First President of the United States (1789-1797), the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He presided over the convention that drafted the United States Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and remains the supreme law of the land.
Second president of the United States (1797-1801), having earlier served as the first vice president of the United States (1789-1797). An American Founding Father, He was a statesman, diplomat, and a leading advocate of American independence from Great Britain. Well educated, he was an Enlightenment political theorist who promoted republicanism, as well as a strong central government, and wrote prolifically about his often seminal ideas—both in published works and in letters to his wife and key adviser Abigail (Smith). He was a lifelong opponent of slavery, having never bought a slave. In 1770 he provided a principled, controversial, and successful legal defense to the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, because he believed in the right to counsel and the “protect[ion] of innocence”.
Third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence. He was a spokesman for democracy, and embraced the principles of republicanism and the rights of the individual with worldwide influence. At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia, and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779-1781). In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France and later the first United States Secretary of State (1790-1793) serving under President George Washington. In opposition to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalism, he and his close friend, James Madison, organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and later resigned from Washington’s cabinet. Elected Vice President in 1796, he opposed Adams, and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Elected president in what he called the Revolution of 1800, he oversaw acquisition of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent out the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), and later three others, to explore the new west. He doubled the size of the United States during his presidency. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr. When Britain threatened American shipping challenging U.S. neutrality during its war with Napoleon, he tried economic warfare with his embargo laws, which only impeded American foreign trade. In 1803, he initiated a process of Indian tribal removal to the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River, having opened lands for eventual American settlers. In 1807 he drafted and signed into law a bill that banned slave importation into the United States.
After Martha (Wayles), his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, he kept his promise to her that he would never remarry. Their marriage had produced six children, of whom two survived to adulthood.
He had a long-term relationship with a former slave, Sally Hemings.
Fourth President of the United States (1809-1817). He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights. He served as a politician much of his adult life.
After the constitution had been drafted, he became one of the leaders in the movement to ratify it. His collaboration with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay produced The Federalist Papers (1788). Circulated only in New York at the time, they would later be considered among the most important treatises in support of the Constitution. He was also a delegate to the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention, and was instrumental to the successful ratification effort in Virginia. Like most of his contemporaries, he changed his political views during his life. During the drafting and ratification of the constitution, he favored a strong national government, though later he grew to favor stronger state governments, before settling between the two extremes late in his life.
In 1789, he became a leader in the new House of Representatives, drafting many basic laws. He is notable for drafting the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and thus is known as the “Father of the Bill of Rights”. He worked closely with President George Washington to organize the new federal government. Breaking with Hamilton and what became the Federalist Party in 1791, he and Thomas Jefferson organized what they called the Republican Party (later called by historians the Democratic-Republican Party).
As Jefferson’s Secretary of State (1801-1809), he supervised the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the nation’s size. After his election to the presidency, he presided over renewed prosperity for several years. As president (1809-17), after the failure of diplomatic protests and a trade embargo against Great Britain, he led the nation into the War of 1812. He was responding to British encroachments on American honor and rights; in addition, he wanted to end the influence of the British among their Indian allies, whose resistance blocked United States settlement in the Midwest around the Great Lakes. He found the war to be an administrative nightmare, as the United States had neither a strong army nor financial system; as a result, he afterward supported a stronger national government and a strong military, as well as the national bank, which he had long opposed. Like other Virginia statesmen in the slave society, he was a slaveholder who inherited his plantation known as Montpelier, and owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime to cultivate tobacco and other crops. He supported the Three-Fifths Compromise that allowed three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves to be counted for representation.
Fifth President of the United States (1817-1825). He was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation. He was of French and Scottish descent. Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, he was of the planter class and fought in the American Revolutionary War. He was wounded in the Battle of Trenton with a musket ball to his shoulder. After studying law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, he served as a delegate in the Continental Congress. As an anti-federalist delegate to the Virginia convention that considered ratification of the United States Constitution, he opposed ratification, claiming it gave too much power to the central government. He took an active part in the new government, and in 1790 he was elected to the Senate of the first United States Congress, where he joined the Jeffersonians. He gained experience as an executive as the Governor of Virginia and rose to national prominence as a diplomat in France, when he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. During the War of 1812, he held the critical roles of Secretary of State and the Secretary of War under President James Madison.
Facing little opposition from the fractured Federalist Party, he was easily elected president in 1816, winning over 80 percent of the electoral vote and becoming the last president during the First Party System era of American politics. As president, he bought Florida from Spain and sought to ease partisan tensions, embarking on a tour of the country that was generally well received. With the ratification of the Treaty of 1818, under the successful diplomacy of his Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the United States extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific, giving America harbor and fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest. The United States and Britain jointly occupied the Oregon Country. In addition to the acquisition of Florida, the landmark Treaty of 1819 secured the border of the United States along the 42nd Parallel to the Pacific Ocean and represented America’s first determined attempt at creating an “American global empire”. As nationalism surged, partisan fury subsided and the “Era of Good Feelings” ensued until the Panic of 1819 struck and dispute over the admission of Missouri embroiled the country in 1820. Nonetheless, he won near-unanimous reelection.
He supported the founding of colonies in Africa for free African Americans that would eventually form the nation of Liberia, whose capital, Monrovia, is named in his honor. In 1823, he announced the United States’ opposition to any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas with his namesake doctrine, which became a landmark in American foreign policy. His presidency concluded the first period of American presidential history before the beginning of Jacksonian democracy and the Second Party System era. Following his retirement in 1825, he was plagued by financial difficulties. He died in New York City on July 4, 1831.
Party: Democratic-Republican (Was also a Whig after his term)
Sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. He also served as a diplomat, a Senator and member of the House of Representatives. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties.
In his biography, Samuel Flagg Bemis argues that he was able to:
“gather together, formulate, and practice the fundamentals of American foreign-policy – self-determination, independence, noncolonization, nonintervention, nonentanglement in European politics, Freedom of the Seas, [and] freedom of commerce.”
He was the son of Abigail Adams and former president John Adams. As a diplomat, he played an important role in negotiating key treaties, most notably the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812. As Secretary of State, he negotiated with Britain over the United States’ northern border with Canada, negotiated with Spain the annexation of Florida, and drafted the Monroe Doctrine. Historians agree he was one of the greatest diplomats and secretaries of state in American history.
As president, he sought to modernize the American economy and promote education. He enacted a part of his agenda and paid off much of the national debt. He was stymied by a Congress controlled by his enemies, and his lack of patronage networks helped politicians eager to undercut him. He lost his 1828 bid for re-election to Andrew Jackson.
He is best known as a diplomat who shaped America’s foreign policy in line with his ardently nationalist commitment to America’s republican values. More recently, he has been portrayed as the exemplar and moral leader in an era of modernization. During his lifetime, technological innovations and new means of communication spread messages of religious revival, social reform, and party politics. Goods, money, and people traveled more rapidly and efficiently than ever before.
He was elected a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts after leaving office, serving for the last 17 years of his life with far greater acclaim than he had achieved as president. Animated by his growing revulsion against slavery,he became a leading opponent of the Slave Power. He predicted that if a civil war were to break out, the president could abolish slavery by using his war powers. He also predicted the Union’s dissolution over the slavery issue, but said that if the South became independent there would be a series of bloody slave revolts.
Seventh President of the United States (1829-1837). He was born into a recently immigrated Scots-Irish farming family of relatively modest means, near the end of the colonial era. He was born somewhere near the then-unmarked border between North and South Carolina. During the American Revolutionary War he, whose family supported the revolutionary cause, acted as a courier. He was captured, at age 13, and mistreated by his British captors. He later became a lawyer, and in 1796 he was in Nashville and helped found the state of Tennessee. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and then to the U. S. Senate. In 1801, he was appointed colonel in the Tennessee militia, which became his political as well as military base. He owned hundreds of slaves who worked on the Hermitage plantation which he acquired in 1804. He killed a man in a duel in 1806, over a matter of honor regarding his wife Rachel. He gained national fame through his role in the War of 1812, where he won decisive victories over the Indians and then over the main British invasion army at the Battle of New Orleans. His army was sent to Florida where, without orders, he deposed the small Spanish garrison. This led directly to the treaty which formally transferred Florida from Spain to the United States.
Nominated for president in 1824, he narrowly lost to John Quincy Adams. His supporters then founded what became the Democratic Party. Nominated again in 1828, he crusaded against Adams and the “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Henry Clay he said cost him the 1824 election. Building on his base in the West and new support from Virginia and New York, he won by a landslide. The Adams campaigners called him and his wife Rachel (Donelson) “bigamists”; she died just after the election and he called the slanderers “murderers,” swearing never to forgive them. His struggles with Congress were personified in his personal rivalry with Henry Clay, whom he deeply disliked, and who led the opposition (the emerging Whig Party). As president, he faced a threat of secession from South Carolina over the “Tariff of Abominations” which Congress had enacted under Adams. In contrast to several of his immediate successors, he denied the right of a state to secede from the union, or to nullify federal law. The Nullification Crisis was defused when the tariff was amended and he threatened the use of military force if South Carolina (or any other state) attempted to secede.
Congress attempted to reauthorize the Second Bank of the United States several years before the expiration of its charter, which he opposed. He vetoed the renewal of its charter in 1832, and dismantled it by the time its charter expired in 1836. His presidency marked the beginning of the ascendency of the “spoils system” in American politics. Also, he supported, signed, and enforced the Indian Removal Act, which unilaterally and forcibly relocated a number of native tribes to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma); disregarding previous treaty-agreements, and dispossessing and displacing native communities, including those which had previously been integrated into “Western” civilization. He faced and defeated Henry Clay in the 1832 Presidential Election, and opposed Clay generally. He supported his vice president Martin Van Buren, who was elected president in 1836. He worked to bolster the Democratic Party and helped his friend James K. Polk win the 1844 presidential election.
