5 Insane Alternate Paths American Presidents Almost Took

Have you been told that every single person has an impact on the world? That's not quite true. Take Fred Wortle of Munster, Indiana, for instance. His actions have no consequence, and that suits him just fine. You do you, Fred. But not everybody has Fred's lackluster freedom. Take American presidents. The smallest changes in these men's lives would have changed all of history, maybe throwing us all into a dystopia ... or saving us from one. Just think about how ...

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5
Abraham Lincoln Could Easily Have Wound Up In The Donner Party

The Donner Party was a group of frontier folk who headed west to California, got stranded on the way, and became the most famous cannibals in history. Delirious with cold and facing starvation, they fed on deceased members of their own group, the corpses having been preserved neatly by the cold, the meat suffering only moderate freezer burn. The cannibals were the lucky ones. Half of the party fortified themselves with human flesh and made it, but the other half died before getting the chance. Or maybe you'd say the dead were the lucky ones, depending on how picky an eater you are.

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Two families, the Donners and the Reeds, fronted the group (it's sometimes known as the Donner-Reed Party). The Reed family was led by patriarch James, who'd been a clerk and a miner before joining a volunteer militia and taking part in the Black Hawk War. It doesn't sound like he saw any combat, but he did make some friends there, including an Illinois politician named Abraham Lincoln. After the war, the two stayed friends and both returned to Springfield, where Lincoln helped Reed by offering all kinds of legal advice, as well as teaching him how to secretly stash his money.

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Lincoln's political career took off, but Reed's career fell apart despite the legal help, and so Reed put together a group bound westward, where things surely had to be better. Several people outside of the two main families joined up, and Lincoln could have been one of them under slightly different circumstances. We know that he'd always been interested in moving to California, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to do so. He already had family there waiting for him. Plus he'd been offered a government position on the West Coast, which would have been an easy alternative to serving in Congress.

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But there was one problem: Mary Todd was pregnant. Or there were two problems, if you count the toddler the couple already had, as neither pregnancy nor the terrible twos make for comfortable wagon travel. So Reed had to venture forth without his buddy Abe (Mary Todd herself reportedly saw the party off as the wagons rolled away). Reed had to settle for a personal memento in place of his friend: some documents written by Lincoln concerning their time together in the military. Lincoln went on to Congress, the presidency, shaping the fate of the country, all that stuff. But in a different universe, we could have gotten a biopic about his life titled Abraham Lincoln: Cannibal Pioneer.

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4
Ronald Reagan Applied To Join The Communist Party, But Was Rejected

This sounds absurd based on our common picture of Reagan, in which we conceive of him as either "conservative" or "so conservative he defeated communism just by existing." But the man's politics were very different at the start. During the Depression, the Reagans benefited personally from the New Deal (the father, Jack, a Democrat, was unemployed until Roosevelt's work projects gave him a job). So Reagan strongly supported the New Deal and idolized FDR.

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He applied to join the Hollywood Communist Party in 1938. The group wasn't exactly an activist communist group, which is to say they didn't go around planting bombs. They were more of a cultural organization. Presumably, they met for dinners and exchanged hand drawn political memes. But they did believe in Marxism, and they reserved the right to turn away applicants they didn't like. They rejected Reagan. Not because they thought he was a right-wing spy, but because of his character.

Ronnie talked too much for them, to the point that he was annoying. Also, he was too patriotic. That almost sounds like a fake flaw designed to make Reagan sound good, like my lovers complaining I give too many orgasms, but it makes sense from a communist standpoint. No matter what you say you think about economics, if you really swear undying allegiance to the United States of America, you're probably never going to serve the communist cause as strongly as the party would like.

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After this (and maybe because of this) Reagan grew to hate communists. Still leaning left, he became the leader of a liberal Hollywood group called HICCASP, but he abandoned it once the FBI and the media declared it to be a communist front. He fought communist influence in Hollywood as an officer in the Screen Actors Guild. And when communists held a secret meeting to decide "what to do about that son-of-a-bitching bastard Reagan" and the FBI knocked at his door asking if he had any information, he talked. He just didn't talk much because, well, he didn't really know anything.

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3
Teddy Roosevelt Nearly Killed Himself Thanks To Jungle Fever

Sadly, this is not the story of a torrid interracial White House affair that almost killed the president through sheer pleasure trauma. We're talking about actual jungle fever -- the mixture of malaria and other diseases you risk when you go adventuring somewhere sticky. Roosevelt was a big fan of adventuring, you see, especially whenever something terrible happened to him. When his father died, he headed into the Maine wilderness to learn to hunt, transforming himself from an asthmatic boy to the manliest of men. After his wife and mother died on Valentine's Day in 1884, he headed to the Badlands in South Dakota to ranch, planning never to return.

