George Washington (1732-1799) was the first president of the United States. He was also Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was born into a wealthy tobacco planter family in Virginia, and his family owned slaves. He fought in the colonial militia during the French and Indian Wars. In 1759, he married the wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis, and became one of the wealthiest men in Virginia. Because of his family, wealth, and military service, Washington owned huge tracts of land, and many slaves to work it. He lived an aristocratic lifestyle--hunting foxes, going to dances and parties, the theater, races, and cockfights. During the Armerican Revolution, he led the Continental Army to victory against the British, and he was unanimously elected president in 1789 by a group of other wealthy, white landowners. He was not affiliated with any political party.
John Adams (1735 – 1826) was the second president of the United States (1797–1801), having earlier served as the first vice president. He came to prominence in the early stages of the American Revolution, as a lawyer and public figure in Boston, and as a delegate from Massachusetts to the first Continental Congress. He played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence from Great Britain, and assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Later, as a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain. Well educated, he was an Enlightenment political theorist who wrote prolifically about his ideas, both in published works and in letters to his wife and key adviser Abigail Adams. Adams was the first U.S. president to reside in the executive mansion that eventually became known as the White House. He was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. Adams was a lifelong opponent of slavery, having never bought a slave. His religion was Unitarian. His political party was Federalist.
Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) was the third President of the United States (1801–1809), and was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). Living on his 5,000-acre plantation in Virginia, he owned hundreds of slaves, and fathered at least one child by his slave Sally Hemings. At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia. As president, he oversaw acquisition of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. In 1803, he initiated a process of Indian tribal removal to the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River. In 1807 Jefferson drafted and signed into law a bill that banned slave importation into the United States. His political party was Democratic-Republican.
James Madison (1751 – 1836) was the fourth president of the United States (1809–1817). He was instrumental in drafting the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. From his plantation known as Montpelier, he owned hundreds of slaves. He supported the three-fifths compromise to the U.S. Constitution, that allowed three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves to be counted for representation (though slaves could not vote). As president, he led the nation into the War of 1812 with Great Britain. His political party was Democratic-Republican.
James Monroe (1758 – 1831) was the fifth president of the United States (1817–1825). Monroe was a wealthy Virginia plantation owner who owned numerous slave plantations. As a delegate to the Continental Congress, Monroe opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Still, he was elected to the Senate of the first United States congress. During the War of 1812, he was both Secretary of State and the Secretary of War under President James Madison. As Secretary of State, Monroe dismissed Mordercai Manuel Noah in 1815 from his post as consul to Tunis because he was Jewish. Monroe was elected president in 1816, winning over 80 percent of the electoral vote. He took several slaves with him to Washington to serve at the White House. In 1823, he announced the United States' opposition to any European intervention in the recently independent countries of the Americas with the Monroe Doctrine, which became a landmark in American foreign policy. His political party was Democratic-Republican.
John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848) was the sixth president of the United States . He was the son of former President John Adams and Abigail Adams. Much of Adams' youth was spent accompanying his father overseas. He lived in France, the Netherlands, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark. He became fluent in French and Dutch. He also excelled in classical studies and reached high fluency of Latin and Greek. Upon entering Harvard he had already translated Virgil, Horace, Plutarch and Aristotle. Throughout his career, he was a member of numerous political parties: Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, Anti-Masonic, and Whig. He was elected president in 1825. After leaving office, he served for the last 17 years of his life a U.S. Representative. Throughout his life, Adams was a leading opponent of slavery.
Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845) was the seventh president of the United States (1829–1837). As an army general, he defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814), and the British at the Battle of New Orleans.(1815). As president, he initiated forced relocation and resettlement of Native American tribes from the Southeast to west of the Mississippi River with the Indian Removal Act (1830). This abrupt and forced removal resulted in the deaths of over 4,000 Cherokees on the infamous "Trail of Tears." More than 45,000 American Indians were relocated to the West during Jackson's administration. In addition to his legal and political career, Jackson prospered as a plantation owner, slave owner, and merchant. His plantation empire in Tennessee stretched over 1,050 acres. The primary crop was cotton, grown by enslaved workers.
