Presidential Geography

In belated honor of President’s day, today’s post focuses on the birth states of our 44 presidents and the dates that those states received statehood.

The most obvious, but yet the most interesting, observation is President Obama. And no, not because I’m a birther (I’m not). President Obama was born in Hawaii, which is also the youngest state in the Union (if only I had started this blog a decade ago!). Besides being the president born the furthest from the capital, he is also the first born off the continental United States.

As you may have guessed, most U.S. presidents were born in one of the original 13 colonies (24 total), primarily Virginia (8 total). Among the original 13 colonies, only Maryland, Rhode Island, and Delaware have never had a son (or daughter) elected president. By way of explanation, I would venture its a combination of low population (decreasing the odds) and the bias in early U.S. politics for either a staunchly “Northern” or “Southern” viewpoint. Before the U.S. Civil War I would imagine that the candidates who had the clearest credentials in supporting either northern and southern political programs would be the best choice. Maryland, just south of the Mason-Dixon line that nominally separated “North” from “South”, nevertheless found itself in the Union during the Civil War. Occasionally two-party political systems (like the U.S.) can become polarizing, leaving natural compromise cultures (like Maryland) abandoned. Of the first 14 presidents prior to the U.S. Civil War, 10 were from the South, and 4 from the North.

The president elected before the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, was also the first president not born in one of the original 13 colonies (Kentucky). Of the states outside the colonial core, Ohio has the greatest number of presidents 7. This also makes the state the second highest producer of presidents after Virginia.

Prior to Hawaii and President Obama, the youngest state producing a president was Nebraska with President Ford.

And whereas the original 13 colonies reside in the east of the United States and prior to President Obama, President Nixon from California was the president born furthest west of the Prime Meridian. The furthest north is President Arthur born in Fairfield, Vermont. The furthest south is President Obama, but prior to him it was President Johnson, born in Stonewall, Texas. Below is a listing of the complete information.

states-pres

For a great map, which includes approximate places AND first ladies, see mibazaar.com. Looking at the map is telling, as states are added to the Union the United States system delivers on the promise that anyone could be president. Like the demographic center of the country, the places where presidents are born has also moved west. In fact referencing the map at mibazaar with the progression of the U.S. demographic center (below), presidents have first appeared further west than the mean population at the time. One could argue that this phenomenon is evidence of our continued fascination and bias with the “frontiersman” and the “settler.”

Demographic Center of the US, 2010 (via CNN)

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