President of the United States
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“”No president starts with a clean slate. Upon entering the Oval Office each confronts an imposing and often problematic inheritance. Constraints, some foreign, others domestic, limit his freedom of action. Struggling to control (or even to understand) that inheritance and to elude those constraints, presidents fail at least as often as they succeed. Pretending to the role of Decider, a president all too often becomes little more than the medium through which power is exercised. Especially on matters related to national security, others manufacture or manipulate situations to which presidents then react.
|—Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War|
The President of the United States (POTUS) is the head of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. What this means is that they are responsible for approving and carrying out laws ratified in Congress, the legislative branch.
During the Cold War (and even currently, though to a lesser extent), Americans would refer to their presidents as "the leader of the free world". This was due to America's place of power in world politics, the President's high degree of autonomy and influence in the U.S. and the general American belief that the rest of the world admires them in some way.
Due to Congress and the Supreme Court (in theory) splitting power away from the executive branch, most U.S. presidents largely managed to avoid authoritarianism, unlike most other presidential systems. Notable exceptions include John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.
- 1 Constitutional issues
- 2 Presidents from the ratification of the Constitution to the Civil War (1789–1865)
- 2.1 George Washington (1789–1797)
- 2.2 John Adams (1797–1801)
- 2.3 Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)
- 2.4 James Madison (1809–1817)
- 2.5 James Monroe (1817–1825)
- 2.6 John Quincy Adams (1825–1829)
- 2.7 Andrew Jackson (1829–1837)
- 2.8 Martin Van Buren (1837–1841)
- 2.9 William Henry Harrison (1841)
- 2.10 John Tyler (1841–1845)
- 2.11 James K. Polk (1845–1849)
- 2.12 Zachary Taylor (1849–1850)
- 2.13 Millard Fillmore (1850–1853)
- 2.14 Franklin Pierce (1853–1857)
- 2.15 James Buchanan (1857–1861)
- 2.16 Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865)
- 3 Presidents from the Civil War to World War II (1865–1945)
- 3.1 Andrew Johnson (1865–1869)
- 3.2 Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877)
- 3.3 Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881)
- 3.4 James A. Garfield (1881)
- 3.5 Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885)
- 3.6 Grover Cleveland (1885–1889, 1893–1897)
- 3.7 Benjamin Harrison (1889–1893)
- 3.8 William McKinley (1897–1901)
- 3.9 Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909)
- 3.10 William Howard Taft (1909–1913)
- 3.11 Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)
- 3.12 Warren G. Harding (1921–1923)
- 3.13 Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)
- 3.14 Herbert Hoover (1929–1933)
- 3.15 Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945)
- 4 Presidents from World War II onward (1945–present)
- 4.1 Harry S. Truman (1945–1953)
- 4.2 Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961)
- 4.3 John F. Kennedy (1961–1963)
- 4.4 Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969)
- 4.5 Richard M. Nixon (1969–1974)
- 4.6 Gerald Ford (1974–1977)
- 4.7 Jimmy Carter (1977–1981)
- 4.8 Ronald Reagan (1981–1989)
- 4.9 George H. W. Bush (1989–1993)
- 4.10 Bill Clinton (1993–2001)
- 4.11 Al Gore George W. Bush (2001–2009)
- 4.12 Barack Obama (2009–2017)
- 4.13 Donald Trump (2017–2021)
- 4.14 Joe Biden (2021–incumbent)
- 5 Curse of Tippecanoe
- 6 See also
- 7 External links
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
The President is elected via a convoluted, semi-democratic process at four-year intervals. After FDR won four presidential terms—which kind of freaked out some people because it was the first time a president stayed past two terms—the 22nd Amendment (1951) was ratified to limit the president to two terms in office, so s/he wouldn't get too popular.[note 1] Many countries have emulated both the U.S.' executive presidency and its limits on reelection. However, this does not keep popular presidents from trying to run for more terms than allowed by the Constitution.
The Constitution also confers various rights and responsibilities to the office of the Presidency. For instance, the Appointments Clause (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2) of the Constitution empowers the President with the to appoint public officials at executive departments and federal agencies, members to the boards of directors for government-owned corporations, and foreign ambassadors/ministers/consuls (however most of these are "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate"). Other powers include the power to pardon people convicted of federal crimes, including commuting sentences which effectively could change the punishment to time served (Article II, Section 2, Clause 1), and the power to issue executive orders, which have the binding force of law upon federal agencies, but do not require approval of the United States Congress and are subject to judicial review and interpretation (Article II, loosely).
Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 confers the title of "commander in chief of the armed forces" to maintain the structure that puts a civilian leader above all military positions. Civilian control of the military is a Big Frigging Deal.
The President is empowered by the Appointments Clause with nominating Supreme Court justices, as well as court of appeals judges and district court judges via Article III, when seats become vacant. These nominations must pass approval in the Senate before they are confirmed.
Presidents from the ratification of the Constitution to the Civil War (1789–1865)
George Washington (1789–1797)
The first president, the only one to be unaffiliated with a political party (and the only one to be elected unanimously), being dragged out of retirement. Before the presidency, he was a lackluster general of the Continental Army. During his term, the federal government assumed the debts of the states and established a national bank. Resolved the Whiskey Rebellion (somewhat) peacefully. Helped improve post-war relations with Britain, and declared neutrality in regards to European political affairs, including the emerging French Revolution. Declined to run for a third term, setting the two-term tradition for future presidents that would be successfully broken just once.[note 2] Upon leaving office, he warned America against forming political parties and meddling in foreign affairs, good advice which was promptly forgotten or ignored.
John Adams (1797–1801)
The first vice president to become president, the only Federalist president, and somewhat authoritarian. He warned, "Remember, democracy never lasts long" and suggested that the president be addressed as "His Majesty". He avoided all-out war with France following the XYZ affair, but signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law, which made immigration to the country more difficult and outlawed criticism of the President, Congress, or government. Fortunately, these acts were swiftly done away with once Jefferson became president.
