Handedness of Presidents of the United States

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The handedness of presidents of the United States is difficult to establish with any certainty before recent decades. During the 18th and 19th centuries left-handedness was considered a disability and teachers would make efforts to suppress it in their students.[1][2]

List of U.S. presidents by handedness since 1923[1][3][4]
PresidentPartyTermHandedness
Calvin CoolidgeRepublican1923–1929Right-handed
Herbert HooverRepublican1929–1933Left-handed[dubious ]
Franklin D. RooseveltDemocrat1933–1945Right-handed
Harry S. TrumanDemocrat1945–1953Left-handed[5]
Dwight D. EisenhowerRepublican1953–1961Right-handed
John F. KennedyDemocrat1961–1963Right-handed
Lyndon B. JohnsonDemocrat1963–1969Right-handed
Richard NixonRepublican1969–1974Right-handed
Gerald FordRepublican1974–1977Left-handed Ambidextrous
Jimmy CarterDemocrat1977–1981Right-handed
Ronald ReaganRepublican1981–1989Left-handed Ambidextrous
George H. W. BushRepublican1989–1993Left-handed
Bill ClintonDemocrat1993–2001Left-handed
George W. BushRepublican2001–2009Right-handed
Barack ObamaDemocrat2009–presentLeft-handed

For this reason there are few concrete references to determine the handedness of presidents prior to the early 20th century. The first president to be described as left-handed was Herbert Hoover,[6] though this has been disputed.[3]

Before this point, there is no evidence of any left-handed president, though it was said about President James Garfield that he could simultaneously write Latin with his right hand and Greek with his left.[4] Gerald Ford was also ambidextrous. He described himself as "left-handed sitting down and right-handed standing up".[7] Ronald Reagan is rumored to have been left-hand dominant, but forced by his schoolteachers and parents to switch.[6] Documentation of this is unreliable. If true, it would place Reagan in the category of ambidextrous presidents.[3] Historical photographs of Reagan signing treaties, pacts or pieces of legislation show him signing with his right hand. However, Ronald Reagan did wear and display his weapon on his left hip and left hand, when he played a cowboy during his acting career. Being forced by his schoolteachers and parents to switch handedness was also the case with Harry Truman, according to the biographer David McCullough.[8]

As of 2012, three out of the last seven presidents have been left-handed. Counting as far back as Truman, the number is five (or six) out of twelve. In the 1992 election, all three major candidates – George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot – were left-handed.[3] The 1996 election also involved three left-handed candidates: Clinton, Perot, and Bob Dole, who learned to use his left hand after his right hand was paralyzed by a World War II injury. Both major-party candidates in the 2008 presidential election – Barack Obama and John McCain – were left-handed.[9] The percentage of the population who are left-handed is about 10%.[4] While some write this trend off as a coincidence, others have tried to come up with scientific explanations. According to Daniel Geschwind, a professor of human genetics at UCLA, in 2008: "Six out of the past 12 presidents is statistically significant and probably means something".[4]

Amar Klar, a scientist who has worked on handedness, says that left-handed people "have a wider scope of thinking", and points to the disproportionately high number of Nobel Prize winners, writers, and painters who are left-handed.[6] Michael Peters, a neuropsychologist at the University of Guelph, points out that left-handed people have to get by in a world adapted to right-handers, something which can give them extra mental resilience.[1] The pattern, however, is not replicated in other countries; only two British post-war prime ministers have been left-handed (David Cameron[10] and James Callaghan).[4] Winston Churchill has often been credited with being a left-hander, although he was not.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Chung, Andrew (2008-03-02). "Odds are next U.S. president will be left-handed". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  2. ^ Macrae, Fiona (2008-10-24). "As two lefties vie for the American presidency... why are so many U.S. premiers left-handed?". The Daily Mail. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  3. ^ a b c d Rotstein, Gary (2008-02-25). "Another left-handed president? It's looking that way.". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Pilkington, Ed (2008-10-24). "Revealed: The leftist plot to control the White House". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  5. ^ McCullough, David. "Truman". p47 "Naturally left handed, he was taught [by his teachers] to use his right hand".
  6. ^ a b c James, Susan Donaldson (2008-02-22). "Four Out of Five Recent Presidents Are Southpaws". ABC News. Retrieved 2008-10-25. 
  7. ^ Kaczmarczyk, Jeffrey (December 14, 2012). "See two little-known secrets about President Ford revealed in a televised 1955 Christmas message". mlive.com. Retrieved May 21, 2013. 
  8. ^ McCullough, David (1992). Truman. New York; London: Simon & Schuster. p. 43. ISBN 0-671-45654-7. 
  9. ^ Rotstein, Gary (February 25, 2008). "Another left-handed president? It's looking that way". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  10. ^ "Picture of Cameron signing". Flickr. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  11. ^ Ed Wright, A Left-handed History of the World (2007) p.244

Further reading[edit]