George Washington   
1789 1797
John Adams
1797 1801
Thomas Jefferson
1801 1809
James Madison
1809 1817
James Monroe
1817 1825
John Quincy Adams 
1825 1829
Andrew Jackson 
1829 1837
Martin Van Buren
1839 1841
William Henry Harrison
1841 1841
John Tyler
1841 1845
James K. Polk
1845 1849
Zachary Taylor     
1849 1850
Millard Fillmore
1850 1853
Franklin Pierce
1853 1857
James Buchanan 
1857 1861
Abraham Lincoln
1861 1865
Andrew Johnson
1865 1869
Ulysses S. Grant
1869 1877
Rutherford B. Hayes
1877 1881
James A. Garfield
1881 1881
Chester A. Arthur
1881 1885
Grover Cleveland
1885 1889
Benjamin Harrison
1889 1893
Grover Cleveland
1893 1897
William McKinley
1897 1901
Theodore Roosevelt
1901 1909
William H. Taft
1909 1913
Woodrow Wilson
1913 1921
Warren G. Harding
1921 1923
Calvin Coolidge
1923 1929
Herbert Hoover
1929 1933
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
1933 1945
Harry S. Truman
1945 1953
Dwight D.Eisenowher
1953 1961
John F. Kennedy
1961 1963
Lyndon B. Johnson
1963 1969
Richard M. Nixon
1969 1974
Gerald R. Ford
1974 1977
Jimmy Carter
1977 1981
Ronald Reagan
1981 1989
George Bush
1989 1993
William J. Clinton
1993 2001
George W. Bush
2001 2009
Barack Hussein Obama II



First President, 1789-1797

It was almost inevitable that George Washington, one of the most respected men in the colonies and the hero of the Revolutionary War, would be unanimously elected the first president of the United States. Washington was well aware of the importance of the example he was setting for all presidents to come, and performed his duties with this is mind. It was Washington who decided that the president should live in the same place where he worked, his New York lodgings becoming the precursor to the White House; he created the presidential cabinet, with whom he met regularly to go over matters of state; and he helped to select the site and design the city that would become the capital of the new nation. Washington’s courage in battle, dignified bearing, and universally admired strength of character earned him the name “Father of His Country,” and to this day we recognize the importance of his contributions to the United States.

JOHN ADAMS (1735 – 1826)

Second President, 1797-1801

John Adams was one of the most fervent proponents in the colonies of independence from Britain, and used his eloquent writing and speaking styleto persuade other members of the Continental Congresses to move with determination toward freedom. Adams helped draft the Declaration of Independence and negotiate the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, and in 1889 he was elected vice president under George Washington. Eight years later he succeeded him as the second U.S. President. During his presidency, Adams came under fire from his countrymen for his attempts to protect the shipping rights of the United States and keep the country out of the growing hostilities between France and Britain. But by stablishing a naval departmentduring this period, he was honored as the “Father of the Navy.” At the beginning of his presidency, Adams and his family moved into the unfinished residence in the new federal city, Washington, DC. His wish for the future of what was later to be known as the White House was “May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under the roof.”


THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743 – 1826)

Third President, 1801-1809

Thomas Jefferson was truly a Renaissance man. A brilliant scholar, inventor, naturalist, and architect, Jefferson played the violin, spoke six languages, conducted archeological investigations of Native American mounds, founded the University of Virginia, and assembled a 10,000-book library which became the foundation of the Library of Congress. His writing talent produced the historic Declaration of Independence, the document that boldly told King George that the colonies would no longer accept his rule. Jefferson’s political savvy led him to hold a number of governmental positions before becoming president: he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses when he was only 25, served in the Continental Congress, became governor of Virginia, a diplomat in Europe where he helped negotiate the treaties that ended the Revolutionary War, secretary of state under Washington, and vice president under John Adams. During his presidency, Jefferson doubled the size of the country by purchasing the territory of Louisiana.


JAMES MADISON (1751 – 1836)

Fourth President, 1809-1817

Nicknamed “The Father of the Constitution” for his work on the document, James Madison was also a framer of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution. After eight years as secretary of state under Jefferson, Madison and his popular wife Dolley moved into the White House. In 1812, Madison reluctantly asked Congress to declare war on Britain; this unpopular decision led to the British invasion and burning of Washington two years later. If not for General Andrew Jackson’s brilliant victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, “Mr. Madison’s War” might be all the fourth President is remembered for.


JAMES MONROE (1758 – 1831)

Fifth President, 1817-1825

The last patriot of the Revolutionary era to become president, Monroe was elected at a time when the nation was at peace. His presidency was called the “Era of Good Feelings,” yet the economic depression of 1819 and ongoing debates about the extension of slavery to new states and territories belied the name. Monroe is best remembered for his declaration that the United States would behave unfavorably toward European countries that tried to interfere with North and South American affairs, warning against any attempts by European powers to establish colonies in America, this pronouncement is now known as “The Monroe Doctrine.”.


