Nepotism is nothing new in the White House. In fact, prior to legislation in 1967 (passed in response to John F. Kennedy appointing his brother attorney general) the practice of favoritism was far more widespread. The only reason that Trump is not in violation of the 1967 law is a 1978 law that exempts advisory roles from nepotism laws. Here are some other examples of presidential nepotism throughout American history.
Nepotism was common in our countries early history: Zachary Taylor, James Monroe, John Tyler, and James Buchanan all hired family members, generally in secretarial roles. Not only did Andrew Jackson hire family members, but he is remembered for the “spoils system,” which made an art out of granting positions to supporters and their family members.
Robert F. Kennedy is probably the most famous case of nepotism. Appointed by his brother, the president, he became the attorney general and is remembered as a champion of civil rights. RFK had a liberal influence on JFK on a number of issues, especially civil rights and fighting organized crime. It is easy to forget that Robert had little legal experience, and lacked the resume of a typical attorney general resume. Journalist Anthony Lewis recalled,
“His experience was zero. He’d been a lawyer for Senate committees, a zealot with no understanding of the terrible responsibilities of an attorney general. I was appalled. I thought it was a simply awful idea.” Luckily, Robert Kennedy proved him wrong.
Our third president was one of the most nepotistic in American political history. He appointed his son as a Prussian diplomat in a move that would start Quincy on the track to become president. While the appointment was met with resistance, it was nothing compared to his attempt to land a government job for his son-in-law William Stephens Smith, a known land speculator. After trying and failing to land Smith several government positions, Adams got him a job as a customs agent. Adams also secured cushy gigs for his brother-in-law as a postmaster and for Quincy’s father-in-law as the “superintendent of stamps.”
Ulysses S. Grant
Numerous scandals engulfed this president’s administration, and nepotism is high on the list. Grant appointed his cousin minister to Guatemala. His brother-in-law to the consulate in Leipzig. His brother-in-law as customs job in New Orleans. Another brother-in-law as White House usher. All told, 40 relatives benefited from Grant’s presidency.
When William Gibbs McAdoo was appointed as secretary of the treasury and chairman of the fed, he was not a part of Wilson’s family. However, after marrying Wilson’s daughter he declined to step down. Wilson later appointed McAdoo chairman of the War Finance Board after the outbreak of World War I.
Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower
Both Roosevelt and Eisenhower appointed their sons to administrative positions. FDR placed his son James in a secretarial position while Eisenhower gave his son John an assistant staff secretary position. Roosevelt later expanded James’ responsibilities to include coordinating eighteen different White House agencies, making him an integral part of the day to day Oval Office operations. Though John held no other positions in his father’s administration beyond his secretarial post, this first job proved to be a stepping stone. He would go on to work in both the Nixon and Ford administrations.
By age 30, about 22% of American sons will be working for the same employer at the same time as their fathers. But how does that compare with other countries?