He's obnoxious and disliked, you know that, sir! Lacked charisma and didn't get along with the other Founding Fathers. He died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)
A Francophile[note 3] and the first Democratic-Republican President. The primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Believed in limited federal government and adherence to the Constitution (which he conveniently ignored while taking over the Louisiana Territory). Also founded the University of Virginia and authored the Jefferson Bible.[note 4] Historians have been debating for years whether he was the most or least racist of the Founding Fathers.
He initiated the first overseas war the United States was ever a part of, the First Barbary War (Barbary being the Anglophone world's name for the North African states of the time, even though only two of those states were involved in the conflict).
Like Adams, he also died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His health had been deteriorating, but he actively tried to hold out until the meaningful date.
James Madison (1809–1817)
The second Democratic-Republican President. Helped write the Federalist Papers and is the primary author of both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Fought the useless War of 1812 with
Canada Great Britain during his term, which got Washington, D.C. and the White House burned down in retaliation for the American army burning the British North American capital at York, which became Toronto. Stood only 5'4" tall.
James Monroe (1817–1825)
The third Democratic-Republican and the last "Founding Father" to occupy the post. Established the Monroe Doctrine (which was actually written by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams), proclaiming American dominance over political affairs in the western hemisphere and isolation from European political affairs. Also signed the Missouri Compromise, resolving the first major slavery incident in U.S. history. The capital of Liberia is named for him.
John Quincy Adams (1825–1829)
Wonkish son of John Adams, and the last of the Democratic-Republican presidents. Was elected in the contentious 1824 election (there were four candidates, and Andrew Jackson had a plurality of the popular vote, the first time this anomaly occurred). Swore on a book of law instead of a Bible when taking his oath of office. Paid off two-thirds of the public debt while in office, with the rest being paid off by Jackson. Rather than retire after his presidency, he served in the House for the last 17 years of his life. He was an opponent of slavery, especially during his time in Congress. Supporters of slavery tried to introduce a "gag rule" to prevent anti-slavery campaigners from petitioning Congress, despite this obviously contravening the First Amendment. Still, JQA fought against this for many years. He also defended in court the African slaves on the Spanish ship La Amistad who were charged with rebellion after seizing control of the vessel to prevent themselves from being sold into slavery, leading to himself being played on film by noted cannibal Anthony Hopkins.
Andrew Jackson (1829–1837)
The first Democratic president, and a homicidal maniac. Another man insulted his wife, so he killed him in a duel, after letting the other guy shoot first. Commanded U.S. forces during the War of 1812 and was famous for kicking the British out of Louisiana … two weeks after the war was already over, so it was more of a moral victory. As president, he expanded the spoils system. Despite supporting states' rights, he declared during the Nullification Crisis that states do not have the right to nullify federal laws, which put him at direct odds with Vice President John C. Calhoun, who specifically wanted that entitlement for his home state of South Carolina. Signed the Indian Removal Act, forcing Native Americans living in the states to move further west.
Pissed off the banks by issuing monetary notes (instead of letting the banks issue them), allowing the government to control interest rates. Was the first president on whom assassination attempts were made, all most likely ordered by the banks and/or Whigs; it ended with Jackson beating the would-be assassin to near death.
Martin Van Buren (1837–1841)
Andrew Jackson's second vice president, he was nominated to run with Jackson on his reelection campaign after Calhoun jumped ship. Presided over and was blamed for the Panic of 1837, which cost him reelection in 1840. Had rad muttonchops and was the first—and to date only—president to speak English as a second language (as you might be able to tell from his surname, his first language was Dutch). Currently, the only president not descended from English King John of Robin Hood fame, and the first president born after the United States declared its independence (all previous, and the one after him, were born in unambiguously colonial America). He also started the "tradition" of former presidents trying long-shot third-party runs for the presidency when he became the Free Soil Party candidate in the 1848 election. He carried 10% of the popular vote and no electoral votes with his largely anti-slavery platform. Both he and Teddy Roosevelt were members of the Dutch Reformed Church.
William Henry Harrison (1841)
The first Whig president. He was a presidential candidate in 1836 as part of a clever strategy where the Whigs ran three different presidential candidates from different parts of the country, aiming to deny Van Buren an absolute majority; under the rules at the time, this would have meant the House of Representatives got to choose the President instead. Except Van Buren still got his majority, and WHH had to wait four more years. His 1840 campaign was groundbreaking with its appeals to the masses: 60,000 attended one of his election rallies, at Tippecanoe; his campaign gave out whisky from the EC Booz distillery in log-cabin-shaped boxes; the Whigs attacked Van Buren's VP candidate Richard Johnson for having sex with black women; and supporters rolled a 10-foot-high tin ball around the country papered with pro-Harrison slogans.
It went downhill once he was elected. His first act as President was to deliver a tl;dr inaugural address (8,445 words). A few weeks later, he died of pneumonia. However, a recent study has suggested enteric fever, caused by the proximity of a landfill for human waste. At the time of his death, the cause of the infection was blamed directly on his trying to prove that he was a vigorous man by delivering an interminable speech in a rainstorm without protective clothes. However, a basic understanding of how calendars work and modern research has looked to other causes.
As he was the first to die in office, his death sparked a constitutional crisis that ended with Vice President Tyler taking his place.
John Tyler (1841–1845)
Succeeded Harrison, becoming the first president born after the Revolution. He was formerly a Democrat but left the party because he felt Jackson was insufficiently committed to states' rights. Despite having been elected to the vice presidency on the Whig ticket, he opposed most Whig policies and vetoed many bills brought to the White House. This pissed enough people off that most of his cabinet resigned, and the Whigs kicked him out of the party. Authorized the annexation of Texas. Later supported the secession of his native Virginia and was elected to the Confederate Congress, but he died before he could be seated.
