Ranking The Worst 5 American Presidents Of All Time

2020 has given a lot to discussions on the impact of Donald Trump's presidency on America. But who could be the worst of the worst?
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It happens a few times; during election years, midterm elections, or after a major event.  Someone always asks: "Who was the worst American President of all time?"

The White House has a list of all the Presidents, along with brief descriptions of their times in office. Of course, they are not in the business of ranking the best from the worst; they leave that to history to decide. 

And every few years the discussion on who makes that bottom five don't really change. But once Donald Trump came into office; that discussion returned.

Here is the list of the 5 worst American Presidents of all time:

5. Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce is a figure in American History who plays a huge role in the years leading to the Civil War. However, he is not someone that is referenced often among the events that lead to the war. That designation lies with another president yet to be mentioned on this list.

Franklin was the second to last American President before the Civil War in 1861. He served as the 14th President of the United States and had some intense beliefs when it came to the abolitionary movement.

He also was stone cold drunk. That doesn't automatically make him a bad guy; his drinking was more of a self-medicating pastime. (While on the way to Washington to take the Presidency, the train he was traveling in had an accident and his young son was killed in front of him and his wife)

The grief from his son's death greatly affected the young President who after taking office seemed to become a different person in the years after. Democrats of his time are not what they are in today's American political system.

His kind of party was one who endorsed the continuation of slavery and the passage of slavery laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act. It should be noted that the positions of American political parties would shift back and forth over the next hundred years.

He was someone who truly thought that the abolition of slavery would divide the country rather than unite. It's these beliefs and positions during his Presidency that does more harm than good in the years leading to the breakout of the Civil War.

As a result, most of the tension about state rights, slavery, and statehood only contributed to the war that would consume the country by 1861. Pierce would go on to annoy those in his own party. They would decide not to endorse him for a second term in 1856.  

Pierce's folly was in his constant attempt to compromise on the position of slavery that was becoming harder and harder to keep neutral. His support over the Kansas-Nebraska Act would go on to alienate Democrats in the North, and then the violence that erupted in the Kansas territory (later known as Bleeding Kansas) did little to his political reputation. 

The act would effectively overturn the existing statute put in place by the Missouri Compromise which stipulated an even creation of slave and free states based off of designated border of Missouri (which acted as the 'north/south' border) state line. This only added to his vulnerability in securing the nomination. 

His heart may have been in the right place; but when the heart is concerned more with keeping a breaking country from tearing, instead of mending the tear, any other remedy would not be effective. Unfortunately for Pierce, his attempts only left the country that much closer to open conflict. 

4. Warren G Harding

Warren G. Harding

We've all had friends like Warren G. Harding. He was the kind of person who always loved doing things for and with his friends. But when your friends are crooks who meet you in the kitchen at the White House when no one is watching, it may cause a bit of a scandal.

When you're President of the United States, those friends can be liabilities; especially if they have questionable pasts. What puts Harding at the bottom of the worst is mainly over two events.

First, the Teapot Dome Scandal, and then his numerous affairs with other women. The scandal is most likely the worst corruption in Washington until the Watergate Scandal with Richard Nixon in 1974.

Harding's then-Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall had essentially taken four locations in Wyoming and California respectively, and leased them at a lower rate than using competitive rates. These locations were being used as reserves for petroleum by the Navy.

What made this such a huge deal is that he did this generally when leasing land, there would be an opportunity for other interested parties to bid for the best rate in order to win the lease. But Fall decided to forgo the bidding and just lease out directly to two companies barring others from the opportunity. 

The companies were friends of the Secretary while he took in bribes for the leases. Fall would end up going to prison for his involvement in the scandal; becoming the first cabinet member in American History to be tried, and convicted of a crime. He would later serve time in jail. 

The entire scandal completely undermines his administration and never really recovers. The investigations would later lead to Congress getting the ability to call tax records for elected officials; including presidents. Donald Trump remains the only president who has been able to not release any kind of tax returns to date. 

Nan Britton and daughter Elizabeth

Harding also had some history with the ladies over his lifetime. A few well-known mistresses, in particular, Nan Britton wrote a tell-all book about her time with the President. In it, she claimed he was the father of her daughter Elizabeth and that he had been secretly supporting them. Harding's saving grace is that he didn't live to see these scandals come to light.

He died in 1923 after complaining of an ailment in his stomach. Rumors persisted over the years that his death was a result of foul play. While never proven, the story that Harding met his demise by non-natural means continues to this day. Over the next 50 years, more would be revealed about the women in Harding's life. 

3. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

To be fair, anyone who had to come after a guy like Abraham Lincoln would probably be looked down on. But there was more to Andrew Johnson.

He was the only Southern Senator who stayed loyal to the Union after the Civil War began. He was chosen to be Lincoln's Vice President because of this very fact. His being on the ticket could show voters a sense of unity in hopes of the ending of the war.

April of 1865 changed everything though. With Lincoln shot, his role had suddenly changed. When it was later revealed that he too was included in the plot behind the assassination of the rest of the cabinet; a true conspiracy was afoot.

