But who will carry on your legacy?
This is one example of a bingo, or common phrase one may hear when they tell others they do not want children. I don’t hear this one very often but when I do, I can’t help but chuckle. It’s hard to formulate a proper response.
I think to myself, It will be no great tragedy if my lineage ends with me. But if I say that aloud, I may sound self-loathing or perhaps a bit antinatalistic. It’s just that when I contemplate legacies being carried on through generations, I don’t think of myself, I think of kings and queens and even prime ministers and presidents. I wonder if George Washington himself was bingoed when he didn’t carry on his legacy.
History has shown us time and time again that if a person’s legacy is truly of importance, it will live on through his or her own name.
This is true of the following childless presidents of the United States:
James Buchanan – The Bachelor for Life
James Buchanan, America’s 15th president, ranks near the bottom in presidential popularity polls. This may not have been an indication of being a truly terrible person, just one not cut out to run the country.
He reportedly told his successor Abraham Lincoln, “If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland [his estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania], you are a happy man.”
Regardless of his successes and/or failures as president, Buchanan is the only president to this day that never married. He remained a bachelor until his death in 1868 at 77 years of age.
Buchanan also never had any biological children, though he did have an orphaned niece who he would eventually adopt. She would occasionally act as hostess of the White House, a position usually held by the First Lady.
James Polk and His First Lady
James Polk served as the 11th president of the United States. Polk and his wife Sarah Childress never had children of their own nor adopted. Many contribute their childlessness to Polk reportedly becoming sterile after an operation to remove urinary stones.
Childlessness aside, Polk and Childress would go on to launch quite a political career. In a time when motherhood was considered the only job for a woman, Childress was busy serving as an advisor for her husband; helping him with his speeches, offering advice, and copying his correspondence. Childress was also a devout Presbyterian who refused to attend the theater and horse races, banned hard liquor from the White House, and renounced dancing. Speaking of dancing, she didn’t even dance at the inaugural ball! Even still, she was considered a charming and popular First Lady.
Although something of a workaholic, Polk promised to serve only one-term as president and did not go on to seek reelection. The stress of his presidency is thought to have contributed to his poor health and early death at age 53 . Childress lived some 40 years after the death of her husband. She never remarried and never had children. I’m eager to call her childfree though I suppose we can never know for sure.
Andrew Jackson – Biological Father to None; Guardian to Many
Lawyer turned politican, Andrew Jackson, became the seventh president of the United States in 1829. Jackson and his wife Rachel were subject to many negative personal attacks and accused of adultery due to Rachel not having been legally divorced from her first husband when she and Jackson married.
Although Jackson and his wife never had children of their own, they adopted one of their infant twin nephews. Jackson also served as a guardian to a great many children, including one Native American orphan.
While not historically necessary to mention, Jackson once had a feast featuring a wheel of cheese weighing 1400 pounds. So if you don’t think childless and childfree people can party, think again.
George Washington- The Founding Father Who Never Fathered
The very first president of the United States may have fathered America but he never fathered any children of his own. He married Martha Dandridge Custis, a young widow, and went on to adopt her two children. Unfortunately, both children died prior to the age of 30, leaving both George and Martha with four grandchildren, two of which they went on to raise.
Being childless was a source of despair for Washington. Historian W.S. Randall says, “He was content with Martha, but mystified why, year after year, he and Martha could produce no Washington heir.” It is widely thought that Washington was the source of infertility.
Regardless, the couple maintained an intimate relationship full of deep and abiding love, as is evident in the few surviving letters from Washington to his dear wife.
Maybe you didn’t know George Washington was childless, but I’m sure you knew his name. His legacy, and the legacies of others without children, can and will live on despite the lack of an heir or heiress.
Tell me. Who are your childless and/or childfree role models?