When I first started writing this article, I figured it would be a fun history lesson, but what I found surprised me. The subject of which presidents were adopted is quite an ambiguous one. It is most commonly believed that the only two adopted presidents were Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford, although some sources include a third, Abraham Lincoln. Records haven’t always been reliable, and it was commonplace for stepchildren to change their names without an adoption having taken place.
Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States. He was born in Arkansas in 1946 as William Jefferson Blythe III. His father died as the result of a car accident just three months before he was born. Unable to care for him financially, his mother left him in the care of his grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, while she went off to attend nursing school. In the 1950s, his mother returned for him and remarried Roger Clinton Sr. Bill. She began using the man’s surname right away but didn’t legally change it until her son was 15.
Although Clinton’s relationship with his stepfather was tempestuous, he was always an avid supporter of adoption. Clinton said, “We must work tirelessly to make sure that every boy and girl in America who is up for adoption has a family waiting to reach for him or her.” In 1995 he expanded National Adoption Awareness Week to the entire month of November.
Gerald Ford was our 38th president. He was born in Nebraska in 1913 as Leslie Lynch King, Jr. When he was 16 days old, his mom separated from his dad. When he was three, his mom remarried to Gerald Rudolff Ford. She changed the future president’s name to Gerald Ford Jr. He had no idea that the man he was named for was not his biological father until he was 17. Ford was then given the identity of his birth father. Although they did meet the following year, the relationship never became fruitful.
Ford felt an incredible fondness for his stepfather. He said, “I didn’t understand exactly what a stepfather was. Dad and I had the closest, most intimate relationship.” He also shared, “My stepfather was a magnificent person and my mother equally wonderful. So I couldn’t have written a better prescription for a superb family upbringing.”
Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president. He was born in Kentucky in 1809. His mother died when he was 9 years old. A year later his father married Sarah Bush Johnston. She grew very close to Lincoln and encouraged his reading, writing, and public speaking. He lovingly referred to her as “mother.” Lincoln is known to have said, “Love is the chain whereby to bind a child to its parents.” In I861, he confided in a relative that she, “had been his best friend in this world and that no son could love a mother more than he loved her.”
Some debate exists over the legality of Clinton and Fords’ adoptions, and there was no stepparent adoption during Lincoln’s time. Does that really matter though? It isn’t a piece of paper that makes a family, nor is it DNA. A family is made of heart connections from people who choose to be in each others’ lives and provide each other with love and support.