court and Congress), and as such is one of the most powerful men (or women) in the world.

The Seal of the President of the United States


To be President, the candidate must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, be at least thirty-five years old and have been a permanent resident of the United States for at least thirteen years.

Moreover, the candidate can be disqualified if s/he has already been elected president twice, has been convicted in impeachment cases, or who has rebelled against the United States.

Of the forty-three men who had served as President, four have been assassinated, another four have died in office of natural causes, and one has resigned.

The Curse

For 120 years, Presidents who were elected in a year divisible by twenty died in office: William Henry Harrison (1840), Abraham Lincoln (1860), James Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren Harding (1920), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940) and John F. Kennedy (1960). This “curse of Tippecanoe” was broken by Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 and who was shot but survived.

The tallest President was Abraham Lincoln, at 6’4”, or 193cm, and James Buchanan was the only President to never marry.

The average age (at election) is 54 years, 11 months. The youngest was Theodore Roosevelt (42) who took over after McKinley’s assassination. The youngest to be elected is John F Kennedy (43 years, 236 days). The oldest president was Ronald Reagan (69 years, 349 days when he assumed office).

The shortest presidency was that of William Henry Harrison, at just 32 days. The oldest President so far was Gerald Ford, who died in 2006 aged 93. The shortest-lived President was John F Kennedy, assassinated at just 46.

Only twelve out of the 43 sported facial hair, ten of these between 1861-1913, when only two Presidents were clean shaven in fifty years. Not one President has worn a beard or moustache in over a century.


Eleven Presidents held no degree whatsoever though since 1953 every President has had at least a bachelor’s degree. Two attended business school, George W Bush at Harvard and Jon F Kennedy at Stanford (withdrew), one attended Medical School (William Henry Harrison) but withdrew, and one, Woodrow Wilson, held a PhD in political science from John Hopkins University. Abraham Lincoln, notably, only had a year of formal schooling of any kind, despite working as a licensed bartender, land surveyor and lawyer before his Presidency.

25 of the 43 men were lawyers, two of whom graduated from Harvard Law School (Rutherford B Hayes and Barack Obama).


Twelve presidents were named for their fathers: John Adams, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Buchanan, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, John Calvin Coolidge, Gerald Ford (born Leslie Lynch King, Jr.), James ‘Jimmy’ Carter, Bill Clinton (born William Jefferson Blythe III), and Barack Hussein Obama II. George W Bush and John Quincy Adams don’t share the same middle names as their fathers, but share first names.

Not a single one of the 43 men have been an only child.

There have also been four sets of related presidents: two sets of father and son: George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and John Adams and John Quincy Adams, one grandfather and grandson: William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison, and fifth cousins Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Of the 43, only eleven did not serve in the military. Of the 32 that did serve, there was one Private, four Lieutenants, five Major Generals, two Majors, one Lieutenant Commander, two Generals of the Army, one General of the Armies (posthumous), two Commanders, five Colonels, two Captains, four Brigadier Generals and a brevetted Major. Eight of these fought in the American Civil War and seven in World War Two.

The first president to not be a lawyer or a general was Andrew Johnson in 1865.

Theodore Roosevelt was the only president to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, albeit posthumously, and one of four presidents to win a Nobel Peace Prize (the irony of winning a Nobel Peace Prize and a decoration for bravery in war apparently lost on both awarding parties).

Four have been immortalised on Mount Rushmore: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Since Harry Truman (1945-53), five out of the twelve presidents have been left-handed, and two more have been ambidextrous.

Only one (Martin van Buren) didn’t speak English; van Buren’s native language was Dutch. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, claimed to read and write six languages. John F Kennedy was the only Catholic President, as well as the only President to win a Pulizter Prize and earn a Purple Heart.

The White House, official residence of the President of the United States

Since John Adams in 1800, the official residence of the president has been the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. The Neoclassical six-storey mansion has survived being torched by British troops in the War of 1812 during the Burning of Washington and two major restoration projects. The entire structure consists of the Executive Residence, the main building, and two wings, the West Wing, comprising the President’s offices and the East Wing, additional office spaces and the offices and staff of the First Lady.

The Presidents

1 George Washington 1789-1797  George-Washington
2 John Adams 1797-1801  Adams
3 Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809  Jefferson
4 James Madison 1809-1817  Madison
5 James Monroe 1817-1825 Monroe
6 John Quincy Adams 1825-1829  Quincy Adams
7 Andrew Jackson 1829-1837  Imacon Color Scanner
8 Martin Van Buren 1837-1841  Van Buren
9 William H. Harrison 18412  Harrison
10 John Tyler 1841-1845  Tyler
11 James K. Polk 1845-1849  Polk
12 Zachary Taylor 1849-18502  Taylor
13 Millard Fillmore 1850-1853  Fillmore
14 Franklin Pierce 1853-1857  Pierce
15 James Buchanan 1857-1861  Buchanan
16 Abraham Lincoln 1861-18651  Lincoln
17 Andrew Johnson 1865-1869  Johnson
18 Ulysses S. Grant 1869-1877  Grant
19 Rutherford B. Hayes 1877-1881  Hayes
20 James A. Garfield 18811  Garfield
21 Chester A. Arthur 1881-1885  Arthur
22 Grover Cleveland 1885-1889  Cleveland
23 Benjamin Harrison 1889-1893  WHarrison
24 Grover Cleveland 1893-1897  Cleveland
25 William McKinley 1897-19011  McKinley
26 Theodore Roosevelt 1901-1909  Roosevelt
27 William Howard Taft 1909-1913  Taft
28 Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921  Wilson
29 Warren G. Harding 1921-19232  Harding
30 Calvin Coolidge 1923-1929  Coolidge
31 Herbert Hoover 1929-1933  Hoover
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-19452  FDR
33 Harry S Truman 1945-1953  Truman
34 Dwight D. Eisenhower 1953-1961  Eisenhower
35 John F. Kennedy 1961-19631  JFK
36 Lyndon B. Johnson 1963-1969  LBJ
37 Richard M. Nixon 1969-19743  Nixon
38 Gerald R. Ford 1974-1977  Ford
39 James Earl Carter 1977-1981  Carter
40 Ronald Reagan 1981-1989  Reagan
41 George H.W. Bush 1989-1993  5.1.2
42 William J. Clinton 1993-2001  Clinton
43 George W. Bush 2001-2009  GeorgeWBush
44 Barack H. Obama 2009-  OBama


