I have been asked to rate who the ten worst Presidents are, following up on the ten worst Senators this country has had to endure, so here goes! 🙂
I will simply list and explain who I think are the ten worst, but without actually putting them in numbered order as the differences among them are not major ones, making it easier to list them in chronological order. It is clear that at least one of every four Presidents has been a mediocrity, and in some cases, really harmed the country with their poor leadership.
So I will list the Presidents chronologically, and I will not rate the two Presidents who served less than one year–William Henry Harrison (one month) and James Garfield (six months)–as that would be unfair, since they had almost no impact on the office of the Presidency.
So actually, not counting them, we have had 40 other Presidents to this moment, not counting Barack Obama, of course.
First chronologically would be Zachary Taylor (1849-50), who had the third shortest Presidency and failed to demonstrate in his brief time in office any leadership regarding the upcoming debates and vote on the Compromise of 1850, although it is believed he would have vetoed the compromise, which likely would have led to the Civil War a decade earlier, at a time when the North was not as strong economically and in railroad development, to have fought a successful war. As it was, when the war came, it took four long years for the North to triumph, so had Taylor survived, it is likely that the Union would NOT have been preserved.
His successor, Millard Fillmore (1850-53), by signing the Compromise of 1850, did delay the Civil War, but was seen as caving in to slave interests in the South, and generally, therefore, comes across as a weak President.
His successor, Franklin Pierce (1853-1857), signed the Kansas Nebraska Act, which set into play destructive forces that caused a civil war in Kansas and changed the entire party system in America, and he is blamed for having catered to southern interests, therefore helping to bring about the Civil War by his signs of weakness.
His successor, James Buchanan (1857-1861), is often considered the worst President of all, and there is a lot of validity to that, as he continued to pursue an appeasement of the South, and his administration left a crisis of massive proportions over US military forts in southern states, helping to lead to the outbreak of war shortly after Abraham Lincoln became President in 1861.
So four presidents in a row, the four before Lincoln and the Civil War, certainly can be seen as weak and ineffective, and only make Lincoln stand out more as, without much doubt, being the best American President.
Immediately after Lincoln, we will see two other Presidents who would fit on the list of ten worst, plus one other later on in the Gilded Age, making it seven of the ten worst Presidents before the 20th century.
Andrew Johnson (1865-69), who succeeded the assassinated Lincoln, proceeded to divide Congress by his actions and words and faced impeachment, although he was fortunately found not guilty.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77) was, of course, the famous Civil War general who won the war and was able to gain the surrender of Robert E. Lee, the best general on the Confederate side, and arguably the best general on either side of the Civil War. Despite his war record, Grant proceeded to preside over widespread corruption and scandal, face an economic depression, and drink heavily, so that often he was not aware of what his appointees were doing in his name.
Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893), the grandson of the one month President William Henry Harrison, presided over the peak of the Gilded Age with its emphasis on the growth of corporate monopoly and conservative dominance politically, and the Panic of 1893 soon ensued.
In the 20th century, two Presidents in the 1920s would become numbers 8 and 9 on the list of worst President historically.
Warren G. Harding (1921-23) presided over the worst scandals since Grant, and while he had some good cabinet officers, little is remembered of his administration beyond the Teapot Dome scandals and the love affairs he had in the White House.
Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) was Harding’s successor, and while certainly improved over Harding, is still seen as a President who tried to restore the Gilded Age conservative tradition of promoting corporate monopoly, and failed to consider the needs of farmers and workers. It is often said that his economic policies helped to lead to the Great Depression that began in 1929.
Ok, we have covered nine of the worst Presidents, and finally it is time for Number Ten, again not ranked but simply on the list.
Probably no surprise to anyone, I would put George W. Bush (2001-2009) as the last on this undistinguished list. While we cannot, certainly, be sure of his future reputation and ranking, the fact that Bush presided over the failure of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Hurricane Katrina, and the economic collapse that led to the Great Recession we are now suffering through, plus his use of torture techniques against those held in the war on terrorism, and other abuses of civil liberties, qualifies him to be on this list. Whether as some say he is the absolute worst of all Presidents is subject to vigorous debate, without any conclusive answer at this time.
Notice who is NOT on this list of the ten worst Presidents. John Tyler (1841-45), the first President to succeed from the Vice Presidency during a term, avoids the list by his courageous assertion of Presidential power upon taking office, despite limited success.
Herbert Hoover (1929-33), despite presiding over the Great Depression, avoids the bottom ten because of late actions he took in 1932 to try to ameliorate the economic collapse that he believed was turning around when it had not done so.
Richard Nixon (1969-74), despite Watergate, had redeeming virtues in his foreign and domestic policy that save him from this list.
Jimmy Carter (1977-81), despite the Iran crisis and economic troubles, also escapes because of other actions in foreign and domestic policy that make him avoid the bottom ten list.
So this is how I would assess who the ten worst Presidents are. If I was asked to pick the bottom five of the ten, I would list in chronological order the following–Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Warren G. Harding.
So at this point, George W. Bush would avoid the bottom five in my estimation, but of course, over time, with research and reflection by many historians and other scholars and journalists, he might very well be placed in the bottom five. Only time will tell! 🙂
Again, I invite discussion and debate about my rankings! 🙂