James K. Polk (1845–1849)
Another Democrat. Oversaw the most massive territorial expansion in U.S. history, which included Texas, the Oregon territory (acquired through a treaty with Britain that divided the disputed land along the 49th parallel), and pretty much the entire southwest (ceded by Mexico following the Mexican-American War). Also reestablished an independent treasury system and lowered tariffs. Basically, he accomplished everything he said at the beginning of his term, including not running for a second term. His achievements are listed in a song by beat combo "They Might Be Giants." The polka has nothing to do with him.
Zachary Taylor (1849–1850)
Whig Party candidate and former general during the Mexican-American War. Became ill and died 16 months into his term. Was probably the best Whig president, having lived long enough to get a few good things done but not long enough to completely screw everything up.
Millard Fillmore (1850–1853)
The last Whig, who succeeded Taylor upon his death. Helped create the Compromise of 1850, which helped stave off the Civil War for a little longer, although measures such as the Fugitive Slave Act were unpopular enough with his fellow northern Whigs (he came from upstate New York) that he lost the Whig nomination in 1852. His name really was Millard Fillmore. His most significant contribution to American culture was lending his name to the two Fillmore theaters, both legendary in rock and roll history. Famous for being an obscure factoid in the days before the Internet: H.L. Mencken erroneously claimed he was the first president to install a bathtub in the White House. His wife caught a cold on the day his successor Franklin Pierce was inaugurated, and she died of pneumonia 26 days later. Continuing a trend established by Martin van Buren, he was another former president to run a long-shot third-party run for the presidency when he ran as a candidate for the anti-immigrant "Know Nothing" or "American" Party in 1856. He managed to win Maryland's eight electoral votes as well as 21.5% of the popular vote. The tragically unfunny conservative comic strip Mallard Fillmore is named after him.
Franklin Pierce (1853–1857)
Democrat and a "doughface" (a northerner with southern sympathies—he came from New Hampshire). Was strong-armed into signing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, effectively nullifying the Missouri and 1850 Compromises, reopening western territories to slavery, and getting a lot of people killed in the disputed territories. He is generally ranked among the worst presidents for his failure to reconcile North and South and his controversial attempt to annex Cuba.
His vice president, William R. King, died six weeks after the inauguration and was never replaced. Before becoming president, Pierce's occupations included military service in the Mexican-American war, where he spent essential military engagements variously in a tent with severe diarrhea or strapped to a horse on account of a sore leg (his, not the horse's). He devoted his post-presidential life to alcohol abuse (as we might ourselves if our careers had turned out so piss-poor).
James Buchanan (1857–1861)
Another doughface (in his case, from Pennsylvania). Pierce lost the nomination to Buchanan, who didn't even want the job and didn't show up for his nomination. He only won because the Republicans couldn't get on the ballot in southern states, and former President Fillmore played spoiler as the American Party candidate. Even then, the Whigs and the Republicans' fracturing as a disorganized emerging party was tantamount to election. Buchanan spent most of the previous years abroad or as a private citizen, thus he could be presented as a dark horse candidate who just wanted everybody to get along. One of his first actions as president was losing an unpopular (and strange) war against Mormons.
Buchanan, at the cusp of political instability in the USA, did everything he could to signal that he was supportive of the expansion of slavery, which explains the "worst President" moniker. You will never top the man who caused the first, and so far only, American civil war. Yes, not even Trump's coup attempt can compare to that. Not even close. He was also completely and utterly racist, believing that hostile African Americans would take over the country, and did absolutely everything in his power to not be neutral in any way. And of course he was authoritarian as hell. He fucked with the territories of Kansas and Utah, meddled far too directly in a Supreme Court case, was the most partisan person imaginable (still managing to divide his party), and blamed the north of the USA for every single issue and leaving them out to dry after the economy took a hit. After refusing to lift a finger to keep the Union together, he declined to run again, giving rise to two separate Democratic tickets. The secessions happened in the awfully long period between Lincoln's election (November 1860) and Lincoln's inauguration (March 1861). Inauguration Day was moved to January in FDR's time, seven decades later. He remains the only lifelong bachelor to become president, causing suspicion that he may have been gay; his niece Harriet Lane was his de facto First Lady. Although this has been heightened by contemporaneous hearsay attesting to his domestic partnership with Pierce's vice president, William Rufus King (who died from tuberculosis shortly after taking office in 1853), historians remain divided.
We completely stand by the moniker above that he is the worst U.S. president. At a time when the country need unity (even a pinch would've been dandy), he was a total bigot, a north-detesting doughface, did zilch as Congress fought (quite literally too), and completely disrespected the Supreme Court, free territories and the opposition as he pleased, which all topped in a bloody civil war to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, then to cause almost every single political problem the U.S. struggles with now. There is not a single true stopped clock with this man, and fractal wrongness defines every trait of his depraved shell of a character.
Abraham Lincoln (1861–1865)
The first Republican president. Upon his election, numerous southern states seceded to form the Confederate States of America. He led the country through the Civil War to victory for the Union and the nation's reunification. However, he did so by stepping on civil liberties, and his successors bungled Reconstruction so bad that we're still feeling the effects today. He set the stage for the abolition of slavery, which occurred after his death. Is considered by many to be the greatest president in US history, as he pretty much made abolition possible and stopped what was the greatest threat to the country's identity and existence.
Was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth shortly after the war ended and only 42 days into Lincoln's second term. May or may not have hunted vampires during his presidency, and possibly is related to Tom Hanks.