Party: Democratic; (He was also a member of the Free Soil Party after his term)
Eighth President of the United States (1837-1841). Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President (1833-1837) and the tenth secretary of state (1829-1831), both under Andrew Jackson.
He was a key organizer of the Democratic Party, a dominant figure in the Second Party System, and the first president not of British or Irish descent—his family was Dutch. He was the first president to have been born a United States citizen, since all of his predecessors were born British subjects before the American Revolution.He is the first president not to have spoken English as a first language, having spoken only Dutch growing up.
As Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of State and then Vice President, he was a key figure in building the organizational structure for Jacksonian democracy, particularly in New York. As president, he did not want the United States to annex Texas, an act which John Tyler would achieve eight years after his initial rejection. Between the bloodless Aroostook War and the Caroline Affair, relations with Britain and its colonies in Canada also proved to be strained.
His administration was largely characterized by the economic hardship of his time, the Panic of 1837. He was scapegoated for the depression and called “Martin Van Ruin” by political opponents. He was voted out of office after four years, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison. In the 1848 election he ran unsuccessfully for president on a third-party ticket, the Free Soil Party. He died fourteen years later at the age of seventy-nine.
He was the last Vice President to be elected directly to the presidency until George H. W. Bush in 1988.
Ninth President of the United States (1841), an American military officer and politician, and the first president to die in office. He was 68 years, 23 days old when inaugurated, the oldest president to take office until Ronald Reagan in 1981. He died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia, serving the shortest tenure in United States presidential history. His death sparked a brief constitutional crisis, but its resolution settled many questions about presidential succession left unanswered by the Constitution until the passage of the 25th Amendment in 1967. He was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, who was the 23rd President from 1889 to 1893.
Before election as president, he served as the first territorial congressional delegate from the Northwest Territory, governor of the Indiana Territory and later as a U.S. representative and senator from Ohio. He originally gained national fame for leading U.S. forces against American Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, where he earned the nickname “Tippecanoe” (or “Old Tippecanoe”). As a general in the subsequent War of 1812, his most notable action was in the Battle of the Thames in 1813, which brought an end to hostilities in his region. This battle resulted in the death of Tecumseh and the dissolution of the Indian coalition which he led.
After the war, he moved to Ohio, where he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1824 the state legislature elected him to the US Senate. He served a truncated term after being appointed as Minister Plenipotentiary to Colombia in May 1828. In Colombia, he spoke with Simón Bolívar urging his nation to adopt American-style democracy.
Returning to his farm in Ohio, he lived in relative retirement until nominated for the presidency in 1836. Defeated, he retired again to his farm. He was elected president in 1840, and died of pneumonia in April 1841, a month after taking office.
Party: Whig and Democratic
Tenth President of the United States (1841-1845). He was elected vice president on the 1840 Whig ticket with William Henry Harrison, and became president after his running mate’s death in April 1841. His opposition to nationalism and emphatic support of states’ rights endeared him to his fellow Virginians but alienated him from both major parties in Washington. A firm believer in manifest destiny, he sought to strengthen and preserve the Union through territorial expansion, most notably the annexation of the independent Republic of Texas in his last days in office.
Born to an aristocratic Virginia family, he came to national prominence at a time of political upheaval. In the 1820s the nation’s only political party, the Democratic-Republicans, split into factions. Though initially a Democrat, his opposition to Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren led him to ally with the Whig Party. A native of Virginia, he served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before his election to national office in 1840. He was put on the ticket to attract disaffected Southerners.
Harrison’s death made him the first vice president to succeed to the presidency without being elected to the office. To forestall a constitutional crisis, he immediately moved into the White House, took the oath of office, and assumed full presidential powers, a precedent that would govern future successions and eventually become codified in the Twenty-fifth Amendment. A strict constructionist, he found much of the Whig platform unconstitutional, and vetoed several of his party’s bills. Believing that the president should set policy instead of deferring to Congress, he attempted to bypass the Whig establishment, most notably Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. Most of his Cabinet resigned soon into his term, and the Whigs, dubbing him His Accidency, expelled him from the party. Although he faced a stalemate on domestic policy, he had several foreign-policy achievements, including the Webster-Ashburton Treaty with Britain and the Treaty of Wanghia with Qing China.
He dedicated his last two years in office to the annexation of Texas. He initially sought election to a full term, but had lost the support of both Whigs and Democrats, and he withdrew. In the last days of his term, Congress passed the resolution authorizing the Texas annexation, which was carried out by his successor, James K. Polk. When the American Civil War began in 1861, he sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death. Although some have praised his political resolve, his presidency is generally held in low esteem by historians; today he is considered an obscure president, with little presence in the American cultural memory.
Eleventh President of the United States (1845-1849). He was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina He later lived in and represented Tennessee. A Democrat, he served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives (1835-1839) and Governor of Tennessee (1839-1841). He was the surprise (dark horse) candidate for president in 1844, defeating Henry Clay of the rival Whig Party by promising to annex Texas. He was a leader of Jacksonian Democracy during the Second Party System.
He was the last strong pre-Civil War president, and he is the earliest of whom there are surviving photographs taken during a term in office. He is noted for his foreign policy successes. He threatened war with Britain over the issue of which nation owned the Oregon Country, then backed away and split the ownership of the region with Britain. When Mexico rejected American annexation of Texas, he led the nation to a sweeping victory in the Mexican-American War, which gave the United States most of its present Southwest. He secured passage of the Walker tariff of 1846, which had low rates that pleased his native South, and he established a treasury system that lasted until 1913.
He oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first postage stamps in the United States. He promised to serve only one term and did not run for reelection. He died of cholera three months after his term ended.
Scholars have ranked him favorably on the list of greatest presidents for his ability to set an agenda and achieve all of it. he has been called the “least known consequential president” of the United States.
Twelfth President of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Before his presidency, he was a career officer in the United States Army, rising to the rank of major general. His status as a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican-American War won him election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the Union, but he died sixteen months into his term, before making any progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions in Congress. He was born to a prominent family of planters who migrated westward from Virginia to Kentucky in his youth. He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army in 1808 and made a name for himself as a captain in the War of 1812. He climbed the ranks establishing military forts along the Mississippi River and entered the Black Hawk War as a colonel in 1832. His success in the Second Seminole War attracted national attention and earned him the nickname “Old Rough and Ready”.
In 1845, as the annexation of Texas was underway, President James K. Polk dispatched him to the Rio Grande area in anticipation of a potential battle with Mexico over the disputed Texas-Mexico border. The Mexican-American War broke out in May 1846, and he led American troops to victory in a series of battles culminating in the Battle of Palo Alto and the Battle of Monterrey. He became a national hero, and political clubs sprang up to draw him into the upcoming 1848 presidential election.
The Whig Party convinced him to lead their ticket, despite his unclear platform and lack of interest in politics. He won the election alongside U.S. Representative Millard Fillmore of New York, defeating Democratic candidate Lewis Cass. As president, he kept his distance from Congress and his cabinet, even as partisan tensions threatened to divide the Union. Debate over the slave status of the large territories claimed in the war led to threats of secession from Southerners. Despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, he did not push for the expansion of slavery. To avoid the question, he urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for the Compromise of 1850. He died suddenly of a stomach-related illness in July 1850, ensuring he would have little impact on the sectional divide that led to civil war a decade later.
Party: Whig; (Was a member of the Anti-Masonic Party before his term and the Know-Nothing Party after his term)
Thirteenth President of the United States (1850-1853), the last Whig president, and the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. He was the only Whig president that did not die in office or get expelled from the party, and he appointed the only Whig Supreme Court Justice. He is consistently included in the bottom 10 of historical rankings of Presidents of the United States. As Zachary Taylor’s vice president, he assumed the presidency after Taylor’s death. He was a lawyer from western New York state, and an early member of the Whig Party. He served in the state legislature (1829-1831), as a U.S. Representative (1833-1835, 1837-1843), and as New York State Comptroller (1848-1849). He was elected vice president of the United States in 1848 as Taylor’s running mate, and served from 1849 until Taylor’s death in 1850, at the height of the “Crisis of 1850” over slavery.
As an anti-slavery moderate, he opposed abolitionist demands to exclude slavery from all of the territory gained in the Mexican War. Instead he supported the Compromise of 1850, which briefly ended the crisis. In foreign policy, he supported U.S. Navy expeditions to open trade in Japan, opposed French designs on Hawaii, and was embarrassed by Narciso López’s filibuster expeditions to Cuba. He sought re-election in 1852, but was passed over for the nomination by the Whigs.
When the Whig Party broke up in 1854-1856, he and other conservative Whigs joined the American Party, the political arm of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic “Know-Nothing” movement, though he himself was not anti-Catholic. He was the American Party candidate for President in 1856, but finished third. During the American Civil War, he denounced secession and agreed that the Union must be maintained by force if necessary, but was very critical of the war policies of President Abraham Lincoln. After the war, he supported the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson.
He co-founded the University at Buffalo and helped found the Buffalo Historical Society and the Buffalo General Hospital.
President of the United States (1853-1857), whose inability as president to calm tensions over slavery kept the country on the path to the Civil War. Genial and well-spoken, he was a northern Democrat who saw the abolitionist movement as a fundamental threat to the unity of the nation. His polarizing actions in championing and signing the Kansas-Nebraska Act and enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act failed to stem intersectional conflict, setting the stage for Southern secession, and leaving him widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.
Born in New Hampshire, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate until he resigned from the latter in 1842. His private law practice in his home state was a success; he was appointed U.S. Attorney for his state in 1845. He took part in the Mexican-American War as a brigadier general in the Army. Seen by Democrats as a compromise candidate uniting northern and southern interests, he was nominated as the party’s candidate for president on the 49th ballot at the 1852 Democratic National Convention. In the 1852 presidential election, he and his running mate William R. King easily defeated the Whig Party ticket of Winfield Scott and William A. Graham.
While he was popular and outgoing, his family life was a grim affair, with his wife Jane suffering from illness and depression for much of her life. All of their children died young, their last son gruesomely killed in a train accident while the family was traveling shortly before his inauguration. As President, he tried to keep an ethical administration and to satisfy all elements of the Democratic Party with patronage, which turned many in his party against him. He was a Young America expansionist who signed the Gadsden Purchase of land from Mexico and led a failed attempt to acquire Cuba from Spain. He signed trade treaties with Britain and Japan, while his Cabinet reformed their departments and improved accountability, but these successes were overshadowed by political strife.
His popularity in the Northern states declined sharply after he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which annulled the Missouri Compromise, while many whites in the South continued to support him. Passage of the act led to violent conflict over the expansion of slavery in the American West. His administration was further damaged when several of his diplomats issued the Ostend Manifesto, calling for the annexation of Cuba, a document which was roundly criticized. Although he fully expected to be renominated by the Democrats, he was abandoned by his party and failed in his bid for renomination in 1856 presidential election. His reputation in the North suffered further during the Civil War as he became a vocal critic of President Abraham Lincoln. He died of severe cirrhosis of the liver in 1869 after being a heavy drinker for most of his life.
Fifteenth President of the United States (1857-1861), serving immediately prior to the American Civil War. He is, to date, the only president from Pennsylvania and the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor.
He represented Pennsylvania in the United States House of Representatives and later the Senate and served as Minister to Russia under President Andrew Jackson. He was also Secretary of State under President James K. Polk. After he turned down an offer for an appointment to the Supreme Court, President Franklin Pierce appointed him minister to the Court of St. James’s, in which capacity he helped draft the Ostend Manifesto.
He was nominated by the Democratic Party in the 1856 Presidential election. Throughout most of Pierce’s term, he was stationed in London as a minister to the Court of St. James’s and therefore was not caught up in the crossfire of sectional politics that dominated the country. His subsequent election victory took place in a three-man race with John C. Frémont and Millard Fillmore. As President, he was often called a “doughface”, a Northerner with Southern sympathies, who battled with Stephen A. Douglas for the control of the Democratic Party. His efforts to maintain peace between the North and the South alienated both sides, and the Southern states declared their secession in the prologue to the American Civil War. His view of record was that secession was illegal, but that going to war to stop it was also illegal. He was noted for his mantra, “I acknowledge no master but the law.”
By the time he left office, popular opinion was against him, and the Democratic Party had split. He had once aspired to a presidency that would rank in history with that of George Washington. However, his inability to identify a ground for peace or address the sharply divided pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans with a unifying principle on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history. Historians in both 2006 and 2009 voted his failure to deal with secession the worst presidential mistake ever made.
Party: Republican; National Union Party; (Was a member of the Whig Party before his term)
Sixteenth president of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.
Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, he was a self-educated lawyer in Illinois, a Whig Party leader, state legislator during the 1830s, and a one-term member of the Congress during the 1840s. He promoted rapid modernization of the economy through banks, canals, railroads and tariffs to encourage the building of factories; he opposed the war with Mexico in 1846. After a series of highly publicized debates in 1858, during which he spoke out against the expansion of slavery, he lost the U.S. Senate race to his archrival, Democrat Stephen A. Douglas.
In 1860 he secured the Republican Party presidential nomination as a moderate from a swing state. With very little support in the slave states, he swept the North and was elected president in 1860. His election prompted seven southern slave states to form the Confederacy before he took the office. No compromise or reconciliation was found regarding slavery.
When the North enthusiastically rallied behind the Union after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, he concentrated on the military and political dimensions of the war effort. His primary goal was to reunite the nation. He unilaterally suspended habeas corpus, arresting and temporarily detaining thousands holding secessionist or anti-war views in the border states without trial, ignoring the ruling by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice that such suspension was unconstitutional (unless done by Congress). He averted potential British intervention by defusing the Trent Affair in late 1861. His complex moves toward ending slavery centered on the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, using the Army to protect escaped slaves, encouraging the border states to outlaw slavery, and helping push through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery. He closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including his most successful general Ulysses S. Grant. He made the major decisions on Union war strategy. His Navy set up a naval blockade that shut down the South’s normal trade, helped take control of Kentucky and Tennessee, and gained control of the Southern river system using gunboats. He tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond; each time a general failed, he substituted another, until finally Grant succeeded in 1865.
An exceptionally astute politician deeply involved with power issues in each state, he reached out to “War Democrats” (who supported the North against the South), and managed his own re-election in the 1864 presidential election. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican party, he confronted Radical Republicans who demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats who called for more compromise, antiwar Democrats called Copperheads who despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists who plotted his death. Politically, he fought back by pitting his opponents against each other, by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory, and by carefully planned political patronage. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became an iconic statement of America’s dedication to the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. He held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. Six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a noted actor and Confederate sympathizer.
He has been consistently ranked both by scholars and the public as one of the greatest U.S. presidents.
Party: Democratic; National Union
Seventeenth President of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. He became president as he was Vice President at the time of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. A Democrat who ran with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, he came to office as the Civil War concluded. The new president favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. His plans did not give protection to the former slaves, and he came into conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. The first American president to be impeached, he was acquitted in the Senate by one vote.
He was born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina. Apprenticed as a tailor, he worked in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He served as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, he was elected to the federal House of Representatives in 1843, where he served five two-year terms. He became Governor of Tennessee for four years, and was elected by the legislature to the Senate in 1857. In his congressional service, he sought passage of the Homestead Bill, which was enacted soon after he left his Senate seat in 1862.
As Southern states, including Tennessee, seceded to form the Confederate States of America, he remained firmly with the Union. In 1862, Lincoln appointed him as military governor of Tennessee after it had been retaken. In 1864, he, as a War Democrat and Southern Unionist, was a logical choice as running mate for Lincoln, who wished to send a message of national unity in his re-election campaign; their ticket easily won. He was sworn in as vice president in March 1865, giving a rambling and possibly drunken speech, and he secluded himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln made him president.
He implemented his own form of Presidential Reconstruction – a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to re-form their civil governments. When Southern states returned many of their old leaders, and passed Black Codes to deprive the freedmen of many civil liberties, Congress refused to seat legislators from those states and advanced legislation to overrule the Southern actions. He vetoed their bills, and Congress overrode him, setting a pattern for the remainder of his presidency. He opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to African-Americans. As the conflict between the branches of government grew, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, restricting him in firing Cabinet officials. When he persisted in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, he was impeached by the House of Representatives, and narrowly avoided conviction in the Senate and removal from office. Returning to Tennessee after his presidency, he sought political vindication, and gained it in his eyes when he was elected to the Senate again in 1875 (the only former president to serve there), just months before his death. Although his ranking has fluctuated over time, he is generally considered among the worst American presidents for his opposition to federally guaranteed rights for African Americans.
Eighteenth President of the United States (1869-1877). In 1865, as commanding general, he led the Union Armies to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War, which ended shortly after Robert E. Lee surrendered to him at Appomattox. He then implemented Congressional Reconstruction, often at odds with President Andrew Johnson. Twice elected president, he led the Radical Republicans in their effort to remove the vestiges of Confederate nationalism and slavery, protect African-American citizenship, and defeat the Ku Klux Klan.
He graduated in 1843 from the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the Mexican-American War. When the Civil War began in 1861, he rejoined the Union Army. In 1862, he took control of Kentucky and most of Tennessee, and led Union forces to victory in the Battle of Shiloh, earning a reputation as an aggressive commander. He incorporated displaced African American slaves into the Union war effort. In July 1863, after a series of coordinated battles, he defeated Confederate armies and seized Vicksburg, giving the Union control of the Mississippi River and dividing the Confederacy in two. After victory in the Chattanooga Campaign, President Abraham Lincoln promoted him to lieutenant general and commander of all the Union Armies. He confronted Lee in a series of bloody battles in 1864, trapping Lee’s army at Petersburg, Virginia. During the siege, he coordinated a series of devastating campaigns in other theaters of the war. Finally, breaking through Lee’s trenches, he captured Richmond in April 1865. Historians have hailed his military genius and his strategies are featured in the military history textbooks, but a minority contend that he won by brute force rather than superior strategy.
After the Civil War, he led the Army’s supervision of Reconstruction in the former Confederate states. He was elected president in 1868 and reelected in 1872. He stabilized the nation during the turbulent Reconstruction period, enforced civil and voting rights laws, and destroyed the Ku Klux Klan. He used the army to build the Republican Party in the South, based on black voters, Northern newcomers (“Carpetbaggers”), and native Southern white supporters (“Scalawags”), and for the first time in American history, African-Americans were elected to Congress and high state offices. In his second term, the Republican coalitions in the South fell apart and conservative Democrats regained control of each Southern state. His Indian peace policy sought to reduce Indian violence, but fighting continued that culminated in George Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Throughout his presidency, he was faced with Congressional investigations into federal corruption, including bribery charges against two of his Cabinet members. His economic policy resulted in deflation and implementation of a gold standard. In foreign policy, he sought to increase American trade and influence, while remaining at peace with the world. His second term saw the Panic of 1873, gold discovered in the Black Hills, and the Great Sioux War, while conservative white Southerners regained control of Southern state governments and Democrats took control of the federal House of Representatives.
