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10 Worst American Presidents

Updated on August 13, 2017
Kosmo profile image

Kelley has always been interested in social and political issues, especially the presidential and congressional aspects.

These guys took incompetence, dishonesty and corruption to the highest levels ever in the history of the United States

Many presidents have come and gone and there have been some good ones and bad ones, who would argue? And then there are the worst of the bunch, the 10 worst, whose misdeeds make people want to rant and curse into the night. Based on events, actual policies and perceived achievements, the author of the list resisted as much as possible a subjective interpretation, though this is difficult to do, of course.

Please note this list does not include men such a John Tyler, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore or Gerald Ford, all of whom were never elected to the presidency. They don’t count for this compilation, because if you weren’t good enough to be elected president, you aren’t good enough to be considered one of the worst. (The list also doesn’t include presidents who were assassinated.)

Please keep reading!

10. William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison was an American military general who achieved great fame for his victories in the War of 1812 and the Battle of Tippecanoe, an Indian war against the combined forces of Tecumseh and other Indian leaders. Harrison’s political career began in the late 1700s, though he didn’t take federal office until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1816.

Harrison had few claims to fame as president. He ordered a special session of Congress in March 1841, so the government could acquire enough funds to keep running. He was also the first president to be photographed while in office. Harrison died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841, just 32 days into his presidency, the shortest term of any president ever. Harrison was 68 when he passed.

No president accomplished less while in office, though, it could be said, perhaps his demise saved us all a great deal of woe.

9. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter wasn’t half as bad as some of the presidents on this list; if anything, he was the victim of bad luck. When Carter took office the economy was marked by stagnation, inflation and high fuel prices, the latter problem exacerbated by the infamous Iran Hostage Crisis, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. A rescue mission was launched but failed miserably. Perhaps if the hostages had been rescued Carter would have been a more popular president and won a second term in office.

In 1980, Carter also had the bad luck to run against the Republican juggernaut Ronald Reagan, the so-called Great Communicator who crushed Carter 489 to 49 in the Electoral College. Simply put, it was Reagan’s time to shine, not Carter’s.

At any rate, if Jimmy Carter was one of the worst presidents, he could have made up for it by being a superb private citizen. In 2002 Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize; he’s also written numerous books and provided inspiration and help in many political and humanitarian causes. In fact, Carter may be the most successful ex-president of all time.

8. Ulysses S. Grant

Continuing a long line of former military leaders who entered the presidency, Ulysses S. Grant fought during the Mexican-American War, as well as the Civil War. Grant took office in 1869, what would have been a difficult time for any American President, as this was the days of Reconstruction following the Civil War, when political leaders in the South strove to regain the states’ right lost at the end of the war.

Even though Grant has impressed many in the present day because of his support for the voting rights of African-Americans, leading to the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, and his opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, the corruption of the Grant Administration has become legendary; and his legacy has taken another hit when Grant was held at least partially responsible for the Panic of 1873, which triggered a depression that lasted in the United States and Europe from 1873 to 1879. This was the worst depression the country suffered until the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In favor of Grant, he kept the U.S. out of war while in office from 1869 to 1877, unless battles with Indians and an attempted annexation of the Dominican Republic are included.

7. Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce was president from 1853 to 1857, years filled with political debate regarding prominent issues such as slavery and Manifest Destiny. Perhaps Pierce’s worst mistake was his involvement in the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed citizens of the Kansas and Nebraska territories the right to decide if they would allow slavery in their domains, a fractious scenario that led to a bloody civil war in the area. Another unpopular policy Pierce supported was the Ostend Manifesto, which advocated the annexation of Cuba so it could be made into another slavery state. (At this time, Spain controlled Cuba.)

Naturally, Pierce’s position on the aforementioned pivotal issues made Franklin Pierce very unpopular with people in the North and the opposite in the pro-slavery South. In fact, during the Civil War Pierce supported the Confederacy and often exchanged letters with Jefferson Davis.

Piece had the reputation as that of a very thoughtful, charming and likeable person, but he certainly picked the wrong side of the slavery issue.

6. William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton

Bill Clinton had some success while in office. He signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, the State Children’s Health Program and reported a budget surplus in the last three years of his presidency. However, he failed to pass a law authorizing universal health care (also known as a single payer plan), perhaps the biggest failure of his presidency.

The Clinton administration may also be the most scandal-ridden one of all time. Nicknamed “Slick Willie” when he was governor of Arkansas, Clinton became only the second president to be impeached. Clinton was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In fact, throughout Clinton’s presidency, he was beset with “lady trouble.” Two claimed he had sexually harassed them and another claimed she had had an extramarital affair with him that began in 1980. There was also the Whitewater controversy, involving Clinton’s business ventures back in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Interestingly, in opinion polls, Clinton is often listed as one of the best or worst presidents. Moreover, ABC News said of Clinton: “You can’t trust him, he’s got weak morals and ethics – and he’s done a heck of a good job.”

5. Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor was another military leader whose fame catapulted him to the presidency, even though his political opinions were virtually unknown and he had no interest in politics. Too bad for our country – or was it? Because Taylor was a Southerner and a slave owner, he generally supported slavery, though he did not advocate the expansion of it to other states and territories, a stance leading to the passage of the Compromise of 1850. Thus, leaving office at his death in July 1850, Taylor’s presidency had little influence in the slavery issue; if anything, it simply delayed the start of the Civil War by a period of years.

Fascinatingly, Taylor’s presidency lasted only 16 months, before he died and was replaced by his vice president, Millard Fillmore, who may have been an even worse president!

4. Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding promised a return to normalcy after the end of World War One. And if giving his presidential opponent a sound thrashing in the 1920 election indicated a return to such then he did succeed, beating Democrat James M. Cox 60 to 34 per cent in the popular vote, the largest margin of victory ever for the popular vote. Interestingly, being a staunch conservative Republican, Harding, after taking office, greatly reduced taxes for the richest Americans with passage of the Revenue Act of 1921.

But Harding’s administration was marked by disgrace, particularly the notorious Teapot Dome Scandal, the involvement for which many of Harding’s appointees were sentenced to prison terms. This was considered the worst scandal in the history of the U.S. presidency until the Watergate debacle in the 1970s.

After the death of Harding in 1923, Florence Harding, the former First Lady, destroyed many of Harding’s personal papers, hoping to preserve her husband’s legacy as much as possible.

3. Herbert Hoover

In 1928, Americans were riding high in the saddle, so to speak. Seemingly, everybody and their dog was buying common stock and the economy flourished like no time before. Riding this wave of content, Herbert Hoover easily defended Al Smith, the Democrat, and snatched the presidency of the U.S. But eight months later matters changed dramatically for Hoover during the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

When America’s vaunted stock market deflated like a pierced zeppelin, and many people’s common stock became as valuable as toilet paper, the Great Depression of the 1930s began. Hoping to stanch the bloodletting, Hoover initiated public works such as the construction of Hoover Dam, perhaps his greatest claim to fame. But nothing Hoover did was good enough, and the country suffered grievously.

Being the president at the start of a worldwide depression would never look good on a president’s resume!

2. George W. Bush

Many tumultuous events happened during the administration of George W. Bush. The 9/11 terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and shook America like no event since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Then in December 2007 the so-called Great Recession began, costing America – and many other countries in the world - billions of dollars in lost revenue. And, in answer to the 9/11 catastrophe, Bush launched a war on terror by invading Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq in 2003. Neither of these wars was funded beforehand, by the way, and the war in Afghanistan is ongoing.

Was Bush to blame for the 9/11 attacks and the Great Recession? At the very least, they happened when Bush was president, so he must take at least some of the blame. It appears, if you like George W. Bush, you don’t blame him for much; otherwise, you include him on a list such as this.

It will be interesting to see how future generations judge the presidency of George W. Bush. Even Bush himself has said this eventuality will be the true judge of his legacy.

1. Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon certainly was responsible for many positive attainments during his presidential career. Nixon initiated environmental policies, enforced desegregation of Southern schools, launched détente with the Soviet Union and resumed diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Riding a wave of popularity, Nixon easily won reelection in 1972. But his reputation took an egregious plunge thereafter.

Nixon’s involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal was something from which even “Tricky Dick,” a popular nickname of Nixon’s at the time, couldn’t extricate himself. But Nixon tired. At one point on national TV, he assured the American People, “I’m not a crook. I’ve earned everything I’ve got.” But Nixon certainly appeared “crooked,” because he felt the need to resign from the presidency in August 1974 - the only president ever to resign – to avoid impeachment and eventual removal from office.

The presidency of Richard Nixon was a prime example of how bad a president can get, unless the checks and balances of the Constitution of the U.S. are allowed to protect Americans from people who would become kings or queens.

Please leave a comment.

© 2014 Kelley


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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 months ago from Orange County California


      Good ones, and the early presidents, I didn't know about them but your research sounds right.

      I would have put George H Bush and FDR on that list.

      You must like Obama, but I would put him on the top of the list.

      This was not a good century for presidents.

      just a thought.

    • profile image

      Wild Bill 2 years ago

      I love lists! And just like everyone has an opinion, so do I. First I will cover the presidents on your list that I don't think should be there:

      William Henry Harrison - Since he was only president for 32 days, he was not there long enough (and that is an understatement!). Plus he had pneumonia the whole time. I think the only thing he did wrong was having the bad judgment of being out in the rain.

