Monday, November 3, 2008

The 10 worst presidents to have held office - The Times US presidential rankings

The 10 worst presidents to have held office - The Times US presidential rankings

42-33: a panel of experts from The Times has ranked every one of the Commanders-in-Chief - and here are the very worst

32-22: the also-rans
21-11: the nearly-greats
10-1: the greatest presidents
Who is on the panel?

42. James Buchanan

1857-61 (Democratic)

A poll of American historians recently selected Buchanan's failure to prevent the American Civil War as the greatest single mistake made by any president and our panel agree that he was the worst ever President.

Despite being a northern man, Buchanan had strongly southern principles and he struggled to maintain the fragile peace as the southern states agitated for more freedom. He denied the legal right of states to secede from the Union but at the same time he insisted that the federal government was not legally able to prevent them.

By the time he left the White House his Democratic Party had split in two, seven slave states had rebelled and formed the Confederacy and the country was embroiled in the American Civil War.

"Failed to prevent the near disintegration of the nation." Gerard Baker, US editor.

41. Franklin Pierce

1853-57 (Democratic)

Pierce was one of the few presidents to be abandoned by his own party after a single term. Pierce became hated for signing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was designed as a compromise between northern and southern states but was seen as kowtowing to slave power. Furious opposition to the act spawned the Republican Party.

His credibility was further diminished by the Ostend Manifesto, which advocated the annexation of Cuba, prompting domestic and international scorn when it was leaked.

40. Martin Van Buren

1837-41 (Democratic)

Served as Andrew Jackson's Vice President and made it clear he wanted a continuation of many of his predecessor's policies, including the expulsion of Native Americans from their homelands. The draconian Indian Removal Act was passed by Jackson but brutally enforced under Van Buren.

"I found it hard to place high up on the list those who sanctioned the slaughter of Native Americans." Tom Baldwin, Washington bureau chief.

39. William Harrison

1841 (Whig)

Harrison only lasted 32 days as President so our panel struggled to push him very far up the table. He had unsuccessfully stood as the Whig candidate for the White House in both of the previous elections and was eventually sworn in, aged 68, as the oldest President until Ronald Reagan.

37= Richard Nixon

1969-74 (Republican)

Nixon's dramatic, if controversial, escalation and conclusion of the Vietnam War and successful diplomatic missions to China and the Soviet Union ensured that he won a landslide re-election after his first term - carrying 49 of the 50 states.

Just two years later, he was forced to resign in disgrace after White House tapes suggested he had covered up a break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel.

"Cynical manipulation, bringinging the presidency into disrepute and changing the language to the extent that even a whiff of scandal merits the suffix '-gate'." Ben Macintyre, writer-at-large.

37= George W. Bush

2001-2009 (Republican)

A dead heat between the unpopular Bush and the dastardly Richard Nixon.

The September 11 attacks, eight months into his presidency, created a central focus for the Bush administration that lasted into his second term. Bush responded by declaring a "war on terror" and leading military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as part of his doctrine of pre-emptive military action. The lengthy operations have plummeted in popularity throughout his time in office.

Domestically, he implemented tax cuts and the "no child left behind" education programme but has been criticised for his failure to deal with the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the US financial market.

"Bush Jr. invaded Iraq based on faulty intelligence and then catastrophically mismanaged the war, dragging America's name through the mud." Chris Ayres, Los Angeles correspondent.

36 Herbert Hoover

1929-33 (Republican)

Terrible timing or massive mismanagement? Our panel goes for the later. Hoover came into office at the start of 1929 when the economy was apparently booming. Within months the Wall Street Crash meant he was doomed to years of struggling through the Great Depression.

Hoover's policy proposals included slum clearance, prison reform, pension increases and tax cuts for low-income families but he failed to enact any of them and was routed at the next election.

"Unwittingly turned the 1929 crash into a global depression which weakened democracies and prepared the ground for the Second World War." Camilla Cavendish, columnist.

34= Warren Harding

1921-23 (Republican)

When Harding died suddenly after two years in office, he was a popular President. The economy had rebounded after the post-war lull and his low tax, small government attitude had many admirers as the US roared into the twenties.

After his death, however, the scandals emerged. Harding may not have profited directly but he seemed to have known that many of the friends he had appointed to the administration were up to no good. Court cases, suicide, bribes, fraud and lengthy jail sentences clouded his reputation in the years after his death.

"Headed one of the most corrupt administrations." Gerard Baker, US editor.

34= James Garfield

1881 (Republican)

The second shortest Presidency after William Harrison's 32 days but the panel still prefers him to Nixon. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau, a disgruntled office-seeker who had been overlooked by the President just four months after his inauguration. He died two months after the shooting.

33. Millard Fillmore

1850-53 (Whig)

Fillmore crept into the bottom ten because of his abject failure in solving the slavery crisis.

His short Presidency began after the death of Zachary Taylor during intense negotiations over the future of the slave trade. The Compromise of 1850 eventually resulted in a complicated and contradictory approach to slavery. The trade was abolished in the District of Columbia and in California while, at the same time, the remaining slave holders' powers were strengthened. Both sides of the debate were left frustrated.

"Created a compromise on extending slavery that laid the ground for the US Civil War." Camilla Cavendish, columnist.

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