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Were any presidents color blind?

Color blindness, also known as color vision deficiency, is the decreased ability to see color or differences between colors. It affects a significant percentage of the population, with around 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women being color blind.

Throughout history, many world leaders and heads of state have had visual impairments or other disabilities. Some famous examples include blind statesman John Milton, who served as Latin Secretary under Oliver Cromwell, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used a wheelchair after contracting polio. However, when it comes to color blindness specifically among US presidents, the evidence is less clear.

Color blindness is often an invisible disability – most people do not disclose it unless specifically asked about their ability to distinguish between colors. Additionally, public awareness and understanding of color blindness was fairly limited until relatively recently. So it is quite possible that multiple historic leaders had some degree of color blindness without it being publicly known or documented.

That said, there are a few US presidents for whom there is evidence they may have been color blind or had difficulty distinguishing between certain colors.

James Madison

James Madison, the 4th president of the United States, is one leader who may have been color blind. A diary entry from 1783, when Madison was 32 years old, describes an incident where he possibly confused two colors:

“The glare of light into my eyes gave me a very serious headache…”

This experience of light sensitivity and headaches is common among people with color blindness. While not definitive proof, it suggests Madison may have struggled to discriminate between some colors.

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur, the 21st president, is another who some historians believe may have been color blind. As a young man, Arthur worked as a school teacher before becoming involved in politics and law. An account from his teaching days describes how he once scolded a student for not knowing their colors properly, only to be quietly corrected by another student that the colors he was identifying were incorrect.

This incident implies Arthur had difficulty distinguishing between certain colors himself. However, Arthur himself never confirmed whether or not he was fully color blind. But this account introduces some doubt about his possible color vision deficiencies.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower is the president for whom there is the strongest evidence of color blindness. Eisenhower was known to frequently confuse colors in his speech and writing. In one cabinet meeting in 1959, he referred to his “black golf socks” when pointing to a brown pair he was wearing at the time.

Additionally, Eisenhower’s grandson David wrote about Ike’s color confusion in his memoir, stating:

“His color blindness caused him to confuse brown and green hues so that he often asked for a brown suit when he meant green, and vice versa. He did not know what color his golf balls were. Mother or Mamie had written ‘DDE’ on them.”

These accounts indicate that Eisenhower definitely had issues distinguishing between colors, likely a type of red-green color blindness that affected his ability to differentiate shades in that range.

Other Presidents

While Madison, Arthur and Eisenhower are the presidents with the clearest evidence around color blindness, there are some indications that other leaders may have had color vision deficiencies as well:

  • George Washington wrote in a 1789 letter about experimenting with different color dyes, being unable to tell the difference between crimson and scarlet.
  • Abraham Lincoln referred to lavender items as blue in speeches, suggesting he may have confused purples and blues.
  • Ulysses S. Grant boasted of his beautiful black horse when it was visibly white, implying color confusion.

However, these cases have less documentation and supporting evidence than the previous presidents discussed. The color confusion described may have simply been stylistic or rhetorical in nature. So while possible, there is less certainty about color blindness in these additional presidents.

Prevalence and Types of Color Blindness

To provide some helpful context, here is an overview of color blindness prevalence and the different forms it can take:

Type Prevalence Colors Affected
Red-Green 1 in 12 men, 1 in 200 women Reds, greens, browns, oranges
Blue-Yellow 1 in 10,000 people Blues, yellows, violets
Complete Achromatopsia Extremely rare Sees only shades of grey

As seen, the most common form is red-green color blindness, which affects how people distinguish between reds, greens, browns, and mixes of those shades. This helps explain why some of the presidents may have confused very similar colors like brown and green.

Impact on Presidents’ Lives

So how might color blindness have affected those presidents who likely had the condition?

In most respects, it may have had minimal impact on their leadership and policies. Color discrimination is rarely critical for high-level decision making. The presidents with color confusion still understood the general concepts of colors and could function effectively.

However, in their daily lives, color blindness could have caused some difficulties:

  • Choosing mismatched clothing due to incorrect colors
  • Inability to appreciate certain sunsets, foliage, or artwork
  • Confusion playing board or card games that relied on color
  • Reliance on others to provide color-coded advice

So while color blindness did not prevent these presidents from leading, it may have affected some of their day-to-day experiences and appreciation of the world around them.

Later Presidents and Color Blindness

After Eisenhower, there are no definite cases of color blindness among later presidents. However, some speculate that Ronald Reagan may have had minor color confusion as well:

  • Anecdotal stories of him misidentifying colors of clothes
  • Confusing colors when helping dye Easter eggs as a father
  • No solid proof though unlike Eisenhower

Among the most recent presidents, none are known to be color blind. However, the condition likely still affects a significant number of politicians and leaders worldwide today.

With greater public awareness of color blindness as a disability, it is possible that a future US president may openly acknowledge having the condition. Until then, we can only speculate about which past presidents struggled to tell their greens from their browns!


In summary, while no US president has ever definitively confirmed being color blind, the historical record suggests several may have had color vision deficiencies.

James Madison, Chester A. Arthur, and Dwight D. Eisenhower in particular displayed signs of possible color confusion in accounts and records from their lives. Other presidents like Washington, Lincoln, and Grant may have as well, though evidence is less conclusive.

For affected presidents, color blindness would have introduced some difficulties in their daily lives, but likely did not majorly impact their leadership capacities. They were still able to function and make decisions effectively.

As understanding of color blindness increases, it is likely we will one day see a president candidly share their experiences with the condition. Until then, the historical clues suggest color blindness has not been uncommon among those holding the highest office in the land.