Q: Which state has been home to more U.S. presidents: Ohio or Virginia?
A: It’s either Virginia, Ohio or a tie, depending on how you count.
Your Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008, Fact of the Day stated, "More U.S. presidents have been from Ohio than any other state. Eight Ohio natives have been elected to the top office." But the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Michael Dobbs, says that only seven Ohioans have been U.S. presidents. Who is right?
First a mea culpa: Our answer was inaccurate. It’s not true that eight Ohio "natives" have been elected to the top office. Nor is it entirely accurate to claim that Ohio has produced more U.S. presidents than any other state. We found three different ways of counting: one results in a Virginia win, one in an Ohio win, and one in a tie.
We took the information for our Fact of the Day from the Ohio Secretary of State and the Ohio Public Library Information Network, which lists eight presidents who have been "elected from the Buckeye State." Their list:
- William Henry Harrison
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Rutherford B. Hayes
- James A. Garfield
- Benjamin Harrison
- William McKinley
- William H. Taft
- Warren G. Harding
The Fact Checker maintains that it’s Virginia that leads the way with eight U.S. presidents, offering this list as evidence:
- George Washington
- Thomas Jefferson
- James Madison
- James Monroe
- William Henry Harrison
- John Tyler
- Zachary Taylor
- Woodrow Wilson
You’ll notice that both lists contain William Henry Harrison. That’s because he was born in Virginia and studied at Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College (he later studied medicine at our host institution, the University of Pennsylvania). But in 1791, Harrison joined the Army and spent much of his remaining life in what was then the Northwest Territory (later Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota). After a stint as the territorial governor of the Indiana Territory, Harrison moved to Ohio, where he served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and as a U.S. senator before being elected the 9th U.S. president in 1840.
So Dobbs is correct that, counting from place of birth, Virginia has produced the most U.S. presidents. But Ohio also has a claim, since W.H. Harrison was actually living in Ohio when he was elected.
Unfortunately, it gets complicated here. You see, to get its eight presidents, Ohio has added W.H. Harrison to its seven native-born Ohioans. That’s reasonable enough, since the elder Harrison was in fact living in Ohio when he was elected. But using that standard, Benjamin Harrison would not count as an Ohio president, since he was living in Indiana at the time of his election. For that matter, Ulysses S. Grant had moved to Illinois before he was elected president, so it’s not clear that he should count, either.
Ohio can claim eight U.S. presidents only by employing a hybrid standard: everyone either born in the state or living in the state at the time of his election counts. But that standard results in a tie with Virginia.
There is, however, a way of counting under which Ohio can claim the title of having produced more U.S. presidents than any other state, but it requires giving up two of its eight. If we use living in a state at the time of election as our standard, then Ohio can claim six presidents to Virginia’s five (Harrison, Taylor and Wilson lived elsewhere at the time of their election).
So we’re going to rule that both states have sufficient bragging rights and call it a day.
– Joe Miller
Dobbs, Michael. "Readers Fact Check Dem Debate." The Fact Checker, 28 Feb. 2008.
Ohio Secretary of State and the Ohio Public Library Information Network. "Ohio Presidents." 2007. Ohio Defined, 28 Feb. 2008.
"Presidents of the United States." The White House, 28 Feb. 2008.