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Worst Historical US Presidents

Updated on September 13, 2018
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Freelance writer trying to defy the Millennial stereotype through hard work. Joy is in the little things.

Who were the worst US Presidents and what did they do to earn such a title? After all, never has there been a unanimously beloved president, to say the least. But by hook or by crook, the following presidents earned themselves a spot on this list as the worst men to have ever taken office. While you may or may not agree with my list (and hey-it's politics, you probably don't), these men are generally accepted by many historians to be the worst leaders our country has ever had. Remember, though, that even the worst US Presidents were elected by the will of the American people which, for better or for worse, serves as a symbol for our fellow Americans that it's not about what the candidate says to get elected, it's about what the President does once they take office.

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore, while serving as the 13th president of the Untied States, chose to support a compromise (the Compromise of 1850) that would add California as a state, as well as New Mexico and Utah as territories. However, this compromise also put into effect a national fugitive slave law.

Fugitive slave laws were typically very harsh and restricted to southern states or at least states where slavery was still in effect. Having a president who would support a national slave law only lead to further division between the nation, which was on its way to a civil war as it was.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover, our 31st POTUS, makes it onto our list of worst US Presidents not because of malicious intent but rather because of poor reforms installed during his presidency that severely hurt the economy. Hoover was president during the Great Depression (the depression itself lasting from 1929 to a little bit after the Second World War began) and it was his job to try and stimulate the crippled economy; Hoover took that challenge as “how can I make the economy worse?”

Hoover also signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff into law, which raised tariffs on over twenty thousand products. This slowed the economy to a standstill, as far less nations were willing to trade or do business with the United States due to unnecessarily high tariff regulations. In fact, many nations crated their own tariffs in retaliation, which served to slow international business and make the global depression worse than it already was.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson is most famously known for being Abraham Lincoln’s vice president, thus becoming the 17th president when Lincoln as assassinated in 1865. Johnson was reportedly a white supremacist, who is quoted as having said “This is a country for white men, and as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men, by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” During reconstruction following the American Civil War, Johnson is seen as being not willing to compromise between political parties.

Johnson was guilty of opposing the Freedman’s Bureau Bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Fourteenth Amendment. Johnson solidifies his ranking as one of the worst US Presidents because these bills, acts, and amendments were generally created to give rights and liberties to ex and newly freed slaves; Johnson’s opposition to them created strife between radical republicans the executive branch. This, being a time of reconstruction following a civil war, was not ideal for such division in government and leadership, causing many historians to label Johnson as the most incompetent president ever.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce was another pre-civil war president who did not do enough to steer the country from truing down the road of violent bloodshed against one another. The largest issue of the 14th president's presidency was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 was an act that was signed by Pierce which allowed a newly acquired territory, Nebraska, to be admitted as a slave state in order to gain popularity with southerners.

The Act outraged northerners, infuriated southerners who felt that northern objection to the act was an example of how the northern states seemingly were allowed to have more power and benefit from the government. The signing of the act as well as dividing the country, is considered by historians to be the single most influential act towards the cause of the civil war seven years later.

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon is most infamous for the Watergate Scandal that took place during his campaign for reelection in 1974, a key factor in making our 37th one of the worst US Presidents. The Watergate Scandal (now simply referred to as: Watergate) consisted of President Nixon’s henchmen breaking into the Watergate Hotel where the Democratic National Convention was based and trying to use audio-surveillance equipment to gain secrets of his opponents to use during the debates and campaign trail.

Ironically, this massive scandal turned out to be rather inconsequential for criteria required to make it onto the list of our country's worst presidents once Nixon was found guilty of cheating during the election. Nixon, ashamed by being exposed for his actions, resigned from office in 1974.

John Tyler

Our tenth POTUS John Tyler marked the end of an era where US presidents were only selected from white, aristocratic families. As president, Tyler fought against the prospect of extending voting rights to men who did not own property as well as opposing laws that would lead to abolition of slavery. In true 'Worst President' form, Tyler fought to preserve strong, southern, white aristocratic values as the foundation for United States government.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant is most famous not for his presidency but rather for his time served as general of the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861-1865). Grant would see many actions of corruption take place during his time in office, but several historians have argued that Grant was merely a spectator that was incapable of running an office properly rather than a beneficiary of these actions. Some examples of corruption during his time as president include the following.

One factor that gets Ulysses S. Grant to be one of the worst U.S. presidents is the Whiskey Ring incident. This saw government officials finding and providing loopholes for tax evasion scams that were perpetrated by whiskey makers who shared the profits with said officials.

Warren G. Harding

By his own admission, Harding was not fit to be our 29th president. As president during the early part of the Roaring Twenties, Harding acted in just that way. While he was known to party and keep late hours, his actions in office also reflected the times. Harding provided tax cuts for the wealthy, blocked anti-trust actions, and opposed organized labor. Harding was also known to appoint friends of his that he had made while he was a senator in Ohio into his cabinet, they became known as the “Ohio Gang.”

Historians argue not if, but why Harding was one of the worst US presidents; is it because he appointed such dishonorable people into office to intentionally carry out detrimental policies, or does his incompetence lie in the fact that he was unaware of their actions? Either way, a president that unable to control his cabinet is a poor president by anyone's standards.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, once dubbed “A Man of the People”, did indeed do good things for America while in office but is considered nonetheless among the most evil-hearted people to ever take office. Andrew Jackson was a career soldier who evidently never lost his heart for action, and in 1831 Jackson created the Indian Removal Act which used governmental force to remove Native Americans living on their ancestral homelands in the Eastern United States to isolated Indian Reservations.

The Indian Removal Act saw over four thousand Native Americans perish on their march out west. This could be considered genocide, arguably no different than the Bataan Death March by the Japanese army to American POWs during WWII or Concentration Camp Death Marches enacted by the Nazi’s on their POWs during the same war. Jackson’s forced displacement is grossly un-American and is what makes him one of the worst president of all time.

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