In foreign policy, the administration resolved issues with Great Britain and ended bitter wartime tensions. He avoided war with Spain over the Virginius Affair, but his attempted annexation of the Dominican Republic was rejected by Congress. His response to the Panic of 1873 gave some financial relief to New York banking houses, but was ineffective in halting the five-year economic depression that produced high unemployment, low prices, low profits and high rates of bankruptcy. In 1880, after returning from a widely praised worldwide tour, he made an unsuccessful bid for a third presidential term. His memoirs, written as he was dying, were a critical and popular success, and his death prompted an outpouring of national mourning. Since he left office, few presidents’ reputations have changed as dramatically as his. The late 19th century saw high opinion of his presidency, which shifted to a low opinion among historians for much of the 20th century, before recovering beginning in the 1980s. His critics note the misadventure of his failed Dominican Republic annexation, his economic management of the nation after the Panic of 1873, and corruption issues under his administration, while admirers emphasize greater appreciation for his commitment to civil rights, prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan, enforcement of voting rights, and his personal integrity.
Party: Republican; (Was a member of the Whig Party before his term)
Nineteenth President of the United States (1877-1881). As president, he oversaw the end of Reconstruction, began the efforts that led to civil service reform, and attempted to reconcile the divisions left over from the Civil War and Reconstruction.
An attorney in Ohio, he became city solicitor of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1861. When the Civil War began, he left a fledgling political career to join the Union Army as an officer. He was wounded five times, most seriously at the Battle of South Mountain; he earned a reputation for bravery in combat and was promoted to the rank of major general. After the war, he served in the U.S. Congress from 1865 to 1867 as a Republican. He left Congress to run for Governor of Ohio and was elected to two consecutive terms, from 1868 to 1872, and then to a third term, from 1876 to 1877.
In 1876, he was elected president in one of the most contentious and confused elections in national history. He lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden but he won an intensely disputed electoral college vote after a Congressional commission awarded him twenty contested electoral votes. The result was the Compromise of 1877, in which the Democrats acquiesced to his election and he ended all federal army intervention in Southern politics.
He believed in meritocratic government, equal treatment without regard to race, and improvement through education. He ordered federal troops to quell the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. He implemented modest civil service reforms that laid the groundwork for further reform in the 1880s and 1890s. He vetoed the Bland-Allison Act, which would have put silver money into circulation and raised prices, insisting that maintenance of the gold standard was essential to economic recovery. His policy toward Western Indians anticipated the assimilationist program of the Dawes Act of 1887.
He kept his pledge not to run for re-election, retired to his home in Ohio, and became an advocate of social and educational reform. Biographer Ari Hoogenboom says his greatest achievement was to restore popular faith in the presidency and to reverse the deterioration of executive power that had set in after Lincoln’s death.
Twentieth President of the United States (1881), after completing nine consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1863-81).
His accomplishments as President included a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive appointments; energizing U.S. naval power; and purging corruption in the Post Office Department. He made notable diplomatic and judiciary appointments, including a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He appointed several African-Americans to prominent federal positions. As President, He advocated a bi-metal monetary system, agricultural technology, an educated electorate, and civil rights for African-Americans. He proposed substantial civil service reform, eventually passed by Congress in 1883 and signed into law by his successor, Chester A. Arthur, as the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.
His presidency lasted just 200 days—from March 4, 1881, until his death on September 19, 1881, as a result of being shot by assassin Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Only William Henry Harrison’s presidency, of 31 days, was shorter. He was the second of four United States Presidents who were assassinated.
He was raised in humble circumstances on an Ohio farm by his widowed mother and elder brother, next door to their cousins, the Boyntons, with whom he remained very close. He worked at many jobs to finance his higher education at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1856.
A year later, he entered politics as a Republican, after campaigning for the party’s anti-slavery platform in Ohio. He married Lucretia Rudolph in 1858 and, in 1860, was admitted to practice law while serving as an Ohio State Senator (1859-1861). He opposed Confederate secession, served as a major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and fought in the battles of Middle Creek, Shiloh and Chickamauga. He was first elected to Congress in 1862 as Representative of the 19th District of Ohio.
Throughout his extended Congressional service after the Civil War, he fervently opposed the Greenback, and gained a reputation as a skilled orator. He was Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee and the Appropriations Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. He initially agreed with Radical Republican views regarding Reconstruction, then favored a moderate approach for civil rights enforcement for Freedmen.
In 1880, the Ohio legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate; in that same year, the leading Republican presidential contenders – Ulysses S. Grant, James G. Blaine and John Sherman – failed to garner the requisite support at their convention. He became the party’s compromise nominee for the 1880 Presidential Election and successfully campaigned to defeat Democrat Winfield Hancock in the election. He is thus far the only sitting Representative to have been elected to the presidency.
Party: Republican; (Was a member of the Whig party before his term)
Twenty-First President of the United States (1881-85); he succeeded James Garfield upon the latter’s assassination. At the outset, he struggled to overcome his reputation, stemming from his beginnings in politics as a politician from the New York City Republican political machine. He succeeded by embracing the cause of civil service reform. His advocacy for, and subsequent enforcement of, the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was the centerpiece of his administration.
He was born in Fairfield, Vermont, but he grew up in upstate New York and practiced law in New York City. He served as quartermaster general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Following the Civil War, he devoted more time to Republican politics and quickly rose in the political machine run by New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. Appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to the lucrative and politically powerful post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871, he was an important supporter of Conkling and the Stalwart faction of the Republican Party. In 1878 the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, fired him as part of a plan to reform the federal patronage system in New York. When James Garfield won the Republican nomination for president in 1880, he, an eastern Stalwart, was nominated for vice president to balance the ticket.
After just half a year as vice president, he found himself in the executive mansion due to the assassination of his predecessor. To the surprise of reformers, he took up the cause of reform, though it had once led to his expulsion from office. He signed the Pendleton Act into law and strongly enforced its provisions. He gained praise for his veto of a Rivers and Harbors Act that would have appropriated federal funds in a manner he thought excessive. He presided over the rebirth of the United States Navy but was criticized for failing to alleviate the federal budget surplus that had been accumulating since the end of the Civil War.
Suffering from poor health, he made only a limited effort to secure renomination in 1884; he retired at the close of his term. Journalist Alexander McClure later wrote, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as [him], and no one ever retired … more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe.” Although his failing health and political temperament combined to make his administration less active than a modern presidency, he earned praise among contemporaries for his solid performance in office. The New York World summed up his presidency at his death in 1886: “No duty was neglected in his administration, and no adventurous project alarmed the nation.” Mark Twain wrote of him, “[I]t would be hard indeed to better [his] administration.”
Twenty-second and twenty-fourth President of the United States; and, therefore was the only US president to serve two nonconsecutive terms (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) and to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents. He was the winner of the popular vote for president three times—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and was one of the two Democrats (alongside Woodrow Wilson) elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination dating from 1861 to 1933.
He was the leader of the pro-business Bourbon Democrats who opposed high tariffs, Free Silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era.He won praise for his honesty, self-reliance, integrity, and commitment to the principles of classical liberalism. He relentlessly fought political corruption, patronage and bossism. Indeed, as a reformer his prestige was so strong that the like-minded wing of the Republican Party, called “Mugwumps”, largely bolted the GOP presidential ticket and swung to his support in the 1884 election.
As his second term began, disaster hit the nation when the Panic of 1893 produced a severe national depression, which he was unable to reverse. It ruined his Democratic Party, opening the way for a Republican landslide in 1894 and for the agrarian and silverite seizure of the Democratic Party in 1896. The result was a political realignment that ended the Third Party System and launched the Fourth Party System as well as the Progressive Era.
He was a formidable policymaker and drew a corresponding criticism. His intervention in the Pullman Strike of 1894 to keep the railroads moving angered labor unions nationwide in addition to the party in Illinois; his support of the gold standard and opposition to Free Silver also alienated the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, critics complained that he had little imagination and seemed overwhelmed by the nation’s economic disasters—depressions and strikes—in his second term. Even so, his reputation for probity and good character survived the troubles of his second term. Biographer Allan Nevins wrote:
“In [him] the greatness lies in typical rather than unusual qualities. He had no endowments that thousands of men do not have. He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence, and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not.”
Party: Republican; (Was a member of the Whig Party before his term)
Twenty-third President of the United States (1889-1893); he was the grandson of the ninth President, William Henry Harrison. He had become a prominent local attorney, Presbyterian church leader and politician in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the American Civil War, he served the Union for most of the war as a colonel and on February 14, 1865 was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a brevet brigadier general of volunteers to rank from January 23, 1865. Afterwards, he unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of Indiana but was later elected to the U.S. Senate by the Indiana legislature.
A Republican, he was elected to the presidency in 1888, defeating the Democratic incumbent Grover Cleveland. Hallmarks of his administration included unprecedented economic legislation, including the McKinley Tariff, which imposed historic protective trade rates, and the Sherman Antitrust Act; he facilitated the creation of the National Forests through an amendment to the Land Revision Act of 1891. He also substantially strengthened and modernized the Navy, and conducted an active foreign policy. He proposed, in vain, federal education funding as well as voting rights enforcement for African Americans during his administration.