JOHN QUINCY ADAMS (1767 – 1848)

Sixth President, 1825-1829

The son of John Adams, the illustrious patriot and second President of the United States, John Quincy Adams had been an outstanding diplomat, member of the U.S. Congress, and secretary of state before becoming president. John Quincy Adams was the first candidate to become president with a majority of the electoral college, but a minority of the popular vote. General Jackson, the hero of the War of 1812, had won the popular vote easily; his vast numbers of supporters were so outraged by the situation that changes to the electoral process were effected soon after. As president, Adams’ ideas for using taxes on roads, canals, and scientific exploration were not popular with the public, and he was not reelected. However, after his presidency, Adams spent a long and distinguished career in the House of Representatives, where he was a tireless opponent of slavery.

ANDREW JACKSON (1767 – 1848)

Seventh President, 1829-1837

The first president to be born in a log cabin (although hardly the last to claim to be!), Andrew Jackson was the first man elected to the House of Representatives from the state of Tennessee. His impressive defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans made Jackson a hero, and in 1824 he seemed destined to ride into the White House on his popularity. While Jackson did, indeed, win the popular vote handily, John Quincy Adams won the presidency with a majority in the electoral college. The outrage that followed the 1824 election led to much debate over the American party system, and eventually resulted in reform of the electoral process. Despite this loss, Jackson’s popularity did not wane, and he returned to win the presidency in 1828. Confirming his position as a man of the people, Jackson’s supporters–a crowd of people off the street–converged on the White House to celebrate his inauguration. Jackson had fought the Indians on the frontier, and he continued to fight them as president by signing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, allowing the American government to use force to remove Native Americans from the east to the frontier west of the Mississippi River. Because of his humble beginnings, Jackson felt that it was his responsibility in the highest office in the land to represent “the people,” the average American. He fought with Congress over any legislation that appeared to favor the rich, leading his enemies to call him “King Andrew,” suggesting that he abused his veto power in the name of the people. In fact “Jacksonian democracy,” as his leadership style was termed, was extremely popular with the public, and he was handily reelected to office a second time.

   MARTIN VAN BUREN (1782 – 1862)

Eighth President, 1837-1841

Martin Van Buren was hand-picked by his friend Andrew Jackson to follow him into the White House. But, even the support of the everpopular Jackson could not protect Van Buren from the ill will of the people as the result of the severe economic depression that followed him into office and eventually led to his defeat in 1840. Van Buren was also responsible for forcing 15,000 Cherokee from their Georgia homeland to what is now Oklahoma. Without adequate food and supplies, the Indians marched for 116 days, escorted by federal troops who did not allow them to rest or tend to the ill. As a result, some 4,000 Indians died on the treacherous journey known as “The Trail of Tears”.



Ninth President, March-April 1841

William Henry Harrison was the son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, would later become president. A hero of the battle of Tippecanoe, where he defeated Shawnee warriors and their chief Tecumseh, Harrison would unfortunately not have the opportunity to savor the popularity that got him elected president. After delivering the longest ever inaugural address on a very cold and windy March day, Harrison developed pneumonia and died exactly a month after his inauguration.


JOHN TYLER (1790 – 1862)

Tenth President, 1841-1845

With the death of President William Henry Harrison, John Tyler was the first vice president to assume the presidency, a precedent that did  not sit well with some members of Congress–particularly his own party, the Whigs. Tyler’s general disregard of their agenda eventually caused the resignation of all but one member of his cabinet, and ultimately he was expelled from the party. Yet, despite challenges to his authority, and nicknames like “His Accidency,” Tyler refused to open mail addressed to the “Acting President,” taking on all the powers and privileges of the presidency. Among Tyler’s acts as president were bringing an end to the Seminole War, working on the Webster-Ashburn Treaty of 1842 to resolve the Maine boundary dispute, arranging for the first American trade mission to China, and expanding the Monroe Doctrine to include Hawaii. Another first for Tyler–he was the first president to be married in office.


JAMES K. POLK (1795 – 1849)

Eleventh President, 1845-1849

Early in his presidency, James K. Polk declared that he would not seek reelection, thus freeing himself to proceed without an eye to the reaction of the voting public. Polk succeeded in his primary goals: to reduce the tariff, create an independent treasury, settle the longstanding dispute with Britain over the northern Oregon boundary, and expand the nation. In a move towards expansion, Polk tried unsuccessfully to buy territory from Mexico. This refusal set off the Mexican War of 1846, which was won by American forces under the brilliant leadership of General Zachary Taylor. The spoils of war included California and New Mexico, and Polk could claim success in his plan to expand the western border of the United States all the way to the Pacific Ocean.


