Having read an article by the BBC a few weeks back, I have been compelled to set a few records straight. The article basically said that James Buchanan was the worst President the United States has ever had. And well, I beg to differ! There are plenty of candidates for that title.
The BBC also named Chester A. Arthur as one of the best…
The BBC voted James Buchanan as the worst President the United States has ever had. Like any true politician i beg to differ!
How many Americans, for that matter how many of anyone in any country, even know who Chester A. Arthur was? Put it this way, he was possibly one of the most corrupt men in New York politics. So corrupt he even lost his job! And somehow, he lucked out and was selected as a Vice Presidential candidate (mainly to balance the ticket). Okay, he did follow through with President Garfield’s plan to overhaul the Civil Service system; by the same token he had a giant tag sale of all the priceless antique furniture from the Jefferson and Monroe administrations. It took Jacqueline Kennedy a long time and a lot of conniving to retrieve some of those pieces during her restoration of the White House.
Personally I consider the decade before the Civil War the era of do nothing Presidents. And to quote Harry S. Truman, ’Presidents that we could have done without’.
We begin in 1848 with the election of Gen. Zachary Taylor. Historically, Generals do not make good Presidents. Taylor was a slave owner and former father-in-law of Jefferson Davis, President of Confederacy fame. He actually, at first, refused to believe that he might seriously be considered as a Presidential candidate. Reportedly, when someone raised the topic while in Taylor’s tent in Mexico, he gruffly suggested the speaker shut up and drink his whisky. In the end, he accepted the Whig nomination and was elected. If he hadn’t of gorged himself on hot 4th of July on cherries, suffered a gastro intestinal attack and died five days later, he may have finished out his term – perhaps he should have been a bit more prudent whilst snacking?!
Gen. Zachary Taylor: A penchant for cherries, but not politics
He was succeeded by one, Millard Fillmore.
Yes, yes, I know…Who?
Millard Fillmore. Completely overwhelmed by succeeding to the Presidency and having no clue whatsoever to do… Fillmore was the first of the ‘do nothings’. Poor Millard! His wife, Abigail Powers Fillmore, was horrified at the absence of books in the White House and managed to secure a congressional appropriation to establish a White House library. She did more in the end than he did…!
Millard ‘do nothing’ Fillmore
Next up, Franklin Pierce; who, might I add, was considered in his day to be very handsome! Unfortunately, an administration that started out promising was ultimately jinxed. Whilst on a train heading to Washington for his inauguration, he was caught up in a terrible train wreck with his wife, Jane, and his son, Bennie. In front of his very eyes, his only child was killed. As you can imagine, Bennie’s death immediately cast a pall over his four years as President and the poor fellow didn’t do much. Years later, he slid into alcoholism and one of his best friends, Nathaniel Hawthorne, would periodically try to pull him out the depths of despair. You have to feel for Franklin!
A sorry start and sorry end for Franklin Pierce
And so, we come to Buchanan. Strapped by circumstance…unfortunately he had traveled little in the United States and he seldom explored outside diplomacy, practical politics and law. He also lacked the experience and temperament to fight the national fires with fire. Not even when the South began its secession! He coasted and was extremely relieved to turn the reins over to Lincoln in 1860. He had to endure a lot of personal slander, the Miss Fancy and Aunt Nancy whispers. He also had one brown eye and one green eye – weird! But, how can you hate a guy that raised Pygmy goats in the White House and was the first President to wear blue jeans in the same building? Worst President? Nah, not quite.
And the winner is…
I reserve the title of ‘Worst President’ for Warren G. Harding. A disgusting womanizer, totally oblivious and coiner of the word ‘normalcy’…he wanted to return to pre WWI. Let alone his personal life was a shambles. The Teapot Dome scandal was the most spectacular and notorious of all. It revealed how thoroughly corruption had sunk into the Harding administration, even more corrupt than Ulysses S. Grants administration if that’s possible.
‘Few deaths are unmingled tragedies, Harding’s was not. He died in time’ said Samuel Hopkins Adams of Warren.
Warren had surrounded himself with his old political cronies. He made them his government and foolishly, trusted them. He also was a sleazy womanizer who liked to call women, ‘dearie’ and such nicknames, probably because he didn’t have to remember their names. Mercifully, Warren did not have to endure the disgrace and scandal of his misplaced trust; he died on August 2, 1923.
There were purported rumors and whispers that he’d been poisoned by his wife, etc. However, as his biographer, Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote, ‘Few deaths are unmingled tragedies, Harding’s was not. He died in time’. His purported only child, illegitimate Elizabeth Ann, by his mistress Nan Britton, died in 2005. Thus making her (if indeed she was his daughter, Nan claimed so till the end of her life in 1991) the oldest living child of a President. And between the 1995 death of Francis Cleveland (Grover Cleveland’s offspring) and her own death, Harding was the earliest President to still have a living child.
Just for the record, my own top of the list ‘Best President’ is Harry S. Truman. I’d have loved to just hung out with him, played a couple of hands of poker and had an old fashioned or two with he and Bess.