Presidents from the Civil War to World War II (1865–1945)
Andrew Johnson (1865–1869)
Lincoln's VP for his second (but not first) term, with previous veep Hannibal Hamlin choosing not to run with him in 1864.[note 5] He was a slaveholder who was keener on upholding the political union and, in 1864, was a member of the National Union Party (the name used by the Republican Party for that election). Still, he was politically closer to the Democrats and formally joined them later in life. Being a Southerner himself, he didn't want to punish his home region too harshly. This put him at odds with the Republican-dominated Congress (and especially with the Radical Republicans), who eventually had him impeached for firing Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War appointed by Lincoln. (To prevent this, Congress had passed a law forbidding removal of Cabinet members without Senate approval, which was blatantly unconstitutional, never again enforced, and subsequently repealed in 1887.) He was acquitted by one vote, but spent the remainder of his term virtually powerless.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877)
Republican and former Civil War general. He kept Reconstruction humming along, namely by crushing the KKK, battling a giant mechanical spider, and passing the Fifteenth Amendment. His two terms were plagued with corruption, as well as the Panic of 1873. He sought to win his party's nomination for a third term in 1880, but failed. His reputation has suffered a lot from pro-Southern historians who exaggerated his faults (he admitted he was a bad judge of character, but not a crook) and downplayed his accomplishments.
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881)
Another Republican, another Civil War general. Won the contentious 1876 election despite coming second in the popular vote—the third time a person who did not win the most popular votes became [resident and the only time this happened when another person gained more than 50% of the vote. Formally ended Reconstruction, withdrawing federal troops from the South and effectively handing the region back over to the Democrats, ushering in the Jim Crow era as part of a deal (appropriately titled "the corrupt bargain") that gave him the disputed electoral votes he needed to win the Presidency. Is much more popular in Paraguay due to him presiding over a treaty that prevented Paraguay from being entirely gobbled up by Brazil and Argentina after the disastrous Paraguayan War.
James A. Garfield (1881)
A Republican famous for two reasons: he was assassinated and shared his name with a cartoon cat. He was shot shortly into his term by a mentally ill man upset over Garfield's refusal to appoint him to a government position.[note 6] Died after only 200 days in office. Incidentally, he's also the only sitting House member elected president.
Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885)
The successor to Garfield. Passed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which stipulated that government jobs should be granted based on merit. Opponents spuriously claimed he hadn't been born in the United States—first alleging he was born in Ireland, then later in Canada—and that as such he was ineligible to be president. (Sound familiar?) He also signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, the
only first of two federal mandates denying a specific population from immigrating into the United States. He has the honor of being the guy whose name is least likely to be recognized as belonging to a POTUS (unless you have watched Die Hard 3). He was pretty popular when he left the White House, but has faded into history.
Grover Cleveland (1885–1889, 1893–1897)
The first Democrat elected since the Civil War and the only U.S. president thus far to serve two non-consecutive terms. Opposed the growth of labor unions and kept the country on the gold standard at a time when it was unpopular. He is reasonably popular with modern libertarians (including his handling of Long Depressions).
Benjamin Harrison (1889–1893)
Republican and grandson of the ninth president. Beat out incumbent Cleveland in the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote. Passed the protectionist McKinley Tariff and the Sherman Antitrust Act. His term also saw the national debt surpass the billion-dollar mark for the first time in U.S. history.
William McKinley (1897–1901)
Another Republican. Led the country to victory in the Spanish-American War and acquired the United States' first overseas possessions from Spain. Additionally passed the annexation of Hawaii. Was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909)
McKinley's second VP (the first, Garret Hobart, died in 1899). Youngest president ever (his 43rd birthday was weeks after his first inauguration). Republican, Spanish-American War hero. Commissioned the Panama Canal and set up the National Park System. Became the first U.S. president to win the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering peace between Japan and Russia. The first president to have had a soft toy named after him.
Declined to run for reelection in 1908, but he grew to dislike the direction Taft (his protégé) was taking the Republican Party. Roosevelt ran as a third-party candidate in 1912, splitting the Republican vote (and coming in second place), handing the election over to a Democrat. He is the last ex-president to attempt a third-party run, though several former vice presidents tried the same later.
William Howard Taft (1909–1913)
Who's the dude who wasn't svelte, elected after Roosevelt? TAFT The fattest president in U.S. history (though given trends in obesity, that may not remain true for much longer). His policies alienated him from much of his own party, costing him reelection. He was also the last president with any facial hair and the only president to place lower than second in a re-election bid. Teddy Roosevelt tried to eke him out for his party's nomination. Still, the bosses wouldn't have any of it, so Roosevelt ran on a third-party ticket, throwing the election to avowed segregationist Wilson.
Later served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, making him the only person to hold both positions in U.S. history.[note 7]
Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)
A Democrat with bad teeth and the only president to earn a Ph.D. He led the US
into through World War I, and helped found the League of Nations at its end. He additionally led the US into occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well as intervening in Mexico. Wilson instituted the country's first income tax[note 8] and established the Federal Reserve. His term also saw the passages of the Seventeenth Amendment, which let the eligible voters of each state vote directly for their senators instead of their state legislators doing it, and the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the production and consumption of alcohol, which he vetoed only for the Republican Congress to override it.
Wilson's record on Civil Rights was abysmal. He came down hard on critics of the war and his government and had many protesters arrested. He segregated the military, and several of his cabinet appointments did likewise for their offices. An apologist for the Klan, he had D.W. Griffith's TECHNICALLY excellent but morally reprehensible Birth of a Nation screened in the White House, the first film ever to be shown there. He considered slavery to be wrong on economic (not moral) grounds. Part of the problem may well have been that he spent his early years in the pre-Civil War South and only moved to New Jersey as an adult.
While only lukewarmly supporting the suffrage movement, he suffered a massive stroke, and his wife more or less took over the presidency; within a year women were allowed to vote. He is the sixth worst president in US history, for being abysmally authoritarian and racist, pioneering modern-day American interventionism into other countries, and ushering in the first Red Scare which directly targeted the lives of workers fighting for more rights and effectively numbed many minds in the US to horseshit policy, allowing many of the subsequent terrible presidents a much higher chance of getting into office.
