On the Wane

George Washington to George W. Bush: 11 WASPs Who Have Led America (PHOTOS)

Is the WASP leader a dying breed? Here’s a look at the most prominent WASP-y figures in America’s political history, from Andrew Jackson to FDR.

For most of American history, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants have ruled the nation. But the dominance of these well-educated, blue-blooded men is on the wane. Here are some of America’s most famous leaders who fit the WASP description, from Andrew Jackson to FDR.

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Prescott and George H.W. Bush

The political legacy of the Bush family reaches back to the early 1950s with Prescott Sheldon Bush—Yale grad, businessman, banker and later, politician. In The Bush Tragedy by Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, Prescott’s family is described as embodying “the old WASP embarrassment about being rich; they pretended they really weren't, and treated the help as ‘family.’” The blue-blooded Bush patriarch was a Republican senator for Connecticut for 11 years, notably supporting President Eisenhower in his decision to censure Joseph McCarthy for his communist-finding obsession. Prescott’s son, George H.W. Bush, would follow in his footsteps—attending Yale, joining the military, and entering politics in 1964, two years after his father’s retirement. George H.W. became Ronald Reagan’s vice president in 1980, and nine years later took over the White House himself.

George Bush Presidential Library / AP Photos

George W. Bush

The eldest of George H.W.’s sons, George W. Bush made his father proud when he followed in the family footsteps: going to Ivy League schools, joining the Army, and entering politics. The younger Bush spent his education in typical WASP style: attending private boarding school Phillips Academy, and later going to Yale, and Harvard Business School. He was elected president in 2000 after serving six years as Texas governor. He’s known for championing his Christian beliefs during his political tenure, and even created a “Jesus Day” in Texas when he was in power.

Dmitri Kessel, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Nelson Rockefeller

Despite breeding many WASP-y types, New York hasn’t chosen a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to lead the state since the election of Nelson Rockefeller, who was in many ways the embodiment of the WASP. Rockefeller, grandson of famed Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, grew up in Bar Harbor, Maine, and attended Dartmouth College. He later held a variety of political and philanthropic roles, including governor of New York and U.S. vice president under Gerald Ford. Despite Nelson’s pedigree, religion, and race, a 1974 New York magazine article deemed him “not a True Wasp” because “politics is not an acceptable True Wasp pursuit” and of course “real power is not being president, but having the president come to you.”

Peter J. Carroll / AP Photos

Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

An American lineage stretching back to at least the early 1700s, the family of Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. is full of politicians. Henry followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and great-great-great grandfather, who were both Massachusetts senators. Just seven years after graduating from Harvard, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. began his tenure in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and later entered the U.S. Senate.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

Though not of the upper-crust New England lineage many WASPs have, former President Lyndon B. Johnson epitomized the dominating white, male politician of his era. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic and decidedly un-WASP-y president, Johnson took the reins of government. Before becoming president, he had served in an array of government positions—U.S. representative, U.S. senator, and vice president.

Michael S. Green / AP Photos

Phil Gramm

An economics professor and businessman, Phil Gramm was a noted Republican leader during his tenure in Congress, 1979-2002 (although he started off as a Democrat). The Texas politician has been partially blamed for the mortgage crisis in 2007 because of the piece of legislation—which has his name on it (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act)—that dropped regulations on the financial industry. The former U.S. senator flirted with a run for the presidency in 1996. After serving as co-chair of John McCain’s presidential campaign, Gramm left politics to work with UBS’s investment banking division.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Hailing from a long line of wealthy, prominent New Yorkers, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a distinguished young man—fluent in German and French, a card-carrying member of the Sons of the American Revolution, a golfer, and a sailor. He attended a religious boarding school in Massachusetts and studied at Harvard and Columbia Law School. Serving in the Navy, Senate, and finally, Oval Office, FDR is one of the most revered U.S. presidents—WASP or otherwise—in history.

Stapleton Collection / Corbis

George Washington

America’s first president set the blueprint for a powerful leader that would be more or less followed for the next 300 years—until Barack Obama: white, Protestant and Anglo-Saxon. The nation’s father came from a moderately well-to-do Virginia family and was an Episcopalian, but unlike the WASPs who followed him, Washington only had the equivalent of an elementary-school education.


Andrew Jackson

One of the most fearsome presidents in U.S. history paved his way from being son of Presbyterian Irish immigrants to president of the country, armed with a little more than a few years of law school. Andrew Jackson’s beliefs weren’t always in exact alignment with what future WASP politicians would strive for—he wanted a more agrarian state and tried to abolish the government bank, saying it benefited only the elite.

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John McCain

John McCain may not have gone to Harvard or Yale, but he continued his family history of high-ranking military officers and attended the U.S. Naval Academy. After his famous confinement as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain returned to America and entered politics, serving in the U.S. House as an Arizona representative, and then the Senate, where he remains. McCain has run for president twice, but both times this WASP-y contender was denied the Oval Office.