The American Presidents—Johnson to McKinley

Note: This is Part 2. Part 1 (Washington to Lincoln) is here.


Last year, I published the post, The American Presidents—Washington to Lincoln.

Washington to Lincoln. Two superstars, bookending legends like Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Jackson; the birth of the constitution; the expansion from 13 East Coast colonies to a huge nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific; two foreign wars; and a fierce debate over the issue of slavery—all leading up to the sizzling climax of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. It’s not for everyone—but I’d click the shit out of that headline if I saw it on Facebook.

This year, I’ve gone a different direction. I’ve created one of the least clickable headlines in the history of the internet.

Here’s what the full scale looks like:


So forgive me if I’m a little confused why you’re here right now—why you’re voluntarily involving yourself in a piece of writing that will focus on Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley.

Maybe you clicked on this by accident while trying to click “Hide all posts from Wait But Why.” Or maybe, just maybe, you’re like me and you have a morbid fascination with this group of eight consecutive presidents who no one has heard of. Sure, you know a bit about Grant. You know Johnson was impeached. You might know Garfield and McKinley were assassinated. But unless you’re a history buff, that’s about all you know. I’m pretty into history, and that was about all I knew.

So I decided to dig in—way more in depth than I dug into the first 16—to the abyss between Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Because if we’re gonna do this—we’re gonna really do this.

Three notes before we start:

1) Here’s this chart again:


You can see that after the political chaos of the first 16 presidencies (a time period which constitutes both what historians call The First Party System—up through Quincy Adams—and The Second Party System—from Jackson to Pierce), things settle down into a clean Republican vs. Democrat divide. The period we’ll cover in this post is 36 years long, running from the Civil War to the dawn of the 20th Century—a period Mark Twain first called The Gilded Age.1

The politics of this period are what historians call The Third Party System—and in this system, there are Republicans and Democrats, which sounds familiar, but those parties barely resemble those same two parties today. If anything, the Republicans of The Gilded Age may have more in common with today’s Democrats and the Democrats of that time may better resemble today’s Republicans (although of course, it’s blurry, and both parties back then contain a mix of the two parties today, as well as having certain characteristics that don’t exist today at all, which makes comparisons of then vs. now a bit of an apples-to-oranges situation).

As you can see on the chart, the Gilded Age Republicans, who made up most of the Civil War’s victorious North, largely dominated the era.

2) Here’s the chart that shows the aggregation of historians’ rankings of the presidents. Of course, even the aggregate ranks are totally subjective and not at all definitive—but I believe it’s the best way to give each president a ranking that reflects the general scholarly consensus on how the presidents stack up against each other. The aggregate column in that chart is where I draw my rankings from below each president’s name.

And how does this post’s group fare in the rankings? None of the eight presidents crack the top 18. What a crew.

3) This is a critical time to refresh yourself on the Mustache Era.


The Mustache Era is an unprecedented time in American history, during which presidential mustaches were rampant. And never before or after the mustache era was there any other presidential mustache. The Gilded Age that we’ll be covering today overlaps almost entirely with the Mustache Era.2

And now it’s time to buckle up and hold on tight as I take you on a whirlwind tour of eight of the most random men in the world. We start in April, 1865. The Civil War has just ended, Lincoln has just been shot, and the country is in total mayhem…

17) Andrew Johnson


Presidency: 1865 – 1869 Lived: 1808 – 1875 Ranking: 41/43

Mustache? No.

His Deal: Born in a super-poor log cabin situation in North Carolina, Johnson was raised by a single mom and apprenticed as a tailor before doing the most stereotypical politics ladder climb ever, going from city alderman to city mayor to state House to state Senate to federal Congress to Tennessee governor to federal Senate to vice president to president.3 Satisfying. Johnson capped off his epic journey by making the odd decision to stand on the top rung of the ladder being a dick for four years and followed that up by plunging all the way back down to the ground in disgrace. He spent the rest of his life losing small elections before finally winning a Senate seat four months before dying. Of his late-life Senate win, Johnson remarked, “Thank God for this vindication,” which was a weird thing to say since today he’s known as the third worst president in US history and mostly just comes up as the answer to the pre-1998 trivia question, “Who is the only US president to be impeached?”

