June 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 4
Historians are still puzzling over the discovery of an official White House portrait of President Roger Darcy Amboy, who appears to have held our nation’s highest office somewhere between Van Buren and Buchanan. Obscured by drapes for over a century, the painting was discovered by an Amboy descendant who had come to urethane the baseboards.
“I am frankly embarrassed,” confessed presidential historian T. Fawning Strathalmond. “He was there all along. We just naturally assumed he was Polk.”
Little is known as yet about our mystery President. Though there is not a shred of evidence to support it, Roger Darcy Amboy was probably born in the late 1700s in or around Succassuna, New Jersey. The earliest documentation, carbon-dated to about November, 1803, shows an Amboy in Bayonne receiving “seven decapods of barm fortnightly” from the Huckabuck party bigwig, Boss Nib, who would later moneybag Amboy’s possible rise to power.
A champion of the bronze standard, Boss Nib broke with the Huckabucks to form his own party, whose members called themselves the Niblickers. There not being sufficient Niblickers to fill a slate, Nib had to dig deep into the ranks of his candlery workers, selecting Amboy (an apprentice dip) to run for the Delaware lieutenant-governorship.
Delaware proved steep going. Amboy couldn’t find it until well into the campaign, had no political knowhow, and possessed, as one wag put it, “all the stature of a pullet.” But Amboy had pluck, and effectively spoke out wherever he went against whatever was handy. One of his speeches, delivered to an assembly of retired parsnippers, was brought to the attention of Daniel Webster, who described it in his diary as “a hodgepodge of mawkish upchuck.”
Amboy failed in his Delaware quest, despite his sole opponent’s demise in the arms of a common beaverbright hours before the election. Still, he had made something of a name for himself, and Boss Nib recognized his young dip’s lambent promise. Outfitting him with teeth, lifts, and a distinctive corn-silk toupee, Nib set Amboy on the road to national prominence. In an era when politicians boasted of their frontier upbringing, Amboy claimed to have been born in a stump and raised by squirrels. Acorns, fern cuttings, and little wooly worms were handed out at his rallies, and Nib blitzed the media with portraits of a bushy Amboy darting from tree to tree as hounds labeled “monarchist,” “papist,” “tariffist,” and “pederast” chased along the ground below.
In the next election, Amboy was nominated Niblick candidate for President, and in that time of rough-and-tumble politics he proved a master. He delighted crowds by speculating as to the ancestry and the cohabitive preferences of his opponent, aging frontier general Mars Dispepys, whom Amboy referred to as “Old Offwhite” and “a variety of fey tumblebug.” The general, for his part, threatened to cannonade Amboy’s pipkin should he persist in these defamations, but before he could carry out his threat, the old warrior was incapacitated by an attack of the bilge after downing, in one sitting, an entire slump of braised glutcakes. Amboy triumphed by default.
President Roger Darcy Amboy’s administration was marked by very little in the way of anything. He immediately set the tone for his Presidency by spending most of his time at the Inaugural keeping an eye on his coat.
Inundated by office seekers from the first day he set foot in the White House, Amboy finally developed a policy of handing out maps. “If they can’t find their offices now,” he declared to his secretary, “to hell with them.”
Boss Nib held sway over Amboy’s cabinet. Indeed, the President would sometimes come in to find he had not been allotted a chair, and was often reduced to trying to make himself heard from the window ledge, or while standing around the room, leaning on things. In this relaxed atmosphere, Amboy became a party to several controversial schemes, including a pension fund for the descendants of Hundred Years’ War veterans, a Federal Highboy Standardization Authority, and the annexation of the Gulf of Mexico. This latter move was designed to mollify the Slave South, which had been agitated over the annexation of free territories. “For every new acre of free land,” proposed Amboy, “let us declare an equal portion of sea-water slave.” Historians now believe that had the South accepted Amboy’s solution, instead of just standing there, gaping at him, the Civil War might never have happened.
The Amboy White House was the scene of many Washington social functions, some of which involved fullcourse meals. His First Lady and future wife, Nanky Nib, is said to have been the first to serve dried fruit in the White House, and to have introduced oilcloth, and soap in the shape of animals. Amboy himself was the last of our Presidents to make his own bed.
Still, he never seemed comfortable in his office, perhaps because he had it decorated with rented furniture. As his term drew to a close, Amboy grew less and less accessible, locking himself in his room for whole afternoons to chew on nutmeats and bits of bark. Their pockets stuffed with stationery supplies, his Niblicker cronies soon abandoned government for the richer fields of hoodwinking and carbunklery.
“My friends have deserted me. I feel,” a forlorn Amboy confided to his valet in the closing weeks of his Presidency, “like having the open-faced turkey sandwich today, Billy.”
Amboy returned briefly to the candlery, but, no longer content with dipping, he retired to the woods near Succassuna where, around 1856, he seems to have disappeared.
Funds for an Amboy monument are being collected by his descendants, and his newly dusted portrait has been moved to its rightful prominence: up there with Polk and Pierce, Taylor and Tyler and Harrison and Fillmore, though not necessarily in that order. “After all,” the President declared in his Amboy Day proclamation, “he was our President. Wasn’t he?”