Top 5 Worst Presidents in U.S. History

1. Jimmy Carter– He is hands-down, the greatest embarrassment to the office in the history of the Presidency.  He was an abysmal failure while in office, who could not even pass legislation with a sympathetic Congress.  His economic policies led the U.S. into one of the greatest recessions in its history, and his foreign policies led to events such as the storming of the U.S. embassy in Teheran.  At least, he did his constituency the service of hiding out in the rose garden during most of his presidency and refusing to be the leader that he was elected to be.

Today, he spends much of his time violating two centuries of Presidential decorum by decrying the work of the men who have succeeded him, and sticking his nose into affairs in which it does not belong, such as working with terrorist organizations like Hamas.  Giving him the Nobel Peace Prize cheapened it, and it has become the sad political tool that it is today.  No amount of house building can make up for the awful way he has dragged the most prestigious office on Earth through the mud.

2. Warren Harding– I tried not to hold the fact that a president died in office against him.  Presidents like William Henry Harrison or James Garfield get an incomplete from me.  They are obviously near the bottom, but as a result of their untimely deaths, did not have the opportunity to do anything truly bad to the office.  However, the Harding administration, though only two years in length was simply packed with Presidential embarrassments.  His administration is generally viewed as the single most corrupt in the history of the U.S., and that includes the Grant administration.  Harding was barely by his own party.  He did poorly in the primaries, was part of a split vote at the RNC, and after a deal was struck for his candidacy in the predawn of a hotel room, it still took ten ballots for him to receive the nomination. 

He won the general election by a landslide, and then had to pay back those to whom promises were made.  This led to the appointment of several corrupt individuals to his administration.  Many of his appointees were personal friends who were completely unqualified for the posts to which they were named.  His nominee to head the Veteran’s Bureau robbed its coffers of $200,000,000 and fled the country.  The Justice Department was accused of taking bribes.  The Attorney General was proven to have illegally profited from allowing alcohol to be taken from government supplies during the middle of prohibition, and corruption was discovered in the office of the Alien Property Custodian.

The most egregious example of corruption in his administration was the Teapot Dome Scandal in which the Secretary of the Interior received $400,000 in bribe from oil companies after leasing oil-rich land to them without any competitive bidding.

This was all bad enough, but Harding’s personal problems were also prominent.  He was married, but he carried on several affairs while he was president.  These eventually came to light adding to the cloud that surrounded his presidency.  Today, there are some theories that he was actually poisoned by his own wife.  In any case, he was dead after serving only two years.

3. Andrew Johnson– He was impeached but not convicted on two occasions.  Most historians agree that he did not deserve to be convicted, but his track record in office showed that he did not agree with his party or Lincoln in regards to the position of former slaves in post-Civil War America.  He repeatedly vetoed legislation that was meant to protect the former slaves and allow them to be absorbed into normal American society.  His appointments and policies promoted the establishment of so called ‘black codes’ that allowed southern blacks to be kept in some sort of servitude as second-class persons.  He was instrumental in defeating the 14th Amendment which eventually made the former slaves actual citizens.  Lincoln was a practical man who would do what it took to eventually get the outcome that he wanted, but his appointment of Johnson was easily his biggest mistake, and one, that with his death, could not be undone.  Johnson’s apparent racism which undermined many of the victories that so much blood was shed for during the Civil War put him high on the list.

4. Ulysses S. Grant– Grant’s two terms as president of the U.S. were notable for their corruption and failed domestic policies.  Waffling on the issue of ‘greenbacks’ and allowing unrestrained speculation in the gold market by Jay Gould and James Fisk led to Black Friday in which the Stock Market shut down.  The Grant administration failed to react by releasing gold early.  This caused the ruin of many investors, and when the administration finally did release its gold reserves, it caused a crash in the gold market that led to more ruin.

Though he was never personally accused of corruption, his administration was involved in several famous instances of corruption.  The most famous of these were the Credit Mobilier swindle and the Whiskey Ring.

Grant may have been a great general, but he was not a great president.  His two terms and his military legacy keep him off the bottom of the list.

5. Richard Nixon– Nixon is an anomaly.  His foreign policy achievements could easily have put him into the top 20 presidents of all time.  The problem was that his own paranoia and character flaws led him to use abuse his power as president and to eventually sanction crimes committed at the expense of his political opposition.  Of all the people on the list, his actions as president were probably the worst, but his extremely effective foreign policy keep him off the bottom of the list.

6. James Buchanan– I added a sixth because he is really the only other bad president.  For the most part, America’s presidents have been good and able men who led the country to the best of their ability.  Some may have been less effective than others, and some served short terms, but the true bottom-dwellers are a short list.  Buchanan’s lack of any attempt to keep the U.S. from devolving into Civil War puts him near the bottom of the list.  He and Nero could have played a duet.