1 Assassinated
2 Died in office
3 Resigned

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The Second Battle of Fort Wagner


Who: Robert Gould Shaw and Quincy Gillmore (Union) vs P.G.T Beauregard and William B. Taliaferro (Confederacy)

What: Confederate victory

Where: Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina

Why: Fort Wagner was crucial to the naval defense of Charleston; the battle heralded the acceptance of African-American soldiers in the war

When: July 18, 1863

“The old flag never touched the ground” – Sgt. William Carney

In 1863 Brigadier General was given the task of capturing Charleston. His task required the capture of Charleston’s heavily defended harbor. Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, a hastily built earthwork reinforced with springy palmetto logs, stood in his way. The approach to Fort Wagner was only 60 yards (55m) wide, with an impassable swamp on one side and the Atlantic on the other, meaning only one regiment could attack at a time. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry were chosen, one of the first African-American units of the US Army, commanded by the white 25-year-old Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. The 54th and their two supporting brigades charged, and were shredded by withering Confederate cannon and musket fire. They reached the parapet and engaged in bloody hand to hand fighting, but the attack was repulsed with heavy losses, including Shaw, shot in the chest three times urging his men forward. Around 1,500 Union soldiers were killed, captured or wounded, with Shaw buried in a mass grave with his black men intended as an insult (but not interpreted as such by his abolitionist parents). Despite the loss, the battle changed the way the North saw African-Americans. The 54th had lost half of its 600 men, and were widely praised for their courage under fire, with one, Sgt. William Carney, awarded the Medal of Honor. This led to wider African-American recruitment, further bolstering the North’s numerical advantage and improving the reputation of black soldiers.

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George Armstrong Custer


Who: George Armstrong Custer

What: United States Army officer

Where: Born New Rumley, Ohio; died Little Bighorn, Montana

Why: His service in the American Civil War overshadowed by his Last Stand at Little Bighorn

When: Born December 5, 1839; died June 25, 1876

“I would be willing, yes glad, to see a battle every day during my life” – George Armstrong Custer

George Armstrong Custer had a busy life before his premature death at Little Bighorn. After growing up in Michigan and Ohio, he attended West Point, graduating last in his class of 34 a year early due to the outbreak of the Civil War. As a cavalry officer, he fought in the First Battle of Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, the Battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Yellow Tavern, Trevilian Station, the Valley Campaigns of 1864, the Siege of Petersburg and finally, played a crucial role at Appomattox, where he was present when Lee finally surrendered. Throughout the war, Custer excelled, uncharacteristically avoiding injury and becoming a darling of the press due to his exuberance and flamboyance, and his impressive cavalry tactics. He became known for his daring and his bravery. After the war ended, Custer stayed with the US Army to fight in the Indian Wars, fighting the Cheyenne and Lakota as America pushed west. In June 1876, Custer’s luck ran out; leading the 7th Cavalry against Sitting Bull at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Despite being warned by scouts, Custer’s forces were wiped out by between 1,800 and 2,000 braves. He achieved the fame he had always craved – but not as a military hero, but as a reckless, incompetent fool. The debacle became known as Custer’s Last Stand, a far cry from the stellar service he had displayed during the Civil War.

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The Battle of the Wilderness


Who: Ulysses S Grant and George Meade (Union) vs Robert E Lee (Confederacy)

What: Confederate tactical victory, Union strategy victory. Actual battle inconclusive.

Where: Spotsylvania County, Virginia

Why: Part of Grant’s Overland Campaign to take Richmond

When: May 5-7, 1864

“As desperate fighting as the world has ever witnessed” – Ulysses S Grant

In March 1864, Ulysses S Grant had been promoted and given command of all Union armies. Choosing the Army of the Potomac for his headquarters, he devised a strategy to strike at the heart of the Confederacy and destroy Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The Army of the Potomac crossed the river on May 4, and Robert E Lee decided to confront Grant in the dense woodland known as the Wilderness, not far from the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville. By engaging Grant in the thick woods, Lee could negate Grant’s numerical advantage of around 100,000 to Lee’s 60,000. The two armies met on May 5. The fighting was chaotic, with cavalry and artillery almost useless in the thick brush, which set on fire and trapped many of the wounded, and the thick smoke from the fires and rifles effectively blinding the troops. The next day Grant attacked, driving the Confederate right flank under A.P Hill back almost a mile, before a timely counterattack from James Longstreet’s corps. Longstreet was shot by one of his own men in the shoulder. Lee ordered another attack, breaking the Union line. Uncharacteristically for a Union commander, Grant refused to retreat, steadying the breaking lines. By the end of the battle, the two armies had barely moved from their original positions, but had suffered huge casualties: 17,000 Union and 7,000 Confederate. Grant moved his troops from their positions and moved onwards, setting up the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, which would begin the next day on May 8.

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