U.S. Presidents For Dummies with Online Practice
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While the United States had many mediocre presidents, only a few were really bad. Choosing the five worst presidents is fairly easy, because there is agreement among the public and academics as to who belongs in a list of the bottom five. But selecting the bottom ten U.S. Presidents is a more difficult task. Nonetheless, let’s give it a shot. Please feel free to disagree with the selections.

The presidential rankings are subjective, so consume the following list with that in mind. These presidential ratings are ranked on characteristics including policy leadership, crisis management, presidential appointments, foreign standing, character and integrity, public persuasion, and presidential vision. (Historians and other people who rank presidents often base their decisions on many of these same qualities.) The presidents in this list appear with the worst president coming first.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson is widely considered one of the worst presidents. He became president only because President Lincoln was assassinated.

His Reconstruction plan for the Southern states after the Civil War was lenient for the former Confederate states, and it didn’t benefit former slaves at all. He pushed Congress to the point where he was impeached by the House of Representatives for violating the Tenure of Office Act.

In addition, Johnson was an unpleasant, bigoted fellow with a bad temper. Had it been up to him, African Americans would have never received citizenship or any civil rights.

Warren G. Harding

President Warren G. Harding’s administration was a massive failure. He appointed friends to high-level government positions, and they repaid him by creating many financial scandals. His administration accomplished nothing of value, and his years as president are utterly forgettable.

Harding was a hypocrite and womanizer. He supported Prohibition and drank in secret. He married his wife for her money, and then he cheated on her in a White House closet (just off the Oval Office) while she slept in her bedroom. Harding put it best himself: “I am not fit for this office [the presidency] and never should have been here.”

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce was a Northern Democrat with a Southern soul. He supported slavery throughout his career because he believed that the Constitution allowed the states to decide whether to be slave states or free states.

More importantly, Pierce laid the foundation for the Civil War by not opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. The act overturned the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowed new states to choose whether to allow slavery.

Pierce drank heavily as he ignored the conflict that tore Kansas apart. He didn’t even run for reelection in 1856. He retired and drank himself to death instead.

James Buchanan

James Buchanan served his country loyally and faithfully until he became president. As a Northern Democrat, he personally opposed slavery, but he believed that the Constitution allowed it. So he refused to do anything about the issue. Instead, he supported the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857, which declared that slaves were not people or citizens.

When most Southern states seceded after Lincoln’s victory in 1860, Buchanan stood by and did nothing, just waiting for his term to end. When Lincoln arrived in the White House, Buchanan hurriedly left and disappeared into oblivion.

John Tyler

John Tyler became president by default when President Harrison died in office in 1841. He wasn’t a Whig like Harrison, but he had been selected because he could appeal to Southern voters. He alienated his own party to the point where its members threatened to impeach him.

Tyler accomplished almost nothing while in office, with the exception of bringing Texas into the Union. Without this one accomplishment, Tyler would rank even lower on the presidential scale.

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore was another vice president who became president by default. He took over after President Zachary Taylor died one year into his term.

Shortly after taking office, Fillmore destroyed his own party by backing the Compromise of 1850 which many Whigs considered pro-slavery. To make matters worse, Fillmore ran for the presidency in 1856 as a candidate for the racist American party, which advocated against blacks, Jews, and Catholics.

In 1864, Fillmore turned against Lincoln by backing Lincoln’s opponent, General George McClellan. He then later backed Andrew Johnson in his fight with Congress. It would seem it takes one bad president to try to help out another bad president.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most capable soldiers in U.S. history — for this, he deserves much credit. As president, however, he was the opposite of capable. Grant filled cabinet positions with his friends and relatives, resulting in rampant corruption and many scandals.

Grant was an honest man, but he didn’t have many honest friends. To make matters worse, he defended his corrupt friends, undermining his own credibility in the eyes of the public.

Grant’s trust in people was so high that he lost all of his money when his son invested it improperly. He retired a pauper and wrote his memoirs to help feed his family.

William Henry Harrison

It is not fair to judge William Henry Harrison on his term in office. He served only a little over a month, most of it on his deathbed. It is justified, however, to rank him on his campaign and his agenda.

Well, there was no agenda, because Harrison stood for nothing and ran without a platform. His campaign portrayed him as a hard-drinking man of the people, who was born in a log cabin. He did drink hard cider, but he grew up wealthy on a large estate in Virginia. His campaign was based on a lie, but it got him elected.

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren was one of the best politicians in U.S. history. He knew how to play the political game. He helped create the Democratic Party on Andrew Jackson’s behalf. He served his country well until he reached the presidency. Suddenly, his accomplishments stopped. How could such a great politician be such a bad president?

He wasn’t responsible for the depression of 1837, but he also didn’t do anything about it, which undermined his chances for reelection. He refused to address slurs against him in the 1840 election and lost badly. In 1848, he took the presidency away from his own Democratic Party by running as a third-party candidate.

Herbert Hoover

It’s a difficult task to put Herbert Hoover on the list of the ten worst presidents. Hoover was a self-made man and a great humanitarian who was responsible for saving millions of Europeans from starving to death after both world wars.

How could such a great human being be such a bad president? Well, although he can’t be blamed for causing the Great Depression of the 1920s and early 1930s, he can be blamed for reacting to it too late — a classic example of doing too little, too late.

Hoover shows that being a great person and being a great president don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Check out this list of the ten best U.S. Presidents.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Marcus A. Stadelmann, PhD, is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and History at the University of Texas at Tyler. Along with teaching at universities in California, Utah, and Texas, Dr. Stadelmann has published and given presentations in the fields of American politics and international relations.

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