Some rather dandy Yankee doodles from the Presidents

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The Independent US

Republican Presidents have been more prone to the vice than Democrats and, as a rule, the worse the President the better he is at it. No, not fornicating, perverting justice or launching wars on false pretences; doodling.

The practitioners of the art date from George Washington, and almost every chief executive since has followed his example. Their output has now been collected and published in one of the most trivial yet intriguing studies of America's most powerful office.

Presidential Doodles it is called, Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles and Scrawls from the Oval Office. The assembled jottings are sometimes obvious in their authorship, sometimes less so and, on occasion, as revealing as the heftiest biography.

Take the three examples here. Who, in a departure from his usual doodles of boxed-in words and numbers regarding pressing issues of the day, drew the sailing boat, left?

Others are more complicated. Who produced the elaborate kaleidoscopic pattern, above right, that a guest retrieved from a wastepaper basket, asked the artist to sign it then sold it for a small fortune?

Remember the rule, the less competent the President, the better the doodler. This man was the 31st President and is ranked by most historians among the country's worst. He fiddled (or doodled) as the Great Depression burned.

The last doodle is by a leading Founding Father, and the second President, known for his intense dedication to his work. He is shown to have used hard, straight lines and precise geometric patterns.

Other doodlers of merit include the Republican Warren Harding who died in 1923 after two undistinguished years in office, but not before bequeathing posterity doodles of some note. Some are of skyscrapers, radio towers and other wonders of the age, all rendered in a nifty Art Deco style.

Some are more typical of their author. Dwight Eisenhower was a decent painter, and produced accomplished drawings as aides and bureaucrats droned on. John Adams, a leading Founding Father known for dedication to work, used hard, straight lines and precise geometric patterns.

Tortuous three-dimensional objects were the mark of Richard Nixon, dark and convoluted as the man himself, conjuring up his trademark paranoia.

Answers? Naturally, John Kennedy was a President never more relaxed than when out sailing on Nantucket Sound. No, the kaleidoscopic artist is not George W Bush, but Herbert Hoover. The final doodle is by John Adams. Some of the jottings that gave birth to the book appeared first in Cabinet Magazine.