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Before they led the free world, many presidents were momma's boys

Sara Delano Roosevelt was a doting -- and, at times, overly protective -- mother to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Presidents have at least two things in common: They love their country and they love their moms. From John Quincy Adams' overbearing Abigail to Barack Obama's single-mom Anne Dunham, our presidents tend to be the products of strong, confident women who made life-lasting impacts on their sons. 

"If you look at the families of presidents, it's the momma's boy who is most likely to be president," said Doug Wead, author of "The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nations Leaders." 

Sigmund Freud theorized that the child perceived to be a mother's favorite is empowered for life. The close connection between presidents and their mothers could be due to absentee fathers who weren't around while the future leaders were growing up.

Whatever the reason, behind nearly every great president was a great mom.

"In virtually every case, it was the mothers who raised their sons to be president, and developed their character and will to get there," said Bonnie Angelo, author of "First Mothers: The Women Who Shaped the Presidents."

In honor of Mother's Day, here's a look at some of the most prolific momma's boys to ever occupy the White House:

John Quincy Adams
When it comes to being a momma's boy, John Quincy Adams did not have much of a choice in the matter, Angelo writes. His mother, Abigail Adams, decided early on that she would play an active role in her son's life. Her husband, the second president of the United States, spent much of his career as a diplomat, clocking in serious time overseas before becoming president. And while he was away, Abigail Adams had the responsibility of molding and educating the children, along with instilling a strong sense of morality.

When 11-year-old John Quincy traveled to Paris to spend time with his father, Abigail expressed her concern about the seedy underbelly she thought the city to have. "I would rather see you find a grave in the ocean you have crossed, than see you an immoral, profligate or graceless child," she told him.

Abigail Adams prohibited John Quincy's first engagement, and later in life when he wrote from London to say he was looking to marry, she said urged him to think about his future and stay single. When she found out the girl was British, she wrote "I hope for the love I bear my country that the Siren is at least half-blooded." Fortunately, the father of future first lady Louisa Catherine Johnson was the American consul in London.

William McKinley
The Ohio native at first disappointed his mother by not becoming a preacher. But she quickly forgave him. As president, he had installed a special wire to her home in the Buckeye State so that he could pray with her daily, said Wead. When she was on her death bed, McKinley rushed out of Washington on his presidential train to be by her side. During her illness and death, McKinley was "inconsolable," Wead writes.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Sara Delano Roosevelt, the first mother ever to vote for her son for president, would not let him take a bath alone until he was 9 years old. In fact, she kept FDR in dresses until he was six, as was custom of the day. When he went off to Harvard, his mother rented an apartment in Boston to oversee his social life. 

Though a privileged child, FDR did not fit in well growing up. He was unathletic and socially awkward, which some historians cite as a result of his domineering mother. Her heavy involvement in her son's life did not end after his childhood. She was a staple of the FDR White House, sitting next to her son as he delivered his first fireside chat. She even delivered her own address to the nation on Mother's Day. 

"She was a force to be rekoned with," said Angelo. The author noted that because of FDR's health complications and troubles as a child, he easily could have chosen a privileged life out of the public eye. But his mother pushed him to directly confront the challenges he faced.

Her strong manner also made for a contentious relationship with famed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Angelo notes that FDR could take on labor leaders, big business and stare down Hitler -- but he could never say no to his mother. It meant he was largely mute when she bullied his wife. "The momma's boy willingly made his wife second fiddle to his mother," Angelo writes.

FDR also became the first president since Woodrow Wilson to not issue a presidential proclamation on Mother's Day. Instead, in 1935, he said the the holiday held such significance that a proclamation was unnecessary, and called on Americans to honor their mothers with tributes that “come simply and spontaneously from our hearts.” 

Harry Truman
Harry Truman's father, John, was a largely unsuccessful entrepreneur with a temper, Angelo writes. Growing up in Missouri, Truman formed a close bond with his mother, Martha Ellen Young Truman.  She lived to see her son's appointment to the White House following President Roosevelt's death, but told reporters that her son's death was no cause for celebration in the wake of a national tragedy.  