His Presidency: Johnson was chosen to be Lincoln’s running mate in 1864 (before Lincoln’s second term) because he was a rare combo: a politician from the South (Tennessee) and one of Lincoln’s rival Democrats, but one who was also fervently pro-Union and anti-secession—this made him the perfect choice to help Lincoln win the election and send the message of cross-party and cross-region collaboration and national unity. Six weeks after winning the election, Johnson and Lincoln held their first and last meeting as president and vice president, because that night, Lincoln was shot.

New President Johnson inherited a nation that had just come out of Civil War. The smoke was still clearing and the plan had been for Lincoln to spend his second term making a trillion critical decisions for the future of the country. With a clear winner to the war, and one party, Lincoln’s Republicans, in an unusual position of power, it was a rare opportunity to reshape the nation for the future and finally shed off the conflicts of the past, like slavery, that had plagued the country since its beginning. And Lincoln would really have been a great person to do that.

Instead, the hypercharged Republicans were suddenly led by a Southern Democrat, who it turns out didn’t really agree with much of what Lincoln had planned to do for the post-war Reconstruction effort. Johnson spent the next four years doing everything he could to get in the way of major Republican progress. The Republicans wanted to be tough with the South, punishing prominent Confederate politicians and refusing to offer reconstruction aid until Southern states agreed to grant equal rights and citizenship to newly-freed slaves—but 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.

The Republicans, who despised Johnson, successfully impeached him in 1868, claiming he had acted outside the president’s legal boundaries on several occasions—and at his impeachment trial, they fell one vote short of ousting him from office. The next year, he got crushed in his own primary and never even had a chance to run for a second term.

Johnson’s presidency ties with Buchanan’s for most maddening to read about.

Things He Can Brag About:

  • Being the only president to serve in the Senate after his presidency
  • Alaska is Johnson’s doing. His Secretary of State, William Seward, bought it from Russia for $7.2 million ($121 million in today’s dollars). At the time, Americans viewed this as a terrible deal and the whole thing was referred to, for a while, as “Seward’s Folly.”

Things He Hopes We Don’t Remember:

  • His white supremacist quote I included above
  • In what is definitely the funniest thing I’ve read so far in my research on the first 24 presidents, Johnson, at his and Lincoln’s 1864 inauguration, showed up at the event hammered and proceeded to make a complete debacle of a long, rambling, drunken speech as Lincoln and the entire Senate Chamber looked on in shock. A Senator who attended said afterwards, “I was never so mortified in my life—had I been able to find a hole I would have dropped through it out of sight.” Johnson then disappeared into reclusion for six weeks to avoid public ridicule.
  • He owned about nine slaves before becoming vice president, and is rumored to have fathered children with one of them.

Things He’s Annoyed About:

  • Apparently he celebrated his 60th birthday by having a party for several hundred children, which sounds like an incredibly unfun party and something that definitely wasn’t his idea.
  • Clinton’s impeachment. Until 1998, the one thing everyone knew about him is that he was the only president to be impeached. Clinton took away Johnson’s one major distinction.

Other Notable Facts:

  • After his time as a tailor’s apprentice, Johnson would forever make his own clothing, even while president.
  • He looks hilariously similar to Tommy Lee Jones.
  • Civil War general and next president Ulysses S. Grant had a major falling out with Johnson during Johnson’s presidency, presumably because of Johnson’s whole “trying to undo all the progress of the Civil War” thing. Grant wouldn’t allow his kids to attend Johnson’s 60th birthday party, and Johnson refused to attend Grant’s inauguration.
  • Lincoln’s assassination was actually supposed to be part of a three-assassination trifecta, all in the same night. Two of Booth’s co-conspirators had plans to shoot VP Johnson and Secretary of State Seward. The attempt on Seward nearly succeeded, injuring him badly. But apparently Johnson’s would-be assassin, George Atzerodt, didn’t even attempt to kill Johnson because he got drunk instead. Pretty funny picturing Booth walking into Atzerodt’s apartment the next day and asking what the hell happened and Atzerodt being like, “Huh? OOOOHHH SHIT…oh RIGHT….shit I am SO sorry man, totally slipped my mind.”

