Given today's other events, I decided to do a purely fun poll today. It is better if the "Demographic Tuesdays" community demographic polls stay up in the Recommened Diary list all day so that they can get an equivalent sample of us - morning to night, west & east coast.
And today did not seem like a good day to ask for that.
Last time we did a Meta look back at polling so far, but that was only a few weeks ago.
So today's will be "Worst President Ever - Historical Edition."
Sorry, but W, Reagan, Nixon, etc. are not in the running.
This is George Washington to Herbert Hoover only.
Yes, there is a good argument to be made that W is the worst ever, and serious academic historians of American history, including the great Eric Foner, Sean Wilentz, and Robert McElvaine have made the case.
And yes, I have a special place in my heart for Reagan for being there are the beginning of the destruction of the American Dream of domestic economic fairness/equity/security for America. And of course Ford gave us Cheney and Rumsfeld.
But let us put the passions of the moment aside and use the Wayback Machine.
Some of these stories may even remind you of current times.
The main ranking source for this diary is Wikipedia's article on Historical Rankings of United States Presidents and especially the elitist (aka: they know stuff) table of Scholars' surveys results as supplemented by a 2007 US News and World Report article.
As is traditional in such listings, I am listing my compilation of the consensus 15 worst, limited to just those from the original George W(ashington) through Herbert Hoover in chronological order. Your job is to vote for the one you think is the worst. And then have fun in comments. Rec it you like.
William Harrison's (1841) main sin as president was to be the oldest until Reagan, and to die 31 days into his term, supposedly due to pneumonia caught during his lengthy rain soaked inaugural address. He was a war hero who some felt was an empty vessel manipulated by the newly formed Whig leadership. Ran as a faux populist. Death led to a bit of a constitutional crisis and John Tyler.
John Tyler (1841-45) was nicknamed "his accidency." He had changed parties a few times before running as the Whigs' V.P. Once he became president he reversed again and opposed everything the Whigs had run on. Strongly pro-slave and pro-states rights.
Zachary Taylor (1849-50) was another war hero type who was not considered very bright. Owned slaves and pro-slavery but he was anti-expansion and anti-secession; I'm not sure why he considered so bad. Opposed Compromise of 1850... but again his big sin was to die... giving us...
Millard Fillmore (1850-53) was if I may say so, unlike Taylor, but like Tyler... he had the opposite policy of his dead predecessor and supported the awful compromise of 1850 which consisted of five separate acts including the Fugitive Slave Law, compelling the federal government to return fugitive slaves to their masters. Fillmore's actions may have averted a national crisis and postponed the outbreak of the Civil War, but it was peace bought at an unconscionable price. Later ran as a "No Nothing" which helped Buchanan beat Republican Fremont in 1856.
Franklin Pierce (1853-57) was a northern Democrat with southern pro-slave sympathies. Believed in national expansion even at the cost of adding more slave states. To that end, he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which, along with the earlier Compromise of 1850, effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Tried to expand into Cuba and Nicaragua (supported the William Walker adventure).
James Buchanan (1857-1861) is often considered to be the worst president ever. Another pro-slavery northern Democrat. Supported the various compromises that made it possible for slavery to spread into the western territories. In his inaugural address he encouraged the Supreme Court's forthcoming Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress had no power to keep slavery out of the territories. Helped create and then did nothing during Bloody Kansas. Did nothing during financial Panic of 1857. Acquiesced before the secessionist tide as Lincoln was elected but not yet in office. Sitting on his hands as the situation spiraled out of control, Buchanan believed that the Constitution gave him no power to act against seceders. Before Buchanan left office, seven slave states seceded, the Confederacy was formed, all arsenals and forts in the seceded states were lost (except Fort Sumter and two remote ones), and a fourth of all federal soldiers surrendered to Texas troops. The government decided to hold on to Fort Sumter, which was located in Charleston harbor, the most visible spot in the Confederacy. On January 5, Buchanan sent a civilian steamer Star of the West to carry reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina state batteries opened fire on the Star of the West, which returned to New York. Paralyzed, Buchanan made no further moves to prepare for the war (which had de facto already started). Lincoln did not become President until March.
Andrew Johnson (1865-69) became Lincoln's V.P. as the only southern Senator not to quit his post upon secession, and became the most prominent War Democrat from the South, and became president upon Lincoln's assassination on April 15, 1865. As president he took charge of Presidential Reconstruction — the first phase of Reconstruction — which lasted until the Republicans gained control of Congress in the 1866 elections. His conciliatory policies towards the South, his hurry to reincorporate the former Confederates back into the union, and his vetoes of civil rights bills embroiled him in a bitter dispute with the Republicans in congress, leading to impeachment but not conviction.
