Obama's father spoke of adoption. Which presidents actually were?

Barack Obama Sr. apparently discussed adoption before little Barack was born, according to news reports. It didn't happen, but two US presidents were, or considered themselves to be, adopted.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama walks to the Oval Office to the Rose Garden of the White house in Washington, Friday, July 8.

What would Barack Obama have achieved in life if his parents had put him up for adoption? His father discussed such a move before little Barack was born, apparently. Barack Obama Sr. told US immigration authorities that he and his pregnant wife, Anne Dunham, would “make arrangements with the Salvation Army to give the baby away,” according to documents obtained by a reporter from The Boston Globe.

Now, it’s not clear that Mr. Obama Sr. really meant this. He might just have been telling an immigration official what he thought that official wanted to hear. But it’s interesting to think about what might have happened if it had actually occurred. Barack Jr. would have been the same person, with the same innate abilities. He surely could have accomplished much. But would that have included the White House? All it takes is but a small shift to set our lives on a different course.

Let’s be clear, though: This doesn’t mean you can’t be president if you’re not raised by birth parents. Two modern US chief executives were, or considered themselves to be, adopted.

Gerald Ford is the first on this list. He was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. in Omaha, Neb. But two weeks after the baby was born, father Leslie Lynch King Sr. flew into a rage and threatened his young wife, Dorothy. She fled from the marriage to Michigan. Eventually she married a paint salesman named Gerald Rudolf Ford, who gave her young son his name.

Historian Douglas Brinkley, who has written a biography of President Ford, says Mr. Ford Sr. never actually took out adoption papers. But President Ford himself said his father had.

Then there’s Bill Clinton. He was born William Jefferson Blythe III in Hope, Ark. But his father died in a car accident three months after the birth. Little Bill’s mom later married a car dealer named Roger Clinton. When the future president was 14, he assumed his stepdad’s name – though the stepdad was an alcoholic who abused his wife, Bill’s mom. Eventually Bill threatened him with violence to get him to stop.

One final note: It’s still possible that in 2013 the president will have been adopted as a child. Newton Leroy McPherson was born on June 17, 1943, to a 16-year-old mom whose marriage fell apart within days of his birth. Three years later, the young woman married an Army officer named Roger Gingrich, who adopted her child – today’s GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich.

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