Warren G. Harding (1921–1923)
A Republican gambling addict who died in office. He wore a bowtie well, but his administration was the most corrupt yet. He was the first president elected as such directly from the Senate, in which he represented his native Ohio for a full six-year term. Died in office, sparking numerous conspiracy theories. Coined the term "normalcy." That's about it.
Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)
Harding's vice president, foisted on him by a GOP convention that admired his prowess as a union-busting governor of Massachusetts. Known as a man of few words while vice president, a job of few responsibilities, he sat back and did virtually nothing as president. He was actually a reasonable public speaker and a pioneer of radio broadcast and regular press conferences, but he didn't speak unless he had to. He was also an early advocate for civil rights reform.
The country saw an economic boom under his presidency, and when he decided not to run again in 1928, a stock market crash and Depression happened right after he moonwalked out the door. Throughout the twenties, the South experienced a silent crisis, which was only compounded by the stock market crash. No president until FDR did anything to alleviate that, either. The Coolidge effect is named for him. Also the first president to recognize Leif Erikson, and not Christopher Columbus, as the first European to set foot in America.
Herbert Hoover (1929–1933)
Well meaning (although definitely not up to the job) Republican and
liberal socialist messiah "rugged individualist" who inherited a ticking time bomb from Coolidge. One of the worst presidents in history, he utterly failed to alleviate the Great Depression.
Fun fact: "Hoover Dam" was a derogatory term meant to mock the folly of building a multi-million megastructure while the rest of the country went broke. He made nice vacuum cleaners, though.
Had one of the longest—and most successful—post-presidencies of them all. He was still alive by the time JFK was assassinated. Apparently, some drills were held for his funeral (which occurred in 1964), which conspiracy theorists point to as "evidence" for … something.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945)
Semi-dictatorial Democrat and the longest-serving U.S. president ever: over 12 years through three terms and partway into a fourth. He suffered from polio at age 39 and lost use of his legs, a well-kept secret back then. Launched the New Deal to combat the Depression, which (among many other Godless things) introduced Social Security, mandated bank holidays, and a variety of new government agencies. Led the country into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor (Just as planned). Died in office from a stroke. He has returned to being an icon for the modern Democratic Party, especially the more left-leaning members disillusioned with the 90s pivot toward the center.
Presidents from World War II onward (1945–present)
Harry S. Truman (1945–1953)
Father of the surveillance state/national security state. Harry Truman failed to lead our transition to a peacetime economy and instead declared a perpetual war on the Soviets. Introduced a mandatory "loyalty oath" for all federal employees.
Most remembered for his epic re-election comeback, launching one of the opening salvos of the civil rights movement by desegregating the military and Federal civil service, and stumbling into the Korean War.[note 9] Also plays a role in UFO lore—supposedly met with ETs, set up UFO investigation bureau, and even featured in a cameo role in that fake alien autopsy film. Oh, and the "S." doesn't actually stand for anything.[note 10]
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953–1961)
The first … er … last? Eisenhower Republican, i.e. a centrist president. He commanded Allied forces in Europe during WWII. As president, he oversaw the expansion of Social Security, the creation of NASA, and the desegregation of public schools. The CIA overthrew democratically-elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala under Ike.
John F. Kennedy (1961–1963)
A machine politician from Democratic Massachusetts, which he represented in both houses of Congress, though not very liberal by today's standards. The first Catholic president and the only one until Biden. Horrendous foreign-policy blunders included the Bay of Pigs invasion (which went poorly, to say the least) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (which went a little better). Gave us Affirmative Action. Heavily associated with the Apollo program's success, largely because he could give wicked speeches to Congress (though it was Eisenhower who started the space program).
Was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, setting off countless conspiracy theories. He is fondly remembered despite not getting a whole lot done in his 34 months in office.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969)
JFK's vice president, a competitor of his for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, the latest president to date who went any amount of time without a vice president of their own, Southern Democrat who was saddled with a New England cabinet. Passed numerous civil rights bills, set up Medicare and Medicaid, and established numerous programs aimed at clobbering poverty (and they did a pretty good job). Had it not been for him driving the U.S. off a cliff in Vietnam, he'd be the greatest president since Lincoln, though he was personally kind of a dick.
Richard M. Nixon (1969–1974)
"Cloth coat Republican" and a real bastard. Played footsie with white supremacists during the '68 election, then sabotaged the Vietnamese peace talks to win. Secretly bombed Cambodia, launched the War on Drugs, appointed Lewis Powell to enshrine money in politics into law, and scaled back the U.S. space program. A Quaker, he used the phone budget to chat with Billy Graham about their mutual distrust of (((liberals))). Was implicated in a particular scandal but refused to release evidence, becoming the first president since Jackson to tell SCOTUS: Fuck you, I'm President. Their response to him: Nice try—smell the glove, motherfucker. He became the only president ever to resign.
Reagan, Bushes, Trump: All ran, and won, on a platform of "anti-establishment" because Nixon proved you can't trust politicians. Hunter S. Thompson saw Nixon as responsible in large part for the death of the American Dream. This makes him the third-worst president in U.S. history, behind only Trump and Buchanan. At least he left us with the EPA and improved relations with China.
Gerald Ford (1974–1977)
The only non-elected man to be President and Vice President, and the only Rockefeller Republican to become POTUS. Mainly remembered for pardoning Nixon, which he, like the rest of the country, later regretted. Had a very popular, outspoken feminist wife. Chevy Chase owes his career to him.
Jimmy Carter (1977–1981)
A Southern Democrat and, depending on whom you ask, the last of the New Dealers or first of the post-New Dealers. The first candidate since William Jennings Bryan to use his piety to win votes, thereby handing Y'all Qaida the ladder they need to take over Washington. His administration suffered due to an energy crisis and a recession, as well as a hostage crisis in Iran. He lost his reelection bid, forcing the Democrats to the right. He was the last Democrat to carry more than a handful of states in the Deep South, which probably owed more than a little something to the fact that he's from Georgia.
