Hawaii, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama
Lawrence Jackson/AP

Is Obama Hawaiian or Illinoisan?

November 27, 2008 08:51 AM
by Emily Coakley
President-elect Barack Obama has two states that call him their native son, making him the latest president of many to be claimed by more than one state.

Tracing Presidential Roots

There could be a feud brewing between two states as President-elect Barack Obama prepares his move to Washington.

According to Time magazine, “Hawaii has a bit of a chip on its shoulder. Obama, after all, is a Senator from Illinois, and the incoming President comes off as more a Land of Lincolner than a son of the Aloha State.”

Though some Hawaiians told Time that Obama is probably too modest to brag about his life in Hawaii, others say he belongs to the Midwest.

“[W]e consider him ours. He’s very much an Illinoisan as far as we’re concerned. We embrace him as our favorite son. He’s Illinois true and blue,” said Terry Link, an Illinois state senator and one of Obama’s former colleagues.

While Illinois and Chicago have been busy using Obama’s election as the basis for a tourist campaign, “Here in Hawaii, land of his birth and education, we are just about ready to decide if we want to start planning something,” said an editorial in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “Marsha Wienert, Gov. Linda Lingle’s tourism czar, says that the Hawaii Tourism Authority has meetings planned during the first week of December about an Obama promotion.”

Historical Context: Claiming a president’s home

It’s not uncommon for multiple cities or even states to lay claim to a president.

In the Midwest, three states that have a claim to the title of Abraham Lincoln’s home are working separately, but not in opposition, to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth in 2009.

“Not in any way are we trying to compete with Indiana or Illinois, but the bicentennial is instead giving all three states a chance to work together to tell Lincoln’s whole story,” said Sandy Brue, one of the planners in Kentucky.
Lincoln was born in Kentucky, and his family moved to Indiana, where he lived for more than 15 years before going to Illinois, where he became a statesman and eventually president.

Some in North Carolina, birthplace of presidents Andrew Johnson and James Polk, also claim Lincoln, according to a 2006 USA Today story.

A 2003 book called “The Tarheel Lincoln,” “argued in favor of a decades-old claim that Lincoln was the illegitimate son of a North Carolinian named Abraham Enloe. [Richard] Eller and [Jerry] Goodnight theorize that the 16th president was born in southeastern Rutherford County, near the town of Bostic, about 60 miles west of Charlotte.”

One of the authors admitted he initially doubted the theory.

“When we started, I was pretty skeptical. When we got into it, it started to make sense. And when we put more of the pieces together, it makes good sense,” Eller said.

Other presidents who are sought-after include Ronald Reagan. According to the Chicago Tribune, he moved quite a bit during his childhood.

“The precariousness of those years is made clear to the traveler on the Ronald Reagan Trail by the number of obscure burgs claiming him as an honored citizen. Dixon [Ill.], where he lived, from the age of 9, comes closest to the distinction of Reagan’s hometown.”

And Harry S. Truman is “forever associated with Independence, Mo.,” the Tribune said, noting that he was actually born in a town called Lamar, not too far from there.

William Henry Harrison is another who has multiple state claims, according to the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies.

Ohio also likes to claim William Henry Harrison as one of her own; although born in Virginia, he later settled in Ohio,” says a piece on states that claim the most presidents.

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