The leaders of old weren't perfect figures who did nothing but rule wisely as they stroked their beards. No, they got into all kinds of jackass side adventures. If we had our way, the following stories would be page one of each of these men's biographies, with all of that "policy" and "war" stuff relegated to an appendix you can safely skip. And speaking of jackass adventures ...
When donkeys and horses get it on, they produce mules, hardy strong beasts that eat little and would be great for America's farms. But Washington's desire to breed mules hit a stumbling block. America didn't have any good male donkeys (or "jacks," as he called them). The best jacks were in Spain, who wouldn't export them. Washington spent years negotiating with diplomats to change this, and finally, the king agreed so ship a couple to him.
Though one of the two donkeys died during the voyage, the surviving one met Washington's expectations just fine. He named the beast "Royal Gift," which might not sound very imaginative, but at least he didn't call it "Sweetlips," like he did his dog. He advertised the donkey's services, saying it would impregnate mares and produce offspring who would stubbornly rule the world. Then Washington's desire to breed mules hit a second stumbling block. Royal Gift did not want to mount horses. "He seems too full of royalty to have anything to do with a plebeian race," was his joking explanation (to fully appreciate this line, picture him saying it while sweating profusely and tugging at his collar, as an angry farmer glowers at him).
After conducting a great many experiments too embarrassing for him to record in detail, George discovered a solution. Royal Gift would get aroused and mount the nearest mare ... if he first prepped by witnessing two female donkeys together. And so, Washington's mule breeding business at last took off, and Royal Gift worked as a stud for years, even after his master became president. Interestingly, despite his interest in breeding, and despite being the father of the country, Washington never had any biological children of his own. Perhaps this entire Royal Gift project was really a failed plan to convince Martha Washington to invite girl-on-girl courtesans to the residence.
Henry had not seen Anne in person when he agreed to marry her. Theirs was a political marriage, like so many royal ones were, as an alliance between England and the Duchy of Cleves would aid the kingdom. Before Anne came to England, Henry did see a portrait of the young woman, and he found her totally satisfactory in the looks department. You will notice that this portrait, below, comes off as very different from the portrait above. And even the portrait above probably erred on the side of flattering her; any portrait artist who failed to do that would quickly find himself out of work.
When Anne arrived in England, Henry surprised her by waylaying her carriage on the way to London with a gang of masked men and then kissing her by force. She had no idea who he was and immediately tried beating him off, and not in the way he'd hoped. Then the betrothed couple got a proper look at each other, and Henry found she wasn't what he expected at all. "I like her not! I like her not!" he said. He regularly spoke this way -- this was, of course, the man who famously sang in the 1960s, "I am Henry the Eighth, I am. Henry the Eighth, I am I am."
"I see nothing in this woman as men report of her," he said, comparing the woman he saw to the pic he'd been sent. He tried to cancel the marriage, was overruled, and the wedding night was a disaster. Turned off by her "droopy breasts and slack belly" as well as her face, he found himself impotent, and with no female donkeys willing to warm him up, the marriage remained unconsummated. He had the married annulled. Then he immediately wed a teenager, whom he beheaded, so maybe you dodged a bullet there, Anne.
Lincoln asked what the deal was with these kittens, and what were they doing in the Union telegraph hut? Where was their mother? Their mother was dead, said someone nearby. And Lincoln thought of the many mothers in America now grieving for their slain sons, and he noted that at least the dead mother cat was spared this burden. Then he picked up the kittens, and if you remember only one thing from this article, please let it be what he said to them: "Ah, kitties. Thank God you are cats."
Thank God because, as cats, they could not understand "this terrible strife." Some would disagree with that assessment because full-grown cats do understand the mass death of humans, and in fact take great pleasure in it, but Lincoln felt deeply for these kittens and ordered that Colonel Theodore Bowers fetch milk for them.
All of which almost sounds like a story cooked up just to make Lincoln look good, but then he took it a little too far. When Admiral Dixon Porter announced that Vice President Johnson and a senator had arrived and were ready to meet with him, Lincoln said, "Don't let those men come into my presence ... I never want to lay eyes on them. I don't care what you do with them, but don't let them near me." Then as Porter left to send the men back to their boat with champagne, Lincoln got back down and went on playing with the kittens.
Just three weeks later, Lincoln was assassinated, and the slighted Johnson became president. Coincidence?
In fact, Peter's family really was conspiring to make him tsar. Ivan was five years his senior, so should have been next in line, but they pushed Peter's name instead, pointing out that Ivan was physically frail and "feeble-minded." Ivan's supporters weren't huge fans of this campaign, so they settled on a compromise. Peter and Ivan would both be tsars. That meant building a special throne big enough for both for them, but separating the two with a metal bar because brothers will shove each other endlessly unless physically prevented.
When both grew up, Peter forced Ivan out, and even when they were boys, Peter did most of the talking (because of the whole "feeble-minded" thing). As a ten-year-old, he wasn't exactly equipped to talk about much of anything. The reasonable thing would probably have been to have his advisor by his side to tell him what to say, if not speak for him.
Instead, the palace carved a hole in the back of the throne. Peter's adviser crouched behind the throne and whispered to him through this hole, and everyone at least pretended to believe Peter was speaking all on his own, as teleprompters had to yet to be invented.
Roosevelt and the two cowboys with him built themselves a new boat, and they piled into it and headed after the scoundrels. They sailed for three days. The makeshift vessel didn't offer a ton of shelter, and temperatures dropped to around zero. But they did have blankets, as well as enough bacon and coffee to sustain themselves, and really, that's all a man needs.
On day three, they caught up to where the thieves had moored the boat. They crept up on one of the three thieves and nabbed him alone. Then they found the others, and Teddy ordered them to drop their weapons else risk being shot. Apparently, frontier law in those days said that Roosevelt could hang all of them on the spot. Instead, he decided to take them all back with him as his prisoners. He couldn't tie them up, because their arms and legs would quickly freeze up that way, killing them. He did take their boots, though. That would keep them from fleeing, because you can't get far without boots in cactus country.
They sailed back upriver together, Roosevelt passing the time by reading Tolstoy. They were just about out of supplies by the time they went ashore, then Teddy went ahead and fetched a wagon, piled the thieves up in it, and followed behind pointing his gun at them. They traveled 36 hours this way without sleep. Then they were in the Dakota Territory, and Roosevelt dropped them off at the sheriff's office -- because Teddy Roosevelt happened to be deputy sheriff.
He got paid 50 dollars for bringing the men in (more than a grand in today's money), which was one reason not to have simply executed the thieves on the spot. Whatever his motive, the thieves were grateful to have been spared. One of them wrote to Roosevelt from prison later, saying he'd been reading appreciatively about the man's life, and the next time he was in town again, he should stop by the prison for a visit.
Okay, now that we write that out, it sounds kind of like a threat. But what sounds like a threat to an ordinary person of course came off to Theodore Roosevelt as just friendly good cheer.