ZACHARY TAYLOR (1784 – 1850)

Twelfth President, 1849-1850

Zachary Taylor, “Old Rough and Ready,” was a veteran of the war of 1812 and two Indian wars of the 1830s, but it was his stunning defeat of General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s superior forces in the Mexican War of 1846 that made Taylor a national hero. The truest definition of a “political outsider,” when he agreed to run as the Whig party’s candidate Taylor had no knowledge of the political process and had never so much as voted in a presidential election! The most pressing issue of Taylor’s presidency was the question of extending slavery into the new southwestern territories. Taylor was opposed to having the territories become slave states, yet he was faced with the chasm between the Northern states, which opposed the expansion of slavery, and the Southern states, where the economy rested on the backs of slaves. The Compromise of 1850 was still under debate when Taylor died unexpectedly during his second year in office.


MILLARD FILLMORE (1800 – 1874)

Thirteenth President, 1850-1853

Millard Fillmore was Zachary Taylor’s vice president, and so became president in 1850 after Taylor’s sudden death. Although he personally opposed slavery, Fillmore signed the Compromise of 1850, which he felt would temporarily pacify both North and South. But the Fugitive Slave Act, a resolution which promised federal support for capturing runaway slaves and allowing slaves to be hunted in anti-slave states, infuriated Northern abolitionists and lost Fillmore any hope of reelection. Two of Fillmore’s more positive acts in office were sending Commodore Matthew Parry on a trade mission to Japan in 1853 and allocating federal aid for the construction of railroads.

  FRANKLIN PIERCE(1804 – 1869)

Fourteenth President, 1853-1857

Franklin Pierce tried hard to keep the peace between the North and South, but his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 brought the country one step closer to civil war. The act called for settlers to decide among themselves whether or not to allow slavery in their territories, but the result of the act was a bloody border war between pro and antislavery factions as each side tried to bring in enough supporters to win the vote. Under Pierce’s watch, Commodore Perry concluded a treaty with Japan allowing American trade with that country, and the Gadsden Purchase secured the border between the United States and Mexico. But it was for the Kansas-Nebraska Act that Pierce was remembered, and he was not nominated for a second term.


JAMES BUCHANAN (1791 – 1868)

Fifteenth President, 1857-1861

James Buchanan entered the White House at a time when the fight between North and South over slavery was spinning out of control, and both sides ignored his calls for compromise. During Buchanan’s presidency, abolitionist John Brown attempted to capture the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, as a base from which slave rebellions could be mounted. Although Brown was caught and hung, his raid frightened slave owners–as well as the government. Fearing another action, Buchanan sent federal agents to arrest influential abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a former slave. Douglass eluded arrest by fleeing the country, but he soon returned to continue the fight through public speaking and his antislavery newspaper, the North Star.


ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1909 – 1865)

Sixteenth President, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln was well known for his opposition to the expansion of slavery, and his election as president in 1860 triggered the secession of eleven southern states from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Lincoln viewed the Southern action as unconstitutional, and he was well aware that a civil war would be a very likely result of any attempt to reunite the country. When  onfederate soldiers fired on Fort Sumner in April of 1861, war did break out; resulting in the four bloodiest years the United States has ever seen. In the second year of the raging war, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the Confederate states. Later that year, Lincoln gave his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address, on the site of the most pitiless battle of the war. In 1865, with Confederate resources dwindling and ever more soldiers deserting, the Union army was able to force a surrender at Appommatox court house in Virginia on April 9. Just five days later, Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. The president died the following morning, throwing the nation into intense mourning. Lincoln had plans for bringing the country back together again, but without his leadership, the country was plunged into confusion that would take many years to resolve.


ANDREW JOHNSON (1808 – 1875)

Seventeenth President, 1865-1869

Nominated vice president for Lincoln’s second term, Andrew Johnson was the only U.S. Senator from the South to stay loyal to the Union. On becoming president after Lincoln’s assassination, Johnson worked hard to bring the country together again using Lincoln’s policies of leniency towards the defeated Southern states. But the wounds of the war were too fresh, and not everyone was willing to give power back to those who had broken away from the Union. Johnson lost the support of the Republican party when he refused to sign a bill protecting the rights of freed Southern slaves. When he persisted in following Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction of the South, Johnson was put on trial by the Senate. In 1868 Johnson became the first president to be impeached; he was spared removal from office by one vote.


ULYSSES S. GRANT (1822 – 1885)

Eighteenth President, 1869-1877

Like Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant was elected to the presidency in honor of his heroic deeds on the battlefield, even though he had absolutely no political background. Not only was Grant lacking in political experience, he also had no particular interest in using the powers of the presidency and was taken advantage of by dishonest associates. One of Grant’s few accomplishments was approval of the Specie Resumption Act, which made it legal to redeem “greenbacks” issued during the Civil War for gold or silver coins. However, the country was more likely to remember Grant’s administration for the fraud, graft, scandal, and corruption of his second term. Grant was happy to leave office after eight years.


