The Decade of Discontent: Ranking the 10 Worst U.S. Presidents in History

Upon departing the White House, not every U.S. president is fondly remembered. U.S. News compiled a list of America’s worst presidents by aggregating data from three significant presidential polls.

Zachary Taylor: The Ill-Fated President Cut Short

Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States, held the nation’s highest office for a tragically short period from March 4, 1849, to July 9, 1850. Born on November 24, 1784, Taylor lived a life marked by military service and a reputation as a national hero. However, his presidential legacy was abruptly truncated when his life was claimed by a sudden illness shortly after the Fourth of July holiday in 1850, making him one of the eight presidents to die while in office.

Zachary Taylor’s rise to prominence was primarily through his military achievements. He earned recognition during the War of 1812 and later in the Mexican-American War. His victories on the battlefield bolstered his reputation and garnered attention from the American public. Despite having no prior political experience, his military successes propelled him into the political arena.

In the presidential election of 1848, Taylor, representing the Whig Party, emerged victorious and assumed office on March 4, 1849. However, his tenure was plagued by numerous challenges and controversies. Taylor, a slaveholder and war hero from the South, faced mounting tensions over the issue of slavery that threatened to divide the nation. The Compromise of 1850, a series of laws aiming to address the issue of slavery and its expansion, was being hotly debated during Taylor’s presidency.

Taylor took a firm stance against the expansion of slavery, advocating for the admission of California and New Mexico as free states. His position, however, was met with resistance, particularly from Southern states, aggravating the sectional tensions that were already tearing the nation apart. The political climate of the time was deeply polarized, and Taylor struggled to navigate the tumultuous waters of antebellum politics.

Tragically, Taylor’s presidency was cut short just a little over a year into his term. On July 4, 1850, he attended a ceremony laying the cornerstone of the Washington Monument, enduring the scorching heat for hours. The extreme weather and the strain on his health took a toll, and soon after, he fell severely ill with what was diagnosed as cholera morbus, a gastrointestinal illness. Taylor’s condition rapidly worsened, and on July 9, 1850, he succumbed to the illness, leaving the nation in mourning.

The sudden demise of President Zachary Taylor was a shock to the nation. His death not only marked the loss of a president but also left the nation grappling with an uncertain political future. With his passing, Vice President Millard Fillmore assumed the presidency and grappled with the pressing issues of the day, including the debate over the Compromise of 1850.

In hindsight, Zachary Taylor’s presidency remains a historical anomaly, a brief yet significant period marked by challenges that would play a crucial role in shaping the United States’ path towards the Civil War. Despite his illustrious military career, his time as president was overshadowed by the divisive issue of slavery and his untimely death, leaving a legacy that invites reflection on what might have been, had his presidency endured longer.


Herbert Hoover: A Troubled Legacy

Herbert Hoover, born on August 10, 1874, and passing away on October 20, 1964, served as the 31st President of the United States from March 4, 1929, to March 4, 1933. Charles Curtis was his Vice President during his term. Regrettably, Hoover’s presidency is marred by the perception of being a poor communicator whose policies may have exacerbated the already dire circumstances of the Great Depression.

Hoover’s ascent to the presidency was marked by a reputation as a capable and efficient administrator. He had an illustrious career prior to his presidency, serving as the Secretary of Commerce and displaying significant competence in organizing humanitarian efforts during World War I. However, his ability to communicate effectively and connect with the American people during the economic turmoil of the Great Depression fell short.

The Great Depression, one of the darkest periods in American history, began with the stock market crash in 1929, just months after Hoover took office. The nation faced a catastrophic economic downturn, characterized by widespread unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. Hoover’s response to the crisis was criticized for being insufficient and ineffective, further contributing to his perception as a poor communicator.

One of Hoover’s notable actions was signing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930, a protectionist policy aimed at stimulating domestic industries. However, this decision backfired, as it triggered retaliatory measures from trading partners and exacerbated the already fragile global economy. Trade wars ensued, disrupting international commerce and deepening the economic crisis. This act is often cited as an example of Hoover’s misguided economic policies during the Depression.