Martin Van Buren (1782 – 1862) was the eighth president of the United States (1837–1841). Before his presidency, he served as Vice President and secretary of state under Andrew Jackson, and was a key organizer of the Democratic Party. He was the first president to have been born a U.S. citizen, since all of his predecessors were born British subjects before the American Revolution. He is the only president for whom English was his second language (He grew up speaking Dutch). His administration was largely characterized by the economic hardship of his time, the Panic of 1837, which led to the unfortunate nick-name "Martin Van Ruin." Twentieth Century etymologist Allen Walker Read published research asserting the wide usage of the phrase "O.K." -- which stood for Van Buren's self-applied nickname "Old Kinderhook"—started during the presidential campaign and subsequent presidency of Martin Van Buren.
William Henry Harrison (1773 – 1841) was the ninth president of the United States (1841) and the first president to die in office. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia, serving the shortest tenure in United States presidential history. He was 68 years old when inaugurated, the oldest president to take office until Ronald Reagan in 1981. He was born into a prominent political family in Virginia, who owned plantations and slaves. Before election as president, he gained national fame for leading U.S. military campaigns against native Americans. As governor of the Indiana territory, he supervised the development of 13 treaties, which resulted in native Americans losing 60 million acres of their tribal land. He was hailed by many as a national hero. His political party was "Whig."
John Tyler (1790 – 1862) was the tenth president of the United States (1841–1845). He was elected vice president on the 1840 Whig ticket with William Henry Harrison, and became president after his running mate's death in April 1841. Tyler, like his predecessor, was born into a wealthy, slave-owning family in Virginia. He was a slaveholder for his entire life. A firm believer in Manifest Destiny, President Tyler sought territorial expansion, most notably the annexation of Texas in his last days in office, which was admitted to the union as a slave state. When the Civil War began in 1861, Tyler sided with the Confederate government, and won election to the Confederate House of Representatives shortly before his death. Tyler's death was the only one in presidential history not to be officially recognized in Washington, because of his allegiance to the Confederacy. At his funeral in Virginia, his coffin was draped with a Confederate flag.
James K. Polk (1795 – 1849) was the 11th president of the United States (1845–1849). Polk was a slaveholder and plantation owner for his entire life. As president, he led the nation into the Mexican-American War, which resulted in the recently-independent nation of Mexico losing half of its country, and the U.S. gaining the land that would include California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas. The war claimed 20,000 American lives and 50,000 Mexican lives. General Ulysses S. Grant called the Mexican-American War "one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation." Polk was nicknamed "Napoleon of the Stump". During his presidency, many abolitionists harshly criticized him as an instrument of the "Slave Power", and claimed that spreading slavery was the reason he supported annexing Texas and later war with Mexico. He died three months after leaving office.
Zachary Taylor (1784 – 1850) was the 12th president of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Taylor was born to a prominent family of planters and slave-owners from Virginia, and he remained a slave-owner throughout his life. Prior to his presidency, he was a career officer in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of major general. He earned the nickname "Old Rough and Ready" from leading U.S. military campaigns against native Americans. His status as a "War Hero" of the Mexican American War, won him election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. He died sixteen months into his term. Almost immediately after his death, rumors began to circulate that Taylor was poisoned/assassinated, though no definitive proof has surfaced. His political party was "Whig." Taylor was the last President to own slaves while in office.
Millard Fillmore (1800 – 1874) was the 13th president of the United States (1850–1853), the last Whig president, and the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. Fillmore was a lawyer from western New York state and served in the state legislature, before being elected as Zachary Taylor's vice president. After Taylor's death, he assumed the presidency . Fillmore served at the height of the "Crisis of 1850" over slavery, and supported the Compromise of 1850, which sought to placate both the north and the south, but ended up displeasing most. Fillmore was the first of a long line of late nineteenth century presidents, mostly lawyers, who acquired only modest wealth during their lives, were "distinctly middle class", and who spent most of their careers in public service.
Franklin Pierce (1804 – 1869) was the 14th president of the United States. (1853–1857). Pierce was a Democrat and a "doughface" (a Northerner with Southern sympathies). He went to college with writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the two became lifelong friends. He served in congress and fought in the Mexican-American War. As president, his popularity in the North declined sharply after he supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which re-opened the possibility of slavery in new territories. The passage of this Act resulted in so much violence between groups that the territory became known as "Bleeding Kansas," and was an important pre-cursor to the Civil War. His reputation was destroyed during the Civil War when he declared support for the Confederacy.