Top 20 United States Presidents

A few years ago I ranked the top 20 presidents in the history of the U.S.  I went back recently, and looked at the list again.  I decided that it just did not look right, so I opened a spreadsheet, and began to rank the presidents on several criteria.  These included: Popularity, Character, Number of Terms, the Issues that they had to deal with, their Legacy, the Legislation that they pushed through, their Effectiveness, and their Leadership, and their Negatives.  I gave more weight to: Issues, Legacy, Legislation and Effectiveness.

In the end, my list looked mostly as it had before, but some things looked much better.  Enjoy.

  1. Abraham Lincoln– He had it all: the biggest issue (the Civil War), the best rhetoric, an impeccable character, and was unafraid to take the wheel if it was needed.   He died in office before making any large mistakes.  He tried to choose Lee.  He fired incompetent generals at will, and chose Grant in the end.  He delivered the Gettysburg Address.  He signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  He preferred an easy peace with the South at the end of the war.  On the downside, he did suspend habeas corpus during the war.
  2. George Washington– The first.  He was extremely popular.  He was very careful to set proper precedents for the office.  He had been General of the armies during revolution.  He showed his character by refusing to be king.
  3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt– He had the big events: WWII, the Great Depression.  He is and will be the only four “termer.”  He overcame Polio, and he was an excellent orator.
  4. Thomas Jefferson– He was the author of Declaration of Independence.  He was a Founding Father, and he made the Louisiana Purchase.  However, he did disband the National Bank, and was a somewhat divisive figure.
  5. Theodore Roosevelt II– TR, a true man’s man.  He was a sportsman, and one of the first true American naturalists.  He established many of the National Parks that we have today.  He led the charge up San Juan Hill.  He is a symbol of American Imperialism (“Speak softly and carry a big stick).
  6. Ronald Wilson Reagan– He brought America out of a recession.  He proved the greatness of conservative fiscal and social ideals.  He proved the greatness of capitalism using its principals to economically bring down the greatest threat to America in its history.  He is still known as the Great Communicator.  He won 49 0f 50 states.
  7. James Monroe– Probably the most popular President ever while in office.  His presidency is still known as “the Era of Good Feelings.”  He instituted the Monroe Doctrine which established the attitude that the U.S. did not support European involvement in the Americas.
  8. James Madison– He was president during the war of 1812.  He was a Founding Father, and he was the designer and author of the Constitution.
  9. Harry S. Truman– Two termer.  He had the big event (WWII).  He made what may have been the hardest decision ever made by a president, and it was the right one (the atomic bomb).
  10. Andrew Jackson– He is a two termer.  He was a war hero.  He stood up to the Supreme Court.  He was very popular.
  11. Thomas Woodrow Wilson– He was a two termer who led the U.S. during WWI and started the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.
  12. William Jefferson Clinton– He was very popular.  He was a two termer.  He served during a time of economic growth.  He was fiscally conservative, and was able to get his economic policies passed even though he did not have a sympathetic Congress.  His positives will probably outweigh the negatives caused by his personal problems and impeachment.
  13. George Walker Bush   He has the big events: 911 and the war.  His 911 speech will go down as one of the greatest of any president.  He had a sympathetic congress, and pretty much passes any legislation that he liked during his first two years.  He effectively prosecuted a war against an enemy that could not be easily seen.  He did hot do enough to get his message out there, and as a result, his second term was a failure highlighted by the loss of the Congress, and eventually the Presidency for his party.
  14. Dwight David Eisenhower– He was general of the allied armies during WWII.  He was a two termer who served during a very happy time for America, the 50s.
  15. James Knox Polk  He expanded America more than any president except Jefferson.  Took in the Oregon Territory, and the California Territory.  He annexed Texas (this should get him a couple of more points).  He signed The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  He ran on the slogan of 54-40 or Fight.  His policies stalled the Civil War for a few years.  He did not want to be President, and only served because he was asked to.
  16. John Adams– One of the most important of the Founding Fathers, he stood on his principles and kept America out of an unnecessary war even though it hurt him politically and probably cost him reelection.  He was disliked politically and arrogant.  Also, he signed the Alien and Sedition Acts which were alter declared unconstitutional.  These things pushed him down the list.
  17. John Fitzgerald Kennedy– He was extremely popular.  He faced down the Soviets.  He pushed the Space Program.  He was a good orator.  He was a war hero.  On the downside, there was the Bay of Pigs, the War in Vietnam, and his social life.  Also, his Presidency was cut short. 
  18. William McKinley– He was President during the Spanish American War.  He acquired, Guam, The Philippines and Puerto Rico from Spain.  He also advocated annexation of Hawaii.
  19. George Herbert Walker Bush– He presided over the fall of Communism and Desert Storm.  He was a war hero.  He was the former head of the CIA and former Ambassador to the UN.  On the downside, “No new Taxes” and only one term.
  20. Lyndon B. Johnson– His social policies were largely responsible for the success of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  However, his welfare state was a big issue.  He got America further involved in Vietnam, and he bowed-out after only one term.