White House Trivia: Would ya believe it?

From phoney fishing trips to hanging chads, the election of America's presidents is a feast for fans of trivia and intrigue. John Walsh separates truth from fiction
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The Independent US

According to the US Constitution, the only actual requirements for a person to be president are: 1) Must be over 35 years old; 2) Must have lived in the United States at least 14 years; and 3) Must be a natural born citizen. Note that there's no mention of gender or ethnic origin.

The term "natural born citizen" was clearly a little elastic in the early days. All of the first seven American presidents were born British. The first true natural-born American president (despite his Dutch name) was Martin Van Buren in 1837. He was born in 1782, after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.

Election day in the States is always the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. It's a public holiday in some states, but not others. John Conyers of Michigan recently introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would make election day a national holiday called Democracy Day.

The first-ever American election in 1789 was an undemocratic shambles. Only 10 states took part. The New York legislature chose no electors. North Carolina and Rhode Island failed to ratify the Constitution in time. But the vote went ahead and was won by a certain George Washington.

The first election to be tied was the 1800 stand-off between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The winner was chosen by the House of Representatives: it was Jefferson by a margin of 10-4.

The first party to hold a convention to nominate a candidate for president and vice-president was neither Democrat nor Republican. It was the Anti-Masonic Party in 1831. Sadly, it never appeared again on ballot papers after 1831.

Every US president has been a married man, with one exception – bachelor James Buchanan in 1856. Only one president has been a divorced man – Ronald Reagan.

The most unlucky presidential candidate in history was Horace Greeley, a distinguished journalist, editor of the New York Tribune, anti-slavery reformer and founder of the Liberal Republican Party. In 1872, he stood as presidential candidate against Ulysses S Grant, whom he perceived as corrupt. He lost in a landslide. Then his wife died. Greeley went insane with grief and died in November 1872, before he could receive his 66 elector votes. They were scattered among the four other candidates.

A long time – 136 years, in fact – before Hillary Clinton came on the scene, women were contesting the presidency. Victoria Woodhull ran for office in 1872. Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to Congress in 1916.

Black people holding political office isn't a 21st- or even 20th-century phenomenon. In 1855, John Mercer Langston became the first elected black politician in the US, when he became town clerk in Brownhelm, Ohio.

Whoever wins on 4 November will be the 44th President of the United States of America. But in fact, America has had only 42 presidents. Why the discrepancy? The troublemaker is Grover Cleveland, who was elected president in 1884, lost the re-election in 1888, but re-won the presidency in 1892. In the annals of US power, he is counted twice, as 22nd and 24th holder of supreme office.

Shortly after Grover Cleveland's accession to power, in 1893, he discovered a malignant tumour on the roof of his mouth. It was no time to alarm the population: there was a currency-market crisis looming. To avoid any panic, he and his doctors stole inside a cruise boat and performed instant surgery on his mouth. The public were told that he was away on a fishing trip (very reassuring).

Only one man has the distinction of becoming president and vice-president without being voted into either office. Step forward Gerald Ford, who became veep on the resignation of Spiro Agnew, and president after the resignation of Richard Nixon.

The oldest president to win a presidential election was Reagan, who was 73 when he began his second term. The youngest, at 43, was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The US Marine Band has played at every inauguration ceremony since 1801, when Jefferson became third US President. One tune it invariably plays is "Hail to the Chief", the official anthem of the President. Its original lyrics, taken from "The Lady of the Lake" by Sir Walter Scott, were set to music by James Sanderson in 1821. They began: "Hail to the chief who in triumph advances/ Honor'd and blest be the evergreen pine." Later they were rewritten by Albert Gamse to read: "Hail to the chief we have chosen for the nation/ Hail to the chief! We salute him one and all." It was first sung to announce the arrival of the President at the inauguration of James J Polk in 1845, and has been used as the greeting music ever since.

The most closely contested election in US history was in 2000. Al Gore won the popular vote, by 50,996,582 to George W Bush's 50,465,062. The result in Florida was declared "too close to call", and the vote recount was stopped by the US Supreme Court, who awarded Bush all of Florida's 25 electoral votes, securing him victory by 271-255.