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The Worst Presidents in American History, Ranked

America has had its fair share of some of the worst and best leaders in history. While some of them are still respected today, others may not be as well because they left the office in disgrace. Many of the presidents listed here have tried to fulfill all the promises that were made before assuming office. Their promises of prosperity and unity have been delivered, and some have also failed. Let’s take a look at some of our nation’s leaders who have ruled over the years.


Bill Clinton (1993-2001)


Although he is remembered for his impeachment while in office and also for the scandal involving the 22-year-old Monica Lewinsky, who was a White House intern, Bill Clinton fulfilled many of his political promises. He is known to have worked on several policies, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and welfare reform. His presidency was marked by his “Third Way” philosophy and his work to reconcile left-wing and right-wing politics. Bill Clinton was also the president of the nation’s economy which had the longest period of peacetime economic expansion.



Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th president of the United States, and he took over office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This president was responsible for creating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Clean Air Act, and he also amended two Social Security Amendments—creating Medicare and Medicaid. Lyndon maintained that his motto was to “build a great society, a place where the meaning of man’s life matches the marvels of man’s labor.”


Barack Obama (2009-2017)

Barack Obama took over the office in the year 2009 as the 44th president of the United States. He was also the first African-American president to ever emerge as the leader of this nation. Obama worked on a variety of issues affecting minorities in the country, including the Affordable Care Act’s reformed healthcare and the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country. Obama again signed into motion the tax and American reinvestment relief fund. This was because of the Great Recession which happened during the late 2000s, which entered into the climate change Paris Agreement, and this is credited with the order of military action which then led to the death of Osama bin Laden.


John Quincy Adams (1825–1899)

John Quincy Adams was the 6th president of the United States, and he was known for his intelligent and diplomatic personality while he was in office. Although there are not many accomplishments to his name, he was one of the first public figures to question the place of slavery in America.


Andrew Jackson (1829–1837)

Immediately after the rule of John Quincy Adams as the president of the United States, Andrew Jackson came on as the 7th president of the country. This president has a great accomplishment which he will be forever remembered for as the first and only president of the United States to have paid off the national debt. He was also elected into office by a popular vote, and he worked tirelessly while in office to become a direct representation of the common man. With all of this being attributed to Andrew Jackson for his tenure as president, he is also remembered to have been the one to sign the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the reason why many Native American tribes were forced to relocate. He is also known to have opposed the abolition of the end of the slavery movement.


William McKinley (1897–1901)

William McKinley was the nation’s leader who led them to the Spanish-American War victory. He is also known to have kept the monetary system on the gold standard and even raised international tariffs to support American industry. Many historians have claimed that McKinley led the nation mostly by making use of the suggestions made by the public instead of leading the country as a true leader should. Another controversial issue following the tenure of William McKinley as the US president is his expansion of the “American Empire,” which he wanted to achieve by taking total control of the countries of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.


George H.W. Bush (1989–1993)

George H.W. Bush is the 41st president of the United States and he is the one who ended the Cold War. He was also the president in power who was instrumental in the reunification of the eastern and western parts of Germany. George H.W. Bush is also responsible for the signing of NAFTA, the trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. He is also fondly remembered as the president who ended the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. However, Bush had a negative side to his rule, and this was his request for an extra $1.5 billion to battle the war on drugs, requesting more jails, prisons, and even prosecutors.


Taft, William Howard (1909-1913)

William Howard Taft was the 27th president and also the chief justice of the United States, and he is acknowledged as the only president to have held both positions at the same time. William was instrumental in the empowerment of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was used to create the railroad rates. The president also showed great support for the direct election of senators, who were elected by the people. It was also during the rule of William Howard Taft that the 16th Amendment was passed, which allowed Congress to establish and initiate the income tax.


Cleveland, Grover (1885-1889; 1893-1897)

Grover Cleveland is the only known president to have served two non-consecutive terms, as he was president in the years 1885-1889 and from 1893-1897. Grover served as the United States 22nd and 24th presidents. He was the president in charge during the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, and he also saw the end of the Apache Wars, in which Geronimo surrendered. Even though he never wanted to overthrow the monarchy in Hawaii, he saw the state being annexed. He was quoted to have said this about the future state: “I am ashamed of the whole affair” of the switch.


Grant, Ulysses S. (1869-1877)

Ulysses S. Grant became the 18th president of the US and he was once the commanding general of the Union Army. Grant is remembered to have given the authorization for the establishment of the nation’s Department of Justice, the National Weather Service, and also the Yellowstone National Park. However, the president suffered a glitch in his political career which saw him lose his bid for a third term in office because he appointed poor political allies for himself while in office.