Last Words: After having a stroke and falling off his chair: “My right side is paralyzed. I need no doctor. I can overcome my troubles.” He couldn’t.

Next (Ulysses S. Grant) →

All Pages:

Andrew Johnson (and Intro)
Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
William McKinley

  1. This was a satirical name, referring to it as a time of deep social problems masked by a thin gold gilding.

  2. This, by the way, is not to be confused with the Beard Age of American history, which overlaps with the Mustache Era, but is its own phenomenon entirely. Between Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison, there were eight presidents and 7.5 beards (one beard on Lincoln, Grant, and Harrison, two beards on Hayes and Garfield, and a half a beard on Arthur). Like the Mustache Era, the Beard Age is a unique incident in history—never before or after it did a presidential beard exist.

  3. Get used to me having no idea which of these words to capitalize and which to leave lower case. Nothing is more confusing.

  • George

    Other fun note, Grant’s favorite bourbon was Old Crow. And if I remember right, one of the reason’s he developed a drinking problem was because he was upset being away from his family so much.

  • Matt M. C.

    If Grant was president from 1869 – 1877, than why would you say “he didn’t see the Panic of 1837 coming and was over his head when it struck”, that time frame doesn’t seem to make sense. Grant would have been 15 years old in 1837.

    • Tim Urban


  • SomeGuy

    Another notable fact:
    Chester A. Arthur – Key to the plot of a Die Hard movie.

  • Matt

    Fun fact- hostorians always say, “If I remember right.” Cheers Old Crow. 🙂

  • Aaron, just…. Aaron

    Re: Grover Cleveland:
    During his second term, he developed an upsetting tumor on the roof of his mouth and needed surgery. He thought it was important to keep this a secret, so the surgery took place on a yacht, and he lived the rest of his life with a rubber jaw.
    I have *so* many questions about this. Was this a common thing at the time? How does this even work? How could this possibly go unnoticed by anyone who saw him after that? How could this not affect his speech? Rubber is not exactly a hearty material, wouldn’t this degrade over time and need replacement? Also, you can’t find somewhere more secure than a yacht to do surgery?

    • Anthony Churko

      Yeah. You’d think someone would’ve said, “hey guys, what if it gets windy during the surgery? A wave might come along.”

    • Ericka

      Oh, I thought maybe it was because of the surgery on the yacht (maybe on a particular windy day) that he needed the rubber jaw. Good questions, all!

    • jaime_arg

      Reminds me of Jebediah Springfield’s tongue.

  • Anthony Churko

    I’m commenting because there are a disproportionately low number of comments for how well-done this article was. I’m Canadian, but I’m much more into US history. I don’t know if it’s because the US has a richer history, or that your presidents don’t answer to the Queen, but I’d still rather read about Hayes than Mackenzie Bowell any day.

    Hey, did you know that the Canadian prime minister has been named either John/Jean or William/Wilfrid for most of Canada’s history? True story.

    • Anthony Churko

      Oh, and I just discovered this: Similar to how the US was controlled by the Democratic-Republican party in early years, Canada was controlled by the Liberal-Conservative party in the early years. What the f*** would that party stand for? Maybe I should just write my own Canadian version of this.

      • Bill Warren

        I’d read it!

    • Aram McLean

      You’re just more into American history because you grew up being it told it was more relevant than Canadian. There is no reason to think one country’s history is ‘richer’ then another, and in truth Canadian history is very interesting once you get passed only wanting to read about what you watched in the movies of your youth.

      For example, Prince Edward Island was a dry county during the Charlottetown Conference in 1864, so Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, a proper Scottish highlander, rather than miss out on happy hour, had himself rowed in to the meeting every day from the liquor cabinet aboard his anchored ship. Once Sir John found his balance in town, he and the other colony leaders got back to their debates and signatures. And as a result of this Charlottetown Conference, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and bits of Quebec and Ontario joined together as a united country in 1867.

