Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adlai Was Too Early or Too Late

This upcoming week, September 19-25, is National Unmarried and Single Americans Week. Yes, there is such a thing. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with dating. It is simply to acknowledge the 82 million adult unmarried Americans. A majority of adults under 35 are unmarried, and, by current trends, a majority of all adults will be unmarried within a decade.

Curiously, despite these numbers, there are very few unmarried men and women elected to high office. Only four of the fifty currently serving state governors are unmarried (New York, Illinois, Minnesota, and Oregon), and all of those are divorced – none is a lifelong single. All of the major contestants for the 2012 Presidential primaries are, as usual, married.

I’m not sure why this is so. Marital status was less important in the 19th century. Jefferson, Jackson, Van Buren, and Arthur were widowers. Grover Cleveland was a bachelor when elected President, but soon afterward the 49-year-old married 21-year-old Frances Folsom in the Blue Room. (Creepily, he had known her since she was born; her father, Grover’s friend, died when she was 11, and Grover then administered the estate, maintaining an avuncular interest in her. I’ve heard of uncles like that.) By now, the historians out there are shouting “James Buchanan was a lifelong bachelor!” Well, yes, sort of. Buchanan lived for fifteen years with Senator William Rufus King until the latter’s death. Andrew Jackson nastily referred to them as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy,” while Aaron Brown (Postmaster General) called them “Buchanan and his wife.” He was nonetheless unmarried. Buchanan’s orientation, by the way, is not entirely certain, nor was it much of an issue at the time. Once (and only once) in his youth, while he was still quite broke, he did court a young lady, an heiress to an exceptionally large fortune. It was a courtship notable for his vast inattention to it, however, which may or may not have had something to do with Miss Coleman’s death from an overdose of laudanum (alcohol and opium) before anything came of it.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, however, all the Presidents have strolled down the aisle. I can’t see that it has helped.

Perhaps in another election cycle or two, when adult singles are an absolute majority, voters will be as open-minded about unmarried candidates as they were 150 years ago. I suspect, though, we’ll have a First Gentleman before the spousal post again goes vacant.

Grover & Francis in 1886

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