But after Lincoln's death and Johnson settled into steering the remainder of the Lincoln term; he began to show some true colors.  And he was not shy about his racism either.

He was viewed as a sympathizer of the Southern states; attempting to broker deals of the Reconstruction to be favorable to them. He would have obstacles and issues with Congress, blocking the things he tried to push through.

On the issue of re-admittance of the southern states back into the Union, Johnson defied the cabinet and the Congress by allowing the states to return with an apology and promise directly to him as Commander and Chief. 

He would be stubborn on issues, clashing with the remaining cabinet of the Lincoln administration. His eventual impeachment would be the pinnacle of his disputes with Congress.

In the end, he was the wrong guy for the time, a leader who had other feelings and leanings that were not in line with the overall message of the administration. Reconstruction would become more than just difficult for newly freed slaves; it would set them back 100 years. 

2. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

The feelings on where Wilson should be placed in the list of best and worst is dependent on what part of his time in office, you're focusing on.

Here, the positives: Keeping the US out of WWI until 1917,  and the spearheading in the creation of the League of Nations, just don't really outweigh the negatives. 

Wilson was a supporter of racial segregation and supremacy. The endorsing of racist films like A Birth of a Nation from 1915 (he called it "writing history with lighting"). His connection with racial supremacy is still controversial today. As the former head of Princeton University, students for years have been protesting the continuation of keeping his image around while not referencing his past ties to racism. 

The complete ignorance of the H1N1 Influenza pandemic was made worse by his orders to ship more troops to Europe in the last year of the war. This would make the disease spread faster, leading to the deaths of up to 500 million people worldwide. Even Wilson himself would be struck by the disease while overseas during the peace talks at the end of the war. Wilson's choice to keep American Troops on boats to Europe is probably one of the worst decisions in World War One.

But when the war ended and Wilson returned home, despite being in deteriorating health, he was determined to get Congress to go with his proposal of a League of Nations. (It is speculated that Wilson's bout with the Spanish Flu did more harm to his body and mind than originally thought and may have led to the stroke he has once back in America) The League was to be a forum of sorts with the representatives of different countries to prevent another outbreak of war on the scale of World War One. 

While the rest of the world (the Allies) were in support, Wilson did not have the support in his own country. America at the time was extremely isolationist and did not want to be sucked into another conflict across the Atlantic. 

Wilson deciding he needed to gain the support of the people, traveled the country nonstop against doctors' orders. He would then suffer a massive stroke; effectively making him unable to serve as Commander in Chief.  

Headlines from Nebraska Newpapers in 1919

Let's be clear, his illness is not why he is on this list. His inability to lead from the end of 1918 and throughout the year 1919 is why he's on the list. The year 1919 is now remembered as another name: Red Summer. 

Red Summer was the bloodiest year for Black Americans since the Civil War. The year was full of incidences of violence against Blacks by white supremacists throughout the country. No part of the country was untouched. 

Black soldiers returning home from World War One would be among the victims of the violence. Soldiers, who while fighting overseas never experienced any racial discrimination, and treated equally by European soldiers and commanders. 

Communities were destroyed, the number of deaths inaccurate to coverup the extent of the carnage, all occurred on and during Wilson's sickness. 

Woodrow Wilson with wife Edith Galt Wilson

During this time, a coverup in the White House was unfolding. Edith Wilson, Woodrow's wife would not let anyone but his doctor and head usher near the President at this time. She was in total control of the situation. One that probably should have been handled with his resignation as President. 

But Edith was more concerned with the passage of the League of Nations for her husband's legacy than what was actually happening outside the White House. 

1. James Buchanan

James Buchanan

Known mostly for being the last American President before the Civil War; James Buchanan is generally considered the worst of all time. It is his role in the months and weeks leading up to the Civil War that some historians see as close to treason.

In his four years as President (1856-1860), he did little to ease tension on the issue of slavery. Because he was more of a states' rights kind of President, he would not do much at the federal level.

When the election of 1860 came around, Buchanan's actions or lack thereof alienated even those of his own party. He would lose the Democratic nomination to Stephen Douglas.

With his party abandoning him, his last few months in office were filled with a lot of nothing. Abraham Lincoln wins the Presidency in 1860, signaling to the Southern states that the abolishing of slavery was imminent.

By admitting that the South could not leave the union; only to also say that the federal government didn't have the ability to prevent it, gave the South the excuse it needed. South Carolina would succeed first.

Any attempt that he would try would have no success, and more states succeeded. His legacy would forever be tainted by his non-action in keeping the union intact. When Lincoln takes office in 1861, the stars had aligned and the war was all but inevitable.

So how does Trump stack up next to these five?

So where could Trump end up? My bet is that he'll be something like Woodrow Wilson, admired by some, revered by others, and reviled by the rest. When it comes to history, perspective is a relative thing.

But in time perspectives change and so do the opinions of others. Trump's mark on the presidency is definitely one unlike others, but the final verdict won't be known for years to come.

Denise is a writer who uses history to explain current events. While the subject or event may change; she makes history relevant for all

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