A brief history of tragic presidential relatives, from Alice Roosevelt to Hunter Biden

A Delaware jury found Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, guilty on June 11, 2024, of three felony counts related to lying on a federal firearms application in 2018 – making him the first child of a president to be convicted of a felony.

While Hunter Biden marked on the application that he was not using illegal drugs at the time, the jury determined that he was, in fact, lying about his drug use.

Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, issued a statement shortly after the jury’s announcement, saying that they supported Hunter and that they would “continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal.”

The president has previously said that he would not pardon his son if he were found guilty of a federal crime.

Joe Biden has long defended his son amid his drug addiction and other personal issues, including a paternity scandal and ongoing court battle over child support.

The president responded to the news of Hunter’s charges on June 20, 2023, by saying he is “very proud of my son.”

I am a scholar of the American presidency and have looked at how the children and other family members of presidents have been thrust into the nation’s spotlight, often unwittingly. Their shortcomings, vices and sometimes even physical appearance have been fodder for gossip columns, political opponents and comedians.

Hunter Biden is not the first child of a president to be charged with a crime. Jenna and Barbara Bush pleaded “no contest” in 2001 to misdemeanor charges of underage drinking and using a false ID. Amy Carter was arrested for protesting in 1985, and before his father was president, Donald Trump Jr. was arrested for public drunkenness in 2001.

But nearly all presidents have had incidents involving their kids and other family members that attracted public scrutiny. Some of the events fall into questionable prank category, like when Tad Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln, sprayed dignitaries with fire hoses.

Other incidents are less innocuous and amusing.

Youthful indiscretions

James Madison raised his troubled stepson, John Payne Todd, as his own. Todd regularly engaged in gambling, drinking and womanizing. Madison went deeply into debt trying to pay off Todd’s vices, including once bailing him out of debtor’s prison. In the mid-1800s, Todd’s debts eventually forced his widowed mother to sell the family estate, Montpelier.

Todd even had a lawyer visit his mother on her deathbed to rewrite her will, making himself her sole heir.

Alice Roosevelt, the oldest child of Theodore Roosevelt, also presented some complications for her father during his presidency in the early 1900s.

Alice had a strained relationship with her father and his second wife, Edith. When her parents suggested sending her to a boarding school, Alice responded: “If you send me, I will humiliate you. I will do something that will shame you. I tell you I will.”

In a time when women were expected to be demur, Alice smoked, drank, partied and even sometimes wore a pet snake as an accessory.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I can do one of two things: I can be president of the United States or I can control Alice Roosevelt. I cannot possibly do both.”

Alice was later banned from the Taft White House after burying a voodoo doll in the likeness of the new first lady, Helen Herron Taft, on the property.

Neil Bush, son of George H.W. Bush and brother to George W. Bush, also has a colorful history.

Neil was the director of a large savings and loans company that collapsed in 1988, after it made improper and illegal loans. This cost taxpayers more than US$1 billion at the time and resulted in an embarrassing payout to federal banking regulators.

People also criticized Neil because of his ties to Chinese investors and his limited knowledge about industries that employed him, leading to accusations of influence peddling.

Neil Bush, like Hunter Biden, was also the subject of paternity accusations during his divorce.

That’s my brother

Presidential brothers have been another particular sore point for some presidents.

Lyndon Johnson’s brother, Sam Houston Johnson, was often quite talkative after he had a few drinks. The president eventually had to use the Secret Service to follow his brother to ensure he didn’t disclose any embarrassing information to the press .

Billy Carter, former President Jimmy Carter’s brother, reveled in his notoriety. As the president’s brother, he toured the country to make money and hawk his own Billy Beer.

He urinated on a runway before the press corps while waiting for people.

When Carter was running for reelection in 1980, Billy took money from the Libyan government and became a foreign agent for the country – while also making inflammatory and antisemitic statements to justify his behavior.

Billy’s association with Libya ultimately led to a Senate investigation and complicated his brother’s failed reelection campaign.

Roger Clinton, the younger half-brother of former President Bill Clinton, also engaged in questionable activities. In the 1980s, before the Clinton presidency, Roger sold cocaine to an undercover officer.

Later, during the Clinton administration, Roger’s Secret Service codename was “Headache.”

Bill Clinton pardoned Roger for his drug offenses right before leaving office in January 2001.

Keeping it in the family

Presidents are like everyone else. They, too, have family members who do or say things that eventually become stories for the dinner table – or tales people want to push under the rug.

Hunter Biden could potentially serve a maximum of 25 years in prison for this crime, though that is unlikely, since he is a first-time offender. He could also face a fine of US$750,000.

And he is still not free of other controversies. The Republican-controlled House is focusing its impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden on Hunter’s business deals in foreign countries. However, Republicans – who quickly responded to Hunter’s verdict as evidence of broader wrongdoing in the Biden family – have yet to produce evidence that fuels their impeachment case.

Hunter Biden has said that he is accountable for his actions, and I do not think it is fair to conflate the administration with the activities of an adult son.

He is not the first presidential relative who has caused turmoil, and he won’t be the last.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.  

Is Hunter Biden’s conviction really relevant to the upcoming presidential election? 


Shannon Bow O’Brien is Associate Professor of Instruction, The University of Texas at Austin

EDITORS NOTE: This Mercator column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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