USS Constitution is no stranger to a presidential visit. Over the past 219 years, several sitting and future United States presidents have paid a visit to the famed warship, beginning with the first launch attempt in 1797 and most recently in the 1990s.
* * *
Much to the chagrin of Naval Constructor George Claghorn, USS Constitution‘s first presidential visit came during the first, failed, launch attempt on September 20, 1797. President John Adams witnessed the attempted launch, during which the ship skidded a mere 27 feet.
In 1811, President James Madison visited Constitution in Annapolis, Maryland, while Captain Isaac Hull was busy preparing the ship and her crew for foreign service. Madison declared war against Great Britain the following year on June 18, 1812.
Martin Van Buren
On June 24, 1833, Vice President (and future president) Martin Van Buren was in attendance when Constitution entered Dry Dock 1 in the Charlestown Navy Yard for repairs. President Andrew Jackson was also in Boston, but was too unwell to attend the event.
Ulysses S. Grant
Following the end of the American Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant visited Constitution in September 1869. “Old Ironsides” was functioning as school ship for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Rutherford B. Hayes
President Rutherford B. Hayes and his cabinet visited the ship on November 11, 1880 while she was at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for overhaul. At the time, Constitution was one of four ships assigned to the Apprentice Training Squadron.
President Calvin Coolidge, accompanied by the First Lady and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, sailed into Boston Harbor from Marblehead, Massachusetts, aboard the presidential yacht Mayflower to visit Constitution on August 8, 1925. Congress had authorized a major restoration for the ship in March 1925.
During Constitution‘s three-coast National Cruise, following the extensive 1927-1931 restoration, Herbert Hoover visited the ship again, this time as president. He, along with the First Lady and Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams, toured the ship on Armistice Day, November 11, 1931, while “Old Ironsides” was docked at the Washington Navy Yard. Hoover visited a third time in 1932.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, toured USS Constitution during his first visit to the Boston Navy Yard on August 10, 1940. Later that month, on August 24, 1940, the president requested that both Constitution and USS Constellation be recommissioned as symbolic flagships for the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.
Ronald Reagan toured the Charlestown Navy Yard and Constitution while campaigning for the United States presidency on August 20, 1980. As president, he presented the World Ship Trust Maritime Heritage Award to USS Constitution in 1987.
While President Bill Clinton never boarded Constitution, Clinton was saluted by her crew in 1997 during a trip to Boston.
* * *
Nearly two decades have passed since the last time a United States president visited “Old Ironsides.” Since then, USS Constitution has been designated America’s Ship of State as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. This designation allows the sitting president, vice president, executive branch officials, and members of Congress to use the ship as a venue to host visiting heads of state, sign legislation relating to the Armed Forces, and sign maritime-related treaties. Perhaps a future president will make use of “Old Ironsides'” new designation during the ship’s first presidential visit of the 21st century.
– K. Monea