      Shortly after that, John A managed to rope in the wild and care-free British Columbians and Vancouver Islanders with a cross-country railroad promise in 1871, at which point Vancouver Island only agreed to become one province with BC after being promised the capital.

      You can’t really blame ol’ Johnny for boozing hard though, what with his younger brother being killed by a servant when they were kids, an infant son dying on him, not to mention his little girl being born with a messed up brain. And of course his first wife was invalided for years before finally dropping out. Add all that to the fact you got people on every side of you trying to turn your dream of Canada into something else altogether. None of that shit can be easy. It’s amazing he could get out of bed at all, let alone craft a country.

      John A. MacDonald went on to rule the new nation for the rest of his life, but for one five-year term, and to intermittently pass a lot more scotch, gin, and port, whatever was available really, down his gullet. His proud likeness continues to decorate the Canadian ten-dollar-bill, smirking out at the world as blasé, boozy, and brilliant as ever, the true architect of Canada as we know it, from sea to hazy sea.

      Funnily enough, it took sixteen years from the initial group of four creating the beginnings of Canada in Charlottetown, before PEI finally decided to join in Confederation fun as well. In 1883 our smallest province became a part of Canada, mostly because the Canadian government, still under rosy-faced, ‘of course we can do anything’ good ol’ John A, promised them a bridge to the mainland.
      One-hundred-and-fourteen years later, PEI got its fixed link. Fast work for a government, some might say.

      My point being that history in general is fascinating. You just have to look a little harder sometimes, much like this article did. And yes, I’m also a Canadian; born in Quebec City and raised on Vancouver Island. And no, Canada’s prime minister does not ‘answer’ to the Queen. She is an impotent figurehead, nothing more. (And being a part of the Commonwealth gets you sweet working holiday maker visas all over the world. I spent two years in the Highlands of Scotland thanks to this fantastic perk.)

      • Anthony Churko

        Are you kidding? I spent my whole life being force-fed Canadian history. There is absolutely more reason to think that another country’s history is richer. Civil wars, aggressive expansion, rise and fall from power, all make a country’s history more interesting. Canadian history is still more interesting than say, Australia. But compared to the US? Hardly.

        • Aram McLean

          “I spent my whole life being force-fed Canadian history.”
          That right there might be your problem.

        • Aram McLean

          On the other hand, Anthony, it could just be that you lack the ability to appreciate nuance. Have you ever actually read anything about Australia? It’s history is also incredibly fascinating. And in any case, if you were to follow your logic of what makes a country’s history interesting (as you laid out above) shouldn’t you still be buried deep in the ‘much more interesting’ history of Europe.
          Naw. I think you’ve just bought into the American-centric outlook of the world as so many Canadians do. I mean, heck, I get it, growing up in the ‘shadow/glow’ of American ego and output how could you not help but be swept away by their overwhelming mythology of their country’s ‘exceptionalism’ and so forth. (Hell, I remember growing up thinking that General Custer was the hero!)
          This is not to say that American history isn’t fascinating and interesting, as well. It most certainly is. It’s just I believe you have yet to realize that your interest in elevating all things American to a higher plain stems from a purely emotional connection, rather than any objective concept of what ‘interesting’ actually means.
          This article, for example, chronicles an especially boring episode of American presidents, as admitted by the writer, and yet you come on here to purr about how much more interesting American history is, and completely fail to see the irony in your statement. In actual fact, what makes the history being presented here interesting is that it has been written up in a compelling way by the author. In no way whatsoever is its actual ‘interestingness’ mutually inclusive to that fact that it is a part of American history. Instead it comes down to the style in which it has been presented, an impressive talent for bringing a flair to the mundane which this same author has managed to achieve often times before, about many other parts of the world no less.
          I dare say he could even make Canadian history sound interesting to you!
          And so we come full circle to the simple fact that if you have only been ‘force-fed’ Canadian history from textbooks that (I remember) were apparently only allowed to be written with the overriding theme that everything of any actual interest or excitement must be sucked completely out of them before going to print, then yeah, I can understand the reason for your bias. But you’re not in school anymore.
          In conclusion, what we seem to have here is a clear indication of someone (you) presenting a purely subjective opinion, and then wholeheartedly declaring it an objective one, for reasons unclear. It’s not necessarily a very self-aware position to hold so strongly, I have to say. But hey, whatever gets you through the night. So long as you’re having fun, Anthony.