RUTHERFORD B. HAYES (1822 – 1893)

Nineteenth President, 1877-1881

Rutherford B. Hayes had been a Union general in the Civil War, and he won a controversial election by just one electoral vote. His first important act in office was to end Reconstruction by removing the last of the federal troops from the South, which won over his Democratic critics, but alienated many within his own party. Hayes attacked the corrupt patronage system, personally firing future 21st president Chester A. Arthur from a powerful position he had been rewarded with. In 1879, Hayes vetoed Congress’s first ban on Chinese immigration.


JAMES A. GARFIELD (1831 – 1881)

Twentieth President, March-September 1881

James A. Garfield was the third Civil War general to become president. In his short time in office, Garfield moved against the patronage system, with plans to reform the civil service system and purge the post office of corruption. But an assassin shot Garfield only four months into his term–he was the second president to be killed in office.


CHESTER A. ARTHUR (1830 – 1886)

Twenty-first President, 1881-1885

Chester A. Arthur, James A. Garfield’s vice president, had received all his political jobs–including the vice presidency–in return for his loyalty to the Republican Party. When he became president after Garfield’s assassination, Arthur surprised his party in 1883 by signing the Pendleton Act, which established the Civil Service Commission. Under the Act, those seeking jobs in the civil service had to pass exams pertinent to the position. This did not please the Republicans who had previously supported Arthur up the political ladder, and he was not nominated for a second term.


GROVER CLEVELAND (1837 – 1908)

Twenty-second President, 1885-1889

Grover Cleveland was the only president to be elected to two non-consecutive terms. A staunch political and social conservative, Grover Cleveland was known for his integrity and reformist activities. When he was elected governor of New York in 1882, he went after the corrupt Democratic political machine of Tammany Hall, courageously defying the “Bosses” who controlled the party. Nominated on the second ballot at the 1884 Democratic convention, Cleveland won election by the smallest popular margin in American history. The first Democratic president since the Civil War, Cleveland appointed Southerners to a number of posts. For the most part, he believed in a “hands off” presidency, avoiding involvement in appointed Southerners to a number of posts. For the most part, he believed in a “hands off” presidency, avoiding involvement in proposed legislation, but quickly rejecting congressional actions he disapproved of. In fact, Cleveland vetoed more legislation than any president before him, gaining him the nickname “Old Veto.” During his first term in office, Cleveland married 21-year old Francis Folsom. Twenty-eight years his junior, the Young and beautiful First Lady became very popular with the public. Cleveland lost the 1888 election over his proposal to reduce tariffs on foreign goods, but was reelected in 1893 on a Platform of economy in government–and tariff reduction. Soon after his reelection, the country suffered a severe economic depression, the Panic of 1893; despite the suffering of the unemployed, Cleveland stayed true to his “hands off” government policy and would not intervene. However, when Pullman railroad workers went on strike over a pay cut in 1894, interfering with the delivery of the U.S. mail, Cleveland sent in federal troops to break it up. Cleveland did better with foreign affairs, citing the Monroe Doctrine to force arbitration of a boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana.



Twenty-third President, 1889-1893

Grandson of President William Henry Harrison and great-grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Harrison was a colonel in the Civil War and a Senator from Indiana prior to becoming president. A gifted public speaker, Harrison was so cold on a personal level–obsessed with germs, he wore gloves when shaking hands–that he was nicknamed the “Human Iceberg.” During Harrison’s administration, six states were admitted to the Union. He approved the Dependent Pension Act establishing funds for disabled Civil War veterans that Grover Cleveland had vetoed, set aside large appropriations for rivers and harbors, laid the groundwork for trade agreements with Latin America, and saw Congress pass the Sherman Silver Bill of 1890. The bill committed the U.S. Treasury to buy 4.5 million ounces of silver per month which triggered the Panic of 1893–just in time for Grover Cleveland’s second administration.


