Hail to the Chums (on Presidential Friends)

One of the U.S. presidency’s ironclad rules is that you can never really trust anyone you meet post-election. Although all politicians ought to know that apparent friends often have their own agendas, for the president of the United States this is a special challenge. As a result, friends who predate a president’s service in office can potentially have an outsized influence and importance. In his engaging new book, First Friends, Gary Ginsberg, a lawyer, corporate executive, and former government official, takes a look at nine different friendships and their impact on ten different presidencies. (The reason the book looks at more presidencies than friendships is that one of the friendships—that of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison—was itself between two presidents.)

Some of the more recent friendships Ginsberg examines are better known, including Richard Nixon and the Cuban entrepreneur Bebe Rebozo, Bill Clinton and the Washington fixer Vernon Jordan, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his cousin Daisy Suckley, who gave him the Scottish Terrier “Murray the Outlaw of Falahill,” a.k.a. Fala.

Other friendships are less well known to us today. In the 19th century, two years after publishing The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography of his Bowdoin college pal Franklin Pierce, who went on to win the 1852 election. Pierce, a Northerner who saw abolitionism as a greater threat to the Union than slavery, became a pariah in his own Democratic Party and in his native New Hampshire, while Hawthorne also suffered because of their association.

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