U.S. Presidents For Dummies with Online Practice
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon

America has had good presidents and bad presidents, but it’s doubtful it has ever had as many mediocre presidents in a row as it did between 1876 and 1900. It wasn’t a case of boring elections. Party splits and factions, and the fact that winners got to milk the government for jobs, made for intense and nasty campaigns.

There were plenty of big issues, too, from tariffs to bank panics to civil service reform. The men elected to deal with them, however, were a forgettable bunch. Here they are, before you forget them:

  • Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican, 1877–1881): Hayes was a Civil War hero who was very politically cautious. He hated making tough decisions, so he avoided them. The Democrats controlled Congress most of the time he was president, so he accomplished little. He chose not to run for a second term and might not have been nominated anyway.

  • James A. Garfield (Republican, 1881): Garfield was assassinated by a disgruntled office seeker four months after taking office. He was also the last president to be born in a log cabin.

  • Chester A. Arthur (Republican, 1881–1885): Arthur was a lifelong politician who never won an election, except as Garfield’s running mate. He was a fairly dignified and businesslike president, but he accomplished little.

  • Grover Cleveland (Democrat, 1885–1889 and 1893–1897): Cleveland was the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms and the only one to have personally hanged a man. He accomplished the latter feat as sheriff in Buffalo, New York. He managed the former by losing his reelection bid in 1888 to Benjamin Harrison, and then defeating Harrison in 1892.

    Cleveland was elected the first time despite the revelation that he fathered a son by a woman he never married. His second term was marked by an economic depression. He didn’t win nomination for a chance at a third term.

  • Benjamin Harrison (Republican, 1889–1893): Harrison was the grandson of Pres. William Henry Harrison. Six new states — Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota — were admitted during his administration. That was pretty much it.

  • William McKinley (Republican, 1897–1901): By most accounts, McKinley was a nice guy. He was an Ohio congressman and governor and very devoted to his invalid wife. He also had friends in high places, especially political boss Mark Hanna. Hanna and others helped elect McKinley preside

    He defeated Democrat-Populist William Jennings Bryan in 1896, and again in 1900. He was assassinated by a crazy anarchist named Leon Czolgosz in 1901. As he lay wounded, McKinley urged that his killer not be harmed. But they executed him in the electric chair anyway.

About This Article

This article can be found in the category: