My favorite website just published a post on presidents Johnson through McKinley, the worst run of presidents in American history.
Surprisingly entertaining and informative for someone like me that is already a big history buff.
Some of my favorite passages:
Johnson vetoed most of the bills that the Republican Congress tried to pass, including the Civil Rights Bill, arguing that it gave “a perfect equality of the white and black races in every State of the Union.” He wrote, in a letter to a governor, “this is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men.” Lincoln would have been proud.
Given that Grant was the #1 Civil War hero and a two-term president who was ahead of his time in his humane approach to the disenfranchised—how is it that Grant doesn’t end up with a huge monument in Washington, his face on Mount Rushmore and a common bill or coin, and with a thousand important things named after him? By being pretty bad at being the president.
His name isn’t Ulysses S. Grant. It’s Hiram Ulysses Grant. But when he was first nominated to attend West Point, the guy who nominated him messed up and put his name in as Ulysses Simpson Grant. When Grant protested, he was told it was too much of a hassle to go back and change it now, so he just had to go live the rest of his life as Ulysses S. Grant.
It blew my mind. Rutherford B. Hayes is just a dude. He’s just some guy who looks like Drew Brees.
Do you know how hard it is to be an assassinated US president and still be completely unfamous? Ask 10 Americans who the four assassinated US presidents are, and fewer than half of them will be able to mention Garfield. This must be horribly annoying for Garfield—being assassinated sucks, but at least the one huge perk is that you’re supposed to then go down as a legend in American history.
Reading about Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley’s assassinations, it’s clear that killing the president back then was one of the easier things you could do in life.
Then Garfield was shot. And suddenly, this recently-fired member of a marginalized party faction, a man with very little political experience, who was chosen mostly for symbolic reasons, and who disagreed with the rest of the administration about how things should be done, became the president.
While working at the law firm, Cleveland taught himself law, eventually started his own practice, and was later appointed assistant district attorney of Erie County. This was during the war, and instead of fighting, he paid a Polish immigrant $150 to serve in his place so he could focus on his job and not get shot in the face.
Cleveland ended up winning, forever forcing Americans to deal with saying things like, “Obama is the 44th presidency, but only the 43rd president.”
His real name is Stephen Grover Cleveland, but he always went by Grover, which is likely related to the fact that Stephen Cleveland sounds ridiculous. Odd move by his parents.
Historians aren’t especially impressed with Harrison’s presidency, aggregate ranking him at 11th worst, but they do give him credit for “pointing the way” to the modern and more successful McKinley presidency and for inspiring Theodore Roosevelt’s active foreign policy. In other words, he had good ideas—he just wasn’t a good enough president to pull them off.
If you were an American man born between 1820 and 1835, all you had to do was become a lawyer, fight in the war and become a general, and then grow a beard and you automatically became president.
Harrison was 5’6″, the shortest of all presidents except our pixie president, the 5’4″ Madison. He was also the last bearded president.
So suddenly McKinley’s in this war—but the good news for him is that the American Navy was rad and handled Spain pretty easily. As the war went on, McKinley started getting excited about taking other Spanish territory too, like the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and various Pacific Islands like Guam. Then Spain, who knew it had lost, was like, “Okay okayyyyy you can have Cuba, done k bye” and tried to back out of the room, but McKinley was like “Ohhh no ya don’t. Sorry we’re gonna do the victor-spoils thing here and force you to sell all your other shit to us too, sorry you lost” and Spain just got sad and said okay. They signed the Treaty of Paris, handing over Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam for $20 million ($571 million in today’s money).