There are many ways that scholars and Presidential “junkies” evaluate Presidents, and one not often thought about is the problem of alcohol issues, Presidents who have had problems of drunkenness that affected their ability to do their job.
Three are well known for having major alcohol problems, and at least for two of them, it affected their performance in office.
Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) had a massive alcohol problem, made worse by the fact that his last and only child was killed in a train accident shortly before the inauguration in 1853. His Presidency is seen as one of the absolute worst, and his signing of the Kansas Nebraska Act in 1854 was a major step toward the Civil War.
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) was a great General who won the surrender of Robert E. Lee, and yet, it was well known that he drank too much, although it was claimed that he made better military decisions when drunk. But this massive drinking problem undermined his ability to do his job, and his Presidency became one of massive scandals, generally known as the Credit Mobilier Scandals, which along with the Panic of 1873, undermined his historical reputation.
George W. Bush was also a certifiable alcoholic, although it seems as if he had stopped drinking after his wife, Laura, threatened to leave him in 1986, when their twin daughters were still very young. But some have wondered about whether some of his decision making was influenced either by “stealing” a drink, or the damage done by the alcohol dependency that he had become captive of in earlier years.
Additionally, there are many who think that the following Presidents may have had too much dependency on liquor, while not maybe at the level of Pierce, Grant, and George W.
John Adams (1797-1801)
Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
James Buchanan (1857-1861)
Chester Alan Arthur (1881-1885)
Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897)
William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
The strongest cases would be Cleveland and Taft, both of whom were very overweight, and evidence of their extensive drinking is found in different sources about their lives. Also, it was known that Harding drank liquor every day in the White House, despite Prohibition being in effect
The evidence against Adams, Van Buren, Buchanan and Arthur is less extensive, but all three were known to be drinking a lot more than would be safe for one’s health.
The situation of Johnson and Nixon is more based on their personality traits, that under stress, they were likely to drink excessively, but not apparently an habitual problem.
At the same time, those who would be seen as least likely to lean on alcohol would include Rutherford B. Hayes, whose wife was infamously known as “Lemonade Lucy” for banning alcohol at White House gatherings; Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, who were vehement in their enforcement of Prohibition of liquor; and Jimmy Carter, who avoided alcohol, although his brother Billy was an alcoholic.