Another significant aspect of Hoover’s presidency was his reluctance to directly intervene in the economy to provide relief to the suffering populace. He believed in limited government intervention and advocated for voluntary cooperation among businesses to stabilize the economy. Unfortunately, this approach proved inadequate in addressing the magnitude of the Depression, leading to widespread suffering and disillusionment among the American people.

Hoover’s inability to effectively communicate his policies and vision exacerbated the perception that he was out of touch with the plight of ordinary citizens. The communication gap between the administration and the American people widened as the nation grappled with unprecedented challenges.

In hindsight, historians recognize that Hoover faced an incredibly challenging situation, and solving the Great Depression was an immensely complex task. Nonetheless, his communication failures and policy missteps have left a lasting stain on his legacy. The term “Hooverville’s” was coined to describe shantytowns that sprang up during the Depression, highlighting the desperation and dissatisfaction prevalent during his presidency.

In conclusion, Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, faced a significant challenge during his tenure, with the Great Depression being a defining period of his presidency. His reputation as a poor communicator, coupled with policies that exacerbated the economic crisis, has left a troubled legacy. The lessons learned from Hoover’s presidency continue to shape economic and communication strategies, emphasizing the importance of effective governance and clear communication during times of crisis.

John Tyler,

John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, holds a unique position in American history. Born on March 29, 1790, and passing away on January 18, 1862, he served as the President from April 4, 1841, to March 4, 1845. Notably, John Tyler is ranked in a tie for the seventh position when evaluating his overall impact and legacy as a president. This ranking is influenced by his staunch defense of slavery and his departure from his party’s platform once in office.

One of the significant aspects defining Tyler’s presidency was his unwavering defense of slavery. In the tumultuous times leading up to and during his tenure as President, slavery was a deeply divisive and morally charged issue. Tyler, a Virginia native and a firm supporter of states’ rights, stood firmly in favor of slavery, reflecting the prevailing sentiments of his region and era. This stance, however, clashed with the growing abolitionist movement in the northern states, setting the stage for profound ideological and societal conflicts.

Another defining characteristic of Tyler’s presidency was his divergence from the platform of the political party that brought him to power. Initially elected as the Vice President on the Whig Party ticket with William Henry Harrison, Tyler assumed the presidency upon Harrison’s untimely death after just one month in office. However, Tyler’s policies and decisions as president were often at odds with the Whig Party’s goals and ideals. This disconnect led to tensions and disagreements with his own party, ultimately resulting in his expulsion from the Whig Party.

Tyler’s divergence from the Whig Party’s platform was notably highlighted by his use of the presidential veto. He employed this power to strike down several legislative initiatives supported by the Whigs, leaving the party in disarray. His insistence on upholding his own interpretation of the Constitution and preserving the powers of the presidency often clashed with the Whig Party’s vision of a more active legislative role and a stronger Congress.

In conclusion, John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States, left a lasting legacy marked by his strong defense of slavery and his departure from his party’s platform during his presidency. Born on March 29, 1790, and passing away on January 18, 1862, Tyler’s time in office from April 4, 1841, to March 4, 1845, was defined by his unwavering support for slavery, which further fueled the tensions between the northern and southern states. Additionally, his clashes with the Whig Party and his presidency’s distinctive policies and use of veto power showcased his commitment to his own interpretation of the Constitution, leaving an indelible mark on American political history.

Millard Fillmore: The 13th President and the Compromise of 1850

Millard Fillmore, the 13th President of the United States, was born on January 7, 1800, and passed away on March 8, 1874. His presidency, spanning from July 9, 1850, to March 4, 1853, saw a nation grappling with the divisive issue of slavery. Fillmore’s approach to this issue was deeply entwined with the Compromise of 1850, a legislative package aimed at maintaining the delicate balance between free and slave states.