He also gave Zia ul-Haq funding and arms in Pakistan, allowing both douchebags to carry out a nationwide and very effective radical Islamization in their respective neighboring countries. The reverberations of those dealings haunt us to this day.
His post-presidency is acknowledged even by political opponents as one of the most successful and impactful ones.
Ronald Reagan (1981–1989)
Former Actor and leader for the New Right. Reagan, like Bush and Trump to follow, was a figurehead leader. His charisma made him popular with the masses, but the brains behind it kept to the shadows. Kicked off Reaganomics, tripled the national debt, fired a bunch of air traffic controllers, refused to get involved in the AIDS epidemic until it was too late, and took LaRouche seriously when he said Star Wars could be made nonfiction. (He publicly referred to the USSR as the "evil empire" and the Contras as "freedom fighters", both of which were lifted verbatim from the opening crawl to Episode IV.)
On the foreign front, he turned a blind eye to Apartheid, illegally sold arms to Iran and then used the money to fund terrorists in Nicaragua, financed even more terrorists in Afghanistan to help fight the Soviets, propped up Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, covered for Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and considered Augusto Pinochet of Chile a great man. He is the fourth-worst president in U.S. history, as Bush the Lesser and Trump would both have been unelectable had Raygun never taken office. Canonized as a saint because he presided over the end of the Cold War and said some nice words … just don't raise the fact that he supported gun control (though specifically against the Black Panther Party), raised taxes each year of his presidency, and gave amnesty to people who were in the States illegally.
George H. W. Bush (1989–1993)
Former congressman, DCI, and Vice President, he buckled from the shitshow Reagan pawned off on him. Oversaw the breakdown of the USSR, barfed on the Japanese prime minister, and ousted Noriega when it became clear that he was political venom for the U.S. (who propped him up, to begin with). Ushered in modern warfare with Desert Storm—more justified than Vietnam in some ways, but even in the '90s everyone knew it was "war for oil". Conservatives called him a loser for not going into Baghdad and toppling Saddam, but that's because he knew the U.S. military's limitations better than most.
Election tip: raising taxes after campaigning on "No new taxes" is a bad tactic. Late in his life, he disavowed the new GOP and quit his lifetime NRA membership.
Bill Clinton (1993–2001)
Hypergamist and "New Democrat" from Arkansas. Before that, he bummed around at Yale (though he "didn't inhale"). His VP was from Tennessee, and the cultural differences between the North and South didn't break deals between them quite so badly back then. Additionally, third-party candidate Ross Perot took 19% of the vote, although we'll never know whether he siphoned more votes from Clinton or Bush. Famously balanced the federal budget. (Despite this, Gingrich successfully branded the New Democrats as "Tax and Spend" liberals.) It was a time of normalcy in the Land of the Free, and it was wonderful. Then he was caught having sexual relations with that woman, and it’s been a nightmare ever since.
Repealed Glass-Steagall (which invited the financial sector to rob Peter to pay Paul), intervened in Kosovo, bombed a pharmaceutical facility in Sudan (thousands died of diseases that could not be countered, including tuberculosis, for chrissake), imposed crushing sanctions that failed to wrestle Saddam's grip on power, signed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and NAFTA, and "ended welfare as we know it". Admittedly, he hasn't aged well. The rising progressive movement in large part defines itself against his legacy.
Al Gore George W. Bush (2001–2009)
Fake-accented son of the 41st president and last of the Reagan Republicans. He was elected—scratch that, selected by the Electoral College, as per the Constitution. His first term was basically a celebration of Republicans having control of Congress and the White House for the first time since Eisenhower's first term. It was almost like revenge for Clinton stealing the second term away from H. W. Bush. By 2002, they could do whatever they wanted. He declared a War on Terror, gave two middle fingers to the Geneva Conventions, curtailed civil liberties, and introduced the concept of a semi-unitary executive. Other highlights include ignoring and distorting scientific data, watching as Louisiana sank into the Gulf, and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
In 2010, he published a memoir of his eight-year vacation called Decision Points in which he lies even more frequently than he did at the time. He now likes to paint weird pictures of himself in the bathroom.
He brings respect and dignity to the office. He is the fifth-worst president in history, but only since 2017.
Barack Obama (2009–2017)
Republican Democrat, and the first non-Caucasian president. Took a beating over fancy mustard and tan suits. Democrats believed (or at least hoped) that he would stick to his guns more than Carter did, but by 2010 he had failed to make a case that the Republicans were obstructing his agenda, which by extension, is the people's agenda. Cracked down on whistleblowers more than any other president, deported and detained more immigrants than any other president, raided a bunch of legal marijuana dispensaries, coddled the wealthy, signed the NDAA into law, pulled forces out of Iraq, returned forces to Iraq(?), kicked off a global refugee crisis, bombed thousands (the majority of them civilians) with drone strikes, and expanded the Afghanistan War into Pakistan. American democracy sounded its stage 3 cancer alert when the PATRIOT Act wasn't repealed under Obama.
He also bagged bin Laden, passed Obamacare and some very-slight banking regulation, reduced reliance on oil from outside America, ushered a (temporary) thaw in relations with Cuba, Russia, and Iran, vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline (due to grassroots lobbying), upheld net neutrality, presided over a massive increase in green energy, and helped improve LGBT rights by appointing two of the Supreme Court justices who voted to enshrine marriage equality into law, appointing the most LGBT (and minority) judges of any president, and repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell.
Donald Trump (2017–2021)
the sound a woman's body makes when it hits the glass ceiling a former failed meat salesman who wants to date his own daughter. He once produced a reality series that hardly anyone watched, and has been walking around like Gloria Swanson ever since. The cornerstones of his campaign were "Lock Her Up" (walked it back), "Build the Wall" (walked it back), and starting a trade war with Gyna—though ironically, by killing the TPP, he has assured Chinese dominance over the Pacific Rim. Trump is also confirmed to owe Chinese banks a large sum of money.