      Zachary Taylor - This is another one who was not in office for very long, so it is hard to list him as a top 10 worst.

      Bill Clinton - He did more bad stuff than you mentioned, but he also did some good stuff too. There are too many other presidents that deserve to be on this list before him, like...

      James Buchanan - This guy was pretty bad. He did nothing to keep the union together. As a matter of fact, he is probably the reason we had a Civil War. He is consistently listed as the #1 worst president on most lists, so I am surprised he didn't even get mentioned.

      John Tyler - Another perennial worst president that didn't make your list. He was a supporter of slavery (also the spread of) when it was becoming very unpopular.

      Andrew Johnson - He would be the #1 worst president on my list because of his reconstruction failure. He set civil rights back a full century. Plus he was impeached.

      Honorable mention, President Obama - While the economy stabilized (which they always do after a recession), I think the world has become less stable because of his lack of leadership. This can be seen by the amount of mass attacks in the U.S. and abroad. He has basically been in office and enjoyed a free ride.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 2 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Ralph Deeds and nicomp. I agree that Carter Clinton and Bush weren't guilty of corruption, although Clinton was impeached. What matters more is what these guys did or didn't do in office. As for Carter, I think he was a great president, but his presidency is widely considered a failure. Hey, I was trying to be as fair and unbiased as I possibly could. Later!

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "There was nothing corrupt about Carter, Clintor nor Bush for that matter."

      Indeed. The House of Representatives frequently indicts Presidents who are incorruptible. Clinton only lied to a Grand Jury, was stripped of his law license, and found himself paying off the "Bimbo Eruptions" so they would go away. Nothing to see here.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 2 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      There was nothing corrupt about Carter, Clintor nor Bush for that matter. Carter and Clinton will turnout in history to have been among the top 10 presidents, not the worst as you claim.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 2 years ago from California

      Obama can't appear on this list until his presidency is over. Tune in next January and you'll see . . . what? Later!

    • profile image

      suparoo 2 years ago

      Where does Obama fit into the 10 worst presidents of all time?. I would list him as worst of ALL US presidents. His incompetence has brought the free world to its knees and we are still sinking fast. Remember he only started out as a Community Organizer and was under the illusion with his socialist knowledge that this is how you run free enterprise. He has FAILED badly.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      But 40 million were supposedly in need of health insurance (it was never about health care). oops.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 2 years ago from California

      At last count, 10 to 15 million people have gotten healthcare because of Obamacare. Those are facts. Democrats deal in facts, while Republicans don't. That's another fact. Later!

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "Thanks for the comment, nicomp. Obamacare isn't perfect but it's better than what we had before, which provided no healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions"

      Completely untrue, but don't let facts get in the way of your opinions.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 2 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, nicomp. Obamacare isn't perfect but it's better than what we had before, which provided no healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions. It's helped me greatly, for one. Later!

    • Kristopher Krieg profile image

      Kristopher Krieg 2 years ago

      Kosmo, in What Way has Obama been a good president? Adding 8 trillion to the national debt? Hallowing out our military? Ending Clinton's work requirement for welfare? Having a weak foreign policy? Vetoing the pipeline from Canada deal which had no environmental impact at all? Cutting and running from Iraq that led to the creation of ISIS? Rasing taxes on the midddle class through Obamacare? My roomate will have to pay 300 next year in Tax fines becuase he cant afford the averge monthly price of 300 per month through Obamacare. Obama said as a Senator that raising the the debt ceiling was a failure of leadership, and yet, how many times has Obama raised the debt ceiling? We're 19 trillion in debt thanks to Obama, eight of it raised under his reign. Thats far more than what as added by all previous president combined. No president has ever added 8 trillion to the national debt the way Obama was. Thats not a legacy to be proud of. I lost my job in the military thanks to Obama downsizing our military. I would have kept it if McCain had been elected. Obama talks about income inequality and yet vetos a 1.3 pay raise for military members. Who does he think serves in the military? We wouldnt have to be going back to Iraq if Obama hadnt prematurely wanted to withdraw from it. How about trading an Army Deserter for the release of five of the worlds worst terrorists? Again, this is NOT a legacy to be proud of. The only thing that has kept Obama from being righteously impeached is his race. If Obama was white, he would have no doubt been defeated for releection or impeached by now. Yes, we were a lot better off under Bush when we didnt owe 19 trillion in debt.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      @ Kristopher Krieg, let's remember that the Congress was complicit in raising the debt, inflicting ObamaCare, and sitting by as BHO refused to enforce immigration laws. We have three branches of government.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 2 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Kristopher Krieg. Sorry, but I disagree with you on virtually everything you wrote. Obama has been a very good president, but only time will tell how his presidency is rated over the following years and decades, just like that of the others, of course.

