Yes, the United States is a democracy. However, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own powerful family dynasties.
Four families in America have had two members serve as U.S. presidents, giving them prime slots in the history books, but also making Americans wonder how they did it. That’s why we have ranked the 11 most powerful and influential political familes in the U.S. by taking into account their historical legacy, net worth, current influence, and potential to continue producing political heirs.
1. The Bushes
The Bush family is one of two families in American history that produced two presidents – the late George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
George Sr., the son of Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, was a congressman, diplomat, CIA director and vice president before winning the presidency in 1988. His eldest son, George W., went on to win 12 years later. In 2016, H.W.’s son Jeb, former Florida governor, ran for president too, ultimately losing the Republican primary. Combined, George Sr. and wife Barbara Bush were worth an estimated $US25 million. But the family, overall, is worth an estimated $US400 million. Currenty, George P. Bush, Jeb’s oldest son, is serving as Texas land commissioner, setting him up as the leader of the fourth generation of Bush politicians.
2. The Kennedys
The Kennedy family is, perhaps, the most recognisable political dynasty in American history. Patrick Joseph Kennedy, the first Kennedy to run for office, was elected to the Massachusetts state legislature in 1884. Ever since, the Kennedys have been a mainstay in American politics, producing the 35th president, John F. Kennedy, as well as a number of senators, representatives and ambassadors.
Forbes estimates that the top 30 members of the Kennedy family, combined, are worth $US1.2 billion. Joseph P. “Joe” Kennedy III, the grandson of former U.S. Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, is currently serving his third term as Massachusetts Representative.
3. The Adams
The Adams family was the first in American history to produce two presidents. John Adams, one of the nation’s founding fathers and its second president, first served as vice president to George Washington. Together with his wife and advisor Abigail, John Adams raised son John Quincy Adams to become the 8th president of the U.S. John Quincy’s son Charles Adams served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and unsuccessfully ran for vice president in 1848. His son, John Quincy Adams II, also served in the Massachusetts state house before unsuccessfully running for governor multiple times in the 1860s. Currently, the only member of the Adams family that remains politically involved is John Donley Adams, a Virginia lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for Virginia Attorney General.
4. The Roosevelts
Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt served as U.S. presidents 31 years apart, marking key moments in American history. Teddy Roosevelt, who stepped into the presidency after William McKinley’s assassination, governed for eight years. He started the construction of the Panama Canal and made conservation a priority, laying a strong foundation for the country’s national parks system.
FDR, his fifth cousin, married Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt’s niece, in 1905. He ran for president in 1932 after a term as New York governor and went on to be reelected to three more terms. After his death, many expected Eleanor to carry on the Roosevelt tradition, but she declined the Democratic nomination for Senate, becoming instead the first U.S. representative to the United Nations.
Two more Roosevelts, Eleanor’s sons James and Franklin, served in the House of Representatives, representing California and New York, respectively, in the mid-1900s. There have been no more Roosevelts in office since.
5. The Harrisons
Though William Henry Harrison led the shortest presidency in the history of the United States (he died 31 days into his presidential term) his legacy, and his family’s, make the Harrisons one of the most historic political dynasties in America. The 9th president was the son of Benjamin Harrison V, one of the nation’s founding fathers and the son and grandson of members of the Virginia House of Burgesses.
William Henry Harrison’s son, John Scott Harrison, was a Congressman from Ohio and the only person to be the child and the father of a U.S. president as his son, Benjamin Harrison, because the 23rd president. His grandson, William Henry Harrison II, a U.S. representative from Wyoming, was the last Harrison to serve.
6. The Rockefellers
The Rockefellers are primarily known as one of the wealthiest families in the world. David Rockefeller Sr., the late family patriarch, was offered the Treasury secretary position twice, which he declined. In 1959, the family broke into national politics when Nelson Rockefeller became governor of New York. He then served as Gerald Ford’s vice president between 1974 and 1977. Winthrop, his brother, served as governor of Arkansas while their nephew, Jay Rockefeller, served as a senator from West Virginia. Despite currently having no members in a major government role, the Rockefellers remain one of the most powerful families in America as controlers of the Chase Manhattan Bank.
7. The Clintons
As one of the most recently-formed political families in the U.S., the Clintons have already experienced their fair share of elections and scandals. Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992 after having served as governor of Arkansas for 11 years. After eight years as first lady, Hillary Clinton began her own political career when she was elected (and reelcted) to the U.S. Senate representing New York. She launched her own bid for president in 2008 which she lost to Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. She went on to serve as Obama’s secretary of state.
In 2016, she ran again for president, becoming the first woman to be a major party’s nominee, but lost the general election to Donald Trump. In 2016, Forbes estimated that the Clintons have made $US240 million since leaving the White House, mostly through Bill’s writing and speaking engagements. Though there are no indications Hillary will make a 2020 run, the Clintons remain active through the Clinton Foundation.
8. The Romneys
The Romney family is a more recent addition to America’s list of political dynasties. George Romney served as Michigan governor between 1969 and 1973, and his son Mitt later was elected governor of Massachusetts. Mitt was the 2012 Republican nominee for president, a race he lost to Barack Obama, and was elected in 2018 to serve as Utah senator.
With a net worth of an estimated $US250 million, Romney is one of the richest politicians in the country. Ronna Romney McDaniel, Mitt’s niece, is currently the chair of the Republican National Committee. Though none of Mitt Romney’s five children have shown any major interest in politics, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on them.
9. The Udalls
The Udall family, a regional dynasty in the American west, has been involved in American politics for the last century. Their political lineage begins with David King Udall, son of Mormon immigrants from England, became a representative in the Arizona Territorial Legislature. The family has gone on to produce politicians in four different states: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Oregon. In 2008, three Udall cousins were nominees for congressional seats for both major parties. The two Democrats, Tom and Mark Udall, won their seats, representing New Mexico and Colorado, respectively. Though not as nationally known as the Kennedy or Bush families, the Udalls are known for their commitment to public service in the western U.S., particularly in Arizona.
10. The Tafts
William Howard Taft, the 27th president, came from a prominent Cincinnati family and reluctantly became president in 1909 after serving as the 42nd U.S. secretary of war. Despite winning the presidency, Taft was most proud of his 1921 appointment to the Supreme Court. His son, Robert A. Taft, served as U.S. senator and unsuccessfully attempted to win the Republican nomination for president three times. His son, Robert Taft Jr., also made it to Congress. Members of the Taft family have gone on to serve as governors in Ohio and Rhode Island. The Taft name was sullied, however, when Bob Taft, Robert Taft Jr.’s son, was charged in 2005 for failing to disclose gifts and trips paid for by lobbyists during his time as Ohio governor.
11. The Cuomos
New York’s Cuomo family is one of the most powerful political dynasties at the state level. Mario Cuomo, the son of Italian immigrants who served as New York governor between 1983 and 1994, was labelled a “liberal beacon” by The New York Times and twice declined to seek the Democratic presidential nomination even as he was considered a front-runner in 1988 and 1992. His son, Andrew, has served as governor of New York since 2011 and was almost appointed as Hillary Clinton’s Senate replacement in 2009 after she was became US Secretary of State. The current governor, who has an estimated net worth of $US5 million and used to be married to a Kennedy, has ruled out a 2020 run for the White House.
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