James Buchanan (1791 – 1868) was the 15th President of the United States (1857–1861), serving immediately prior to the American Civil War. He is the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor. There are many indicators that suggest he was homosexual, especially his close and intimate relationship with William Rufus King (who became Vice President under Franklin Pierce). The two men lived together in a Washington boardinghouse for 10 years from 1834 until King's departure for France in 1844. Andrew Jackson called them "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy" (the former being a 19th-century euphemism for an effeminate man). When King moved to France in 1844, Buchanan wrote to Cornelia Roosevelt, "I am now 'solitary and alone,' having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them." As president, Buchanan's efforts to maintain peace between the North and the South alienated both sides, and the Southern states declared their secession in the prologue to the Civil War. The short-lived "Utah War" between the U.S. Army and Mormons also took place during the Buchanan administration.
Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, serving from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional and political crisis. Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, Lincoln was a self-educated lawyer in Illinois, state legislator during the 1830s, and a one-term member of the Congress during the 1840s. Lincoln's attitude toward slavery was complicated. He once wrote, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery." And yet he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and helped push through Congress the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which permanently outlawed slavery. Six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a noted actor and Confederate sympathizer.
Andrew Johnson (1808 – 1875) was the 17th President of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. Johnson (who was Lincoln's Vice President) became president after Lincoln's assassination. He was born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina. Before becoming president, he was a congressman and governor of Tennessee. As Southern states, including Tennessee, seceded, Johnson remained firmly with the Union. He came to office as the Civil War concluded. The new president favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. His plans did not give protection to former slaves, and he came into conflict with the Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. He opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, which gave citizenship to African-Americans.The first American president to be impeached, he was acquitted in the Senate by one vote. He is generally considered among the worst American presidents for his opposition to federally guaranteed rights for African Americans.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822 – 1885) was the 18th President of the United States, following his military successes in the Civil War, as general of the Union Army. After the Civil War, Grant served two terms as president and worked to stabilize the nation during the turbulent Reconstruction period that followed. His campaign slogan was "Let us have peace." He enforced civil rights laws, fought Ku Klux Klan violence, and encouraged passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, giving protection for African-American voting rights. Under Grant, for the first time in American history, African-Americans represented themselves in Congress; however, by the time Grant left office in 1877, most African Americans had lost their political power, and would not regain it for nearly a century. Although Grant's Indian peace policy reduced Indian violence and created the Board of Indian Commissioners, conflict continued that culminated in the Battle of Little Big Horn. He appointed Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian and member of his wartime staff, as Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
Rutherford B. Hayes (1822 – 1893) was the 19th President of the United States. He served as an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War, and was wounded five times. In 1876, he was elected president in one of the most contentious and confused elections in national history. He lost the popular vote but won an intensely disputed electoral college vote. The result was the Compromise of 1877, which ended all federal army intervention in Southern politics, led to disenfranchisement of African Americans, and was basically the end of "Reconstruction." During the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, he sent in the military, marking the first use of federal troops to break a strike against a private company. Conflicts with Indian tribes continued, mostly involving tribes being forced to leave their ancestral lands for reservations, like The Nez Perce, led by Chief Joseph, who resisted and were pursued for 1700 miles before being defeated and forced onto a reservation.
James Garfield (1831 – 1881) was the 20th President of the United States, after completing nine consecutive terms in the House of Representatives. In 1872, he was one of a number of Congressmen involved in the Credit Mobilier scandal, in which numerous legislators received financial favors for their support of the railroad interests. As president, he supported a "universal" education system funded by the federal government, to help with the education of newly freed African Americans; however, federal funding for universal education did not pass during his presidency. Garfield was the first president to ever talk on the telephone. When he spoke to Alexander Graham Bell, who was at the other end 13 miles away, he said: “Please speak a little more slowly.” During his first year in office, James Garfield was assassinated.