GROVER CLEVELAND (1837 – 1908)

Twenty-fourth President, 1893-1897

Grover Cleveland was the only president to be elected to two non-consecutive terms. A staunch political and social conservative, Grover Cleveland was known for his integrity and reformist activities. When he was elected governor of New York in 1882, he went after the corrupt Democratic political machine of Tammany Hall, courageously defying the “Bosses” who controlled the party. Nominated on the second ballot at the 1884 Democratic convention, Cleveland won election by the smallest popular margin in American history. The first Democratic president since the Civil War, Cleveland appointed Southerners to a number of posts. For the most part, he believed in a “hands off” presidency, avoiding involvement in proposed legislation, but quickly rejecting congressional actions he disapproved of. In fact, Cleveland vetoed more legislation than any president before him, gaining him the nickname “Old Veto.” During his first term in office, Cleveland married 21-year old Francis Folsom. Twenty-eight years his junior, the Young and beautiful First Lady became very popular with the public. Cleveland lost the 1888 election over his proposal to reduce tariffs on foreign goods, but was reelected in 1893 on a Platform of economy in government–and tariff reduction. Soon after his reelection, the country suffered a severe economic depression, the Panic of 1893; despite the suffering of the unemployed, Cleveland stayed true to his “hands off” government policy and would not intervene. However, when Pullman railroad workers went on strike over a pay cut in 1894, interfering with the delivery of the U.S. mail, Cleveland sent in federal troops to break it up. Cleveland did better with foreign affairs, citing the Monroe Doctrine to force arbitration of a boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana.


WILLIAM MCKINLEY (1843 – 1901)

Twenty-fifth President, 1897-1901

Ilen the Civil War, William McKinley served admirably under future president Rutherford B. Hayes. When McKinley was ected president in 1896, he emulated his predecessor Grover Cleveland’s “hands off” approach, allowing big business to run amok. But when he passed the Dingley Tariff Act, establishing higher tariffs on imports, the American economy finally turned around for everyone. It was at foreign policy that McKinley excelled. In 1898, McKinley tried to help Cuba declare independence from Spain. When the American battleship Maine was blown up in Havana harbor, the U.S. declared war on Spain and won in four short months. Also in 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii, acquired Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines Islands through the Treaty of Paris. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Hays negotiated a trade policy with China, and arranged for the treaty under which the U.S. would build and own the Panama Canal. Winning reelection in 1900, McKinley was shot by a Polish anarchist in Buffalo the following year.



Twenty-sixth President, 1901-1909

When McKinley was shot, Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest ever president of the United States, at the age of forty-two. A popular war hero from the Spanish-American War in which he led the famous Rough Rider Regiment on the charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill, Roosevelt had a reputation for courage, boundless energy, and idealism, which he amply demonstrated as president. Despite his wealthy origins, Roosevelt felt that it was his duty to protect American workers from the power of  wealthy business interests. When Pennsylvania coal miners went on strike for higher wages in 1902, Roosevelt supported the workers and threatened to close down the mines unless the owners agreed to negotiate; he brought both sides to Washington, where the miners won many of their demands. A strong believer in racial equality, Roosevelt was the first president to entertain an African American in the White House. His guest was Booker T. Washington, renowned educator and principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Roosevelt was unanimously elected to a second term, during which he continued to support workers and average Americans by crusading as a “Trust Buster,” against the unfair price-setting practices of big business. He went after railroad corruption with the Elkins Act, endorsed the Pure Food and Drug Act, and encouraged the vigorous lifestyle he and his large family so enjoyed by doubling the number of national parks and adding 150 million acres to the nation’s forest reserve. Although Roosevelt was fond of hunting wild game, his refusal to shoot a captured bear cub on a hunting trip in Mississippi inspired the stuffed toy known today as the teddy bear. Roosevelt’s mediation of the Russo-Japanese War won him a 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.


WILLIAM H. TAFT (1857 – 1930)

Twenty-seventh President, 1909-1913

Friendly and good-natured, William Howard Taft pursued the White House with the encouragement of Theodore Roosevelt. The energetic former president was a hard act to follow, but Taft’s administration turned out to be an active one. Along with the continued prosecution of unfair business practices under the Sherman Antitrust Act, the country saw the establishment of the postal savings bank, the parcel-post system, and the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment calling for the collection of income tax. Taft was the first president to buy automobiles for the White House, and he created the presidential tradition of throwing out the first ball on opening day of the baseball season. After facing a rough reelection campaign in 1912, Taft declared himself happy to leave the White House. In 1921, he was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court and subsequently swore presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover into office.


WOODROW WILSON (1856 – 1924)

Twenty-eighth President, 1913-1921

Woodrow Wilson brought a brilliant intellect, strong moral convictions, and a passion for reform to his two terms as president. The ideas he brought with him had been developed during an earlier career as professor of political economy, president of Princeton University, and governor of New Jersey. On the domestic front, Wilson established economic reforms and presided over two Constitutional amendments: the 18th, which instituted the prohibition of alcohol, and the 19th, which granted women the right to vote. His strong belief in peace and international cooperation could not keep the United States from entering World War I, and though Wilson provided effective wartime leadership, he put equal effort into crafting the postwar peace agreement and providing the vision for a new League of Nations. Though his efforts won him a Nobel Peace Prize, his dogged pursuit of an idealistic moral vision was not universally popular and was thwarted by Congress. After suffering a debilitating stroke in 1919, Wilson relied heavily on his wife, Edith, to help run the White House for the remainder of his term.


WARREN G. HARDING (1865 – 1923)

Twenty-ninth President, 1921-1923

Campaigning on the theme “Back to Normalcy,” Warren G. Harding promised the American people a rest from the policies of war. Harding did not use the power of his office well, ceding much to the will of Congress, who passed legislation to limit immigration, raised tariffs to their highest rate ever, and–with the assistance of Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon–reduced income taxes and the national debt. It was Harding’s trusted advisors, however, members with whom he regularly played poker and drank boot legged liquor, who turned his term in office into a scandal-ridden mess. The most well-known was the Teapot Dome Affair, in which the Secretary of the Interior took a large payoff in return for drilling rights to federal land. There was also corruption in the Office of the Alien Property Custodian, the Veteran’s Bureau, and elsewhere in the administration. Harding was never directly implicated in any of these scandals, and before being fully investigated, he died suddenly in San Francisco in his last year in office. The truth about Harding’s involvement in the graft that marred his administration may never be known–after the president’s death, his wife hurried back to the White House and burned all of his official correspondence.


CALVIN COOLIDGE (1872 – 1933)

Thirtieth President, 1923-1929

Calvin Coolidge took office after Warren G. Harding’s sudden–and some say mysterious–death. “Silent Cal” was reserved and honest, and his incorruptible presence was such a relief after the sordid goings-on of the previous administration that he easily won the 1924 election. The American economy was in the midst of “The Roaring Twenties,” with a booming stock market and easy credit, and Coolidge felt that a “hands off” government would keep the economy going strong. Even the murmerings of an agricultural depression causing farm foreclosures in the last years of his presidency did not cause Coolidge to involve the government in financial matters, and he remained popular to the end of his term in office.


HERBERT HOOVER (1874 – 1964)

Thirty-first President, 1929-1933

History might have a very different opinion of Herbert Hoover if he hadn’t happened to preside over one of America’s worst financial disasters. Hoover began his term at the tail end of a decade of unprecedented prosperity. However, rampant speculation led to the stock market crash of 1929, ushering in an era of severe economic depression. Though Hoover, a self-made millionaire and engineering magnate, attempted to bring some relief to the country’s ailing financial institutions, he felt it was not the government’s place to directly assist the individuals and families who were adversely affected by the hard times. Fairly or unfairly, he was blamed for the worsening depression and voted out of office after one term. Ironically, Hoover is also remembered for his brilliant administration of food and other types of aid during World War I and again after World War II.



Thirty-second President, 1933-1945

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the product of a powerful political family that had already sent one of its members, Theodore, to the White House. Bred for public service, his career began early with forays into New York State politics. In 1921, a bout with polio paralyzed his lower body, a condition with which Roosevelt would struggle, mentally and physically, for the rest of his life. Despite this setback, his political star continued to rise with his election to governor of New York in 1928 and president in 1932. Roosevelt’s immediate task upon entering the White House was to grapple with the Great Depression, which, to the relief of American citizens, he tackled enthusiastically, if not always effectively. Together with his “Brain Trust” of top policymakers and his influential wife Eleanor Roosevelt, he enacted a multitude of government programs designed to shore up the economy and provide relief to millions of destitute Americans. One controversial result of this activism was a much-enlarged and empowered federal government. Though not universally liked, Roosevelt nevertheless proved popular enough to be elected to an unprecedented four terms. By 1941, early in Roosevelt’s third term, the looming world war was commanding more attention; but the United States was caught flat-footed by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt rallied the country once again, creating a wartime industrial machine that helped clinch the war for the Allies, revive the American economy, and thrust the United States into a new status as a world superpower. By the war’s end, Roosevelt’s health was failing, and he died in 1945. He will long be remembered as one of the country–and the world’s–most powerful and influential statesmen.


HARRY S. TRUMAN (1884 – 1972)

Thirty-third President, 1945-1953

When Franklin D. Roosevelt died suddenly in 1945, the war in Europe was only months away from a close; but as Vice President Harry Truman moved into the White House, he found himself facing the war in the Pacific, where the Japanese were refusing to surrender. Rather than risk the lives of more U.S. servicemen, Truman made the agonizing decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At least 100,000 people were killed instantly, and the war was over within days. Truman then faced the job of dealing with millions of returning service-people with the GI Bill, offering education and training for a peacetime economy. His Fair Deal initiative also included proposals for national medical insurance and civil rights legislation, but both were defeated in Congress and it would be long time before either were discussed again. Truman went against the odds to win a second term in 1948, surprising everyone with his upset of popular New York Governor Thomas Dewey. With Europe rebuilding itself and Stalin establishing communist governments in Eastern Europe, Truman proposed to stop the spread of communism by promising American support to any country fighting communists, the Truman Doctrine. Later that year, secretary of state George Marshall proposed the Marshall Plan, which would provide grants to rebuild war-torn European countries. Stalin criticized these plans, and the seeds of the Cold War were sown. When communist North Korea attempted to take over South Korea in 1950, the Truman Doctrine was called into play; American troops were once again sent overseas, this time under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, with orders to liberate South Korea. But the general went a step beyond his orders, invading the border of North Korea, which prompted the Communist Chinese to send their troops into the action. Truman angrily relieved MacArthur of his command for disobeying orders, an unpopular move which ultimately led to Truman’s decision to decline his party’s nomination in 1952.


