In our continuing series of scholarly meditations on the United States Presidency, we now bring you a list of five presidents who could kick the crap out of Chuck Norris. Of note: only one of the top five served after 1908, although two honorable mentions came later. Where have all the real men gone?)
5. Abraham Lincoln The only man on this list never to have seen combat. Still, preserving the Union and ending slavery were awesomely badass, and it's little known today, but the young Abe was said to have superhuman physical strength. Trust us, this was one man you wouldn't want at your Festivus party if you were the reigning champ in the Feats of Strength portion of the holiday.
Some claim he picked up a barrel of whiskey and drank from the bunghole. (His buddy William Herndon later said this wasn't true. He only lifted it to his waist, but he did bend over and drink from the barrel.) Others say he could down a tree as fast as any three normal men. In arranged wrestling matches, he was known to pick up town bullies and toss them around like they were empty beer cans. Others say he could dead-lift up to 1,200 pounds and walk around with loads weighing half that. And on top of all of that, he was a helluva lawyer and (it bears repeating) he ended slavery. Chuck Norris couldn't do that shit.
4. Ulysses S. Grant After running through a seemingly endless series of pussies at the head of his army, President Lincoln finally found a tough guy in the unlikely form of US Grant, a failed businessman and cigar-chomping chronic drunk. By ever-advancing and never retreating, Grant smashed the Confederacy in a couple of years; had Lincoln never demoted the preening-yet-timid General McClellan, the Union might have been sundered forever.
While his scandal-ridden presidency was by most accounts a failure, Grant's reputation for honesty remained intact, not least because of the severe financial hardship his family endured after his retirement. In fact, they faced ruin as Grant lay wracked in pain and dying of oral cancer, but the tough old general manned up, geeked himself on brandy, morphine and cocaine-infused medications, and cranked out a memoir that sold Da Vinci Code numbers and saved his heirs from the poorhouse. Could Chuck Norris do that? We don't think so.
3. George Washington Sure, he kicked Froggy tail in the French and Indian War and booted the Redcoats off our shores later, and the Iroquois called him "Town Destroyer," but the most badass thing George Washington ever did was to head back to Mount Vernon. Had he done what very many people were asking him to do, he could have been Dictator-for-Life, and America might never have amounted to more than an English-speaking version of Brazil. Instead, we became a democracy, with more or less fairly elected leaders. Would Chuck Norris do that? Nah, he'd probably opt for the ruler-for-life route. 2. Theodore Roosevelt The trust-busting, rough-riding, big-game-hunting, Amazon-exploring, National Parks-founding, Medal of Honor- and Nobel Peace Prize-winning, steer-punching Teddy was the ultimate man's man.
He packed heat everyday he went to work at the White House. He was both trained as a boxer and had a black belt in jiu-jitsu. He would ride 100 miles a day on a horse, just to shut up people who complained that riding 25 miles a day was too much. While assistant secretary of the US Navy under President McKinley, acting on his own initiative while McKinley was on vacation, and his immediate boss took the afternoon off for "a massage," Roosevelt ordered Admiral Dewey to the Philippines, where Dewey sank the entire Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay.
He orated for two hours after being shot in the chest. He kept a pet badger in the White House. He spoke softly and carried a big stick, and it was said of him that he died in his sleep because even the Grim Reaper was too scared to claim him awake. That sounds like a Chuck Norris joke, but in an exclusive interview with Hair Balls, the Grim Reaper says it was true.
"Dude, no way was I gonna fuck with that guy mano a mano," he says via cellphone from Hades. "That stick of his was even bigger than my scythe. What? Oh, thanks Marilyn. Hah! Yep, got him this time..Listen, sorry to do this, but I've gotta jet -- Charlie Sheen just checked into the Chateau Marmont with five pornstars and a quarter-ounce of yayo. That dude's been giving me the finger way too long. I'll show him what winning is all about."
1. Andrew Jackson Even given that the Trail of Tears was a monstrous injustice, how can anyone else top this list? He personally caned the man who tried to assassinate him, and to briefly sum up his military career, the Seminole Indians, whom he defeated in then-Spanish Florida, called him "Sharp Knife." He defeated the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend (with badasses Sam Houston and Davy Crockett under his command) and the British at New Orleans, where he was abetted by another epic macho man -- Jean Laffitte.
What's more, so far as is known, Old Hickory is the only president to have killed a man outside of a sanctioned combat scenario, and he carried so much lead in his body from his many duels that he was said to "rattle like a bag of marbles." One such combat -- the one in which he took on the Benton brothers in downtown Nashville -- was less a true duel than a barroom gunfight or OK Corral-style shootout. Jackson took two bullets and survived even though he soaked three mattresses through with blood.
