Editor’s Note: Who is the worst US President ever? Cast your ballot in the Nation Poll.
A question that seems to be on everybody’s mind these days turns out to be: Is George Bush the worst President in American history?
But how do you judge? Is he the most morally disgusting? The worst mangler of the English language? Ever since the atom bomb was dropped, we’ve had a whole string of bozos who cannot pronounce the word “nuclear.” How much should that count against them?
Is John Tyler, our tenth President, a candidate for worst President? Some people who have never heard of this guy have heard of the campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Well, Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) lasted about a month in office before he died of a cold contracted while making his inaugural address, and the rest is non-history. Tyler is best remembered, if he is remembered at all, as the President whose entire Cabinet, save one, quit on him. Please do not confuse him with Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President, easily Tyler’s equal in forgettability.
Is the most forgettable also the worst? Men like Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Benjamin Harrison (Tippecanoe’s grandson) were more politically brain-dead than really bad. But not so with James Buchanan, No. 15, who was President from 1857 to 1861. Aside from being a dull, unimaginative, dray horse of a politician, he was the President whose cowardice in handling the South and slavery ended the remotest possibility that the United States would be spared the horrors of the Civil War.
The consequences of Buchanan’s political poltroonery were long-lasting and dire, as contrasted with those of Warren Harding. Harding (No. 29) has won many Worst President contests because he had three or four truly stinky crooks in his administration to go along with an otherwise outstanding Cabinet. He was a slob with a drinking problem, and he was also afflicted with Bill Clinton’s zipper disease. Since booze was illegal when he was President (1921-23), getting smashed in the White House made him a not-so-great role model–not that much of the country was paying attention since all the other adults in America were doing the same thing at the local speakeasy.