Heading toward Michigan’s March 8 primary, we wondered how many U.S. presidents or presidential candidates have had Michigan connections.
As part of the Detroit By The Numbers series, WDET’s Sandra Svoboda talked with Liette Gidlow, associate professor of history at Wayne State University, and Amy Elliott Bragg, president of Preservation Detroit and blogger at NightTrainToDetroit.com.
You can click on the audio above to hear their full conversation, but here’s some of what we learned:
Most of the presidential candidates from Michigan have been Republicans. Only Cass was a Democrat, and Birney was a third-party candidate,” Gidlow says. “Michigan has very deep Republican Roots.”
A few more details in chronological order of the candidates:
James G. Birney was the presidential candidate for the Liberty Party in 1840 and 1844. It was a bit ironic that he ran for the Liberty Party – an Abolitionist group – as he had been a slave owner earlier in his life. Born in Kentucky, he lived for several years in Bay City.
“He ultimately emancipated his slaves and ran for president as an abolitionist,” Professor Gidlow says.
Lewis Cass, yes, as in Cass Avenue, was the Democratic candidate for U.S. president in 1848 where he lost to Zachary Taylor in the general election. Cass, who is buried in Detroit’s Elmwood Cemetery, was governor of the Michigan Territory from 1813 to 1831 and was the U.S. Senator from Michigan beginning in 1845. Cass also served in the administration of President Andrew Jackson, where he played a part in the forced migration of Native Americans from the southeast United States.
“That role drew on his history in Michigan where he had helped to negotiate a series of treaties that helped removed Indians for Michigan for white settlement,” Professor Gidlow says. “It’s a complicated legacy. He reflected consensus views of the time and yet opinions has changed about what is right and what is wrong.”
Ulysses S. Grant, a Union general in the Civil War, was the 18th American president from 1869-1877. A native of Ohio, he was stationed at Fort Wayne in Detroit in 1849 to 1851 as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. His house was moved to the Michigan State Fairgrounds, and you can see it from the south side of the property.
“You can visit the Grant House, at least in a driveby,” says Amy Elliott Bragg, president of Preservation Detroit. “His house that he lived in is still here in a state of neglect or in limbo maybe.”
Thomas Dewey – of the “Dewey Beats Truman” incident – was born in Owosso in 1902. As the unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate in 1944 and 1948, he was part of the most famous newspaper error in history when the Chicago Tribune published the incorrect headline.
“His father was a newspaper publisher in Owosso. Dewey himself went to the University of Michigan as an undergraduate but he went to New York to Columbia for law school and never came back except for family visits,” Gidlow says.
George Romney, who was governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969, ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, and his son, Mitt Romney, a Detroit native and later governor of Massachusetts, was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. He lost to Democrat Barack Obama.
“They represent different wings of the Republican Party, the older Romney, George, represented the more liberal wing of the party that now is nowhere to be found,” Gidlow says. “Mitt Romney himself, likewise, seems to have reembraced some more moderate views earlier in his career but in 2012 he had very definitely made a shift to the conservative right.
Gerald Ford, who grew up in Grand Rapids and represented the area in Congress, was both the nation’s vice president and president but was never elected to either office. He became the former by appointment following the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agney and the latter with Richard Nixon’s resignation. He lost the 1976 election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Infographic by Melissa Mason.