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How did Presidents Earn Unconventional Nicknames throughout History?

How did Presidents earn unconventional nicknames throughout history? Let’s see:

Everyone has a nickname that only they and their close friends know, but when you’re a famous person like an American president, the entire world will know it. Some of them are fun, others not so much. But I guess it depends on how personal you take them.

While some have exposed the more sinister aspects of American politics, others have used military might and leadership attributes to send politicians onto the national platform. Let’s take a look at a handful of the most outrageous nicknames and the story behind how the American presidents got them.

presidents earn unconventional nicknames
Photo by Everett Collection from Shutterstock

Franklin ‘Great Sphinx’ Roosevelt

The first American president we will talk about is Franklin D. Roosevelt. Because of his early years, he was an unusual ally of the less fortunate, and many of his rich opponents referred to him as a “traitor to his class” after he was elected in 1932 and implemented the radical New Deal programs that ended the Great Depression.

Roosevelt served as a national cheerleader for many Americans, lifting morale with remarks made during fireside chats and the idea that the only thing America had to fear was itself.
When he chose to seek a third term as president in 1939, reporters began referring to him as the “Great Sphinx” because he would not respond to their inquiries. This is how he earned the nickname.

Abraham ‘Honest Abe’ Lincoln

The sixteenth president of the United States was born in a one-room log cabin in Kentucky, giving him an unusual story. Despite having had little formal education, he was intelligent and ambitious. Using his lean physique to his advantage, he did a variety of odd jobs and amassed a legendary 299-1 record as a wrestler, earning him the nickname “Grand Wrestler” and a place in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Abraham Lincoln relocated to New Salem, Illinois, in his mid-20s, where he worked as a postmaster, store owner, and shopkeeper. During this period, Lincoln gained his image as an honest merchant, allegedly driving patrons out of the store if they unintentionally gave him a shorter price.

“Honest Abe” practiced law, moved to Springfield, and was elected to one term in the House of Representatives. Lincoln’s reputation for honesty and candor made him a desirable opponent when he faced Douglas in the 1858 Senate election, as Douglas confessed to a friend.

Herbert ‘Great Humanitarian’ Hoover

This American president is mainly criticized for his alleged lack of government action during the early years of the Great Depression; nevertheless, he was mostly responsible for his excellent management of many crises over ten years prior, which helped him win the presidency in 1928.

Hoover was a rich engineer when World War I broke out in 1914, but his Quaker background inspired him to step up when starvation in Europe threatened to claim the lives of millions of people. Hoover organized a group of volunteers to provide food to France and Belgium.

Following America’s entry into the war, he supervised the rationing and food conservation programs in 1917. He kept up his efforts long after the war was over, and under his leadership, war-torn Europe received almost 34 million tons of food.

You can see why he is referred to as “the great humanitarian” and why appreciative locals built monuments to him, such as a statue in Belgium that portrayed him as the Egyptian goddess of life, Isis.

Are you interested in delving even deeper into the topic? The Presidents Fact Book is a complete compendium of all things presidential and a sweeping survey of American history through the biographies of every president, from George Washington to Joe Biden. It’s available on Amazon for $22.15 for the paperback version. 

Thomas “Long Tom” Jefferson

This is, by far, the most predictable nickname of all time! This American president gained his nickname “Long Tom” because, at six feet, 2.5 inches, he was six inches taller than the typical man in his day.

James “Little Jemmy” Madison

Right at the opposite pole is President James Madison, who was the shortest American president in history, at just 5 feet, 4 inches tall. Given his small height and feeble physical attributes, some critics mocked him as “Little Jemmy” or “His Little Majesty.” He was known to his family and friends as Jemmy. Some people said, “He was no bigger than half a piece of soap.” Funny!

presidents earn unconventional nicknames
Photo by Prachaya Roekdeethaweesab from Shutterstock

John “His Accidency” Tyler

The story of John Tyler’s nickname is a bit more complicated so let us explain it to you. For those who don’t know, he was born into the nobility of Virginia. John Tyler was a steadfast defender of state sovereignty who opposed the expansion of federal power. He surprised his friends and followers in 1836 when he resigned from fellow Democrat Jackson and his party and resigned from his Senate position in protest.

As a former slave owner and trailblazing Southerner, Tyler gained popularity on the Whig Party’s 1840 presidential ticket. The popular front-runner Harrison, who defeated Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe and was hailed as a military hero, was not expected to be replaced. However, Tyler’s charisma and memorable campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” sealed the agreement and helped them win the White House.

Harrison passed away from pneumonia, most likely contracted while delivering a protracted inauguration speech in cold weather, only one month into his presidency. Tyler became president even though the succession process was not made explicit in the Constitution. But because of his acts, which caused friction with other Whigs, his political opponents dubbed him “His Accidency.” Tyler ran for reelection in 1844 for a limited period but was unsuccessful owing to a lack of party support.

Rutherford “Rutherfraud” Hayes

Born in Ohio In 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, a former governor of Ohio, attorney, and veteran of the Civil War, was nominated by the Republican Party for president. American politics were rife with anxiety during this period. Reconstruction, the Republican-led campaign to protect African Americans’ rights in the former Confederacy, had been going on for more than ten years, and the federal occupation of numerous Southern states was starting to irritate large portions of the country, both North and South.

Samuel Tilden, a Democrat from New York, received a majority of the popular vote on election day. However, a Congressional committee was constituted after the results of three Southern states’ votes appeared to be too close to call, and Hayes was pronounced the victor a few days before inauguration day. Hayes earned the nicknames “His Fraudulency” and “Rutherfraud” due to the events that led to his presidency, in which he promised to end Reconstruction.

Andrew “Sharp Knife” Jackson

Andrew Jackson received this nickname from Creek chiefs in recognition of his combative style. Jackson’s willingness to suffer in combat alongside his men earned him the more well-known moniker, Old Hickory.

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