During his tenure as President, Fillmore faced the escalating tensions between the Northern and Southern states over the expansion of slavery into the newly acquired territories from the Mexican-American War. The country was at a critical juncture, and the slavery question threatened to tear it apart. Fillmore, though initially the Vice President, assumed office following the death of President Zachary Taylor. He was faced with the daunting task of navigating a nation on the brink of division.

One of Fillmore’s most significant political decisions was his backing of the Compromise of 1850. This compromise was a series of legislative measures that aimed to address the growing rift between the North and the South. It included provisions like admitting California as a free state, allowing popular sovereignty in the Utah and New Mexico territories to determine their stance on slavery, and enacting a stronger Fugitive Slave Act.

One of the most contentious aspects of the Compromise was its allowance for slavery to persist in certain parts of the nation. Fillmore’s support for these measures delayed Southern secession by attempting to find a middle ground that would appease both sides of the slavery debate. However, while it did manage to stave off immediate disunion, it only provided a temporary reprieve. The deeply entrenched ideological differences regarding slavery remained, ultimately leading to the American Civil War.

Fillmore’s presidency was marked by his attempt to preserve the Union, emphasizing compromise and stability. However, his policies were not without their critics. Some saw his support for the Compromise of 1850 as a betrayal of fundamental principles, especially those who staunchly opposed the spread of slavery. Nonetheless, Fillmore believed that this compromise was essential to maintain the fragile unity of the nation.

In assessing Fillmore’s legacy, historians often acknowledge the challenging circumstances he faced during his presidency. The debate over slavery was a powder keg ready to explode, and finding a solution that would satisfy both sides proved to be an insurmountable task. Fillmore’s presidency reminds us of the complexities and tumultuous nature of American politics during a pivotal period in its history, and the difficulty of reconciling opposing ideologies within a divided nation.

In conclusion, Millard Fillmore’s presidency was defined by the turbulent times in which he led the nation. His support for the Compromise of 1850, despite its flaws and eventual failure to prevent the Civil War, reflected his attempt to preserve the Union by delaying Southern secession. However, it also underscores the challenges of finding a middle ground on such deeply entrenched and morally charged issues as slavery, ultimately highlighting the limits of compromise in the face of fundamental ideological differences.

Warren G. Harding: A Complicated Legacy of Golf, Poker, and Scandal

Warren G. Harding, born on November 2, 1865, and whose life was cut short on August 2, 1923, held the highest office in the United States from March 4, 1921, until his untimely demise on that fateful August day in 1923. His vice president was Calvin Coolidge. Harding, known for his love of golf and poker, led an administration that, unfortunately, is primarily remembered for the multitude of corruption and scandals that plagued his time in office.

Harding’s passion for golf and poker was well-known and often indulged. He frequently spent his free hours on the golf course, enjoying the sport and using it as a means to socialize and network with fellow politicians and business leaders. Similarly, his enthusiasm for poker, a game of chance and strategy, allowed him to engage with a diverse array of individuals, fostering relationships that sometimes blurred the lines between the personal and the political.

However, Harding’s time in the White House was marred by a series of scandals that shook the nation’s trust in its leadership. The most infamous of these was the Teapot Dome scandal, where Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert B. Fall, was found to have accepted bribes for granting oil drilling rights in the Teapot Dome in Wyoming. This revelation highlighted a pervasive culture of corruption within Harding’s administration.

The scandal was a significant blow to Harding’s presidency and cast a shadow over his entire term. It exposed not only the depths of corruption but also raised questions about Harding’s involvement and knowledge of the illicit activities happening within his administration. Though Harding himself was not directly implicated, the scandal tainted his legacy and left many wondering about his ability to lead and govern ethically.

In addition to the Teapot Dome scandal, Harding’s presidency was marred by other instances of corruption, cronyism, and financial impropriety. His presidency saw a rise in unscrupulous practices among his associates, and while he may not have been directly involved, his leadership and judgment were brought into serious question.