Van Buren, Martin (1837-1841)

He was the 8th president of the US and he is responsible for the creation of the Democratic Party in the country. Martin Van Buren formally served as the vice president and was also, at one time, the secretary of state. The president is also credited with avoiding the War of the North due to the Canadian insurrection when he declared American neutrality. However, the tenure of this president suffered a recession which saw so many banks and individuals lose almost all their money when he was trying to clear up the issues that were obtained during the rule of the past president, Andrew Jackson.


Jimmy Carter (1977–1981)

Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, and he was the 39th president of the United States. The president withheld the supply of economic and military aid that was sent to some countries in the world where they were fighting human rights abuses. He is also known to have mediated the Camp David Accords, which saw Israel and Egypt acknowledge each other and go on to develop a huge homeland oil reserve for the supply to the US. Jimmy Carter had issues with negotiating with Iranian terrorists during the hostage crisis in 1979. During the Iranian revolution in that same year of 1979, the oil prices were inflated and this affected the prices as they were lower and the supply was also affected, making the power Carter had initially to control the oil supply become useless.


Gerald Ford (1974–1971)

Gerald Ford is the 38th president of the US. He was a former Navy sailor during WWII and also played for his college football team. The president is credited with being instrumental in the signing of the Helsinki Accords, which saw the tensions of the Soviet Union become minimized and also established the energy policy. He also signed the Conservation Act of 1975 and worked on the reduction of the unemployment rate and inflation. Gerald Ford served only a 900-day term in which he accepted the Vietnam War defeat, pardoned Nixon, and also made a very poor impression of the nation to other foreign nationals.


James A. Garfield (1881)

This president is remembered as he had a very short stay in office as the 20th president of the US. He is known as the first president to have introduced the universal educational support system, which saw the need to support African Americans. He also employed former slaves in his visible cabinet and different office positions, as well as reformed the Post Office Department. James A. Garfield was assassinated while in office, and he only spent 200 days. His policy skills were questioned by many, but he never lived to make any adjustments.


Richard Nixon (1969– 1974)

Richard Nixon served as the United States 37th president. He is famous as the first president to resign from his official duty. He is remembered for introducing the solution to limiting segregation, or the new federalism. He is also noted to have created the presidential task force on women’s rights, which saw the lawsuits for the trial of sexual discrimination violators. He signed the Clean Air Act of 1970, which created the EPA and DNR; he also negotiated the arms control deal with Russia and communist China. Richard Nixon saw his tenure masked with some troubles, which included the bombings of North Vietnam and the invasion of Cambodia that erupted into domestic protests. He was also tried and impeached for his involvement in Watergate, and this ruined the president’s reputation.


Taylor, Zachary (1849-1851)

As the 12th president of the nation, Zachary Taylor is remembered as a Mexican war hero. The president accepted the liberal anti-slavery concept even though he owned slaves when he was elected. This acceptance of the president made the southerners very angry and they threatened to secede. The president was not fazed as he responded to their threat with these strong words: “taken in rebellion against the Union, he would punish with less reluctance than he had punished deserters and spies in Mexico”.


Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929)

Coming in at number 30, President Calvin Coolidge is remembered as the only president who chose not to run for a second term. He was known as “Silent Cal” and he is responsible for advocating for the anti-lynching laws which he signed into the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. This then allowed the Native Americans to be granted full American citizenship and also keep their land. He, however, did not make the mistake of appointing any member of the clan of the Ku Klux Klan into his political cabinet. Historians, see Calvin Coolidge’s regulation as a part of the Great Depression’s beginnings as he did not want the country to join the League of Nations.


Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881)

Rutherford B. Hayes was the 19th President of the United States, and he tried to protect and advance the rights of African Americans, but he was prevented from doing so by the Democrats who controlled the House of Representatives. Although he wanted to protect the African Americans in the south, he did not handle it well when he withdrew the federal troops who were protecting them and he hoped for intrinsic diplomacy.



George W. Bush (2001-2009)

George Bush emerged as the 43rd president of the United States, following in his father’s footsteps. He emerged as the winner of the controversial 2000 election, and he is known for playing an instrumental part in the Patriot Act (surveillance of potential terrorists) and the forming of the Homeland Security department. He is also credited for passing the No Child Left Behind Act and for seeing to the expansion of Medicare to cover prescription drug costs. However, the Bush administration saw the nation incur a trillion-dollar debt and he also invaded Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, an act which many see as being controversial. He again struggled to pass the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, bailing out the banks and housing industries.


Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)


Following the assassination of James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur emerged as the 21st president of the US. Arthur is known as the first president to have signed the Pendleton Act into law, creating a bipartisan Civil Service Commission. He also lowered the tax rates, which were made to assist the middle class and farmers in debt, and believed that federal surpluses should be spent on tax relief (through his veto of the Rivers and Harbor Act). He, however, signed the Immigration Act of 1882, which disallowed some sets of people to own citizenship rights in the country. Some of those affected include Chinese immigrants, the mentally ill, the intellectually disabled, those who might become dependent upon public assistance, and criminals.


Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)


As number 23, Benjamin Harrison took over the presidency from a defeated Grover Cleveland. Harrison signed the Sherman Antitrust Act, minimizing the possibility of monopolies, tried (and failed) to expand the rights of African Americans, and saw the addition of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington to statehood. Historians believe Harrison was the first to spend a $1 billion budget, related to the Panic of 1893 – seen as one of the worst economic periods in US history.


Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)


The 31st president and humanitarian, Herbert Hoover, led hunger-relief efforts for Americans trapped in Europe during WWI and for 9 million Belgians in the aftermath of advancing German troops. However, Hoover is known more for his mishandling of the Great Depression. Despite his best effort after signing the Smoot-Hawley Act, raising taxes on imports, frustrated trading partners refused to purchase American goods.


John Tyler (1841-1845)


John Tyler, number 10, was the very first vice president to end up taking the presidency due to the death of his political companion, William Henry Harrison. He saw the addition of Texas into the Union and vetoed a bill that attempted to reinstate the Bank of the United States. Oddly, when he left his presidency, Tyler joined the Confederate efforts to secede from the Union.


Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)


Millard Fillmore took office as number 13 when Zachery Taylor passed away. He is known for having forced Japan to open its trade through the Treaty of Kanagawa. In a similar show of power, Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act. This piece of legislation deemed that any escaped slaves that were caught must be returned to their masters.


William Henry Harrison (1841)


At the time, William Henry Harrison was the oldest man elected to the presidency at 68, he was also the first to die while serving – a mere 32 days into office. Before entering office, he was seen as a war hero, but as one would imagine, he was not able to accomplish very much having only been in office for around a month. At his inauguration, he gave the longest inaugural speech in history and refused to wear a hat or coat in the cold – which probably gave way to his pneumonia-related death just four weeks later.


Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)


Franklin Pierce, number 14, was a hotly contested president at the time. He saw the abolitionist movement (freeing slaves) as a threat to the nation, so he enforced the Fugitive Slaves act and signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act created the territories of Nebraska and Kansas but allowed them to debate if slavery was banned or supported.


Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)


Elected on his birthday, Warren G. Harding wanted a “return to normalcy” and achieved some of this gesture. Harding did authorize the General Accounting Office to audit all government expenditures, in addition to the signing of the Budget and Account Act of 1931 – allowing one unified budget as opposed to distinct departments – when sent to Congress. Harding was known for cutting taxes on the rich, limiting immigration, ending WWI spending controls, and the Teapot Dome Scandal – in which the President allowed private oil companies special leases on oil-rich lands.


Donald Trump (2017-2021)


Donald Trump took over office as the president of the United States of America right after Barack Obama. During his time in office as the president, Donald Trump created 1.2 million manufacturing jobs, repatriated $1.5 trillion back to the US, and also increased the family income of the middle class by $6,000. However, with all of the good deeds he has done, he stands as the only president of the US that has faced impeachment twice. He withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, got involved in controversial immigration policies, and during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump was the president in office and many believed he could have done more to handle the pandemic better.


James Buchanan (1857-1861)


James Buchanan, the 15th president, is regarded by many historians as one of the worst US presidents to have ever served. When he was elected, he made the argument that whether or not to defend slavery was a matter of the state. Marks virtually permitted the secession of many states throughout his reign; these states went on to create the Confederacy. In essence, Buchanan left the United States in a pre-war state before the Civil War started.


Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)


Following Lincoln’s death, Andrew Johnson was chosen as the 17th president. Following the war, African Americans were never treated equally due to his pro-slavery and racist inclinations. He even granted pardons to former Confederate and rebel officials, some of whom were given elected offices. Even though he needed the Senate’s consent to do so, he forced Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war, out of his position.