In her book, Angelo writes that after Truman's 1948 election, he lamented: "I wish my mother had lived long enough to see me sworn in as an elected president. When I succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, my mother so wisely said it was no occasion for her to rejoice. But now that I have been elected president in my own right, it would have been a great thrill for her to be present as her son took the oath."

His mother had passed away one year earlier. Truman had been keeping vigil by his dying mother's bed for two weeks in 1947 before he had to briefly go back to Washington. On his way back from the White House to return to Martha Ellen Young Truman's side, his mother appeared to him in a dream. Shortly after he awoke, he was handed a message the pilot received over the radio. Without even reading it, Truman said he knew its contents. "I knew she was gone when I saw her in that dream. She was saying good-bye to me," he recalled. Her parting words, he said, were, "Goodbye, Harry. Be a good boy." 

John F. Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy's father, Joe, is largely credited with building the family's political dynasty. But his mother, Rose Kennedy, turned out to be one of JFK's best allies on the campaign trail. She was an avid campaigner during her son's 1960 presidential run, and biographers note her interest in the back-room deals and nuts and bolts of politics. 

Julian Wasser / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

President John F. Kennedy and his mother, Rose.

Rose Kennedy's interest in politics stemmed from a passion for history. The well educated mother of nine made it point to ensure her children loved learning in the same way she did. In her memoir "Times to Remember," she wrote, "I looked at child rearing not only as a work of love and duty, but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world."   

Some historians have noted her to have been cold and removed, notions her children have since rejected. Angelo described her as "the strong spine of that family." 

But she remained engaged with JFK during his presidency, at times to a fault. In 1962 she wrote to Soviet Premier Khrushchev asking for a signed photo. It prompted a response from her president son asking that she check with him before reaching out to other heads of state.

"When I ask for Castro's autograph, I will let you know in advance," she replied.

Richard Nixon
He didn't go out on top, but in his farewell address, Nixon made sure to give proper thanks to the woman who reared him: "Nobody will ever write a book, probably, about my mother. Well, I guess all of you would say this about your mother -- my mother was a saint. And I think of her, two boys dying of tuberculosis, nursing four others in order that she could take care of my older brother for three years in Arizona, and seeing each of them die, and when they died, it was like one of her own. Yes, she will have no books written about her. But she was a saint."

The Bushes
Wead, who served as a special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, recalled an emotional moment in the Oval Office when someone asked the president how his ailing mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, was doing. "He had a weird expression on his face, almost as if he was choking. Then he just burst out and started sobbing, and we all scattered," he said. She passed in 1992, just 16 days after Bush lost re-election to Bill Clinton.


First lady Barbara Bush is shown here with son George in 1989 at the family home in Kennebunkport, Maine.

In a statement, the senior Bush said his mother, "Was the beacon in our family -- the center, the candle around which all the moths fluttered -- she was there, the strength, the center, the power but never arrogance, just love was her strength, kindness her main virtue."

His wife, Barbara Bush -- mother to President George W. Bush -- once said in an interview that her mother-in-law had "10 times more" influence on her son than his father. 

Barbara formed a close bond with Dorothy, and developed a relationship with son George similar to the one her husband had with his mother.  Angelo writes that at a commencement address at Southern Methodist in 1999 during his presidential campaign, Bush jokingly told the graduates: "Remember that no matter how old you are or what your job is, you can never escape your mother." Throughout his presidential run, Barbara continued to give her son motherly advice -- like stand up straight and to make sure his socks were pulled up during an appearance on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."

First lady Laura Bush would later say her husband is much more like his mother than his father. "Both are feisty," she said.

Barack Obama
Mothers continue to have an indelible impact on their politician sons. In his book "Dreams From My Father," President Barack Obama called his mom, Ann Dunham, "The kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her." She had him as a teenager, and Obama was raised both by her and his grandparents.

She passed away in 1995, but in an interview with the Chicago Tribune during his 2008 campaign, Obama said she was "the dominant figure in my formative years. . . . The values she taught me continue to be my touchstone when it comes to how I go about the world of politics."