Due in large part to surplus revenues from the tariffs, federal spending reached one billion dollars for the first time during his term. The spending issue in part led to the defeat of the Republicans in the 1890 mid-term elections. He was defeated by Cleveland in his bid for re-election in 1892, due to the growing unpopularity of the high tariff and high federal spending. He then returned to private life in Indianapolis but later represented the Republic of Venezuela in an international case against the United Kingdom. In 1900, he traveled to Europe as part of the case and, after a brief stay, returned to Indianapolis. He died the following year of complications from influenza.
Twenty-Fifth President of the United States, serving from March 4, 1897, until his assassination on September 14, 1901, six months into his second term. He led the nation to victory in the Spanish-American War, raised protective tariffs to promote American industry, and maintained the nation on the of his close adviser Mark Hanna, he secured the Republican nomination for president in 1896, amid a deep economic depression. He defeated his Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, after a front-porch campaign in which he advocated “sound money” (the gold standard unless altered by international agreement) and promised that high tariffs would restore prosperity.
Rapid economic growth marked his presidency. He promoted the 1897 Dingley Tariff to protect manufacturers and factory workers from foreign competition, and in 1900, he secured the passage of the Gold Standard Act. He hoped to persuade Spain to grant independence to rebellious Cuba without conflict, but when negotiation failed, he led the nation in the Spanish-American War of 1898; the U.S. victory was quick and decisive. As part of the peace settlement, Spain turned over to the United States its main overseas colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines; Cuba was promised independence, but at that time remained under the control of the U.S. Army. The United States annexed the independent Republic of Hawaii in 1898 and it became a U.S. territory.
He defeated Bryan again in the 1900 presidential election, in a campaign focused on imperialism, prosperity, and free silver. He was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, a second-generation Polish-American with anarchist leanings, in September 1901, and was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt. Historians regard his 1896 victory as a realigning election, in which the political stalemate of the post-Civil War era gave way to the Republican-dominated Fourth Party System, which began with the Progressive Era. He is generally placed near the middle in rankings of American presidents.
Party: Republican; Progressive
Twenty-sixth President of the United States. He was a leader of the Republican Party (GOP) and founder of the Progressive Party insurgency of 1912. He is known for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his “cowboy” persona and robust masculinity. Born into a wealthy family in New York City, he was a sickly child who suffered from asthma. To overcome his physical weakness, he embraced a strenuous life. He was home-schooled and became an eager student of nature. He attended Harvard College, where he studied biology, boxed, and developed an interest in naval affairs. He quickly entered politics, determined to become a member of the ruling class. In 1881, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he became a leader of the reform faction of the GOP. His book, The Naval War of 1812 (1882), established him as a learned historian and writer.
When his first wife, Alice (Lee), died two days after giving birth in February 1884, and when his mother died the same day in the same house, he was heartbroken and in despair. He temporarily left politics and became a cattle rancher in the Dakotas. When blizzards destroyed his herd, he returned to New York City politics, running in and losing a race for mayor. In the 1890s, he took vigorous charge of the city police as New York City Police Commissioner. By 1897, under President William McKinley, he was, in effect, running the Navy Department. When the war with Spain broke out in 1898, he helped form the famous Rough Riders, a combination of wealthy Easterners and Western cowboys. He gained national fame for his courage during the war in Cuba. He then returned to United States and was elected Governor of New York. He was the GOP nominee for Vice President with William McKinley, campaigning successfully against radicalism and for prosperity, national honor, imperialism (regarding the Philippines), high tariffs and the gold standard.
He became President after McKinley was assassinated in 1901. He was inaugurated at age 42, making him the youngest person to become president. He attempted to move the GOP toward Progressivism, including trust busting and increased regulation of businesses. In November 1904, he was reelected in a landslide against conservative Democrat Alton Brooks Parker. He called his domestic policies a “Square Deal”, promising a fair deal to the average citizen while breaking up monopolistic corporations, holding down railroad rates, and guaranteeing pure food and drugs. He was the first president to speak out on conservation, and he greatly expanded the system of national parks and national forests. By 1907, he propounded more radical reforms, which were blocked by the conservative Republicans in Congress. His foreign policy focused on the Caribbean, where he ordered the construction of the Panama Canal and guarded it. There were no wars, but his slogan, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was underscored by expanding the navy and sending the Great White Fleet on a world tour. He negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.
At the end of his second term, he supported his close friend, William Howard Taft, for the 1908 Republican nomination. After leaving office, he toured Africa and Europe, and on his return in 1910, his friendship with President Taft ended as a result of disputes on the issues of progressivism and personalities. In the 1912 election, he tried to block Taft’s renomination, but failed. He then launched the Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party that called for progressive reforms, which split the Republicans. This allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the White House and Congress, while the Taft conservatives gained control of the GOP for decades. He then led a major expedition to the Amazon jungles and contracted several illnesses. From 1914 to 1917, he campaigned for American entry into World War I, and reconciled with the GOP leadership. He was the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in the 1920 election, but his health collapsed and he died in 1919. He has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents. His face adorns Mount Rushmore alongside those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
Twenty-seventh President of the United States (1909-1913) and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States (1921-1930). He is the only person to have served in both of these offices.
Before becoming President, he, a Republican, was appointed to serve on the Superior Court of Cincinnati in 1887. In 1890, he was appointed Solicitor General of the United States and in 1891 a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 1900, President William McKinley appointed him Governor-General of the Philippines. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him Secretary of War in an effort to groom him, then his close political ally, into his handpicked presidential successor. He assumed a prominent role in problem solving, assuming on some occasions the role of acting Secretary of State, while declining repeated offers from Roosevelt to serve on the Supreme Court.
Riding a wave of popular support for fellow Republican Roosevelt, he won an easy victory in his 1908 bid for the presidency. In his only term, his domestic agenda emphasized trust-busting, civil service reform, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, improving the performance of the postal service, and passage of the Sixteenth Amendment. Abroad, he sought to further the economic development of nations in Latin America and Asia through “Dollar Diplomacy”, and showed decisiveness and restraint in response to revolution in Mexico. He was oblivious to the political ramifications of his decisions, often alienated his own key constituencies, and was overwhelmingly defeated in his bid for a second term in the presidential election of 1912. In surveys of presidential scholars, he is usually ranked near the middle of lists of all American Presidents.
After leaving office, he spent his time in academia, arbitration, and the pursuit of world peace through his self-founded League to Enforce Peace. In 1921, after the First World War, President Warren G. Harding appointed him Chief Justice of the United States. He served in this capacity until shortly before his death in 1930.
Twenty-eighth President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and leader of the Progressive Movement. He served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910 and was Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913. He led his Democratic Party to win control of both the White House and Congress in 1912.
He induced a conservative Democratic Congress to pass a progressive legislative agenda, unparalleled until the New Deal in 1933. This included the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and an income tax. Child labor was temporarily curtailed by the Keating-Owen Act of 1916. He also averted a railroad strike and an ensuing economic crisis through passage of the Adamson Act, imposing an 8-hour workday for railroads. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he maintained a policy of neutrality.
Narrowly re-elected in 1916 around the slogan “He kept us out of war”, his second term was dominated by American entry into World War I. That year he proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day in a patriotic speech that bore out the nation’s anti-German sentiment. In April 1917, when Germany persisted with submarine warfare, he asked Congress to declare war in order to make “the world safe for democracy.” The United States conducted military operations with the Allies, without a formal alliance. During the war, he focused on diplomacy and financial considerations, leaving military particulars in the hands of the Army. He loaned billions of dollars to Britain, France and other Allies, allowing them to finance their own war effort. On the home front in 1917, he began the first large-scale draft and borrowed billions of dollars in war funding through the newly established Federal Reserve Bank and Liberty Bonds. He set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union cooperation, supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act and assumed control of the railroads.
He also suppressed anti-war movements with the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, a crackdown which broadened and intensified to include real and suspected anarchists and communists during the First Red Scare of 1919-1920. In 1918 after years of opposition, he was pressured to change his position on women’s suffrage, which he then advocated as a war measure. Though he sought and received support from many in the black community, he permitted racial segregation of the Post Office, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the Navy.
He took personal control of negotiations when an armistice was requested by Germany, and in 1918 he issued his principles for peace, the Fourteen Points. In 1919 he went to Paris to promote the formation of a League of Nations and concluded the Treaty of Versailles. He then suffered a severe stroke, and was unable to secure Senate ratification of the Treaty. By 1920 his disability had diminished his power and influence, and the Democratic party ignored his tentative plan to run for re-election.
A devoted Presbyterian, he infused a profound sense of moralism into his internationalism, now referred to as “Wilsonian”—a contentious position in American foreign policy which obligates the United States to promote global democracy. For his sponsorship of the League of Nations, he was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. He has consistently been ranked by scholars and the public as one of the top ten presidents.
Twenty-ninth President of the United States (1921-23), a Republican from Ohio who served in the Ohio Senate and then in the United States Senate, where he played a minor role.
With the Republican Party (GOP) convention near deadlock, he was chosen as an inoffensive compromise candidate in the 1920 election. He brought leading advertising experts on board, especially Albert Lasker, to publicize his presidential appearance and conservative promises. He promised America a “return to normalcy”, with an end to violence and radicalism, a strong economy, and independence from European intrigues. He represented the conservative wing of the GOP in opposition to progressive followers of the late Theodore Roosevelt (who died in 1919) and Senator Robert M. LaFollette, Sr. He defeated Democrat and fellow Ohio newspaper publisher James M. Cox with the largest popular vote landslide (60% to 34%) in presidential history.