    • Kristopher Krieg profile image

      Kristopher Krieg 2 years ago

      How about Obama? He lied about not raising taxes on the middle class. OBAMACARE IS A TAX. He raised the national debt to 19 trilion. HE ALIED ABOUT BENGHAZI. He lied about shovel ready jobs. He vetoed the proposed pipeline which had no environmental impact. And he did nothing to repeal affirmative action. And tge admonistration lies about job creation and he pardoned arny deserter beau bergdahl who has muslim sympathies. But worst is the amount of debt he added that generations will be paying for for decades. And he downsized our military next to nothing. Made a lot of people unemployed thanks to downsizing our military. More people are on food stamps than ever before. Obama undid Clintons work requirement for welfare. OBAMA has unsurpaased every president deemed a failure or the worst. Because Obama is the worst ever.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 2 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, nicomp. Bill Clinton was lucky to be president at a time when the economy shined. Unemployment dropped to less than four per cent! Perhaps his wife will be equally lucky. Hey!

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 2 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Clinton's budget surplus had nothing to do with Clinton.

    • profile image

      glblank 2 years ago

      Buchanan is not even on the list? Absurd.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 3 years ago from California

      Hey, Alex, some subjectivity is used when producing these lists. Even though Clinton's impeachment didn't seem to involve weighty issues, much less national security, he was only the second president to be impeached. Given his "lady trouble" through the years, he's lucky he didn't get much worse. As for failure to get the single payer system passed, he tried to get it passed and then forgot about in his second term. Too many negatives for this slick dude. Later!

    • profile image

      Alex 3 years ago

      I'm confused on why Bill Clinton is on this list. I don't think it's fair to blame him for not passing single payer, nobody before him could do it either. That, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal really didn't have to do anything with his presidency. Admittedly it was inappropriate, but he was only impeached because Republicans controlled the House.

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 4 years ago


      As per Jimmy Carter, I agree with you. But am so sorry for Billy how he wasted his life for just five minutes of fame.

      Carry on the great work.


    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, kenneth avery. Yes, I remember Jimmy Carter's beer-guzzling brother. But, fortunately, Jimmy has been nothing like him. Later!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Kosmo,

      Great reading. I agree with your choices, and lest we forget the dark publicity that attached itself to Jimmy Carter (e.g. Billy, his drunken brother). You did a great job on this piece. Voted up and all the choices. I left you some fan mail and now I am following you.

      I cordially invite you to check out one or two of my hubs and become one of my followers. That would make my day.

      Thanks in advance.


    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the compliment, DDE. I liked writing this one. Best and worst lists, in general, get my creative juices flowing. Later!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      10 Worst American Presidents of All Time has in depth analysis and so interestingly pointed out.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, lions44. Andrew Johnson wouldn't make the list because he was never elected to the presidency (one of my rules). As for Andy Jackson, he certainly did screw the Cherokee Indians and would probably belong on this list because of that. Later!

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 4 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Great article. Can't argue with the choices, but I would give honorable mention to Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson (bank crisis, Trail of Tears, etc.). Voted up.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, stuff4kids. So, you don't think a female will become president? Surely you jest. It will happen, perhaps as soon as 2016. Ever heard of Thrill Hill or Michelle Obama? Later!

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      You know, I think it is probably impossible to be considered a good president.

      And of course, you can't get to be the president if your hands, heart and wallet are clean. That's not how the system works. And it's a fallacy that 'anyone can be president.' Nope. Road sweeper? Nurse? Middle Grade teacher? Hispanic? Chinese American? Female? No chance!

      You might as well put them all on a list!

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      That's right, folks, only presidents who've completed their terms can appear on this list. Rules must be followed, you know. Thanks for the comments. Later!

    • BuffyGirl profile image

      BuffyGirl 4 years ago

      I think he's missing because he's not out of office yet.

    • catfish33 profile image

      Jeffrey Yelton 4 years ago from Maryland

      Where's Obama?

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley 4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, folks. I hope many more people pass on their two cents worth on this weighty issue. At any rate, Nixon seems the worst ever. Who would argue? Later!

    • e-five profile image

      John C Thomas 4 years ago from Chicago, Illinois, USA

      Nixon is probably a pretty easy #1. Harding and Bush are neck and neck for #2 in my mind, followed by Hoover. I'd have Carter higher on the list than #9, and I don't think Clinton or Harrison (because of his 32 day tenure, much of which was spent dying in bed) belongs in the top 10. But where's Buchannan?!? Thoughful list, though...

    • shahkar-khan profile image

      shahkar-khan 4 years ago

      useful hub. cool

    • ziyena profile image

      ECLECTIC PLETHORA 4 years ago from LOST IN TIME

      Sorry ... but I do disagree entirely. Not gonna waste my breath on explaining this one ... but great attempt on your points.


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