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In 1912, the tragedy wasn't so personal, but it still weighed heavily on him. Roosevelt lost the presidential election, handing the White House to the Democrats. He sought redemption by venturing deeper into no man's land than he ever had before, going into the Amazon to explore an uncharted river. And if he got sick, he planned not to burden those accompanying him. He brought along a dose of morphine so that he could end his life on his own terms if necessary. We'll have to leave it to psychiatrists to debate whether taking lethal drugs with you on a depression vacation "just in case" qualifies as noble or simply suicidal.

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The danger he predicted came. Two of the party's canoes almost collided in the river, so Roosevelt jumped in to stop them from breaking apart and wounded his leg. The wound festered with bubbly South American bacterial infection, and he also came down with some unidentified feverish disease. For weeks, he couldn't walk. He lost 50 pounds. Delirium set in, and he took to reciting a line of poetry repeatedly: "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / a stately pleasure dome decree." And when he realized he was endangering the other men by making them minister to him around the clock, he resolved to swallow the morphine.

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One of those men in danger was his son Kermit, who made it clear that if Teddy did die, his responsibilities would shift from nursing his father to carting his corpse all the way back to civilization. Which would be even harder than nursing him, so Teddy realized that dying would solve nothing. He recovered and got out of there. He managed a life post-Amazon -- something we today can only dream of. And the area he explored is on maps today, now called Roosevelt River.

2
George Washington Tried To Enlist In The British Navy

George Washington's father died when he was 11. After that, the men guiding his life were his elder half-brother Lawrence and Lawrence's father-in-law William Fairfax, who had a whole lot of money and land. When George was 14, Lawrence and Fairfax came up with a great idea: How about George go join the Navy, hopping aboard that ship conveniently anchored right off the coast of Virginia? Young George was all for the plan, because all healthy boys dream of adventure at sea.

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He would have gone through with it, but his mother, Mary Ball Washington, forbade it. He wasn't necessarily too young to sign up (14 in colonial times had to be at least 26 in modern years), but she just wanted him around on the farm longer. So George stayed at home for a little while. When he eventually did enlist, there was no royal frigate in the immediate vicinity, so he joined the Virginia militia Lawrence had served in.

As part of the militia, Washington ended up becoming a colonel for what was officially the British Army. So you might think the only difference between these two alternative universes was the exact color of the dress uniform. An army and navy are generally on the same side, unless there's a pigskin involved. But by joining (and then retiring from) the Virginia Regiment, Washington was in place to view Britain's rule of the colonies, get pissed about it, and eventually be named commander in chief of the Continental Army. If he joined the Navy? They would have sailed him somewhere far away.

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He might have been nowhere near America when the Revolution happened. Or who knows, maybe he would have risen in rank and led the fight against the United States, and proven a much more competent commander than Lord Sandwich, the horny fraud the British had in our timeline. Either way, if Washington was as indispensable to the Revolution as a lot of historians say, maybe America would have lost the war, and today we'd all be speaking English.

1
JFK May Have Survived His Assassination If Not For A Recent Sex Injury

You may not know this, but footage of the Kennedy assassination has been subject to some scrutiny. JFK was shot twice, with the second bullet entering his head and killing him. The first shot entered through his back, and while a bullet puncturing your back and going out through your throat is bound to be the low point of most parades, it might not kill you. After that first shot, Kennedy should have fallen forward, out of the next bullet's path -- if not from reflexes, then just due to physics. But he did not. Because John F. Kennedy wore a corset.

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This wasn't fetish wear. This was a back brace, tightly laced and surrounded by a bandage, and it kept JFK rigid. (I'm not doing a good job of clarifying that it wasn't a sex thing.) The many maladies he suffered from while publicly feigning strength included severe back pain stemming from a college football injury. It was so bad that the military initially rejected him during World War II, and he was only able to enlist thanks to his family pulling strings. His famous naval heroics -- towing his men by hand out of burning wreckage to an island, for starters -- made the injury even worse.

As president, he needed the brace to deal with the pain and support himself. On November 22, 1963, it supported him just enough to keep him in the gunman's sights. And there's another part of this story that's even less documented. The back brace was a constant with JFK, but on that day, his mobility was reportedly further limited by an additional brace, one now in storage at the National Archives. This stiff brace ran from his neck to his groin, and this one was a sex thing, but not the fun kind.

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JFK wore it because of an injury he'd received two months prior. He'd visited California for one of his extramarital affairs, and he'd sustained the injury while cavorting poolside. This torrid White House affair ultimately killed the president through sheer pleasure trauma. He might have survived the shooting had he just abstained from sex for one weekend. Though let's be honest, that's an alt history scenario too ridiculous to seriously consider.

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.

For more, check out Andrew Jackson, The Most Terrifying Man Ever Elected President:

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