He sought out the “best minds” in his cabinet, including Andrew Mellon at the Treasury, Herbert Hoover at Commerce, and Charles Evans Hughes at the State Department. He rewarded friends and contributors, known as the “Ohio Gang”, with powerful positions. Multiple cases of corruption were exposed during his presidency and after his death, including the notorious Teapot Dome scandal, regarded in pre-Watergate times as the “greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics”.
Domestically, he signed the first federal child welfare program, and dealt with striking mining and railroad workers in part by supporting an 8-hour work day. He created the Bureau of the Budget to prepare the first United States federal budget. He advocated an anti-lynching bill to curb violence against African Americans, but it failed to pass Congress. In foreign affairs, he spurned the League of Nations and negotiated peace treaties with Germany and Austria. His greatest foreign policy achievement came in the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22, in which the world’s major naval powers agreed on a naval limitations program that held sway for a decade.
In August 1923, he suddenly collapsed and died in California. His administration’s many scandals have earned him a bottom-tier ranking from historians, but in recent years there has been some recognition of his fiscal responsibility and endorsement of African-American civil rights. He has been viewed as a more modern politician who embraced technology and was sensitive to the plights of minorities, women, and labor.
Thirtieth President of the United States (1923-1929). A Republican lawyer from Vermont, he worked his way up the ladder of Massachusetts state politics, eventually becoming governor of that state. His response to the Boston Police Strike of 1919 thrust him into the national spotlight and gave him a reputation as a man of decisive action. Soon after, he was elected as the 29th Vice President in 1920 and succeeded to the Presidency upon the sudden death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. Elected in his own right in 1924, he gained a reputation as a small-government conservative, and also as a man who said very little.
He restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of his predecessor’s administration, and left office with considerable popularity. As one of his biographers put it, “He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength.” Some later criticized him as part of a general disapproval of laissez-faire government. His reputation underwent a renaissance during the Ronald Reagan administration, but the ultimate assessment of his presidency is still divided between those who approve of his reduction of the size of government programs and those who believe the federal government should be more involved in regulating and controlling the economy.
Thirty-first President of the United States (1929-1933). Born to a Quaker family, he was a professional mining engineer. He achieved American and international prominence in humanitarian relief efforts in war-time Belgium and served as head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War I. As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted partnerships between government and business under the rubric “economic modernization”. In the presidential election of 1928, he easily won the Republican nomination, despite having no elected-office experience. He is the most recent cabinet secretary to be elected President of the United States, as well as one of only two Presidents (along with William Howard Taft) elected without electoral experience or high military rank. President Calvin Coolidge had famously asserted that “The business of America is business,” and “pro-business” policies fostered an economic bubble that peaked in America in 1929, facilitating a landslide victory for him over Democrat Al Smith.
A globally experienced engineer, he believed strongly in the Efficiency Movement, which held that the government and the economy were riddled with inefficiency and waste, and could be improved by experts who could identify the problems and solve them. He also believed in the importance of volunteerism and of the role of individuals in society and the economy. This man, who had made a small fortune in mining, was the first of two Presidents to redistribute their salary (President Kennedy was the other; he donated all his paychecks to charity). When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, he tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression with moderate government public works projects such as his namesake dam. Unfortunately, the record tariffs embedded in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff and aggressive increases in the top tax bracket from 25% to 63%, coupled with increases in corporate taxes. yielded a “balanced budget” in 1933, but seriously hindered economic recovery. Instead, the economy plummeted and unemployment rates rose to afflict one in four American workers. This downward spiral set the stage for his defeat in 1932 by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who promised a New Deal. After Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1933, he became a spokesman in opposition to the domestic and foreign policies of the New Deal. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed him to head his namesake Commission, intended to foster greater efficiency throughout the federal bureaucracy. Most historians agree that his defeat in the 1932 election was caused primarily by the downward economic spiral, although his strong support for prohibition was also significant. He is usually ranked lower than average among U.S. Presidents.
Thirty-second President of the United States. A Democrat, he was elected four times and served from March 1933 to his death in April 1945. He was a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic depression and total war. A dominant leader of the Democratic Party, he built a New Deal Coalition that realigned American politics after 1932, as his New Deal domestic policies defined American liberalism for the middle third of the 20th century.
With the bouncy popular song “Happy Days Are Here Again” as his campaign theme, FDR defeated incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover in November 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression. Energized by his personal victory over polio, FDR used his persistent optimism and activism to renew the national spirit. Assisted by key aide Harry Hopkins, he worked closely with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in leading the Allies against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan in World War II.
In his first hundred days in office, which began March 4, 1933, he spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). The economy improved rapidly from 1933 to 1937, but then relapsed into a deep recession. The bipartisan Conservative Coalition that formed in 1937 prevented his packing the Supreme Court. For the rest of his days in office, it blocked all proposals for major liberal legislation (apart from a minimum wage law). It abolished many of the relief programs when unemployment practically vanished during the war. Most of the regulations on business continued in effect until they ended about 1975-1985, except for the regulation of Wall Street by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which still exists. Along with several smaller programs, major surviving programs include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which was created in 1933, and Social Security, which Congress passed in 1935.
As World War II loomed after 1938, with the Japanese invasion of China and the aggression of Nazi Germany, FDR gave strong diplomatic and financial support to China and Great Britain, while remaining officially neutral. His goal was to make America the “Arsenal of Democracy,” which would supply munitions to the Allies. In March 1941, he, with Congressional approval, provided Lend-Lease aid to the countries fighting against Nazi Germany with the United Kingdom. With very strong national support, he made war on Japan and Germany after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, calling it a “date which will live in infamy”. He supervised the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the Allied war effort. As an active military leader, he implemented an overall war strategy on two fronts that ended in the defeat of the Axis Powers and the development of the world’s first nuclear bomb (commonly called the atom bomb at the time). In 1942 he ordered the internment of 100,000 Japanese American civilians.
During the war, unemployment dropped to 2%, relief programs largely ended, and the industrial economy grew rapidly to new heights as millions of people moved to new jobs in war centers, and 16 million men and 300,000 women were drafted or volunteered for military service. All economic sectors grew during the war. Farm output went from an index (by volume) of 106 in 1939 to 128 in 1943. Coal output went from 446 million tons in 1939 to 651 in 1943; oil from 1.3 billion barrels to 1.5 billion. Manufacturing output doubled, from an index of 109 in 1939 to 239 in 1943. Railroads strained to move it all to market, from an output of 13.6 billion loaded car miles in 1939 to 23.3 in 1943.
He dominated the American political scene during the twelve years of his presidency, and his policies and ideas continued to have significant influence for decades afterward. He orchestrated the realignment of voters that created the Fifth Party System. FDR’s New Deal Coalition united labor unions, big city machines, white ethnics, African Americans, and rural white Southerners. His work also influenced the later creation of the United Nations and Bretton Woods. He is consistently rated by scholars as one of the top three U.S. Presidents, along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
Thirty-third President of the United States (1945-1953). As the final running mate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when Roosevelt died after months of declining health. Under him, the Allies successfully concluded World War II; in the aftermath of the conflict, tensions with the Soviet Union increased, marking the start of the Cold War.
He was born in Missouri and spent most of his youth on his family’s farm. During World War I, he served in combat in France as an artillery officer in his National Guard unit. After the war, he briefly owned a haberdashery and joined the Democratic Party political machine of Tom Pendergast in Kansas City, Missouri. He was first elected to public office as a county official and became a U.S. senator in 1935. He gained national prominence as head of his namesake Wartime Committee, which exposed waste, fraud, and corruption in wartime contracts.
While Germany surrendered a few weeks after he assumed the Presidency, the war with Japan was expected to last another year or more. He approved the use of atomic weapons against Japan, intending to force Japan’s surrender and spare American lives in a planned invasion; the decision remains controversial. His presidency was a turning point in foreign affairs, as his government supported an internationalist foreign policy in conjunction with European allies. Working closely with Congress, he assisted in the founding of the United Nations, issued his namesake doctrine to contain communism, and passed the $13 billion Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, including the Axis Powers of both world wars, whereas the wartime allied Soviet Union became the peacetime enemy, and the Cold War began. He oversaw the Berlin Airlift of 1948 and the creation of NATO in 1949. When communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, he immediately sent in U.S. troops and gained UN approval for the Korean War. After initial success, the UN forces were thrown back by Chinese intervention and the conflict was stalemated through the final years of his presidency.
On domestic issues, bills endorsed by him often faced opposition from a conservative Congress dominated by the South, but his administration successfully guided the American economy through post-war economic challenges. He said civil rights was a moral priority and in 1948 submitted the first comprehensive legislation, issuing Executive Orders the same year to start racial integration in the military and federal agencies. Corruption in his administration, which was linked to certain members in the cabinet and senior White House staff, was a central issue in the 1952 presidential campaign which Adlai Stevenson, his successor as Democratic nominee, lost to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. Popular and scholarly assessments of his presidency were initially negative, but eventually became more positive after his retirement from politics. His 1948 election upset to win a full term as president is routinely invoked by underdog candidates.
Thirty-fourth President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe; he had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942-43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944-45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO. He was the last U.S. President to have been born in the 19th century.
He was of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry and was raised in a large family in Kansas by parents with a strong religious background. He attended and graduated from West Point and later married and had two sons. After World War II, he served as Army Chief of Staff under President Harry S. Truman then assumed the post of President at Columbia University.