          • Anthony Churko

            Wow. You were able to infer that much about me based on two paragraphs? You must be some sort of psychic.

            Except that you’re wrong.

            You’re correct that by my logic, I should find European history way more interesting than American history. Here’s a plot twist for you: I actually DO find European (and Asian) history way more interesting.

            And with that, the rest of your post unravels. Not only ARE my interests somewhat grounded in objectivity, but I never actually claimed my opinions to be objective in the first place. Where exactly did I “wholeheartedly declare my opinion an objective one”. I began my sentences with the words “I don’t know”, and “I’d rather” – both of those have subjectivity attached to them. Also, I compared Rutherford Hayes to Mackenzie Bowell (one of our least-interesting leaders), not John A. MacDonald. I totally agree with you that our more-interesting leaders are more interesting than their least-interesting leaders. I certainly never “purred” over anything, purely for being American.

            And you’re right that my opinion could stem from an emotional connection, but so could yours! Yes, a lot of Canadians have an American-centric outlook of the world, but a lot of other Canadians have an inferiority complex when it comes to the US. When you ask a Canadian what it means to be a Canadian, they’ll typically talk about hockey, the winter, Tim Hortons, beaver-tails, and basically everything else that isn’t American. They won’t mention how much we love McDonalds, Wal-Mart, football, hot dogs, and apple pie, because those are things that Americans also love.

            Here’s a psychoanalysis for you:

            You used to think that General Custer was the hero. Now you’re ashamed that you ever believed that. Therefore, you act-out on that shame towards any Canadian who dares shows any sort of attraction to US history. Am I getting warm?

            • Aram McLean

              I never said you were a traitor nor did I even think it. Hell, I live in Hamburg at the moment, so if anyone’s a ‘traitor’, I suppose I am. I simply get the impression your criteria of ‘Civil wars, aggressive expansion, rise and fall from power, all make a country’s history more interesting’ shows a stunning lack of nuance on your part to appreciate the subtler shades of history. (I never said your logic was accurate.) It was in fact this quality in your comment I was responding to, as you so nonchalantly wiped out all the fascinating little things that make up human history in one sweep, without so much as a by your leave.

              Your comment on BC being the only part of Canada that doesn’t suck to live in further shows that your ability to project yourself outside your own emotions is very low. I grew up on Vancouver Island myself and yeah, it sure is beautiful. I actually worked as a Park Ranger in remote BC Parks until recently. But calling it the only part of the country that doesn’t suck. Really dude.

              Have you even been to the east coast? Have you danced a ceilidh in Cape Breton? Have you sailed from Newfoundland to France across 10 kilometres of storming sea? Have you danced under the midnight sun of Yukon? Have you drank in the streets and jammed out under the Angel in Montreal? Have you watched two angry rednecks throw a third at a passing car in downtown Winnipeg? Have you skated on the frozen ice of Lake Superior, gilding off into the endless horizon?

              Your opinions are uninformed, is what I’m saying. The rest of the Canada jokes that BC stands for Bring Cash. Did you know that? It may have the weather, mountains, and ocean, and by God do I love them, but holy shit is it expensive to live in compared to the rest of Canada. Did you ever think about that?

              Anyway, that’s all I got to say. Your opinion is your own and you’re welcome to it. I just find it bizarre that someone can go around ‘rating history’ like you did here. And since I had a bit of spare time (everyone’s speaking German here, after all ;), I thought I’d delve a little deeper into your psyche. Hence my reply.
              Anyway, you have clarified what I suspected.

            • Anthony Churko

              Dude, you’re clearly just bored and looking to start an argument over nothing. I can’t even begin to address all of the pretentious nonsense that you posted.

