#2. Abe Lincoln Was a Simple Country Lawyer
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Well, shucks! Everyone knows the story of how Honest Abe got his start as a humble backwoods mom-and-pop lawyer. He spent his time traveling along dirt roads, sticking up for the little guy, and probably trudging through a lot of cases involving stolen livestock and irate lumberjacks. Chances are he would have spent his entire life as Matlock of Mudwater (pop. 16 and seven pigs) if the issue of slavery hadn't clashed with his sense of justice and forced him to enter the president game.
Library of Congress
Clients generally paid him in turnips or bacon.
You know the ruthless corporate lawyer character that always shows up in movies? The steely guy in the expensive suit who's racking up huge bills representing some faceless megacorp, even if it means shutting down the puppy orphanage to build the new child-punching plant?
Lincoln was basically that guy.
His home turf of Springfield, Illinois, was not in any way a backwater town, and Lincoln dominated the scene -- "his firm handled between 17 and 34 percent of all local cases." The real profit, however, was in corporate lawyering, and Lincoln was on that money like a dog on a dropped Hot Pocket. In 1853, he was placed on retainer by the Illinois Central Railroad, one of the largest corporations in the state. In return, he acted as a lobbyist, defended the company from lawsuits, and represented corporate interests.
Old Abe was perfectly honest about being in it for the money, too: In one case, he actually wrote to the government and offered to ditch his client and represent them ... if they could give him a similar fee. They couldn't, so Lincoln stayed with his client and was paid $5,000 (which we're pretty sure was all of the money ever printed at the time). To be fair, he initially only asked for $2,000, but even that amount was considered so ridiculous that the railroad refused to pay, arguing that other lawyers would have charged them less. So Lincoln took them to court and schooled them so hard, he walked out with more than double his initial fee.
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This delayed the transcontinental railroad's construction by 10 years.
We're by no means trying to say that Abe was a bad guy -- just that popular conception portrays him as a strangely intelligent hick, lawyerin' around the backwoods for seed and grain, when in reality he was more like a freakishly tall cast member from an old-timey version of L.A. Law, all sunglasses and fast carriages and peacoats with the top three buttons undone.
#1. JFK Was a Vibrant and Energetic Young President
Dang. Three entries about JFK? People sure did like to make stuff up about Kennedy. But it's kind of understandable: With his youthful energy, JFK really shook up the stuffy old Washington establishment.
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"You still have hair and your vision! You'll be unstoppable, Jack!"
Who wouldn't be jealous? He was basically the poster boy for a healthy, vibrant political prodigy. He made the American public stand up and ask: "Why do we keep giving this job to feeble old men when clearly a good-lookin' action hero in the prime of his life is the better choice?"
And that's how we got President Bill Pullman.
JFK was basically at death's door for most of his presidency, and it definitely had an effect on his administration. Kennedy had severe medical issues all his life, including -- but not limited to -- colitis, Addison's disease, and serious back problems.
A short breakdown: Much of Kennedy's early years were spent in a series of hospitals (his intestinal problems were so severe that doctors thought he had freaking leukemia), and in 1954 he almost died after back surgery. His osteoporosis got so bad that he couldn't reach across his desk or put on his own shoes, and he often had to be carted around in a wheelchair. Sometimes JFK had to be lifted into Air Force One in a cherry picker crane, simply because he couldn't climb the stairs.
By the time he was elected president, JFK was on a truly terrifying cocktail of drugs. By 1961, he was being injected with powerful painkillers two or three times a day, on top of daily amphetamine injections from a questionable German character called Dr. Feelgood.
We suspect that might not even have been his real name.
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For camouflage, the nation soon made drug use mandatory for all citizens.
JFK was briefly put on antipsychotics during the Cuban missile crisis to combat his terrible mood swings. It has frequently been speculated that his bizarrely poor performance at the Vienna summit with Nikita Khrushchev was due to his heavy amphetamine use. Hell, one theory even supposes that Kennedy's notorious sex drive was a side effect of the steroids he was taking. That's how bad off he was -- even the sex he was having was considered just another symptom of disease.
All of this was carefully kept secret from the American people, because Kennedy (reasonably) thought it would hurt his chances as a career politician if the public found out their legendary leader was not so much a "standup dude" as he was a "veritable pinata stuffed full of painkillers and misery."
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Related Reading: For some trivia on the crazy things that fix American elections, click here. The Halloween masks matter, shockingly. Oh, and did your history teacher mention that LBJ was a dong-waving sex machine? Presidents are more badass than their suit-wearing modern descendants would suggest. Andrew Jackson straight murdered fools.
And be sure to pre-order Cracked.com Head Writer Dan O'Brien's book, How to Fight Presidents, to better prepare yourself for your next presidential run-in. In stores March 18th!