Infamous for his Muslim ban (which barred many people from seven Muslim majority countries in the Middle East), hatred of the media, incitement of violence from his supporters, destabilizing influence on foreign policy, deconstruction of the administrative state, eradication of Obama's environmental laws, fomenting of authoritarianism in his party, destruction of what's left of workers' rights, relentless scapegoating of anyone and everyone who doesn't agree with him 100 percent, robbing of the country to fatten his wallet (and that of the ultra-rich), crusading to deny healthcare to tens of millions of citizens at the most inconvenient of times, allowing border patrol to forcibly separate migrant families and have the children locked up in cages, and bragging about all this and more on Twitter. This in addition to foaming at the mouth at the prospect of war with Iran, or North Korea, or Venezuela, or Syria, or Pakistan, or whichever one happens to be his obsession of the moment. He has the dishonor of currently being the only sitting American president to publicly speak out in defense of Neo-Nazis and stack his administration with openly fascist policymakers.
One of the most disgraceful moments of his presidency came midway through 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, and nationwide protests erupted. Trump's response was not just to unleash the police to teargas and brutalize protesters. Trump's response was to deploy the fucking military on the streets of D.C., and he let people think he ordered the police, led by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to teargas PEACEFUL protesters on Lafayette Square so he could walk across the street and take a picture in front of a church he never went to with an upside-down Bible that he didn't own.
The final year of Trump's presidency was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is credited with wiping out much of the economic gains made under both his and Obama's administrations. Many people have condemned Trump's initially slow response to the virus and his previous dissolution of task forces meant to deal with pandemics as criminal negligence. His call to reopen businesses during the pandemic was also criticized for effectively calling people to die so rich men can get more money. Thousands would die each day due to his criminal and borderline homicidal negligence, deliberate misleading of the public, preference for profit over people, purging of anyone who actually tried to do the right thing, dismantling of any program meant to respond quickly to the pandemic, and intentionally keeping people from getting masks or vaccines whatsoever. Several times, more people died on a single day than people who died on 9/11. A grand total of 400,000 people died under his watch by January 19, 2021, his last full day as president. He may have not started a new war (not for lack of trying), but he still killed more Americans than anyone else in any way besides the Civil War.
He also has the record of one of the lowest approval rates for an American president, 29%. Amazingly, he won the presidency while having a 60 percent disapproval rating on the day of the election and became the single most unpopular president since polling's inception within days of taking office. He was impeached on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in this case over his attempt at bribing the government of Ukraine to get dirt on his political opponents; he is the third president ever impeached after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Come 2020, Trump became the first incumbent president to lose reelection since George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Perhaps the single most dangerous and consequential thing Trump ever did, besides COVID-19, is attempting a self-coup while he was still in power by personally inciting an insurrection to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election. He was impeached on account of inciting insurrection, as the storming of the Capitol caused five deaths and hundreds of injuries all around. Multiple lawmakers, including his own vice president, genuinely feared for their lives and evacuated the Capitol while he refused to send in the National Guard, as many of his supporters were actively trying to kill Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi (among others).[note 11]
Due to this disgraceful episode, Trump became the first and only president in history ever impeached twice. He is the second-worst president ever to serve, even without much "historical" judgement, with the outright fascism concluding his presidency as testimony. At least, it didn't spiral into another whole fucking civil war, so the USA may yet heal with affirmative action—all while many Republicans seem to largely deny they had actually enabled it, instead continuing to support the wannabe dictator's dangerous disregard for the facts and project their feelings of guilt onto "communist AOC BLM pro-abortion antifas" in a desperate attempt to avoid introspection, all the while they look like idiots to even some of their own base. To Trump: Congrats, you dumb asshole. Enjoy the lawsuits, you prick. Meanwhile, to all those pricks and spineless two-faced turtles in the Grand Old Pile-O'Dung who had parroted his conspiracy theories before turning around and pretending to care about our democracy you swore to protect and execute faithfully after voting to acquit: Fuck. You. To hell. With cacti. History will never, ever forget what you enabled. We at RW hope y'all are happy.
Arriving to office via Amtrak, it's good ol' Joe Biden! He was Obama's vice president, who won the primary against Bernie Sanders and got elected with the most votes in history (over 81 million[note 12]), now the oldest elected president in history at 78 years old. An infamous gaffe machine, an Iraq War supporter, a tough on crime adherent, a War on Drugs champion, and a longtime friend to well-known segregationists, Joe is essentially just an empty suit put there to beat Trump and do better on COVID, all but a placeholder while various factions within the Democratic Party vie for power.
Kicking the US environmental response into gear (though it still has major flaws), actually getting the USA to reconnect with the world, and spearheading a monumentally successful vaccination program for COVID-19, it all feels a lot better. Biden has also had unique achievements such as cutting support for the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen, forcing the military to reevaluate its own white supremacy, overturning many of Trump's social policies, and other good points of policy that spark hope for nothing like what we had under Obama. That said, the old pattern of Joe Biden fuckups are still present: A pretty messy cabinet, general centrist snobbery, a horrible immigration policy, definitely still some bad foreign policy issues (again, Obama vibes right here), and dropping many of the progressive promises that were dotted on his campaign. It's been a relatively short time in office so far, so the Biden legacy is yet to be written, but many fear that Biden's wishy-washy behavior and backtracking of many of his promises will endanger Democrats come 2022 and 2024.
Unfortunately, though, regardless of the sighs of relief we take not having Trump, he's still gaffing, almost as often as Dubya. Like when he forgot the name of his own Defense Secretary. Yyyeah, that is not going away any time soon… dammit Joe…
Curse of Tippecanoe
William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died after contracting what was believed to be pneumonia. This was the start of the so-called "Curse of Tippecanoe," a 120-year tenure of presidents, elected or re-elected in years evenly divisible by twenty, dying in office—or taken further, died in a year divisible by ten. This "Curse" was named after Harrison's "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" campaign slogan, which referenced his past as a killer of Native American leaders.