              I don’t even live in BC anymore, FYI. I’d tell you where I live now, and where I’ve lived since, but I’m not going to join you in the “I’m more worldly than you” game.

              And by the way, I have been to downtown Winnipeg, and no, I haven’t witnessed two rednecks throw a third into traffic. If you have, I hope that you called the cops, and didn’t just marvel at how much more “worldly” that the sight made you.

              Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to tell my friends about how I “nonchalantly wiped out all the fascinating little things that make up human history in one sweep” by expressing my preference for American history in the comment section of a little article on a semi-famous blog. Gute nacht, dusche.

            • Aram McLean

              You miss the point and also completely lack a sense of humour.
              Why am I not surprised.Take care, Tony, mein kleinen Arschgeier 😉

              ps you realize you just called me a ‘shower’, yes.

            • Aram McLean

              pps I’ve already edited the comment below to offer my condolences regarding your present place of residence, but in wanting to be sure you receive this message special, like an olive branch so to speak, and knowing your interest in history, I thought you might find the book I’ve linked to very interesting, if you haven’t read it already. Cheers my friend. Consummatum est.


            • Anthony Churko

              Cool – I’ll let you know if it leads me to renounce my faith. Thanks Showerbag.

            • Aram McLean

              To be fair, those things are awesome when you’re camping.

          • ElsaCWalker

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  • Eric

    I don’t know, dude, “The Fermi Paradox” is a pretty unclickable headline. Also- don’t tease me about Miley Cyrus.

    • jaime_arg

      How can you not click on a title with the word Paradox in it?!

  • wobster109

    Yay, more presidents!

    The beard Chester Arthur has is called the Imperial Partial Beard. It’s still going strong today!

  • Bill Warren

    WHEW! that was a load of info…learned a shit ton…might not remember some of it. But that’s okay because I drink a lot…so if I grow a mustache and become a lawyer… Thank you!

    • Brian Pagano

      Yeah, but you didn’t fight in the Civil War, so I think if you grow a mustache and become a lawyer, then you’ll just be a lawyer with a mustache.

  • Alex Mac

    You ended it just as things were getting interesting with Teddy Rooselvelt

    • Ericka

      He Cliffhangered us! All the good writers do it!

      • jaime_arg

        His worst cliffhanger yet was with part 2 of the AI post. Are we all going to die or not??

    • Tim Urban

      I was planning to go all the way up to FDR! But then it was a 50 page book and I was only halfway there and I was perishing and had to stop.

      • Frank

        Hey, that book idea is not bad at all, Tim! Ever thought about writing one? ‘The Presidents’ would be the way to go.

        Count me in to buy a copy from you!

  • Marcus

    I love history and I love WBW. And now, because of your insights from this post, I’m really incredibly angry at Andrew Johnson. Yeah, it’s tough to follow Lincoln. But still, I think we can all agree that Andrew Johnson seriously blew an incredible chance to right the wrongs of slavery. What if the Civil Rights Act had been passed in 1866 instead of 1964? Would it have closed a wound-even a little bit-and stopped the issue of full legal equality from festering for another 100 years so that we’re still trying deal with the outcomes today? Maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything. Who knows? But maybe Martin Luther King would be alive and well and we would be referring to him as former President King. Maybe nobody would have ever heard of him because he wouldn’t have had an evil to fight. Either way, Johnson was a cold, cold man.
    Also, Johnson, that quote. You were Lincoln’s #2 guy. Yikes!

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  • Pingback: Little known facts about U.S presidents after Lincoln and Before Roosevelt - Cameron Plommer()

  • Robert Ricco

    Agree with the Canadian reader that there’s a disproportionate number of comments on this excellent piece, but I guess it’s to be expected. This is a completely anonymous bunch and are completely glossed over by history courses from grade school through high school. So little common knowledge on these guys – especially from Hayes through Cleveland. I mean, if anyone can name even one of the presidents off the top of their heads from 1877 – 1897 it would garner mild applause. Cleveland is the only president someone might pull out of their hat from that 20 year period just because he has that weird, non-consecutive term thing going on.