He entered the 1952 presidential race as a Republican to counter the non-interventionism of Senator Robert A. Taft and to crusade against “Communism, Korea and corruption”. He won by a landslide, defeating Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson and ending two decades of the New Deal Coalition. In the first year of his presidency, he deposed the leader of Iran in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état and used nuclear threats to conclude the Korean War with China. His New Look policy of nuclear deterrence gave priority to inexpensive nuclear weapons while reducing the funding for conventional military forces; the goal was to keep pressure on the Soviet Union and reduce federal deficits. In 1954, he first articulated the domino theory in his description of the threat presented to United States’ global economic and military hegemony by the spread of communism and anti-colonial movements in the wake of Communist victory in the First Indochina War. The Congress agreed to his request in 1955 for the Formosa Resolution, which obliged the U.S. to militarily support the pro-Western Republic of China in Taiwan and take a hostile position against the People’s Republic of China on the Chinese mainland. After the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite in 1957, he authorized the establishment of NASA which led to a “space race”. He forced Israel, the UK, and France to end their invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. In 1958, he sent 15,000 U.S. troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government from falling to a Nasser-inspired revolution. Near the end of his term, his efforts to set up a summit meeting with the Soviets collapsed because of the U-2 incident. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, He expressed his concerns about future dangers of massive military spending, especially deficit spending and government contracts to private military manufacturers, and coined the term “military-industrial complex”.
On the domestic front, he covertly opposed Joseph McCarthy and contributed to the end of McCarthyism by openly invoking the modern expanded version of executive privilege. He otherwise left most political activity to his Vice President, Richard Nixon. He was a moderate conservative who continued New Deal agencies and expanded Social Security.
Among his enduring innovations, he launched the Interstate Highway System; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which led to the internet, among many invaluable outputs; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), driving peaceful discovery in space; the establishment of strong science education via the National Defense Education Act; and encouraging peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act.
In social policy, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools. He also signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote. He implemented desegregation of the armed forces in two years and made five appointments to the Supreme Court. He was the first term-limited president in accordance with the 22nd Amendment. His two terms were peaceful ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958-59. He has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
Thirty-fifth President of the United States from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. Notable events during his presidency included the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race—by initiating Project Apollo (which later culminated in the moon landings), the building of the Berlin Wall, the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and increased US involvement in the Vietnam War.
After military service as commander of Motor Torpedo Boats PT-109 and PT-59 during World War II in the South Pacific, he represented Massachusetts’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953 as a Democrat. Thereafter, he served in the U.S. Senate from 1953 until 1960. He defeated Vice President and Republican candidate Richard Nixon in the 1960 U.S. Presidential Election. At age 43, he was the youngest to have been elected to the office, the second-youngest president (after Theodore Roosevelt), and the first person born in the 20th century to serve as president. To date, he has been the only Roman Catholic president and the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize.
He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested that afternoon and charged with the crime that night. Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald two days later, before a trial could take place. The FBI and the Warren Commission officially concluded that Oswald was the lone assassin. The United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) agreed with the conclusion that Oswald fired the shots which killed the president, but also concluded that he was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.
Since the 1960s, information concerning his private life has come to light. Details of his health problems with which he struggled have become better known, especially since the 1990s. Although initially kept secret from the general public, reports of him being unfaithful in marriage have garnered much press. He ranks highly in public opinion ratings of U.S. presidents but there is a gap between his public reputation and his reputation among academics.
Thirty-sixth President of the United States (1963-1969), a position he assumed after his service as the 37th Vice President (1961-1963). A Democrat from Texas, he served as a United States Representative from 1937 to 1949 and as a United States Senator from 1949 to 1961, including six years as Senate Majority Leader, two as Senate Minority Leader and two as Senate Majority Whip. He campaigned unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1960, but ran as Vice President with John F. Kennedy heading the ticket for the 1960 presidential election. After their election, he succeeded Kennedy following the latter’s assassination on November 22, 1963; he completed Kennedy’s term and was elected President in his own right in the 1964 election, winning by a large margin over Barry Goldwater. He is one of four people who served in both offices of the executive branch as well as both houses of Congress.
He was strongly supported by the Democratic Party, and as President he designed the “Great Society” legislation upholding civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, the arts, urban and rural development, and his “War on Poverty”. Assisted in part by a growing economy, the War on Poverty helped millions of Americans rise above the poverty line during his presidency. Civil rights bills signed by him banned racial discrimination in public facilities, interstate commerce, the workplace, and housing; and the voting rights act guaranteed full voting rights for citizens of all races. With the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the country’s immigration system was reformed and all national origin quotas were removed. He was renowned for his domineering, sometimes abrasive, personality and his namesake “treatment” – his aggressive coercion of powerful politicians in order to advance legislation.
He infamously, though reluctantly, escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1964, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which granted him the power to use military force in Southeast Asia without having to ask for an official declaration of war. The number of American military personnel in Vietnam increased dramatically, from 16,000 advisors in non-combat roles in 1963, to 550,000 in early 1968, many in combat roles. American casualties soared and the peace process bogged down. Growing unease with the war stimulated a large, angry antiwar movement based especially on university campuses in the U.S. and abroad.
He faced further troubles when summer riots broke out in most major cities after 1965, and crime rates soared, as his opponents raised demands for “law and order” policies. While he began his presidency with widespread approval, support for him declined as the public became further upset with both the war and the growing violence at home. The Democratic Party split in multiple feuding factions, and after he did poorly in the 1968 New Hampshire primary, he ended his bid for reelection. Republican Richard Nixon was elected to succeed him, as the New Deal coalition that had dominated presidential politics for 36 years collapsed. He died four years after he left office. Historians argue that his presidency marked the peak of modern liberalism in the United States after the New Deal era. He is ranked favorably by some historians because of his domestic policies.
Thirty-Seventh President of the United States, served from 1969 to 1974, when he became the only president to resign the office. A member of the Republican Party, He had previously served as a U.S. Representative and Senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.
He was born in Yorba Linda, California. He graduated from Whittier College in 1934 and Duke University School of Law in 1937, returning to California to practice law. He and his wife, Pat (Ryan), moved to Washington to work for the federal government in 1942. He subsequently served in the United States Navy during World War II. He was elected to the House of Representatives from California in 1946, reelected in 1948 and elected to the Senate in 1950. His pursuit of the Alger Hiss case established his reputation as a leading anti-communist and elevated him to national prominence. He became Republican presidential nominee Dwight D. Eisenhower’s running mate in the 1952 and 1956 elections and served as Vice President for eight years. He waged an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1960, narrowly losing to Democrat John F. Kennedy. After losing a race for Governor of California in 1962, he ran again for the presidency, winning the 1968 election.
Although he initially escalated America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, he subsequently ended U.S. involvement by 1973. His visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1972 opened communications between the two nations and eventually led to the normalization of diplomatic relations. He initiated détente and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union the same year. Domestically, his administration generally embraced policies that transferred power from Washington to the states. Among other things, he launched initiatives to fight cancer and illegal drugs, imposed wage and price controls, enforced desegregation of Southern schools, implemented environmental reforms, and introduced legislation to reform healthcare and welfare. Though he presided over the lunar landings beginning with Apollo 11, as well as launch of Skylab, his administration cut the number of Apollo missions back by three, in part to pay for the Space Shuttle. Voters re-elected him in an electoral landslide in 1972.
His second term saw a crisis in the Middle East, resulting in an oil embargo and the restart of the Middle East peace process, as well as a continuing series of revelations about the Watergate scandal. The scandal escalated, costing him much of his political support, and on August 9, 1974, he resigned in the face of almost certain impeachment and removal from office.
After his resignation, he accepted a pardon issued by his successor, Gerald Ford. In retirement, he worked to rehabilitate his public image through work as an “elder statesman,” authoring nine books and undertaking many foreign trips. He suffered a debilitating stroke on April 18, 1994, and died four days later at the age of 81.
Thirty-eighth President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977, and, prior to this, was the 40th Vice President of the United States serving from 1973 to 1974 under President Richard Nixon. He was the first person appointed to the Vice Presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment, after Spiro Agnew resigned. When he became president upon Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, he became the first and to date only person to have served as both Vice President and President of the United States without being elected by the Electoral College. Before ascending to the Vice Presidency, he served nearly 25 years as the Representative from Michigan’s 5th congressional district, eight of them as the Republican Minority Leader.
As President, he signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward détente in the Cold War. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam nine months into his presidency, U.S. involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Domestically, he presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. One of his more controversial acts was to grant a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. During his incumbency, foreign policy was characterized in procedural terms by the increased role Congress began to play, and by the corresponding curb on the powers of the President. In 1976, he defeated Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but narrowly lost the presidential election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Following his years as president, he remained active in the Republican Party. After experiencing health problems, he died in his home on December 26, 2006. He lived longer than any other U.S. president, living 93 years and 165 days, while his 895-day presidency remains the shortest of all presidents who did not die in office.
Fun Fact: Born Leslie Lynch King, Jr.
Thirty-ninth President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
Raised in rural Georgia, he was a peanut farmer who served two terms as a Georgia State Senator and one as the Governor of Georgia, from 1971 to 1975. He was elected President in 1976, running as an outsider who promised truth in government in the wake of the Watergate scandal. He is the second oldest (after George H. W. Bush) of America’s four living former presidents.