DWIGHT D. EISENOWHER (1890 – 1969)

Thirty-fourth President, 1953-1961

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s success in the European Theater of Operations during World War II led to his appointment as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe–the organizer of the D-Day invasion of Normandy that helped bring about Germany’s surrender. When the genial war hero ran for president on a promise to end the Korean War, the voting public made it clear that they did, in fact, like Ike. The eight years Eisenhower spent in office were for the most part calm, prosperous years for the country, with the healthiest economy since the 1920s. But there were volatile issues for the president to deal with, as well. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, was so intent on ferreting out supposed communists within the State Department that he ruined the careers of many innocent people. The president also had to handle intensifying civil rights issues, such as the South’s defiant reaction to the Supreme Court-ordered desegregation of schools, causing him to send federal troops to escort the African American students to school. The space race began on Eisenhower’s watch when the Soviet Union beat America into space with Sputnik I, the first satellite into space. In order to bring the American space program up to speed, the president approved a new congressional program to bring talented young scientists into the field of space technology.


JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917 – 1963)

Thirty-fifth President, 1961-1963

When an assassin’s bullet cut short John Kennedy’s presidency in November 1963, the country experienced a collective sense of loss that it had not known since the death of Lincoln. But the grief was not so much inspired by a long litany of presidential accomplishments as it was an expression of what Kennedy had come to represent. To be sure, his administration could claim notable triumphs in foreign policy, including its successful face-off with the Soviets over the presence of missiles in Cuba. Its support for the civil rights movement had, moreover, contributed significantly to a climate that would soon give birth to landmark legislation promoting racial equality. The main source of grief over Kennedy’s death, however, was the eloquence and vigorous idealism that he had brought to his presidency and that made him, in the eyes of many, the embodiment of this country’s finest aspirations.


LYNDON B. JOHNSON (1908 – 1973)

Thirty-sixth President, 1963-1969

Few individuals have managed to harness the forces of American politics to better advantage or with greater relish than Lyndon B. Johnson. Thus, when he surrendered his position as Senate majority leader to become John Kennedy’s Vice President in 1961, it was inevitable that Johnson should bridle at the political limbo of his new office. Johnson’s instincts for power, however, survived that limbo. When Kennedy’s death put him in the White House in 1963, his ability to get what he wanted was soon yielding a string of Landmark legislation that included a far-reaching civil rights act, health insurance for the elderly, and a federally funded “war on poverty.” Unfortunately, his administration’s war against Communist aggression in Vietnam overshadowed those successes. By the end of his presidency, anger over the war was inspiring protests across the country, and Johnson had gone from being one of the most successful Presidents in history to being one of the most maligned.


RICHARD NIXON (1913 – 1994)

Thirty-seventh President, 1969-1974

Richard Nixon owed his early prominence and election as Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President to his reputation as an anti-Communist militant. By the time he became President in 1968, however, his thinking about relationships between the Communist and free worlds had shifted considerably. As a result, under his leadership, the confrontational strategies that had long dominated this country’s response to Communism gave way to a historic d‚tente, marked by American recognition of Communist China and warmer relations with the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, these diplomatic achievements were eventually overshadowed by disclosure of the Watergate scandals a web of illegal activity involving scores of Nixon’s advisers. Though never implicated in the original crimes themselves, Nixon did become party to attempts to cover them up. Following irrefutable disclosure of that fact, he became the only President ever to resign from office.


GERALD R. FORD (1913 – 2006)

Thirty-eighth President, 1974-1977

Gerald Ford was perfectly happy with his lot as a Michigan congressman and House minority leader. When revelations of misconduct forced Spiro Agnew to resign the vice presidency in 1973, however, Ford’s congressional career abruptly ended with his appointment by President Richard Nixon to succeed Agnew. Within a year, Ford’s political fortunes took yet another sharp turn. On August 9, 1974, with Nixon himself forced to resign from office amid charges of wrongdoing, Ford became the only unelected Vice President to succeed to the White House. Ford’s pardoning of Nixon shortly thereafter drew angry criticism. Nevertheless, Ford’s conciliatory leadership succeeded in restoring a much-eroded confidence in the presidency. Summarizing the orderly way he came to office despite the unsettling events that put him there, he had said at his swearing-in: “Our Constitution works.” In large measure, it was Ford who insured that it did.


