Our Non-Anglo-Saxon Presidents

A Mitt Romney advisor made a gaffe the other day by telling the British newspaper The Telegraph that Romney would be better at cultivating the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K. because he appreciates the two nations’ common Anglo-Saxon roots.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the unnamed person said. “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”

This is being taken as a reference to the fact that Romney is an American of English descent, and Obama is black. However, Obama is not our first non-Anglo-Saxon president. And because his mother, Ann Dunham, was of English descent, he’s actually more Anglo-Saxon than many of his predecessors. Here’s a list of presidents who were less Anglo-Saxon than Obama.

Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841: Van Buren was the first president who had no ancestors from the British Isles. In fact, English was not even his first language. Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, N.Y., a Dutch settlement in the Hudson Valley. His great-great-great grandfather, Cornelis van Buren, had emigrated to the New World in 1631, but the Van Burens never completely assimilated with their Anglo-Saxon neighbors.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909: Like Van Buren, Roosevelt was also a New Yorker of Dutch descent. The founder of the Roosevelt family, Claes Maartenszen von Rosenvelt, bought a farm in Manhattan in the mid-17th Century. However, Roosevelt’s mother was from an old Georgia family, making him at least half Anglo-Saxon. He belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-1945: A fifth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, FDR was also descended from Claes Rosenvelt. His mother, Sara Delano, was descended from Dutch Pilgrims who arrived in America shortly after the Mayflower. In the White House, Roosevelt once railed, “This is an English and Dutch country! Everyone else is here on sufferance,” making him a bit more inclusive than Romney’s adviser.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-1961: Eisenhower was our only president of predominantly German descent. His ancestors were Pennsylvania Dutch who had migrated to the United States in the 18th Century. Despite his lack of Anglo-Saxon heritage, he was able to work with English generals to plan the D-Day operation, one of the great moments in our special relationship with Britain.

John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963: Kennedy’s Irish ancestors had been in conflict with the Anglo-Saxons for hundreds of years. His maternal ancestor, Thomas Fitzgerald, emigrated to America during the Irish Potato Famine, one of the low points of that relationship. As president, though, Kennedy visited Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.

Ronald Reagan, 1981-1989: Reagan was also of Irish descent. His great-grandfather, Michael O’Regan, was born in County Tipperary before emigrating to London, then Illinois. The Republican president’s friendship with Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the strongest between an American and a British leader.

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