8 Most Forgettable Presidents of the United States
Every third Monday of February, Americans all over the world commemorate the day as Presidents’ Day – a day that honors the life and achievements of people that have occupied the Oval Office. The names that usually get brought up on that day are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays coincidentally fall in February. In any case, the relatively obscure past POTUS and their achievements easily get forgotten by the nation.
Americans typically rate them as mediocre, smudged in between good presidents and bad presidents. But why? Worldhistoryedu.com presents a quick look at the 8 most forgotten Presidents of the United States.
Born: August 20, 1833
Died: March 13, 1901
Term in office: March 4, 1889 – March 4, 1893
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Levi P. Morton
In the mediocrity department (if ever there’s a label like that), 23rd U.S. President Benjamin Harrison most likely ticks all the boxes. Although he is one of the few US presidents to have a direct family member also hold the White House office, Benjamin Harrison gets very little attention today. (Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of the William Henry Harrison, 9th US president).
Not even the admission of six new states – Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, North Dakota, and South Dakota – to the Union could elevate his reputation in the hearts and minds of the American public.
A well-established Indiana lawyer, Benjamin Harrison fought for the Union Army in the American Civil War (1861 – 1865). For his toil and courage, he attained the rank of brevet brigadier general of volunteers. After a six-year stay in the U.S. Senate, Harrison defeated Democratic candidate and incumbent President Grover Cleveland to clinch the White House seat.
However, his time on the job was average at best. Many historians reason that the economic policies of Benjamin Harrison were likely the biggest contributory factor of the Panic of 1893. Harrison went on to lose the White House job after just one term as Americans opted to give Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th US President) a second shot at the job.
Did you know: Benjamin Harrison was the great-grandson of Founding Father Benjamin Harrison V?
Born: August 10, 1874
Died: October 20, 1964
Term in office: 1929 – 1933
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Charles Curtis
With vast industrial experience working as a mining engineer and a business executive, Herbert Hoover won the White House seat by close to 60% of the vote in 1928 (Hoover resoundingly defeated Democratic Party candidate Al Smith). Before that, he performed relatively well as the director of U.S. Food Administration.
The question therefore is: why is it difficult for many Americans to remember him or his administration? Some people even forget that it was during his tenure that the Great Depression began. This is the exact reason why he has faded into obscurity. His economic policies during the depression proved completely ineffective.
Today, one mention of the name “Hoover” and most likely the legendary FBI director Edgar Hoover instantly comes to mind. That’s right! Herbert Hoover’s name appears to have faded from the collective memory of public.
Born: March 29, 1790
Died: January 18, 1862
Term in office: April 4, 1841 – March 4, 1845
Political Party: Independent
Vice President: None
After just 30 days on the job of vice president, John Tyler succeeded William Henry Harrison to become the 10th President of the United States in April 1841.
John Tyler’s presidency marked the first time in the nation’s history where a vice president succeeded the commander in chief without an election. For this, he was nicknamed “His Accidency” as many politicians in both his Whig Party and the opposition Democratic Party came to dislike him.
A staunch advocate of states’ rights, Tyler strongly criticized Andrew Jackson of what he called the expansive nature of the executive power of the president. As a Whig, he also opposed high tariffs and the federal government funding infrastructure in the various states. Upon assuming the highest office in the land, Tyler went on to do the exact opposite. He not only tried to bypass Congress on many issues, he also struck down bills meant to establish a national bank and increase tariffs.
Due to his support of states’ rights, Tyler became enamored with the perpetuation of slavery in the South. His flip-flop attitude caused the resignation of all the cabinet members he had inherited from his predecessor. His bid for a second term was ruined as he was evicted from the Whig Party.
As if his shambolic term in the White House was not enough, Tyler spent the remainder of his years defending the South. He capped this off by winning a seat in the Confederate House of Representatives. His legacy remained a tar bit okay simply because he passed away just before he could take his seat in the Confederate House.
Read More: Biography and Accomplishments of John Tyler
Born: November 23, 1804
Died: October 8, 1869
Term in office: March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
Political Party: Democratic
Vice President: William R. King
Franklin Pierce is perhaps one of the most handsome U.S. presidents. Too bad his looks can’t prevent him from getting on our list of forgettable U.S. presidents. A Northern Democrat, Franklin Pierce was so biased to the needs of the South that he unceremoniously earned the nickname “doughface” – a term used to refer to a Northerner who supports South’s policies.
Franklin was committed to keeping the abolitionist movement at bay. President Franklin Pierce always maintained that the actions of civil rights activist and abolitionist could tear the country apart. It was due to this unreasonable fear that he threw his support for the South. Driven by the Manifest Destiny – America’s expansionist policies – Franklin expanded the nation’s borders by taking in more slave states. His support for the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and the Fugitive Slave Act (1850) did nothing other than to postpone the impending doom that the nation was facing.
His status as a pre-Civil War compromiser justly earns him a spot on the list of mediocre U.S. presidents.
WARREN G. HARDING
Born: November 2, 1865
Died: August 2, 1923
Term in office: March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Calvin Coolidge
Usually, when a president dies in office, many people wonder what that president could have accomplished had he completed his full term in office. Well, that was certainly not the case for Warren G. Harding, the 29th US President.
President Harding’s administration was a behemoth of a disaster. To this day, many Americans regard Warren G. Harding’s term in the White House as perhaps the worst in the history of the U.S. Some historians claim that Harding was obviously not as bad as say the James Buchanans or the Andrew Johnsons.
As president, Harding acted in a ceremonial capacity, allowing his cabinet to do as they pleased. Unfortunately, the people he picked to form his cabinet were not up to the task and were at the very best fantastically corrupt. This was evident in the series of scandals and corruption allegations that came to light after his untimely death in 1923.
Americans back then certainly did not take too kindly to the fact that President Harding was a known womanizer and frequently indulged in golf and poker playing while drunk copious amounts of alcohol. Bear in mind, his presidency fell in the Prohibition Era (1920 to 1933), a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages.
Over the years, many political commentators have stated that the best way to describe the White House during Harding’s tenure is to compare it to a boys’ club. Warren G. Harding himself once confided with a friend that he believed he was not fit for the office. With such assertions, it certainly was not difficult for us placing him on our list of mediocre and forgettable U.S. presidents.
Born: January 7, 1800
Died: March 8, 1874
Term in office: July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
Political Party: Whig
Vice President: None
Generally regarded as the last Whig politician to hold the office of the president, 13th President of the United States Millard Fillmore was a New York-based politician. He began his political career as a New York Representative to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1848, Fillmore was elected 12th Vice President of the United States. In July, 1850, he went on to occupy the top position after the untimely death of 11th U.S. President Zachary Taylor (a former military general).
As president, Fillmore fought very hard to keep the friction between the South and the North from escalating any further. He helped pass the Henry Clay-inspired Compromise of 1850, which in some way only postponed hell from breaking loose in the country.
Unlike other pre-Civil War presidents, Fillmore personally hated slavery, and he wished more than anything to end it. Politically, he lacked the guts to oppose it, seeing slavery as more of a political thing rather than a moral issue. Hence, he stalled the entire process by dismissing his predecessor’s cabinet. This allowed him to get five key acts passed in Congress, including the Fugitive Slave Act – an act which made it mandatory for states across the United States to return fugitive slaves back to their state of origin. Going against everything that he believed in, Fillmore reasoned that enforcing those acts would help him get re-elected in 1852. Well, he absolutely wrong! His reputation took a huge hit to the extent of him failing to win the Whig Party nomination for the 1852 presidential election.
And just like how his Whig Party faded into obscurity so did Millard Fillmore’s popularity. He was simply an average president who rightly deserves to be on this list.
Born: July 4, 1872
Died: January 5, 1933
Term in office: August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929
Political Party: Republican
Vice President: Charles G. Dawes (1925 – 1929)
Prior to becoming America’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge – a Vermont-born Republican – established himself as a very successful lawyer in Massachusetts. In the political arena, his first breakthrough came when he served as a legislator in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (from 1907 to 1908) and then the Massachusetts Senate (from 1912 to 1915). From 1919 to 1921, Coolidge was the 48th governor of Massachusetts.
After serving a little bit more than two years as the vice president of the nation, Coolidge was catapulted to the Oval Office upon the death of 29th U.S. President Warren G. Harding in 1923. He saw out his first term working to restore public trust in the federal government. Owing to this, he was elected in 1924.
He was not a bad president per se, but he just did not do enough to earn his administration a spot in either the upper half or lower half of US presidents. President Calvin Coolidge’s laid back approach to handling the economy places him perfectly into the list of forgettable US president.
Martin Van Buren
Born: December 5, 1782
Died: July 24, 1862
Term in office: 1837 – 1841
Political Party: Democratic
Vice President: Richard Mentor Johnson
With the exclusion of history buffs and enthusiasts, very few people remember who Martin Van Buren was. And the reason has nothing to do with the Dutch-sounding name and roots of the 8th President of the United States.
In terms of performance and the impact that he had on nation, President Martin Van Buren probably does not deserve to be on this list. However, it is because he happened to come after seven very illustrious U.S. presidents, which included the likes of Andrew Jackson, the two Adams (i.e. John Adams and John Quincy Adams), James Madison and James Monroe. We purposely left out George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Everybody knows that it will be unfair to compare MVB to those two MVPs – Jefferson and Washington.
Martin Van Buren attained every possible political position that was available –key founding father of the Democratic Party; New York State senator; 14th Attorney General of New York; U.S. Senator; 9th governor of New York; 10th U.S. Secretary of State; 8th Vice President of the U.S.; and finally the 8th President of the United States. We also shouldn’t forget the fact that he was a U.S. ambassador to the UK. As a matter of fact, Van Buren is just one of two people to hold the three top political positions in a continuous order (i.e. Secretary of State, Vice President, and President of the United States). The other person to attain such feat was Thomas Jefferson.
So why does he often appear on the list of forgettable U.S. presidents? For starters, MVB simply spent his presidency consistently living in the shadow of his predecessor and mentor Andrew Jackson. Majority of the policies he implemented had Andrew Jackson written all over it. Secondly, his reputation did not fair very well considering the fact that he intensified violent and forced eviction of Native Indians from their homes in the spring of 1838.