JIMMY CARTER (1924 – 20__)

Thirty-ninth President, 1977-1981

In the early stages of the 1976 presidential campaign, the experts hardly gave a second thought to Jimmy Carter’s chances of winning the Democratic nomination, much less the White House. But the former Georgia governor’s can-do, Washington outsider’s image, along with his conservative populism, had great voter appeal, and in the final poll he emerged triumphant. Unfortunately, Carter did not prove as effective in the presidency as he had on the stump. He was, moreover, blamed for problems, such as runaway inflation, that were mostly beyond his control. Nevertheless, his administration had some unalloyed successes, including the landmark peace Agreement between Egypt and Israel that would probably never have been reached without Carter’s own dogged determination to make it happen.


RONALD REAGAN (1911 – 2004)

Fortieth President, 1981-1989

When ex-California governor Ronald Reagan began his presidency in 1981, his warmth and skill in handling the media had already planted the seeds of his reputation as the “great communicator.” More significant, however, was how those traits were made to work on behalf of his conservative agenda. By the end of his second term, despite widespread concern over budget deficits and several administration scandals, Reagan’s presidency had wrought many significant changes, heartily endorsed by the public at large. Under his leadership, the nation had undergone major tax reforms, witnessed a significant easing of relations with the Communist world, and experienced a sharp upturn in prosperity. In the wake of these developments, Reagan left office enjoying a popularity that only a few of his outgoing predecessors had ever experienced.

  George Bush (1924 – 20__)

Forty-first President, 1989-1993

In the early 1960s, George Bush presided over a thriving oil business in Houston, Texas. Had he continued with that enterprise, his then-modest fortune might have grown immense. Instead, he turned to politics. By 1980, when he was elected Ronald Reagan’s Vice President, he had served as ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the process, White House aspirations had taken hold, and in 1988, thanks largely to his identification with the popular Reagan, he claimed the presidency. Bush proved most sure-footed in foreign policy, where, according to one observer, he proved a master of both “timing and substance.” More widely traveled than any other President, he managed the policy transitions prompted by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Perhaps his greatest success was the alliance he crafted to thwart Iraq’s forceful takeover of Kuwait in 1990.


William J. Clinton (1946 – 20__)

Forty-second President, 1992-2001

William Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, was elected to the presidency in 1992 and went on to help create an unprecedented time of peace and economic prosperity in the United States. Among the successes of his presidency were achieving the lowest unemployment rate in modern times, managing an overhaul of the economic system, and proposing the first balanced budget in decades. In his second year, after the failure of his health care reform program, Clinton displayed a marked shift in focus announcing that “the era of big government is over.” In the international arena, Clinton defended an expanded NATO, successfully sent peacekeeping forces to war-torn Bosnia, and responded with Attacks on Iraq when Saddam Hussein halted U.N. inspections for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. The only Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term, Clinton’s administration was plagued by investigations and personal scandals. On December 18, 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach William J. Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the president’s testimony in a civil suit and his statements regarding his relationship with a White House intern. The debate largely focused on whether his crimes, if real, rose to the level of an impeachable offense. The Senate found him not guilty of the charges brought against him.


GEORGE W. BUSH (1946 – 20__)

Forty-third President, 2001-2009

The son of former President and Mrs. George Bush, George W. Bush grew up in Midland and Houston, Texas. After earning degrees at Yale and the Harvard Business School, he returned to his home state to lead a Midland, Texas-based oil and gas company from the mid-1970s through the 1980s. In 1989, Bush led a group of partners to purchase the Texas Rangers, a major league baseball team, and served as managing general partner of the Rangers before embarking on a political career with a successful bid for the Texas governorship in 1994. Reelected as governor in 1998, he decided to seek the Republican party’s presidential nomination in 2000. Bush proved an instant hit with Republican voters, easily defeating his opponents in a well-run primary race. The fall election campaign proved unusually tight, with his Democratic opponent Vice President Albert Gore winning the popular vote by a small margin but Bush edging him out in the electoral college to win the presidency. Disputes over ballotcounting in Florida delayed resolution of the election until December 12, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bush’s favor and ended further appeals. With his election, Bush and his father became only the second father and son to hold the nation’s highest office–preceded only by John Adams and John Quincy Adams.



Forty-fourth President, 2009-2___

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama earned degrees from both Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He served three terms in the Illinois senate from 1997-2004 and represented the state of Illinois in the United States Senate from 2005-2008. On January 20, 2009 Barack Obama became the first African American to be sworn into the office of president of the United States.


Smithsonian National Museum of American History