Honorable mention goes to Zachary Taylor, who fought against Tecumseh alongside Harrison. He was elected in 1848 … and died in 1850 because of a sudden stomach illness. He ate a bowl of cherries cooled with contaminated ice; he might have been poisoned. This was the only time two presidents died ten years apart from one another. He was not elected in a "cursed" year, but like Harrison, Taylor fought against Tecumseh, and like Harrison, Taylor died in a year ending in 0 and divisible by ten, which made the Curse prominent in the public mind.
Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was the first President assassinated in office, mere weeks after winning the Civil War. He was the first President elected in a "cursed" year since Harrison, thereby crystallizing the curse happening every twenty years. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer who opposed Lincoln's proposals in favor of civil rights and voting rights for African Americans. To Booth, "that meant Nigger citizenship."
James A. Garfield, elected in 1880, was assassinated by Charles J. Guiteau, who thought the only way to end intra-party fighting among the Republicans was for Garfield to die (but had nothing against Garfield personally).
William McKinley, re-elected in 1900, was assassinated by gunman Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist who regarded McKinley as a symbol of oppression due to losing his job during a recession. McKinley died on September 14, 1901, from gangrene caused by bullet wounds.
Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died in 1923 of heart disease in San Francisco while on a western tour. While immensely popular during his time in office, after his death, reports of massive corruption scandals within his administration eroded his popularity and public perception; just to add insult to injury.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, re-elected in 1940, died in office from a stroke while posing for a painting on a chair. He was the only president elected four times and the only president to serve for three terms, but his health eroded the closer he got to 1940, and he died a year into his fourth term just before he could see the end of World War II.
John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960, was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas. Conspiracy theories persist over the motive behind his death, the investigation to his death, the men responsible for his death, and even the shooter who shot him. This was the first assassination ever caught on film, which fueled the mythology of the moment since people who were alive then largely remain alive today.
Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, had an attempt on his life that left him wounded, but he survived. He also survived treatment for colon cancer while in office. Oddly enough, the first president to be stricken by the Curse, Harrison, was the oldest president at inauguration (68 years, 23 days) for 140 years, until he was finally surpassed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 (69 years, 349 days), the president who "broke" said Curse. Interestingly, as Governor of California before his presidency, Reagan refused to approve a major dam project that would have flooded an Indian reservation because "we've already broken enough treaties with the Indians."
Who was the first president to neither die in office nor suffer any injuries from an attempt on his life? George W. Bush, "elected" in 2000. Many argue that, since he was appointed by the Supreme Court after Al Gore took the popular vote, he deserves an asterisk. However, Gore also survived both of Bush's terms.
- Official website of the White House
- Animaniacs — Presidents Song
- Metal Wolf Chaos — What happens when a Japanese game developer gets hold of a copy of Air Force One
- President of the Continental Congress
- CNN Explains: Presidential Libraries
- Too popular, in this sense, means well-liked by a populace who feel they would be imprisoned or executed if they didn't.
- Though several two-term presidents tried to run for a third term, both consecutive and not—none of them successful before FDR.
- At least they knew he knew where France was.
- He dictated his own gravestone on his deathbed, crediting him as "Author of the Declaration of Independence [and] of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia." Note: he was prouder of those than that he was the freaking president for eight years.
- Given that Hamlin was a committed abolitionist, we're left retroactively to lament what could have been.
- Although it's been well documented that it was the doctors, not the bullet wound, that killed Garfield.
- He apparently wanted to be chief justice more than he wanted to be president; his wife and T.R. won over him in 1908.
- The Sixteenth Amendment, allowing for such, was ratified while Taft was a lame duck, and Wilson signed the Revenue Act to authorize an income tax shortly after he took office in 1913.
- Good thing he had just desegregated the military…
- It was a compromise middle name meant to commemorate both his grandfathers, who were named Shippe and Solomon, equally.
- Just for a scale of how bad the whole thing was, Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a noted Trump critic, was literally mere seconds away from being caught by them; so close, he genuinely thought he was about to die. If it weren’t for the actions of Officer Eugene Goodman, Romney likely would've been slaughtered.
- Though that's because more people who hadn't voted in prior presidential elections voted against Trump than for him in 2020. Disturbingly, Trump himself got over 74 million votes.
- Bavevich, Andrew J., 2010. Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. New York: Metropolitan Books, p. 31. ISBN 978-0-8050-9141-0
- "Executive Orders: An Introduction" (PDF), Congressional Research Service. 29 March 2021.
- Why Civilian Control Matters, UNC
- Why America’s Founders Tried to Recruit a Foreign Prince to Be Their King—And How That Moment Holds a Warning for Today, Time, November 26, 2018.
- Historical Abolitionist of the Month: John Quincy Adams, Human Rights First, February 20, 2015.
- See the Wikipedia article on Gag rule.
- See the Wikipedia article on John Quincy Adams and abolitionism.
- Andrew Jackson narrowly escapes assassination, This Day in History, History Channel
- 12 year old discovers all Presidents but Martin van Buren descended from King John
- See the Wikipedia article on Religious affiliations of presidents of the United States.
- Harrison: Campaigns and Elections, Miller Center, University of Virginia
- John Tyler: Life before the Presidency, Miller Center, University of Virginia
- Why He Gets The Laughs, The New York Times, March 18, 2007.
- See the Wikipedia article on Historical rankings of presidents of the United States.
- “The Black Activist Who Fought Against D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation”, Richard Brody, The New Yorker, February 6, 2017.
- See the Wikipedia article on Calvin Coolidge.
- Craig, Susanne, "Trump’s Empire: A Maze of Debts and Opaque Ties", NYT 8.20.16.
- Twitter video showing the moment. Pretty painful.