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Election Day is about a month away, and many kids around Western New York are learning all about this year's presidential race.

You might say they're studying history in the making.

There's also plenty of fascinating history surrounding the presidential races of long ago. And knowing more about people like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln helps put into perspective what Bill and Bob are talking about today.

Let's learn a little about political trivia and the men who made it to the White House.

Q. Was there ever a president in this country before George Washington and the Constitution?

A. You probably never heard of John Hanson. But this patriot from Maryland is sometimes called the first president.

Before the Constitution, the 13 states agreed to unite under another set of rules. It was called the Articles of Confederation. Congress was the only branch of government, and in 1781 the delegates chose Hanson to be the "President of the United States in Congress Assembled." Hanson served a one-year term.

Other men served short terms as president, too. Then the Constitution was ratified, and in 1789, Washington became the first president under the Constitution.

Q. Why do Republicans use an elephant as their symbol and Democrats use a donkey?

A. Most of the credit goes to a man who also helped shape our idea of Santa Claus -- Thomas Nast, a cartoonist who moved to America from Germany. In the 1860s, Nast began creating drawings for a popular magazine called Harper's Weekly. He loved to use animals in his political cartoons. As far back as 1837, other cartoonists had pictured the Democratic Party as a donkey. But Nast's drawings made the symbol more familiar to people. In 1874, he made up the Republican elephant. And his sketches of Santa Claus made more popular the idea of a plump white-bearded fellow driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Q. Who was the first Democratic president?

A. Crazy as it sounds today, once there was a Democratic-Republican Party. Thomas Jefferson helped begin it in the 1790s. The party split up, though, in the 1820s. Andrew Jackson's group called itself the Democratic Party when he was elected president in 1828. So he was the first Democratic president. It has been called the Democratic Party ever since. Today's Republicans do not trace their history to Jefferson's Republicans. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president.

Q. Why does the president use different ink pens to sign his name?

A. When a president signs a bill, it becomes law. So the signing is very important. Many presidents have used extra pens to write their names and maybe add a note, such as the place. The idea may seem silly. But the pens are given to people as thank-yous or souvenirs. Often these people worked on the bill.

After President Clinton signed one bill, he sent pens to four ex-presidents who also worked for that law. President Lyndon Johnson used 50 pens to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Clinton also uses pens that are historic or symbolic. He used an electronic pen to sign a bill about the Internet.

Q. Did George Washington really chop down a cherry tree?

A. The legend is that a young George Washington cut down the tree, then told his father, who praised the lad for being so truthful. The lesson is a good one, but no one wrote about this story until after Washington died.

In 1800, Parson Mason Locke Weems wrote a biography of the first president, and it sold well enough to be keep being printed and revised. In 1806 he added new stories, including the cherry tree tale -- and doubled the price of the book. Even then, the tree wasn't really cut down, just nicked badly. Other books have kept the story alive.

Q. What year did President George Washington die?

A. " 'Tis well" were the last words of the first president, uttered on Dec. 14, 1799. It was nearly three years after he left office. He woke up that morning with a swollen throat. Three doctors came that day. At that time, doctors thought sick people were helped by making a cut and letting bad blood out. Washington's blood was taken several times, and the loss of blood may have killed him. He was 67.

Q. Who was the first president who was born an American citizen?

A. Eighth president Martin Van Buren was the first U.S. leader who could boast that he was born in the United States. The presidents before him were all born before the Declaration of Independence, so they were born as British subjects.

1. A president elected in the November general election takes office the following year on what date?

A) Jan. 1

B) Jan. 20

C) Jan. 30

2. To serve as U.S. president, a person must be how old?

A) 25

B) 35

C) 45

3. If no candidate for president receives a majority of the electoral vote, who decides who will become president?

A) The House of Representatives

B) the Senate

C) the Electoral College

4. If the president is unable to perform the duties of his office, who assumes them?

A) the first lady

B) the secretary of state

C) the vice president

1) B

2) B

3) A

4) C


Think about the last time you voted in a school election. What kind of candidates did you have to choose from?

Because the two guys who are running for president were once teens, we decided to find out what they were like back then.

After hours and hours of newspaper and magazine clipping (their official campaign headquarters didn't even have this information), here's what we found out:

Name: Robert Joseph Dole

Also called: Bobby Joe

Birth date: July 22, 1923

Home town: Russell, Kan.

Teen-age years: 1936 to 1942

High school: Russell High

Hunky or junky?: Stood 6-foot-2 and weighed 194

High school interests: A total jock; the star athlete. Focused his energies on track, football and basketball; built his own weight-lifting system.

Known as: Popular and very well-liked. Girls voted him "Best-Looking Boy in School," "Guy I'd Most Like to Be Stranded on an Island With" and "Ideal Boy," although not necessarily in that order.

Study habits: Made the National Honor Society between touchdowns.

Ambition: Absolutely no interest in politics whatsoever. A poor boy, he planned to become a surgeon and get paid.

Heroes: Doctors and his parents.

Early employment: Hired as a teen -- "because he was popular, husky and an athlete who had a following" -- as a soda jerk at Dawson's Drugstore. Worked from after school to 10:30 p.m., making $2 a week (but a candy bar back then was 5 cents, and a malt cost 15 cents); spent one summer on an oil gang.

Graduated high school: 1941.

College: Headed to the University of Kansas on tuition money borrowed from a local banker.

Major: Pre-med

Success: Became BMOC (that's Big Man on Campus, the way-back-in-the-day equivalent of a Big Willie); played freshman hoops.

Defining Moment: Signed up with Uncle Sam when he could see that he would be drafted for World War II. (It was a decision that led to a later Defining Moment: the agonizing war wound that cost him the use of his arm.)

Name: William Jefferson Clinton (not the name he was given at birth; see "Defining Moment I").

Also called: Billy

Birth date: Aug. 19, 1946

Home town: Hope, Ark.; later moved to Hot Springs.

Teen-age years: 1959 to 1965

High school: Hot Springs High

Hunky or junky? Stood 5-foot-11 and weighed 210 at 14.

High school interests: Lived and breathed politics; was president of his junior class.

Known as: A conciliator and leader who was intelligent and competitive.

Known for: "Always saying the right thing," "being a magnet for attention in a crowd," winning leadership awards.

Study habits: A whiz at Latin and math.

Extracurriculars: Went to Boys State, an American Legion-sponsored civic program, where he was elected senator; played sax in the Hot Springs High School band; survived six summers of music camp.

Ambition: To become a doctor or musician, but that was before the Kennedy Incident (see Defining Moment II).

Heroes: John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley

Early employment: Baby-sat younger brother, Roger; odd jobs for minimum wage -- like counting screws, bolts, tailpipes and other car parts at his Uncle Raymond's Buick dealership; camp counselor; sax player in local bands.

Graduated: 1964

College of choice: Georgetown in Washington, D.C., the only one to which he applied.

Successes: Elected president of the freshman class.

Defining Moment I: At 14, confronted his alcoholic stepfather, telling him: "I don't want you to lay a hand on my mother in anger ever, ever, again or you'll have to deal with me." The following year, in a gesture of family unity, William Jefferson Blythe IV legally took his stepfather's name and became William Jefferson Clinton.

Defining Moment II: In June 1963, traveled to Washington, D.C., with Boys State and shook hands with President Kennedy in the Rose Garden. Decided then and there a career in politics was the way to go.

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