Despite these scandals, Harding’s time in office was not without some achievements. He advocated for a return to normalcy after the tumultuous years of World War I and focused on economic recovery. He signed the Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act, aimed at protecting American businesses and farmers. Moreover, Harding supported the establishment of the Bureau of the Budget, a significant step towards modernizing the federal government’s financial management.

Warren G. Harding’s presidency remains a complex subject of historical analysis, where his love for leisure activities like golf and poker contrast sharply with the corruption and scandals that unfolded under his watch. The legacy of his administration serves as a reminder of the importance of ethical leadership and accountability in the highest echelons of government, highlighting the delicate balance between personal passions and the responsibilities of public office.

A Brief Glimpse: William Henry Harrison’s Presidency and Lasting Legacy in 30 Days

William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, had a brief but significant tenure that left an indelible mark on American history. Born on February 9, 1773, he led a remarkable life, culminating in his presidency, which lasted a mere 30 days, from March 4, 1841, until his untimely death on April 4, 1841.

Harrison’s presidential term began with a memorable inauguration, marked by the longest inaugural address in U.S. history. On that cold and blustery March day, Harrison delivered an oration that lasted for nearly two hours. He addressed a wide array of topics, emphasizing the principles of limited government and advocating for the rights and liberties of the American people.

However, the relentless weather conditions and the prolonged duration of his speech took a toll on Harrison’s health. The exposure to the harsh elements, coupled with the physical strain of the extended oratory, led to him contracting pneumonia. This unfortunate illness rapidly worsened, and within a month of his inauguration, Harrison’s presidency was cut short by his demise on April 4, 1841.

William Henry Harrison’s presidency became a historical anomaly, being the shortest in the annals of U.S. presidential history. His passing triggered a constitutional crisis as the nation grappled with the unexpected vacancy in the highest office. Vice President John Tyler, upon Harrison’s death, took the oath of office and assumed the presidency, establishing a precedent that continues to guide succession in similar situations.

Although his presidency was brief, Harrison’s impact and legacy were profound. He set forth a vision of a limited federal government and championed the rights and freedoms of the American people, leaving a lasting influence on the political discourse of his era. Despite the brevity of his time in office, the ideas and values he advocated for continued to shape the nation long after his passing.

In conclusion, William Henry Harrison’s presidency, encompassing a mere 30 days, remains an intriguing chapter in American history. His record-breaking inaugural address, a testament to his dedication to his principles, ultimately became a tragic prelude to his untimely demise. Despite the brevity of his time as President, Harrison’s beliefs and ideals have endured, leaving an enduring legacy in the tapestry of American governance.


Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was born on November 23, 1804, and passed away on October 8, 1869. His presidency, spanning from March 4, 1853, to March 4, 1857, was characterized by his fervent desire to expand the borders of the nation, primarily to add more slave states. This stance on territorial expansion played a significant role in exacerbating the tensions that ultimately led to the American Civil War.

Pierce’s presidency was marked by his strong support for the expansion of the United States. He was a staunch believer in Manifest Destiny, the belief that the United States was destined to expand across the North American continent. This belief fueled his efforts to acquire new territories and incorporate them into the union, often at the expense of existing agreements and treaties.

One of the most significant events during Pierce’s presidency was the Gadsden Purchase in 1853. This acquisition involved purchasing a strip of land from Mexico, which is now part of present-day Arizona and New Mexico. The purpose of this purchase was to facilitate the construction of a southern transcontinental railroad route. However, this expansionist policy was deeply divisive, intensifying the existing tensions between the Northern and Southern states over the issue of slavery.

Pierce’s position on the expansion of slavery into newly acquired territories intensified the growing divide between the Northern and Southern states. His strong support for the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required the return of escaped slaves to their owners, further fueled the abolitionist movement in the North. This legislation heightened the moral and political conflicts surrounding slavery and deepened the divide between the pro-slavery South and anti-slavery North.

Furthermore, Pierce’s involvement in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 exacerbated the tensions over slavery. The Act allowed settlers in the Kansas and Nebraska territories to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery, effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820. This led to violent confrontations and earned the territories the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”

Pierce’s fervor for expanding the borders, driven by his desire to add more slave states to the Union, set the stage for the eruption of the American Civil War. The deep-rooted differences over the expansion of slavery, states’ rights, and the future of the nation came to a head during his presidency and escalated during the subsequent administrations. The Civil War, which began in 1861, was a brutal and devastating conflict that lasted for four years and resulted in significant loss of life and irreparable damage to the nation.

In hindsight, Franklin Pierce’s approach to territorial expansion and his support for pro-slavery policies proved to be detrimental to the unity of the nation. His presidency serves as a reminder of the critical role that leadership and policy decisions can play in shaping the course of a nation’s history, especially during times of significant societal and political upheaval.


Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States, was born on December 29, 1808, and passed away on July 31, 1875. His presidential term lasted from April 15, 1865, to March 4, 1869, during which he served without a vice president.

Johnson’s presidency was marked by significant challenges and controversies, notably his opposition to Reconstruction initiatives, including the 14th amendment to the Constitution.

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, Johnson’s early life was modest. He worked as an apprentice tailor and eventually moved to Tennessee, where he became involved in politics. His rise in the political arena was remarkable, and he held various positions, including serving as the 16th Governor of Tennessee and as a U.S. Senator.

Johnson’s presidency began abruptly following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. As the Vice President at the time, he assumed the presidency with the nation grappling with the aftermath of the Civil War. He inherited a nation torn by conflict, deeply divided along regional and ideological lines.

One of the central challenges of Johnson’s presidency was his stance on Reconstruction. He opposed the radical Republican-led efforts aimed at ensuring civil rights for freed slaves and promoting their integration into society. Johnson’s approach favored leniency towards Southern states, allowing them to rejoin the Union without stringent conditions.

However, his approach was in stark contrast to the prevailing sentiments of the time, particularly within Congress. The 14th amendment, a significant element of Reconstruction, was designed to grant citizenship and equal protection under the law to all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including former slaves. Johnson vehemently opposed this amendment, viewing it as an overreach of federal power and an infringement on states’ rights.

This opposition led to a tumultuous relationship between the President and Congress. The political divide culminated in Johnson becoming the first President in U.S. history to face impeachment. The articles of impeachment were based on his violation of the Tenure of Office Act, an act later found to be unconstitutional.

The impeachment trial took place in the Senate in 1868. Johnson narrowly escaped removal from office, as the Senate fell short of the required two-thirds majority vote. His presidency continued, but he faced increasing marginalization and struggled to enact his policies due to the lack of support from Congress.

Despite the challenges and controversies during his presidency, Johnson made significant contributions. He implemented policies to restore the Southern states to the Union and issued pardons to many former Confederates. His approach, though unpopular, sought to heal the nation and bridge the gap between the North and the South.

Andrew Johnson’s legacy remains complex and divisive. His presidency was a critical juncture in American history, marked by tumultuous times and a fervent struggle for the nation’s unity and identity amidst the aftermath of a devastating civil war.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, was born on June 14, 1946. His presidential term spanned from January 20, 2017, to January 20, 2021, and he served alongside Vice President Mike Pence. Notably, Trump holds the distinction of being the sole living president to be ranked among the 10 worst presidents in American history, an opinion held by a significant portion of the populace. Furthermore, he holds the record of being impeached twice during his tenure as President, a historically unprecedented event.

Trump’s presidency was marked by controversy and polarizing policies, which contributed to his negative ranking among many historians and political analysts. His unconventional approach to governance, brash communication style, and the use of social media garnered both fervent support and intense opposition. Throughout his presidency, Trump’s policies and decisions were often a source of heated debate, both within the political establishment and among the general public.

One of the defining features of Trump’s presidency was his “America First” agenda, focusing on prioritizing domestic interests and renegotiating international agreements to better align with what he perceived as the interests of the American people. This approach was reflected in policies related to trade, immigration, and global alliances. He notably withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement on climate change, among other international agreements, signaling a shift in the nation’s approach to global affairs.

Trump’s economic policies were characterized by tax cuts and deregulation, aimed at stimulating economic growth and job creation. These policies were praised by his supporters for boosting the economy and reducing unemployment, particularly prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, critics argued that these policies disproportionately benefited the wealthy and exacerbated income inequality.

His stance on immigration was a significant point of contention, as he advocated for stricter immigration policies and border security measures, including the controversial border wall between the United States and Mexico. These policies faced opposition from those who emphasized a more inclusive and compassionate approach towards immigrants and refugees.

The Trump presidency was also marked by a tumultuous relationship with the media and a tendency to use Twitter to communicate directly with the public. His unfiltered and often combative statements on social media generated both support and criticism, with some lauding his direct communication style, while others expressed concerns about its impact on national discourse and diplomacy.

However, Trump’s tenure was marred by controversy, notably the two impeachment trials he faced during his presidency. The first impeachment in 2019 accused him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his interactions with Ukraine. The second impeachment in 2021 was based on charges of incitement of insurrection following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021. Although he was acquitted both times, these events had a lasting impact on his legacy and the public’s perception of his presidency.

In conclusion, Donald Trump’s presidency was marked by controversy, polarizing policies, and a distinctive communication style. His ranking among the 10 worst presidents in history, coupled with the unprecedented occurrence of being impeached twice, underscore the divided opinions and deeply entrenched feelings surrounding his time in office. The full assessment of Trump’s presidency and its historical significance will continue to evolve as historians and scholars analyze the complex and multifaceted legacy he leaves behind.

James Buchanan

James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States, held office during a tumultuous period in American history. Born on April 23, 1791, and passing away on June 1, 1868, Buchanan’s presidency spanned from March 4, 1857, to March 4, 1861. He served alongside Vice President John Breckinridge. Buchanan’s tenure in office was marked by a failure to address critical issues, particularly the spread of slavery and the growing Confederate states’ bloc.

One of the defining aspects of Buchanan’s presidency was his approach, or lack thereof, to the issue of slavery. At a time when tensions were mounting between the abolitionist North and the pro-slavery South, Buchanan chose not to challenge the expanding practice of slavery. This decision further polarized the nation and set the stage for the ensuing Civil War.

Buchanan’s failure to address the issue of slavery is evident in his policies and actions during his presidency. He took a passive stance, allowing the institution of slavery to continue its expansion into the western territories. Despite the increasing tension and conflicts over the issue, he did not take decisive action to mediate or find a middle ground. This lack of intervention and leadership only fueled the animosity between the Northern and Southern states.

As the Confederacy started to take shape with the secession of Southern states, Buchanan failed to take a strong stand against it. He did not act decisively to preserve the unity of the nation or uphold the principles of the Constitution. Buchanan’s inaction in the face of this crisis contributed to the dissolution of the Union and the outbreak of the Civil War.

Buchanan’s choice of Vice President, John Breckinridge, also reflected his stance on slavery and the Confederacy. Breckinridge was a staunch supporter of slavery and ultimately joined the Confederacy, becoming a prominent figure in the Southern cause. This choice of a vice president aligned with the pro-slavery sentiments prevalent during Buchanan’s presidency, reinforcing his lack of action to curb the spread of slavery or address the brewing conflict.

In hindsight, James Buchanan’s presidency is often viewed as a period of missed opportunities and ineffective leadership. His failure to confront the divisive issue of slavery and take a stand against the secession of Southern states allowed the nation to drift closer to the brink of civil war. Buchanan’s legacy serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of decisive and principled leadership in times of great national turmoil. It underscores the need for leaders to address challenging issues head-on and strive to unite a divided nation rather than perpetuate its disintegration.

Leave a Comment