During his term as President, he created two new cabinet-level departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He established a national energy policy that included conservation, price control, and new technology. In foreign affairs, he pursued the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), and returned the Panama Canal Zone to Panama. On the economic front he confronted persistent “stagflation”, a combination of high inflation, high unemployment and slow growth. The end of his presidential tenure was marked by the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis, the 1979 energy crisis, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In response to the Soviet move he ended détente, escalated the Cold War, and led the international boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. By 1980, his popularity had eroded. Running for re-election that year, he defeated Ted Kennedy in the primary challenge for the Democratic Party nomination, but lost the general election to Republican candidate Ronald Reagan.
He was highly active after leaving the White House. He set up his namesake center in 1982, as his base for advancing human rights. He has traveled extensively to conduct peace negotiations, observe elections, and advance disease prevention and eradication in developing nations. He is a key figure in the Habitat for Humanity project, and also remains particularly critical of Israel’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Party: Republican (After 1962); Democratic (Before 1962)
Fortieth President of the United States (1981-89), and served as the 33rd Governor of California (1967-75) prior to his presidency.
Born and raised in small towns in Illinois, he graduated from Eureka College and then worked as a radio broadcaster. He moved to Hollywood in 1937, where he began a career as an actor, first in films and later in television. He served as President of the Screen Actors Guild and later as a spokesman for General Electric (G.E.); his start in politics occurred during his work for G.E. Originally, he was a member of the Democratic Party, but due to the parties’ shifting platforms during the 1950s, he switched to the Republican Party in 1962.
After delivering a rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy in 1964, he was persuaded to seek the California governorship, winning two years later and again in 1970. He was defeated in his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and in 1976, but won both the nomination and general election in 1980, defeating incumbent Jimmy Carter.
As president, he implemented sweeping new political and economic initiatives. His supply-side economic policies, dubbed “Reaganomics”, advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth, controlling the money supply to reduce inflation, deregulation of the economy, and reducing government spending. In his first term he also survived an assassination attempt, took a hard line against labor unions, escalated the War on Drugs, and ordered an invasion of Grenada to reverse a Communist coup.
He was re-elected in a landslide in 1984, proclaiming that it was “Morning in America”. His second term was primarily marked by foreign matters, such as the ending of the Cold War, the 1986 bombing of Libya, and the revelation of the Iran-Contra affair. Publicly describing the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”, he supported anti-communist movements worldwide and spent his first term forgoing the strategy of détente in favor of rollback by escalating an arms race with the USSR. He subsequently negotiated with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, culminating in the INF Treaty and the decrease of both countries’ nuclear arsenals. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred soon afterward.
He left office in 1989. In 1994, the former president disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease earlier in the year; he died ten years later at the age of 93. A conservative icon, he ranks highly in public opinion polls of U.S. Presidents and is credited for generating an ideological renaissance on the American political right.
Forty-First President of the United States (1989-1993). A Republican, he had previously served as the 43rd Vice President of the United States (1981-1989), a congressman, an ambassador, and Director of Central Intelligence. He is the oldest living former President and Vice President. He is also the last living former President who is a veteran of World War II.
He was born in Milton, Massachusetts, to Senator Prescott Bush and Dorothy Walker Bush. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he postponed college, enlisted in the U.S. Navy on his 18th birthday, and became the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy at the time. He served until the end of the war, then attended Yale University. Graduating in 1948, he moved his family to West Texas and entered the oil business, becoming a millionaire by the age of 40.
He became involved in politics soon after founding his own oil company, serving as a member of the House of Representatives and Director of Central Intelligence, among other positions. He failed to win the Republican nomination for President in 1980, but was chosen by party nominee Ronald Reagan to be his running mate, and the two were elected. During his tenure, he headed administration task forces on deregulation and fighting the “War on Drugs”.
In 1988, he ran a successful campaign to succeed Reagan as President, defeating Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. Foreign policy drove his presidency: military operations were conducted in Panama and the Persian Gulf; the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union dissolved two years later. Domestically, he reneged on a 1988 campaign promise and after a struggle with Congress, signed an increase in taxes that Congress had passed. In the wake of a weak recovery from an economic recession, along with continuing budget deficits, he lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
He left office in 1993. His presidential library was dedicated in 1997, and he has been active—along with President Clinton—in various humanitarian activities. His eldest son, George W. Bush, later served as the 46th Governor of Texas (1995-2000) and as the 43rd President of the United States (2001-2009), becoming one of only two presidents—the other being John Quincy Adams—to be the son of a former president. His second son, Jeb Bush, served as the 43rd Governor of Florida (1999-2007).
Forty-second President of the United States. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president from the baby boomer generation. He has been described as a New Democrat. Many of his policies have been attributed to a centrist Third Way philosophy of governance. Before becoming president, he was the Governor of Arkansas for five terms, serving from 1979 to 1981 and from 1983 to 1992. He was also the state’s Attorney General from 1977 to 1979.
Born and raised in Arkansas, he became both a student leader and a skilled musician. He is an alumnus of Georgetown University, where he was a member of Kappa Kappa Psi and Phi Beta Kappa and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford. He is married to Hillary Rodham, who served as United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 and who was a Senator from New York from 2001 to 2009. Both earned law degrees from Yale Law School, where they met and began dating. As Governor of Arkansas, he overhauled the state’s education system, and served as Chair of the National Governors Association.
He was elected president in 1992, defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush. He presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history, and signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement. After failing to pass national health care reform, the Democratic House was ousted when the Republican Party won control of the Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. Two years later, he became the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected president twice. He passed welfare reform and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health coverage for millions of children. In 1998, he was impeached for perjury before a grand jury and obstruction of justice during a lawsuit against him, both related to a scandal involving a White House intern. He was acquitted by the U.S. Senate and served his complete term of office. The Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus between the years 1998 and 2000, the last three years of his presidency.
He left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II. Since then, he has been involved in public speaking and humanitarian work. He created his namesake foundation to address international causes such as the prevention of AIDS and global warming. In 2004, he published his autobiography My Life. He has remained active in politics by campaigning for Democratic candidates, most notably for his wife’s campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, and then Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012. In 2009, he was named United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti, and after the 2010 Haiti earthquake he teamed with George W. Bush to form their namesake Haiti Fund. Since leaving office, he has been rated highly in public opinion polls of U.S. presidents.
Forty-third President of the United States from 2001 to 2009, and the 46th Governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000. The eldest son of Barbara and George H. W., he was born in New Haven, Connecticut. After graduating from Yale University in 1968 and Harvard Business School in 1975, he worked in oil businesses. He married Laura Welch in 1977 and ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives shortly thereafter. He later co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team before defeating Ann Richards in the 1994 Texas gubernatorial election. He was elected president in 2000 after a close and controversial election, becoming the fourth president to be elected while receiving fewer popular votes nationwide than his opponent. He is the second president to have been the son of a former president, the first having been John Quincy Adams. He is also the brother of Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida.
Eight months into his first term as president, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred. In response, he launched the War on Terror, an international military campaign which included the war in Afghanistan, launched in 2001 and the war in Iraq, launched in 2003.
In addition to national security issues, he also promoted policies on the economy, health care, education, social security reform, and amending the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. He signed into law broad tax cuts, the PATRIOT Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Medicare prescription drug benefits for seniors, and funding for the AIDS relief program known as PEPFAR. His tenure saw national debates on immigration, Social Security, electronic surveillance, and enhanced interrogation techniques.
He successfully ran for re-election against Democratic Senator John Kerry in 2004, in another relatively close election. After his re-election, he received increasingly heated criticism from across the political spectrum for his handling of the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and numerous other challenges. This may have been a factor resulting in the Democratic Party winning control of Congress in the 2006 elections. In December 2007, the United States entered its longest post-World War II recession, often referred to as the “Great Recession”, prompting his administration to enact multiple economic programs intended to preserve the country’s financial system. Nationally, he was both one of the most popular and unpopular presidents in history, having received the highest recorded presidential approval ratings in the wake of the September 11 attacks, as well as one of the lowest approval ratings during the 2008 financial crisis. Internationally, he was a highly controversial figure, with public protests even occurring during visits to close allies, such as the United Kingdom.
He left office in 2009, and was succeeded as president by Barack Obama, who ran on a platform of change from his policies. Since leaving office, he has returned to Texas and purchased a home in a suburban area of Dallas. He is currently a public speaker, has written a memoir titled Decision Points, and his presidential library was opened in 2013. His presidency has been ranked among the worst in recent surveys of presidential scholars, although he has been viewed more favorably by the public since leaving office.
Forty-fourth President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, he is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. He served three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, running unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives in 2000.
In 2004, he received national attention during his campaign to represent Illinois in the United States Senate with his victory in the March Democratic Party primary, his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July, and his election to the Senate in November. He began his presidential campaign in 2007 and, after a close primary campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008, he won sufficient delegates in the Democratic Party primaries to receive the presidential nomination. He then defeated Republican nominee John McCain in the general election, and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. Nine months after his election, he was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
During his first two years in office, he signed into law economic stimulus legislation in response to the Great Recession in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. Other major domestic initiatives in his first term included the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. In foreign policy, he ended U.S. military involvement in the Iraq War, increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered U.S. military involvement in Libya, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. In November 2010, the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives as the Democratic Party lost a total of 63 seats; and, after a lengthy debate over federal spending and whether or not to raise the nation’s debt limit, he signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.
He was re-elected president in November 2012, defeating Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and was sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2013. During his second term, he has promoted domestic policies related to gun control in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and has called for full equality for LGBT Americans, while his administration has filed briefs which urged the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. In foreign policy, he ordered U.S. military involvement in Iraq in response to gains made by the Islamic State in Iraq after the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, and has continued the process of ending U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan.