In reading some comments on a Bryan on Scouting blog post, someone lamented that President Obama did not attend that National Jamboree while “every other President attended Boy Scout Jamborees while in office.” I was curious as to how accurate that statement was, as I’ve heard it several times prior to that comment. In doing some quick searching, I found that there is no one site that has all the information. I started a step-by-step search (each Jamboree and each President of the United States) to compile the following information, using Google search results that included BSA National’s website, Wikipedia, Youtube and various other sources. What I found is that the assertion that “Every other President attended Boy Scout Jamborees while in office” is inaccurate. It is true that President Obama has not attended a National Jamboree, but neither have several sitting Presidents of the United States (POTUS) since the BSA started holding National Jamborees.
There have been 13 different men holding the position of POTUS since the First National Jamboree. Two of those men, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Gerald R. Ford, were unable to attend a BSA National Jamboree while in office as no event occurred during their terms. Of the remaining 11 men, only 7 visited a BSA National Jamboree while in office. Below is a timeline compiling that information:
Analysis: What Does it Mean?
Truth be told, it is actually more common for the POTUS to not attend a National Jamboree than it is for him to show up.
7 of 11 sitting Presidents have attended a BSA National Jamboree. At 64%, that’s a little shy of two thirds of the Presidents who attended.
Of the 18 National Jamborees that have occurred (not counting the cancelled 1935 National Jamboree and combining both 1973 locations into one event), a sitting President of the United States of America has only attended 7 times. That’s only about 39% of the time.
The longest streak of sitting POTUS visits to a Jamboree is two. This happened twice, in 1937 & 1950 (Presidents Roosevelt & Truman) and again in 1960 & 1964 (Presidents Eisenhower & Johnson).
The longest streak of Jamborees without a sitting POTUS visit is five, from 1969 through 1985 (Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter & Reagan).
The only Presidents who attended every Jamboree for which they were sitting POTUS were those who only had the Jamboree occur once during their time in office (Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson, and George H.W. Bush).
The Presidents who were in office during two or more Jamborees either attended only once (Presidents Eisenhower, Clinton, and George W. Bush), or not at all (Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Obama).
President Carter is the sole POTUS who only had one Jamboree occur during his time in office and did not attend.
Not to take this too far into the political arena, but people have and will always go there, so here’s a few quick numbers. Of the 13 Presidents, 6 (46%) were from the Republican Party and 7 (53%) were from the Democratic Party. Of the 2 who could not attend a Jamboree while in office, 1 was from each party. Of the remaining 5 Republican Presidents, 3 of 5 (60%) attended a jamboree and of the 6 Democratic Presidents, 4 of 6 (67%) attended. 4 of 8 (50%) National Jamborees held during the tenure of a Democratic President were attended by that POTUS. 3 of 10 (30%) National Jamborees held during the tenure of a Republican President were attended by that POTUS. All in all, it is pretty right down the middle.
In the end, what does it all mean? That it is pretty cool to the tens of thousands of Scouts and Scouters when a sitting President of the United States of America visits a National Jamboree. But it doesn’t happen as often as everyone seems to think.
Bottom line, in the end a POTUS attending Jamboree doesn’t make or break the event, and him attending doesn’t happen as often as people like to think.
Final Note: A POTUS’s record on attending the National Jamboree only one small portion of his record with the BSA and isn’t always an quick indicator of how Scout-friendly he was (or is). Carter was a Scoutmaster and Reagan was very involved as an adult Scouter, but neither attended the Jamboree while they were in office. Johnson helped establish an Explorer Post at the Capitol. Nixon attended two Jamborees as Vice-President and hosted an Explorer meeting at the capitol while he was President.