Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Faculty News History

Parental Grief Has Often Been a Factor in Presidential Politics

New York Times

Originally Posted: October 22, 2015

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced on Wednesday that he would not run for president, his reasoning coming as no surprise: His son, Beau, died of brain cancer in May at 46, and Mr. Biden lost valuable time to mount a candidacy as he struggled with his grief.

“Beau is our inspiration,” Mr. Biden, who turns 73 next month, told listeners in the Rose Garden. His son had urged him to run, but in the months following his death, Mr. Biden openly acknowledged his own fragility: sudden breakdowns, drained emotional reserves.

This is not the first time the nation’s political life has been roiled by excruciating grief of a parent who has lost a child. In 1900, as many as three in 10 infants in urban areas died before their first birthdays. No surprise, then, that many 18th- and 19th-century presidents suffered the loss of one or more children. Historians are still tallying the costs to both our leaders and the public. MORE