Chester A. Arthur (1829 – 1886) was the 21st President of the United States; he succeeded James Garfield upon the latter's assassination. Before being elected president, he was a lawyer in New York. In 1854, he was the lead attorney representing Elizabeth Jennings Graham after she was denied a seat on a streetcar because she was African American. He won the case, and the verdict led to the desegregation of the New York City streetcar lines. This was over 100 years before Rosa Parks! As president, he signed laws which severely limited immigration to the United States, serious calling into question the whole "give us your tired, you poor, your huddled masses" thing. He signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese people from entering America, and the Immigration Act of 1882, which excluded from entry people who were mentally ill or disabled.
Grover Cleveland (1837 – 1908) was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. During the Civil War, Cleveland paid a Polish immigrant to serve in his place, like many well-off men did. In the early 1870s, as sheriff of Erie County, Cleveland personally executed two men. In the 1880s, he served as mayor of Buffalo, and then governor of New York. As president, he pushed for the passage of the Dawes Act, which had the effect of further weakening Native American tribal governments. Shortly after Cleveland's second term began, the Panic of 1893 struck the stock market, and created an economic depression, which in turn created labor strikes across the country, such as Coxley's Army (a group of unemployed men who marched on the White House, to protest Cleveland's economic policies), and the Pullman Strike (125,000 railroad workers protesting wage cuts). In both cases, Cleveland used federal troops to quell the strikes. He was the only president married in the White House. He was 49. His wife was 21. Regarding the women's suffrage movement, Cleveland once wrote: "Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by men and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence."
Benjamin Harrison (1833 – 1901), the 23rd President of the United States, was the grandson of former President, William Henry Harrison. As a lawyer in Indiana, he represented the railroad interests during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. As president, he signed the Sherman Antitrust Act, which sought to curb the growing power of corporate monopolies; however, his administration was not particularly vigorous in enforcing it. He supported legislation to protect African Americans' civil rights, like the Federal Elections Bill, but most bills were defeated in the Senate. He helped create the first Forest Reserves (a precursor to National Parks) which totaled 22 million acres in his term. During Harrison's administration, U.S. troops from the Seventh Cavalry committed the Wounded Knee massacre, which killed at least 146 Lakota, including many women and children, and dumped the dead Lakota in a mass grave. Under Harrison's presidency, the following states were admitted to the Union: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming--all of which were located on former native American tribal lands.
William McKinley (1843 – 1901) was the 25th President of the United States, serving from 1897, until his assassination in September 1901. He was the last President to have served in the Civil War. In his first inaugural address he said, “We want no wars of conquest. We must avoid the temptation of territorial aggression.” He then went on to lead the nation in the Spanish–American War of 1898, which resulted in the U.S. acquiring, by conquest, the colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Phillippines. Cuba was promised independence, but at that time remained under the control of the U.S. Army. During the war, McKinley also pursued the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii, which was already dominated by American interests, since the Doles had seized power from the royal government in 1893. McKinley persuaded congress to approve annexation in 1898, saying, “We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is Manifest Destiny.” He was assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, a second-generation Polish-American with anarchist leanings, in September 1901, and was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919), the 26th President of the United States, was the most badass president of all time. At age seven, Roosevelt and two cousins formed what they called the "Roosevelt Museum of Natural History". Having learned the rudiments of taxidermy, he filled his makeshift museum with animals that he killed or caught, then studied and prepared for display. At age nine, he codified his observation of insects with a paper entitled "The Natural History of Insects." After graduation from Harvard, he wrote a systematic study of naval battles of the War of 1812, complete with drawings of individual and combined ship maneuvers, charts depicting the differences in iron throw weights of cannon shot between American and British forces, and analyses of the differences between English and American leadership down to the ship-to-ship level. While living on the banks of the Little Missouri river, Roosevelt learned to ride western style, rope and hunt, and published three books on "frontier life" – Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail, and The Wilderness Hunter. He formed the Boone and Crockett Club, whose primary goal was the conservation of large game animals and their habitats. As a deputy sheriff of New York, he once pursued three outlaws who had stolen a riverboat. He captured them, and assumed guard over them for forty hours without sleep, while reading Leo Tolstoy to keep himself awake. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, he resigned his role as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and he helped form the famous Rough Riders. Under his leadership, the horse-riding Rough Riders became famous for dual charges up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill in Cuba. He was forced to walk up the last part of Kettle Hill on foot, because of barbed wire entanglement. As governor of New York, he boxed with sparring partners several times a week, until once being hit so hard in the face he became blind in his left eye. Thereafter, he practiced judo, attaining a third degree brown belt and continued his habit of skinny-dipping in the Potomac River during winter. He became President after McKinley was assassinated, and was inaugurated at age 42, the youngest person to become president. For his aggressive use of United States Antitrust law he became known as the "trust-buster," bringing 40 antitrust suits, and breaking up the largest railroad and Standard Oil, the largest oil company. He was instrumental in the creation of 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 National Forests, among other works of conservation. In March 1909, shortly after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt left New York for an expedition in east and central Africa, to collect specimens for the Smithsonian Institute. His party landed in Kenya, traveled to the Congo, before following the Nile to Sudan. Among other items, Roosevelt brought with several high-powered rifles, and the famous Pigskin Library, a collection of classics bound in pig leather and transported in a single reinforced trunk. Roosevelt and his companions killed or trapped approximately 11,400 animals; the quantity was so large that it took years to mount them all. While campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1912, a saloonkeeper shot Roosevelt, and the bullet lodged in his chest. Roosevelt, as an experienced hunter and anatomist, correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not completely penetrated the chest wall to his lung, and he declined suggestions to go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes. In 1913, he led an exploratory expedition of the Brazilian Amazon. One of the goals was to find the headwaters of the Rio da Duvida, the River of Doubt, and trace it north to the Madeira and thence to the Amazon River. It was later renamed Roosevelt River. During the trip down the River of Doubt, Roosevelt suffered a minor leg wound after he jumped into the river to try to prevent two canoes from smashing against the rocks. The flesh wound he received, however, soon gave him tropical fever. Because the bullet lodged in his chest from the assassination attempt in 1912 was never removed, his health worsened from the infection. Riddled with chest pains, fighting a fever that soared to 103 °F, and at times so delirious that he would repeat endlessly the opening line from Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan, Roosevelt insisted he be left behind to allow the expedition to proceed as rapidly as it could. Only an appeal by his son persuaded him to continue. Before Roosevelt had even completed his sea voyage home, doubts were raised over his claims of exploring and navigating a completely uncharted river over 625 miles long. When he had recovered sufficiently, he addressed a standing-room-only convention organized in Washington, D.C. by the National Geographic Society and satisfactorily defended his claims. Roosevelt died unexpectedly in his sleep in 1919. Woodrow Wilson's vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, said that "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."
William Howard Taft (1857 – 1930) was the 27th President of the United States. (1909–1913) At Yale, he was a member of Skull and Bones, the secret society co-founded by his father, Alphonso Taft. He was given the nickname "Big Lub" because of his size. From 1901 to 1904, Taft served as the first civilian Governor-General of the Phillippines. He was also Provisional Governor of Cuba for a time. On April 22, 1912, Taft created the United States Chamber of Commerce as a counterbalance to the rise of the labor movement at the time. In July 1909, while Taft was president, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed, which allowed the federal government to tax incomes. During the Taft administration, two states were admitted to the Union: New Mexico and Arizona. Taft is often remembered as being the most obese president, weighing around 340 lbs. The truth of the often-told story of Taft getting stuck in a White House bathtub is unclear. He also suffered from somnolence, which caused him to fall asleep during conversations, and at the dinner table, and even while standing. Taft is the last President to have sported facial hair while in office.
Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924) was the 28th President of the United States. He was born in Virginia on December 28, 1856 to parents who identified with the Confederacy and owned slaves. As president, he established official segregation in most federal government offices. He secured passage of the Federal Reserve Act in late 1913, a complex business-government partnership that to this day dominates the financial world. Narrowly re-elected in 1916 around the slogan "He kept us out of war", Wilson's second term was dominated by American entry into World War I. He suppressed anti-war movements with the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which seriously limited free speech in America. Mere criticism of the Wilson administration and its war policy became grounds for arrest and imprisonment. Wilson set up the first propaganda office, the United States Committee on Public Information, which filled the country with patriotic anti-German appeals and conducted various forms of censorship. Under Wilson, the U.S. maintained troops in Latin American countries like Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, and used them to select presidents and brutally suppress resistance movements. For his peace-making efforts, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. In 1919, he went to Paris to promote the formation of a League of Nations, with special attention on creating new nations out of defunct empires.
