Which Presidents Were Left-Handed?

James Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States
James Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-BH82601-1484-B DLC

There have been eight left-handed presidents that we know of. However, this number is not necessarily accurate because in the past left-handedness was actively discouraged. Many individuals who would have grown up left-handed were in fact forced to learn how to write with their right hand. And, if recent history is any indication, left-handedness seems to be far more common among U.S. presidents than it is among the general population. Naturally, this apparent phenomenon has led to many speculations. 

Left-Handed Presidents

James Garfield (March-September 1881) is considered by many to be the first president who was left-handed. Anecdotes indicate that he was ambidextrous and could write with both hands at the same time. However, he served only six months before succumbing to gunshot wounds after Charles Guiteau shot him in July of his first term.

Beating the Odds

What is perhaps most noteworthy about left-handed presidents is how many there have been in recent decades. Of the last 15 presidents, seven (about 47%) have been left-handed. That might not mean much until you consider that the global percentage of left-handed people is about 10%. So among the general population, only 1 in 10 people are left-handed, while in the modern-era White House, almost 1 in 2 have been left-handed. And there's every reason to believe that this trend will continue because it's no longer standard practice to steer children away from natural left-handedness. 

Lefty Doesn't Mean Left, But What Does It Mean?

A quick count of political parties in the list above shows the Republicans slightly ahead of the Democrats, with five of the eight lefties being Republican. If the numbers were reversed, perhaps someone would argue that left-handed people are more in line with left politics. After all, many people believe that left-handedness seems to correspond to creative, or at least "out of the box" thinking, pointing to famous lefty artist such as Pablo Picasso, Jimi Hendrix and Leonardo Di Vinci. While this theory obviously wouldn't be supported by the history of left-handed presidents, the unusually high percentage of lefties in the White House may point to other characteristics that may give lefties an edge in leadership roles (or at least at winning elections): 

  • Language development: According to scientists Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, authors of Welcome to Your Brain, 1 in 7 left-handed people use both hemispheres (left and right) of their brain to process language, while almost all right-handed people process language on only the left side of the brain (the left side controls the right hand, and vice versa). It's possible that this "ambidextrous" language processing gives lefties an advantage as orators. 
  • Creative thinking: Studies have shown a correlation between left-handedness and creative thinking, or more specifically, divergent thinking, or an aptitude for developing multiple solutions to problems. Chris McManus, author of Right-Hand, Left-Hand, suggests that left-handedness may be associated with a more highly developed right hemisphere of the brain, the side that's better at creative thinking. This may also explain the over representation of left-handed artists

So, if you're a lefty who gets annoyed with all the right-handed bias in the world, perhaps you can help change things as our next president.