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The White House

They were politicians, statesmen, national and world leaders. Some were war heroes. Some were educators. Some were businessmen. But the majority of our U.S. presidents were also family men.

James Buchanan was the only bachelor among them. A few did not have any children: James Madison, James K. Polk and Warren G. Harding.

George Washington did not have any children of his own but adopted two born to Martha Custis before she married him. He and Martha also raised two grandchildren after their father died in 1781.

Andrew Jackson also had none of his own but adopted one of his wife's nephews and named him Andrew Jackson Jr.

John Tyler holds the record for having the most children: 15. He had eight children with his first wife. After her death, he married again, and they added seven more children to the family.

But other presidents had big families, as well. William Henry Harrison had 10 children; Rutherford B. Hayes had eight; James A. Garfield had seven; Zachary Taylor, Theodore Roosevelt and George H.W. Bush each had six.

During presidential administrations, the White House has been the site of the full gamut of family experience: birth, death, marriage, holiday celebrations, fun and games, sorrow and despair.

Many first children went on to distinguished careers. Two, John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush, followed their fathers' footsteps into the presidency. Others became senators, Supreme Court justices, military leaders, educators and writers.

Some, however, became alcoholics, gamblers, womanizers, failures at business, divorcees and had other troubles. Life in the limelight was not always easy. Louisa Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, lost one son to drowning (a possible suicide), and then when a son died of alcoholism, she noted "yet another son had been sacrificed on the altar of politics."

A book by Doug Wead called "All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families" details the drama, scandal, achievements and emotion in the lives of presidential families. "Two things are unforgivable for the child of a president," he writes, "success and failure."

Still, for the most part, the family life of presidents has been no different than that of anyone else. It has had its ups and downs, but all families can say that. Most presidents seem to have regarded their families as a source of joy and comfort and a refuge from the demands of a public career.

In honor of Presidents Day, here's a brief look into that other side of presidential life.

E-mail: carma@desnews.com