The world is dominated by right-handed people. Being a lefty was often deemed to be unacceptable and many children who were naturally left-hand were forced to use their right hand instead. However, as decades pass, the visibility of left handers has increased and you will see that quite a few famous people are left handers. That includes presidents of the United States. So how many US presidents were left handed or ambidextrous? A total of 7, maybe 8!
Forcing lefties to be right-handed became standard practice in the 18th and 19th centuries due to the stigma and inaccurate theories surrounding left-handedness. For example, we know that there probably were a few famous left-handed piano players and composers in those times.
One theory stems purely from the fact that the English word “Sinister” comes from the Latin word “Sinistra”, which means “left hand”. Eventually, left-handed people had established themselves well enough to prove these theories baseless. In fact, the girl and boy scout handshake is done with the left hand to signify trust and bravery. There have been numerous left-handed world leaders over the years, including a number of US Presidents, of which James A Garfield was the first.
Table of Contents
- 1 Which Presidents Were Left Handed?
- 2 Which President was Ambidextrous?
- 3 Was Thomas Jefferson Left Handed?
- 4 Why Are So Many Presidents Left Handed?
- 5 Left Handed Presidential Candidates
- 6 Left Handed Leaders of the World
Which Presidents Were Left Handed?
Since left-handedness was regarded as a disability during the 18th and 19th centuries (and well into the early 20th century), it is difficult to determine which presidents were left-handed. It was rare for left-handers to continue being southpaws beyond childhood because parents and teachers did everything they could to prevent left-handedness in their kids.
About 47% of the last 15 American presidents were left-handed. Here are all the left-handed Presidents that we know of through history:
James A Garfield
Who was the first left handed president? That would be James Garfield. He was the first and only known left-handed president of the USA before the 20th century. It was thought that he was ambidextrous and could write with both hands at the same time, although there’s no real proof of the latter claim. It was also rumored that he could write in Greek with his left hand and in Latin with his right hand.
Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of The United States of America. The Herbert Hoover Library and Museum disputes claims that he was a lefty and shows evidence in photos of him holding a pen and video of him throwing a baseball pitch with his right hand. However, there is a single photo of him holding a pen in his left hand and several others of him holding other things in his left hand. There are even some respected history and science journals that cite his left-handedness. Remember, it’s quite possible that he was forced to become right-handed early on, so it’s difficult to definitely say.
Harry S. Truman
Harry Truman was the 33rd President of the United States of America. He was born left-handed, however, due to the stigma surrounding lefties in society at that time, his parents forced him to start writing with his left-hand.
He was the 38th President. Gerald Ford was a left-handed person naturally, however, he could also write with his right hand. He was known to frequently switch between his right and left hands while writing. He once said, “For as long as I can remember, I have been left-handed when I’ve been sitting down and right-handed standing up.” This confirmed his ability to write with both hands.
As the 40th President, his term ran from 1981 to 1989. Ronald Reagan was left-handed by birth but like Harry S Truman, he was forced to write with his right hand by his elementary school teachers.
George H.W. Bush
He was the 41st President. George Bush was naturally a left-handed person. However, he was an exception to a skill that is stereotypically attributed to lefties, which is communication skills. He confirmed it himself when he said, “fluency in English is something that I’m often not accused of.”
He was the 42nd President. Bill Clinton was naturally a left-handed person and unlike George H.W. Bush he had excellent communication skills, which upheld the stereotype attributed to lefties.
He was the 44th President of America and served two terms from 2008 to 2016. When he signed his first executive order, he joked, “That’s right, I’m a lefty, get used to it”, and wore his left-handedness with pride.
Which President was Ambidextrous?
James Abram Garfield was the first ambidextrous and multilingual President of the United States. He could very easily use both his hands to write. What was even more astounding was that he wrote different languages with different hands.
James A. Garfield is an example of a person who did not let his circumstances determine his fate. He went from being born with nothing to becoming the president of America. Along with that, he was also the first presidential candidate to have given a campaign speech in a language other than English, which in his case was German.
Sadly, he only served as a President for less than six months of his term before he was assassinated, making him the second president after Lincoln to have been assassinated.
Was Thomas Jefferson Left Handed?
Thomas Jefferson was not naturally left-handed. He was right-handed until he broke his right wrist in an accident in 1786. Because of this, he had no choice but to write with his left hand. His injury forced him to become a lefty for some time to write his letters. One of his famous letters, known as the “head and heart” letter, was written during this period. Even though his handwriting in these letters is legible, there’s a clear and notable difference between that and his handwriting with his right hand.
Why Are So Many Presidents Left Handed?
Considering that only between 10% and 15% of the world’s population is left-handed, the percentage of presidents who are left handed is remarkably high. Some scientists theorize that the reason may be the same for the high percentage among artists and Nobel Prize winners – that they’re capable of a wider scope of thinking.
Fun fact: Millard Fillmore, a former U.S. president, was depicted to use the phrase “south paw” after he was decked by the left hand of a former U.S. senator, Lewis Cass.
Curse the Old hoss wot a south paw he has given me!Published by Abel & Durang in an 1848 political satire: Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the United States.
A greater percentage of lefties are better at language development and therefore oratory skills than right-handed people. Additionally, since they have a more developed corpus callosum of the brain, which is associated with creative thinking, they are better at thinking outside the box. Both these skills make for great leadership, which is what most people want in their president and other leaders.
Left Handed Presidential Candidates
The eight Presidents mentioned in this article weren’t the only left-handed candidates at the time of elections.
In the year 1992, all three Presidential candidates were lefties. They were Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and H. Ross Perot. However, George Bush and Ross Perot lost the election to Bill Clinton. One thing was certain, that a left-handed person was going to be the 42nd President of America.
In the year 2008, John McCain ran and lost the race of 44th Presidential election against Barack Obama, who was also left handed.
Left Handed Leaders of the World
Apart from Presidents of the United States of America, there are other leaders of the world who are left handed.
Some historical left-handed leaders were:
King George VI of the United Kingdom, was born left-handed but he was forced to train his right hand to write. There is a theory that this was what made him start stammering around the age of 7 or 8. His wife, The Queen Mother, was also a left-hander.
Queen Victoria was perhaps the British Royal family’s most famous left-hander. She was trained to write with her right hand but continued to paint with her left.
Alexander the Great, the King of Macedonia, had created one of the largest empires in the world by the time he was thirty.
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu served as prime minister of Israel from 1996–99 and 2009–21.
Winston Churchill, who served as Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II and again between 1951 and 1955.
Lee Hsien Loong has been the Prime Minister of Singapore since 2004.
Prince William, a member of the British Royal Family and currently 2nd in line to the throne, also writes with his left hand. He’s also an accomplished polo player but has to hold the mallet in his right hand.
David Cameron was the Prime Minister of The United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016.
Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the current Kenyan President, has been in office since 2013 and is also the son of Kenya’s first ever president.
Photo credits: “President Obama Signs the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act” by Speaker Nancy Pelosi is licensed under CC BY 2.0
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Sharon FarmerWhite House Photograph Office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ricardo Thomas, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons