Thursday, December 29, 2005


Alexandra at All Things Beautiful recently challenged the blogosphere to compose a list of the ten worst Americans in our Nation's history. Many have responded, including Captain Ed Morrissey. All in all a pretty good list from the Captain, though I might quibble with putting J. Edgar Hoover at the top of the list.

It did get me to thinking, and quite honestly I had trouble compiling a list. Part of the problem is that I had difficulty putting people of good will on the lost - people who were bad for America, but not malicious. More troubling for me was that as a Jefferson-basher who is currently writing a dissertation on why the Jeffersonian ideology is bad for America, I still couldn't bring myself to include him on the list.

So, instead, I have decided to list the ten worst presidents in American history. Actually, I'll probably list the other 29 (not inlcuding Bush - still in office, Clinton - not enough removed from his presidency, and William Harrison - only served for a month) in succeeding days.

So, without further ado, the worst ten presidents, going from least worst to worst. Click on read more

10. Millard Fillmore - The nation almost avoided the Civil War, thanks in part to the relatively even-handed direction of Zachary Taylor. Unfortunately, upon his death his Vice-President took the helm and steered the Nation full tilt back to war. A completely incompetent hack, Fillmore managed to bumble his country to the brink of war and his political party (Whig) to its ultimate collapse. He kow-towed to the slave interest, angering the north while doing little to appease the south.

9. Herbert Hoover - In fairness, very little of the blame for the Great Depression can be laid at his feet, but he also did little to help guide the Nation out of the Depression. More a victim of circumstances, but sometimes grim circumstances are the siutuation which cause men to become heroes. Alas, such was not the case with Hoover.

8. Lyndon Johnson - Were it not for his ability to steer through passage of the civil rights acts, LBJ would arguably be the head of this list. And even this action was guided more by partisan gamesmanship than through genuine sympathy for southern blacks. His Great Society was the crowning achievement of the leftist establishment, and it says much that said establishment is gone. And then there was that war that wasn't a war. And to make matters worse, LBJ is perhaps the most vile and despicable human being ever to have graced the Oval Office. Not the worst president, but perhaps the worst American.

7. Warren Harding - Were it not for the complete and utter corruption of his administration, Harding merely would have been an unknown mediocrity. Luckily for him, I suppose, he had that corruption to fall back upon in order to secure future fame. But no cigars to seal said fame.

6. Ulysses S. Grant - Another victim of corruption, and in this case it is probable that he had a small role to play in it. But he was responsible for those under his command. More importantly, when the Nation desperately cried out for a strong political leader to guide them through Reconstruction, Grant failed to become such a figure, and our country was all the worse for it.

5. Richard Nixon - Sometimes it is said that he was a good President save for that whole Watergate thing. Legitimizing the red Chinese government, wage and price controls, "realpolitik," screwing up all but one his Supreme Court appointments, and prolonging the Vietnam War all say otherwise.

4. Jimmy Carter - It is a testament to the strength of this great Nation that it could survive a full-term headed by one of the most incompetent political figures in world history. It is staggering when one considers just how complete were this man's blunderings. It says much that many if not most within his own party were thankful when someone from the other party took his place. A completely naive foreign policy, a weak-kneed approach to the Soviet Union, the near destruction of the economy (misery index, anyone?), a botched hostage rescue, complete egoism, a horrendous cabinet to boot, etc. And to think his post-presidency is even worse.

3. James Buchanan - Sort of like Hoover in that much of the momentum was set in place by the time he took office, and there was little he could have done to avert the Civil War. But, he could have tried something in the four-month interim between Lincoln's election and his inauguration as state after state seceded from the Union. You know, like, anything. Fiddling while the Nation came apart, and for that alone his presidency is nearly the worst.

2. Andrew Johnson - The reason that John Wilkes Booth is probably the worst American in history is because his assassination of Lincoln caused this man to become President. It is true that the Radical Republicans were much too harsh in dealing with the defeated Confederacy, but Johnson had absolutely none of Lincoln's political skills and he was unable to moderate Union policy. In fact, his quasi-maniacal ego made matters worse, and he nearly destroyed the very institution of the Presidency because he had no capability to deal effectively with Congress. What he did accomplish was to effectively delay blacks from achieving full civil rights for another century.

1. Franklin Pierce - In some ways he was such a non-entity that it's really difficult to categorize him as the worst President in our Nation's history. But there was one last hope to avoid Civil War, and Pierce blew it - big time. He had no control over the country or his own political party whatsoever. In fact, he was the first President to experience regular veto overrides. And as Kansas bled and our country was essentially split into two, he did absolutely nothing.

So there you have it. It's interesting to note that these presidents come in three clusters. You have five from the Civil War era, all who immediately proceeded or preceeded Lincoln. Then there are the three Vietnam/Watergate-era Presidents, and then he interwar Presidents (and Wilson is number 11).

We'll look at the next batch later.


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