    By the way, have to disagree that Cleveland was the most walrussy president. Taft wins hands-down!

    And what the hell did Harding do to be rated lower than Buchanan, Johnson and Pierce? Did he fornicate with animals or something?

    • Jacob Nestle

      He’s ranked so low because a) he was sort of very corrupt b) was caught being super corrupt and c) was pretty bad at everything else, so he didn’t even get the “but he was good at ___” excuse

  • The_Postindustrialist

    Dude. Grant’s on the $50. The next highest denomination after the Jackson. ($20)

  • Rena


    Not Bismark

    Now I shall get back to reading this brilliantly funny post.
    I’m not even in the same continent as you and do not need to know about US presidents but your writing is addictive. 😀

    • Tim Urban

      I was too focused on whether it was an S or a Z to worry about the end of the word.

      • Kyle Nieman

        I engrave knives for a living. A coworker of mine engraved “Bismark” on like 200 knives. A very expensive mistake. No one who checked his work, myself included, noticed how that freaking North Dakota town is actually spelled.

  • Eli Peter

    This is a great article!

  • LC

    Hooray, I’ve been eagerly anticipating part 2 for months. I need a hobby or a pet.

  • Ericka

    Thanks, Tim. I was so excited when I saw this in my e-mail (and yes, I DO have a life).

  • Sam

    I found this post SUPER interesting. A great dive into what was going on in the US in the late 19th century and funny throughout, as always.

  • GeneClaude

    I think these two Presidential posts are my very most favorite things you have done, and you’ve done a bunch of my very most favorite-ish things. At least they don’t keep me up at night compulsively disassembling my Roomba.

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  • guest

    “an reputably” — typo on Grover Cleveland page.

  • Critter

    I know who Rutherford B. Hayes is! He’s the president who was born at that BP station in downtown Delaware, Ohio.

  • Jim B. Johnson

    Tim, I truly love this series. You’re doing damn fine work.

    Are you doing Teddy to Obama on President’s Day 2016? Or is there another one (Roosevelt to Roosevelt?) in the series coming before that?

    • Tim Urban

      Not totally sure, but there are so many topics in the queue right now that good chance Part 3 doesn’t come until next President’s Day. We’ll get through them all at some point though!

      • Jim B. Johnson

        You are a sadist.

        Whatever, we can still be friends.

      • Leonardo Carneiro

        C’mon? I just shared this with 1928374129374 nerd friends, and we’re not even americans!


        Ok, i’m calm now, i’m not a internet troll (not all time). Jk, good luck with the topics. This one was great as always =)

  • Jacob Nestle

    If you’d told me I’d enjoy reading about this set of presidents so much I wouldn’t have believed you.

    That said, I still forgot Benjamin Harrison’s name halfway through reading his article and had to think about it as I typed it in this comment

  • Geoff Canyon

    That son was a serious problem:
    “Hey, ma, where’s my pa?”
    “Off to the White House, ha ha ha.”

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  • Sam McNulty

    Great job. I really enjoy your work!

  • Giovanni Satta

    I think poor McKinley can also legitimately brag about having the highest continent mountain called after him.
    I definitely would.

  • Pablo

    Ohh no! Another post about USA presidents. Why? Tim, why? 🙂

  • jaime_arg

    Andrew Johnson looks like the Jackie Chan WTF meme:

  • jaime_arg

    It would be nice if you included a link to all presidents on one page. Not a big fan of the multiple-pages-per-post format.
    I do understand the financial incentive to do so, but having a small link at the bottom for a full-article page would be a good compromise.

  • Jacky

    I am not a native English speaker. Could somebody tell me what is so ridiculous about “Stephen Cleveland”? Thanks.

    • Jim B. Johnson

      I’m guessing it would be because “Stephen” and “Cleveland” sound very much alike. In speaking, the parts “ephen” and “evelan” are almost exactly the same, other than the “L”.

      It’s kind of along the same lines of someone being named Michael Cycle, Clarence Terrance, or Thomas Halmas. I don’t know what it’s like in other cultures, but it sound a bit silly when someone’s first and last names are too similar sounding. It kind of sounds like a child’s nickname.

