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Published: 2/21/2003

Ohio has sent 8 to Washington

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Forget they were mediocre.

There's something to be said for quantity, and seven of this nation's presidents - one-sixth of the total - herald from the Buckeye State.

(It's eight if you count adopted son William Henry Harrison, born in Virginia but elected to office here.)

A crucial swing state and electoral powerhouse, Ohio dominated the presidency for more than 50 years following the Civil War, when seven of 10 men who inhabited the White House were Ohio Republicans..

Take Rutherford B. Hayes of Fremont. He is remembered for ending Reconstruction after the Civil War and for the controversial circumstances of his election. In 1876, he lost the popular vote by 250,000 ballots to Samuel Tilden. However, a commission appointed by Congress granted disputed electoral votes in Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon to Hayes. With those votes came victory by a single electoral vote.

And who could forget William Howard Taft of Cincinnati, a mountain of a man who weighed more than 330 pounds when he left the White House in 1913. The last president to have a moustache, Taft may be known for his girth, but he also remains the only president to later serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The greatest claim to fame for Benjamin Harrison of North Bend was his lineage. The formal, bearded man is the only grandson of a president (William Henry Harrison) to serve in the office himself. His presidency, from 1889-93, passed in relative quiet, but he was the first to have electricity and a Christmas tree in the White House.

Ohio may be a mother of presidents, but her brood was an ill-fated bunch. Four died while in office.

William Henry Harrison, who fought with Gen. “Mad” Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers and played a prominent role in the War of 1812, died of pneumonia at 68 on April 4, 1841. A month earlier, he insisted on giving his hour-and-45-minute-long inauguration speech - the longest ever - during a snowstorm without a coat. His was the shortest presidential tenure.

James A. Garfield, a dark-horse candidate from Cuyahoga County, was known as a golden-throated orator, but he had little time to use his skill as president. He was fatally shot by a disappointed office seeker in July, 1881, less than four months after his inauguration.

The other Ohio son to die by gunfire was William McKinley, who was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901, the first year of his second term in office. The Canton native led the country's emergence as a world power, endorsing a declaration of war against Spain.

Although most of Ohio's presidents rated as average, Ulysses S. Grant of Mount Pleasant and Warren G. Harding, who died in office in 1923 of unknown natural causes, proved especially noteworthy. They were the only two widely considered failures.

Grant, the famous Civil War general who served two terms ending in 1877, and Harding, who began as a newspaper publisher in Marion, Ohio, had their tenures in office sullied by major scandals.

It's been 80 years since a Buckeye has been chief executive. Gerry Bazer, dean of arts and sciences at Owens Community College who teaches a course on great American presidents, has a theory.

“With Harding arguably our worst president, the country hasn't been willing to take a chance on an Ohioan,” he says.



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