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 United States government.
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, U.S. Presidents usually managed to avoid authoritarianism for the most part, 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 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 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–present)
- 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.[notes 1] Many countries have copied both the executive Presidency and the limits on infinite reelection from the US. This does not, however, keep popular Presidents from trying to run for more terms than allowed by the constitution.
The Constitution confers the title of "commander in chief of the armed forces" in order to maintain the structure that puts a civilian leader above all military positions. Civilian control of the military is a Big Frigging Deal.
Presidents from 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 to be elected unanimously), being dragged out of retirement. Prior to 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.[notes 2] Upon leaving office warned America against forming political parties and meddling in foreign affairs, advice which was promptly forgotten.
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 the president should 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.
Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)
A Francophile,[notes 3] and the first Democratic-Republican president. 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. 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).
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 DC and the White House burned down. 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" preventing anti-slavery campaigners from petitioning Congress, despite this obviously contravening the First Amendment, but 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 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. 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 Vice President. Presided over and was blamed for the Panic of 1837, which cost him reelection in 1841. 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 King John of Robin Hood fame, and the first president actually born in the United States (all previous, and the one after him, were born in 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 to ascend to the presidency. He was a presidential candidate in 1836 as part of a clever strategy where the Whigs ran 3 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 4 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, although 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, although 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. 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 a member of the congress of the Confederacy.
James K. Polk (1845–1849)
Another Democrat. Oversaw the largest 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 he would 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 civil war for a little longer, although measures such as the Fugitive Slave Act were sufficiently unpopular that he lost the Whig nomination in 1852. His name really was Millard Fillmore. His greatest contribution to American culture was lending his name to the two Fillmore theaters, both legendary in the history of rock and roll. Famous for being an obscure factoid in the days before the internet: H.L. Mencken falsely 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 Whig 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 and its 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). 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 6 weeks after inauguration and was never replaced. Before becoming president Pierce's occupations included military service in the Mexican-American war, where he spent important 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 the abuse of alcohol (as we might ourselves if our careers had turned out so piss-poor).
James Buchanan (1857–1861)
Another doughface. Pierce lost the nomination to Buchanan, who didn't even want the job and didn't show up for his nomination, in the most fucked-up election in U.S. history (1856). 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 fracturing of the Whigs and the Republicans 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 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 can compare to that.) He was also completely and utterly racist, believing that hostile African-Americans would take over the country, and was a supporter of slavery. After refusing to lift a finger to keep the Union together, he declined to run again, which gave 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 bachelor to become president, causing suspicion that he may have been gay, although historians remain divided on this.
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 reunification of the nation, but 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 abolition of slavery which occurred after his death.
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.
Presidents from Civil War to World War II (1865–1945)
Andrew Johnson (1865–1869)
Lincoln's VP for his second (but not first) term. He was a member of the National Union Party (the name used by the Republican Party for the 1864 election), but he was politically closer to the Ds, and formally joined them later in life. Being a Southerner himself, he didn't want to punish his homeland 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 Lincoln's War Secretary. (In an effort 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 essentially 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 failed to win his party's nomination for a third term. His reputation has suffered a lot from pro-Southern historians who exaggerated his faults 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 President and the only time this happened when another person gained more than 50% of the vote, other than Trump. 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.
James A. Garfield (1881)
Republican who is famous for two reasons: for having been assassinated, and for sharing his name with a cartoon cat. Was shot shortly into his term by a mentally-ill man upset over Garfield's refusal to appoint him to a government position.[notes 4] Died after only 200 days in office.
Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885)
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, 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. 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. Is fairly 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)
Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909)
Youngest ever to become President (42). Republican, Spanish-American War hero and successor to McKinley. Commissioned the creation of 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 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 bid for re-election. Teddy Roosevelt tried to eke him out for the nomination of his party, but 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.
Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921)
A Democrat with bad teeth, and the only president to earn a PhD. He led the US
into through World War I, and helped found the League of Nations at its end. He instituted the country's first income tax and established the Federal Reserve. His term also saw the passing of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the production and consumption of alcohol, which he vetoed, but was overridden. 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 DW Griffith's 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.
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.
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. Died in office, sparking numerous conspiracy theories. Coined the term "normalcy." That's about it.
Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)
A former union-busting Governor from 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 was experiencing a silent crisis which only compounded by the stock market crash. No president until FDR did anything to alleviate that, either. The Coolidge effect is named for him.
