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Welsh Presidents of the USA

Phil Carradice

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Links between the USA and Wales are lengthier and far more considerable than many people know. For example, five of the first six Presidents of the USA were of Welsh descent and the country has had no fewer than ten Welsh-connected Presidents in all - plus, briefly, the President of the Confederate States of America.

The Welshmen at the helm of the most powerful country in the world were:- John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Morrison Jnr, James Monroe, William Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Harrison, James A Garfield and Calvin Coolidge. The Confederate President was, of course, Jefferson Davis.

John Adams, the second ever President and the first one to reside in the White House, was able to trace his ancestry to the town of Pembroke in Pembrokeshire and to Penybanc Farm at Llanboidy in Carmarthenshire. The earliest reference to his family comes in 1422 when a distant ancestor, John Adams of Pembroke, married the daughter of Penybanc Farm and duly took over the business. David Adams, one of the later sons of Penybanc, was educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Carmarthen, took holy orders and in 1675 emigrated to America. Fifty years later his great grandson, the future President, was born.

John Adams' son, also called John, became the first and, for many years, the only son of a US President to also succeed to the Oval Office - a record that lasted until George W Bush succeeded his father a few years ago. John Quincy Adams became the sixth President in 1825.

Before that, however, there had been several other Presidents of Welsh descent. Amongthem was Thomas Jefferson who succeeded to the post in 1817. He was the main author and guiding light of the Declaration of Independence, a document that resonates with all the cadences and flowing poetry of the Welsh soul.

His origins are a little unclear but Jefferson himself said that his father came from the foothills of Snowdon and in 1933 a US State Department official unveiled a plaque at Llanfair Ceiriog, the inscription reading "To the memory of a great Welshman, Thomas Jefferson."

The fifth President and yet another man of Welsh descent, James Monroe, was the official who conceived and implemented the Monroe Doctrine, a policy that declared that any attempt to colonise land on the continent of North America would be regarded as an act of war.

Yet another Welsh connection came in the person of the ninth President, William Harrison who lasted just 32 days and became the first President to die in office. James Madison Jnr, the fourth President - who actually served two terms in office - was one of the Founding Fathers of the American nation and was the principal author of the US Constitution - another document that betrays its author's Welsh heritage in the style and quality of its composition.

Like Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, of course, also died in office, assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in April 1865. His Welsh lineage might be tentative and unclear but his surname comes from a fusion of Welsh and Latin, meaning "from the lake country."

Perhaps the most romantic of all the Welsh connected Presidents is Jefferson Davis who, after the succession of the southern states, was elected President of the Confederacy in February 1861. He had been Secretary of State for War and was a hero of the Indian Wars but had always viewed the southern states as a country within a country. The American Civil War was a long and bloody conflict, like all civil wars, and the eventual defeat of the southern states was inevitable.

Davis was captured two days after the surrender and was flung into prison where he was kept in irons for two years. His wife, a Welsh woman by the name of Varina Howell, campaigned tirelessly for his release and this was eventually granted. Jefferson Davis - named after Thomas Jefferson, one of the earliest Welsh Presidents - retired to New Orleans where he died, aged 82 years old.

Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson - the only two Presidents to actually sign the Declaration of Independence - died on exactly the same day. It was 4 July 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing.

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