Honorable Mention: Joe Biden (2021-Present)


Joe Biden came on board after the reign of Donald Trump as the 46th president of the US. Although he is still the current president, we can’t tell how much he has done because he is still new in office. He hasn’t stayed long enough in office for us to measure his accomplishments and failures to determine whether he will be seen as one of the worst presidents in the history of the nation. He has, however, been praised for his desire to bring together liberals and conservatives in this time of immense political division in America, and he has also made the promise of making available the COVID-19 vaccines to the general public as fast as possible. He is also applauded for heeding the advice of many scientists to fight the pandemic during his short stay so far. Biden has, however, been criticized for not supporting the universal healthcare system and also refusing to cancel the student debt of about $50,000. He is also faulted for supporting the environmentally harmful practice of fracking. We will still have to wait for his time in office to be over before we can finally point out if Joe Biden qualifies to be on our list of the worst presidents of the United States.


James K. Polk (1845-1849)


Although Polk was considered an almost brilliant president and a man who squandered excellent prospects, he, however, maintained a different stance on the use of slaves. He went on to employ slaves while in office and bought them for his personal use. He is blamed for separating young slaves from their families, a behavior that angered many up to this day. The president, however, portrays himself as a kind and paternalistic slaveholder who retained slaves because they had been passed down through the family. This claim of his is, however, backed by his greed for slave ownership, and he didn’t consider the impact his actions caused on families who had to be separated from their loved ones for his gain.


James Madison (1809-1817)


President Madison was regularly vilified and blamed for the issues brought on by the War of 1812, even though he was referred to as the “father of the constitution.” When trade between the United States and Europe ended, American businessmen suffered. The Federalists defeated Madison’s attempts after New England threatened to quit the Union. Madison was forced to flee when British troops invaded Washington, D.C. in August 1814 and set fire to the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress.


John Adams (1797-1801)


Adams’ isolation and reticence to interact directly with political opponents most certainly limited his influence. His stubborn independence has led to his political seclusion and solitude. No one had a better opinion and was also considered more important to him than his own. Because he thought the legislature was corrupt, he would not work closely with it. He was proud of himself for never caving to public pressure that went against his values. Adams thought of himself as one of those natural aristocrats who were destined for grandeur because of their superior intellect and virtue.


Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)


Wilson’s first term in office has a sinister side. Despite having grown up in the South, the president had racist ideas that were typical of the time’s dominant white northerners, who were indifferent to discrimination against African Americans. Wilson’s cabinet pushed on implementing segregation in the federal government even though many of them were from the South. Some of the most discriminatory practices, such as “white” and “colored” restrooms, had to be abandoned by the administration. There had been some opposition from Northern Democrats and Republican Progressives, whose support Wilson desired, and there were practical difficulties with separating the races in the workplace.


John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)


John F. Kennedy achieved a lot of good deeds while in office as the president of the United States, but the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961, changed his criticisms. The Bay of Pigs aimed to incite the Cuban people to revolt to topple Fidel Castro’s government. The US, under the leadership of Kennedy, was found to have provided the funding and supplies, which ended up becoming a complete failure. This eventually led to many exiles being captured by Castro’s troops and some of them even being killed. The President’s choice to let go of the American air backing for the invasion also made the nation appear weak to the world.


Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809)


Thomas Jefferson had his shortcomings and was considered a not-so-good president due to his ownership of slaves and also his lack of efforts to ensure that the slavery acts were abolished. Although he maintained that all men were created equal and this was shown in the Declaration of Independence, his behavior contradicted this claim. Many people believe that the president had so much power to abolish slavery and all its practices while in office, but he chose not to do so. He is also remembered as the president that struggled to deal with France and Great Britain’s interference in trade. Jefferson, however, worked to keep the United States out of the struggle that was between France and Great Britain because commerce was an essential sector of the nation’s economy.


Harry Truman (1945-1953)


Truman had an eight-year administration that is now remembered for the use of atomic weapons against civilians in Japan. This was recorded for use when the United States entered into the Korean War, the outbreak of the Cold War, and also during the foundation of the CIA, with the authority to conduct assassinations and foreign interventions. According to public opinion, Truman has always been ranked as one of the top presidents to have ruled the United States. However, many also consider that the use of atomic bombs on people and the start of the Korean War were all barbaric acts and that the war should have been handled in a better way. Even today, the impacts made by these acts of Truman’s administration still very much affect the world.


These are some of the past presidents who have served the United States of America in their different capacities. Although they may have their limitations and negative issues, they all have at one time in their lives had the good interest of our nation in their hearts. We will continue to remember them for both their good and not-so-good deeds in our history.


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