Ulysses Grant (1869-77), as president, is faulted mostly for the corruption around him when he was president, and for the non-response to the financial Panic of 1873.
Rutherford Hayes (1877-81) was elected President by one electoral vote after losing the popular vote. The deal which won it for him in congress was to end Reconstruction, and led to rise of Jim Crow. Having ended Reconstruction, he went on to call out federal troops, who, for the first time in U.S. history, fired on the striking workers, killing more than 70.
Benjamin Harrison (1889-93) was elected President of the United States in 1888 in an election with notoriously fraudulent balloting in New York and Indiana. He received nearly 100,000 fewer popular votes than incumbent President Grover Cleveland but carried the Electoral College 233 to 168. Although he supposedly had made no political bargains, his supporters had given innumerable pledges upon his behalf. He supported the fiddling with tarifs resulting in a large treasury surplus turning into the first Billion dollar deficit. Cleveland made his comeback becoming the only non-consecutive two-termer.
Warren Harding (1921-23) was was (s)elected to be president by a completely corrupt bunch of oil interests (is there any other kind?). He also represented the so called return to normalcy, which in this case meant a renewed isolationism in reaction to World War I (understandable), a resurgence of nativism and closing of immigration, and a turning away from the government activism of the reform era (and a rise of inequality and bubble economy). Harding's claim to infamy rests on spectacular ineptitude captured in his own pathetic words: "I am not fit for this office and should never have been here." He was an unrestrained womanizer noted for his affability, good looks, and implacable desire to please. It was good, his father once told him, that he hadn't been born a girl, "because you'd be in the family way all the time. You can't say no." Harding should have said no when Republican Party bosses in the proverbial smoke-filled room (a phrase that originated with this instance) made him their 11th-hour pick for the highest office. He was so vague in his campaign declarations that he was understood to support both the foes and the backers of U.S. entry into the League of Nations. Once in the White House, the 29th president busied himself with golf, poker, and his mistress, while appointees and cronies plundered the U.S. government in a variety of ways, collectively remembered as the Teapot Dome. What's been forgotten but worth remembering is that the corruption was the reason he had been selected.
Calvin Coolidge(1923-1929) is often liked by the Norquistian "minimalist government let corporate power run wild" types. Along with Harding, with the great depression and rise of Rooseveltian activist government, his reputation suffered until the age of Reagan when some anti-governement conservatices have championed him. He first came to prominance as a strike breaking Governor during the first Red Scare in 1919. He was Harding V.P. and became president when Harding died. He won election on his own thereafter. He oversaw the roaring twenties, lowered taxes and minimized the role of the federal government. He was criticized for his actions during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the worst natural disaster to hit the Gulf Coast until Katrina. Although he did eventually name Secretary Hoover to a commission in charge of flood relief, Coolidge's lack of interest in federal flood control has been much maligned. He just wanted to leave everything to the States... and Big Business.
Herbert Hoover (1929-33), elected on the eve of the Great Depression, came to the office with the skills of a consummate technocrat and manager. He had been a humanitarian hero in Europe during and after World War I. But once the Depression started he was unable to get past conservative economic orthodoxy of his day. Once the Depression set in, he lowered taxes and started some limited public works projects to create jobs, but he steadfastly resisted outright relief. Perhaps his single greatest policy blunder was supporting the Smoot-Hawley tariff act that fueled international trade wars and made the Depression even worse.
So there you have them.
A couple of comments upon reflection:
- There is a cluster of presidents ranked low in the 1840s-50s lead up to the civil war, as the country convulsed through expansion and compromise. Not to defend that bunch, but they inherited the mess of slavery from the to easily revered founding fathers. There is a history behind the original constitutional compromises that led to the retention of slavery (yes, some really did oppose it back then), and it's empowerment starting with the three-fifths compromise, etc.
- The next cluster in the latter 1800s Robber Baron era are the bunch connected with screwing up Reconstruction, anti-Black, anti-labor, and rise of The Corporation, industrialization and economic disparity.
- Finally there is the bunch associated with the Roaring 1920s, again another anti-government, anti-labor, pro-corporate, laissez-faire bunch, unwilling to deal with the breakdown of the social compact with increasing disparity and poverty.