In the aforementioned fatal duel, he allowed his foe Charles Dickinson to shoot first, knowing full well that Dickinson was a crack marksman with a pistol. Jackson is said to have barely flinched when the ball from Dickinson's flintlock pistol smacked into his chest and buried itself in his ribcage, coming to rest two inches from his heart, where it would remain for the rest of his life. Jackson steadied himself as his left boot filled to the brim with blood, took dead aim and fired a shot that severed an artery and claimed Dickinson's life hours later.
Early in his public career, Jackson served as a judge in a rough part of the then-frontier state of Tennessee. A ruffian by the name of Russell Bean had been terrorizing the area, and the sheriff was too scared to even try to arrest him. Jackson sent for a pistol, climbed down off his bench, tracked down Bean, who was armed with both a dagger and a full brace of pistols, and faced him down. Bean dropped all his weapons and said, "I will surrender to you, sir, and no one else."
While still on the bench, Jackson publicly accused a bevy of very powerful men of committing land frauds. Led by a man named Harrison, these men raised a mob and headed to the courthouse to lynch Jackson. When a friend advised him to barricade himself in the court, Jackson instead threw open the doors and said, "Give my compliments to Colonel Harrison and tell him that my door is open to receive him and his regiment when they choose to wait upon me, and I hope that the chivalry of the colonel will induce him to lead and not follow his men." On hearing these words, the mob melted away muttering.
Since Jackson's dad died weeks before the future president was born, his badassery was instilled in him by Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, his ornery Ulster-bred mom. "Aunt Betty" was often described as "a Spartan mother." When Jackson was about five, she found him crying his little eyes out.
"Stop that, Andrew," she commanded. "Don't let me see you cry again; girls were meant to cry, not boys."
"Well, then, mother, what are boys meant for?" the little boy asked.
"To fight," she said. Jackson later told people he never cried again after that day.
Later, the 12-year-old Jackson was soundly beaten by a man of about 18 or 19. A relative urged Aunt Betty to file an assault complaint against the man who kicked her son's ass. "No sir!" she erupted. "No son of mine shall ever appear as a complaining witness in a case of assault and battery! If he gets ahold of a fellow too big for him, let him wait until he grows some and try it again." (At around the same time, the Revolution was raging, and an occupying British officer ordered Jackson to clean his boots. Jackson refused to comply, whereupon the Redcoat whacked the child on the hand with the dull side of his sword, scarring Jackson for life and instilling in him a hatred of the Brits he carried to his grave.)
He also had lifelong hatreds for political foes John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, and his vendettas against him inspired one of his finest quotes. On asked if he had any regrets on leaving the White House, he said he had two. "I didn't shoot Henry Clay and I didn't hang John Calhoun."
Honorable Mention: Dwight Eisenhower: Even though the Russians bore the brunt of Hitler's wrath, Western Europe was no picnic in the park.
John F. Kennedy: PT 109 and Marilyn Monroe. 'Nuff said.
Gerald Ford: While portrayed erroneously as a klutz, Ford played football, not for some Ivy League school, but for freakin' Michigan.
Grover Cleveland: When a floozie Cleveland and his buddies had been sharing came up pregnant, Big Grover, whom his nephews called "Uncle Jumbo," manned up and claimed paternity, even though there was reason to believe the kid wasn't his. (The woman named the kid after both Grover and another guy she'd been screwing, who happened to be one of Cleveland's buddies too.) He did it because he was single, whereas all of his boys he'd been sharing this woman with were married. There's another story about how he loved beer but chapped against his own self-imposed four-glass limit. He replaced his puny little glass with a giant "Uncle Jumbo" flagon and life was good again.
Zachary Taylor His short presidency might not have amounted to much, but you don't get nicknames like "Old Rough and Ready" sipping tea and snacking on scones. During his 40 years in the US Army, Taylor defeated
Tecumseh a Tecumseh-built army and Black Hawk and the Seminoles in Florida. He then was ordered south of the border, where he whipped Santa Anna's much larger army all over Mexico and became a national hero in the process. Americans of the time loved his informal dress and the tattered straw hat he always wore, and how he would sit astride his beloved steed "Old Whitey," unfazed even as Mexican bullets whizzed past his head like angry hornets. (He kinda sounds like a Manifest Destiny version of Kilgore in Apocalypse Now.)
When Santa Anna once asked him to surrender, Taylor sent word back that Santa Anna could "go to Hell," but he was merciful to the many enemies on the receiving ends of his ass-kickings, once noting that it was "judicious to act with magnanimity towards a prostrate foe."
James Garfield: Not only was he ambidextrous, and could write in both Latin and Greek, but this freak could simultaneously write Greek in one hand and Latin with the other. Chuck Norris can't.
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