Herbert Hoover (1929–1933)
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 and apparently there were some drills held for the event of 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.
Controversially, he ordered Japanese-Americans on the west coast to be put in internment camps.
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, instead declaring 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[notes 5]. 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.
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, 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, though certainly not a liberal. The only Catholic so far. 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 success of the Apollo program, 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. Is fondly remembered despite not getting a whole lot done in his three years in office.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969)
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 true bastard. Played footsie with white supremacists during the '68 election, then sabotaged the Vietnamese peace talk in order 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 certain scandal but refused to release evidence, becoming the first President since Jackson to tell SCOTUS: Fuck you, I'm the 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 second-worst president in U.S. history, behind only Buchanan. At least he left us with the EPA and improved relations w/ 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)
Southern Democrat and last of the 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.
He also gave funding and arms to Zia ul-Haq 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 policy front, he turned a blind eye to Apartheid, illegally sold arms to Iran and then used the money to fund terrorists in Nicaragua, funded yet 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 a great man. He is the third-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, raised taxes each year of his presidency, and gave amnesty to illegals.
George H. W. Bush (1989–1993)
Former DCI and Vice President, he buckled from the shitshow Reagan pawned off on him. Oversaw the breakdown of the USSR, barfed on the Japanese Premier, and ousted Noriega when it became clear that he was political venom for the US (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 90's 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 US military's limitations better than most.
Election tip: raising taxes after campaigning on "No new taxes" is a bad tactic. He later 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 difference between the north and south wasn't as bad back then. A 3rd party candidate also took 19% of the vote, although we'll never know who Perot siphoned more votes from. Famously balanced the federal budget. (In spite of this, Gingrich was able to brand the New Democrats as "Tax and Spend" liberals.) It was a time of normalcy in Freedom's Land 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, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, signed NAFTA, and "ended welfare as we know it". Admittedly he hasn't aged well.
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. It was almost like revenge for Clinton stealing a 2nd term away from H. W. Bush. By 2002, they could do whatever they wanted. He declared a War on Terror, gave the finger 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, ushered a (temporary) thaw in Cuban/Russian/Iranian relations, vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline (due to grassroots lobbying), upheld net neutrality, presided over a huge increase in green energy, and helped improve LGBT rights by appointing two of the Supreme Court Justices who enshrined 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–present)
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 produced a reality series which 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, robbing of the country to fatten his wallet (and that of the ultra rich), crusading to deny healthcare to tens of millions of citizens, 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, whichever one happens to be on his mind. He has the dishonor of being the only sitting American President to publicly speak out in defense of Neo-Nazis and stack his administration with openly fascist policymakers.
The final year of Trump's current term has been marked by the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic, which has wiped out most of the economic gains made under both his and Obama's administrations. Trump's initially slow response to the virus, as well as his previous dissolving of task forces meant to deal with pandemics, has been criticized by many as criminal negligence. His call to reopen businesses during the pandemic has also been criticized for effectively calling people to die so rich men can get more money.
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 became only the third president ever to be impeached on obstruction of Congress and abuse of power over his attempt at bribing a foreign country to get dirt on his election opponents.
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.
Zachary Taylor was elected in 1848... and died in 1850, because of a sudden stomach illness. He ate a bowl of cherries that were cooled with contaminated ice; the prevailing thought was that he was 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, and the "we die in twenty years" curse returned to form as a result. 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 as a symbol of oppression due to losing his job during a recession. McKinley died on September 14, 1901 from gangrene caused by the 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 Delano 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 as well, which fueled the mythology of the moment, since people who were alive at the time 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, held the record for 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 prior to his presidency, Reagan refused to approve a major dam project that would have flooded an Indian reservation, on the grounds that "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 Gore took the popular vote, he deserves an asterisk. However, the person that won the 2000 popular vote 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 populous 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.
- Although it's been well documented that it was the doctors, not the bulletwound, that killed Garfield.
- Good thing he had just desegregated the military...
- Bavevich, Andrew J., 2010. Washington Rules — America's Path to Permanent War. New York: Metropolitan Books. P. 31. ISBN 978-0-8050-9141-0
- 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, Nov 26, 2018
- Historical Abolitionist of the Month: John Quincy Adams, Human Rights First, Feb 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, New York Times, Mar 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, 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.