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  • Luis Villazon

    Underwater land mines are just called “mines”

  • meadow

    I’m here because this list includes the only President with song lyrics saying “Mr. Garfield’s been shot down, shot down, shot down, Mr. Garfield’s been shot down, shot down dead.” I mean, this classic hit is obviously an ode to a legend!

  • Keith S

    Hi, I’ve been a fan of your blog/website for a while now. I’ve just noticed that some Pakistani person has stolen and plagiarized your Artificial Intelligence article and posted/featured on their site without linking or even acknowledging you as the author. It was copied word for word, here’s the link:

    • JesseLivermore

      Damn that’s literally word for word. Actually seems like a Swede, judging by the name “Sven” and the swedish flag on the avatar, posting on a thread about pakistani defense affairs. Blatant plagiarism in any case

  • Ernietd

    Grant wants us to remember Yellowstone Park

  • Leonardo Carneiro

    Hi. Here is the correct link to picture of Ulysses working on his memoirs:

    EDIT 1: I put some blankspaces so disqus will not load the image here
    EDIT 2: I’m failing as much as Grant. I’ll stop trying

    http://en.wikipe wiki/File:US_Grant_in_1885.jpg

  • Erik

    Robert Todd Lincoln was only an eyewitness to the assassination of Garfield. He was in Buffalo when McKinley was shot but didn’t witness it and was at the White House when his father was shot.

  • Jamie

    Thank you for writing about more Presidents! I really enjoyed reading about the last year. Then I was sad when you mentioned you would write about more, but the post did not come out the next week. So glad that you did not forget and that you returned to it near President’s Day. I hope you write about more Presidents next year!

  • Olyphantastic

    I will never forget Chester A. Arthur because of Die Hard With A Vengeance, the bomb being planed on Chester A. Arthur school. Isn’t Ford less memorable then Arthur or Garfield or McKinnely or Grant. Ford just me think about Beverly Hills Cop and that he probably looks just like John Ashton.

  • The Guest

    Hey Tim,

    The recording you have on Grover Cleveland’s page is actually someone reciting William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. It is not the voice of Cleveland, nor is it a campaign speech from 1892.

    Otherwise, great post! 🙂

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  • Jack Tropius

    Hmm, Johnson and McKinley seem to me as among the worst. But among the best would probably be in the latter part of the 20th century. Not Bush for me, though. hehe

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  • Dennis

    I have a correction, which I remember from doing a report on Grant in the 4th grade. Grant actually switched his names to avoid having the initials H.U.G. on all of his West Point garb. So he submitted his name as Ulysses H. Grant. But the congressman that recommended him changed his name (not sure why) to Ulysses S. Grant, and I think Grant liked it so he kept it. Apparently Simpson was his mother’s maiden name, so it’s possible that factored into the story but I don’t remember how anymore.

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  • neroden

    This would benefit from more discussion of the insanely complicated history of goldbugs, silverbugs, bimetallism, hard money, easy money, and so on… this was THE issue at the time.

    McKinley managed to be totally corrupt, campaigning for free silver and then maintaining the gold standard once elected.

  • neroden

    Also worth noting with regard to the blue sidebar: Warren G. Harding was arguably dealing with a serious crisis period. It was the aftermath of World War I; Wilson had done all kinds of crazy totalitarian stuff including the Palmer Raids; Harding’s candidacy was actually on the platform of “return to normalcy”.

    And GWB is arguably also in a serious crisis period, although that’ll only be obvious *later*. But he took office through an essentially stolen election, promptly responded to an unprecedented terrorist attack by invading an *unrelated* country and claiming totalitarian powers — and the country is facing the existential threat of global warming with a very short window to deal with it, while the general public view is that the government is failing to deal with any of our problems. This all has the *smell* of a crisis period.

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  • Mark Monnin

    For some reason, I didn’t enjoy reading about the bad presidencies, but I did enjoy reading about the decent ones (like the last 3). I’m looking forward to the next round!

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