Warren G. Harding (1865 – 1923) was the 29th President of the United States. (1921–1923). His first career was as a newspaper publisher, making Marion Daily Star one of the most popular newspapers in the county. In his run for president, he used his media savvy in ways no other president had before. He brought on board leading experts that used modern advertising techniques for the first time in a presidential campaign-- newsreels, sound recordings, billboard posters, newspapers, magazines, and telemarketers. It was also the first modern campaign to use the power of Hollywood and Broadway stars. Al Jolson, Lilian Russell, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford were among the luminaries to take photos with Harding and his wife. The 1920 election was the first in which women could vote nationwide, and the first covered on the radio. Multiple cases of corruption were exposed during Harding's presidency such as the notorious Teapot Dome Scandal. Harding is said to have originated the phrase "Founding Fathers."
Calvin Coolidge (1872 – 1933), the 30th President of the United States, was Warren G. Harding's Vice President and became president after Harding's death. Elected in his own right in 1924, he gained a reputation as a small-government conservative, and also as a man who said very little, earning him the nickname "Silent Cal." During Coolidge's presidency the United States experienced the period of rapid economic growth known as the "Roaring Twenties". Coolidge has often been criticized for his actions during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, the worst natural disaster to hit the Gulf Coast. He did not want to incur the federal spending that flood control would require, believing property owners should bear much of the cost. Coolidge spoke in favor of the civil rights of African Americans and Catholics. Coolidge repeatedly called for laws against lynching to be enacted, calling it a "hideous crime". However, most Congressional attempts to pass this legislation were filibustered by Southern Democrats. Coolidge was the first President to appear in a sound film.
Herbert Hoover (1874 – 1964) was the 31st president of the United States. Shortly after his election in 1929, Hoover promised, "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land," but within months, the Stock Market crashed, and the world's economy spiraled downward into the Great Depression. By 1932, unemployment had reached 25 percent in the U.S., businesses defaulted on record numbers of loans, and more than 5,000 banks had failed. Hundreds of thousands of Americans found themselves homeless and began congregating in the numerous "Hoovervilles" (shanty towns) that sprang up in major cities. To combat the Depression, Hoover illegally deported around one million Mexican-Americans (The Mexican Repatriation program), and increased taxes (the revenue Act of 1932). In 1932, when thousands of World War I veterans and their families demonstrated and camped out in Washington ("The Bonus Army"), calling for benefits they had been promised and denied, Hoover sent U.S. Army forces to clear out the camp with military force, killing some and injuring hundreds. In his re-election campaign trips around the country, Hoover was faced with perhaps the most hostile crowds of any sitting president. His train and motorcades were routinely pelted with eggs and rotten fruit.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), the 32nd President of the United States, is the only man to be elected to four terms in office. In August 1921, he contracted polio, which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down. When Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, the U.S. was at the depth of The Great Depression. Unemployment was at 25 percent, and two million people were homeless. His "New Deal" was designed to produce relief, recovery, and reform. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), hired 250,000 unemployed young men to work on rural local projects. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) set up a national relief agency that employed two million family heads. The Social Security Act established Social Security and promised economic security for the elderly, the poor and the sick. The National Labor Relations Act established the federal rights of workers to organize unions, to engage in collective bargaining, and to take part in strikes. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 created the minimum wage. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he supervised the mobilization of the U.S. economy to support the Allied war effort. In 1942, due to fears of terrorism, espionage, and/or sabotage, Roosevelt ordered the internment of 100,000 Japanese American civilians. A biographer of FDR wrote in 2007, "He lifted himself from a wheelchair to lift the nation from its knees."
Harry S. Truman (1884 – 1972), the 33rd President of the United States, succeeded to the presidency in 1945, when Roosevelt died. Truman ordered the use of atomic weapons against Japan--on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing tens of thousands of civilians. In the aftermath of World War II, tensions with the Soviet Union increased, marking the start of the Cold War. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, which created the Department of Defense, the CIA and the National Security Council. The escalation of the Cold War was highlighted by Truman's approval of NCS-68, which called for tripling the defense budget, the globalization and militarization of containment, and mobilization of the U.S. economy to build armaments faster than the Soviets. When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, he immediately sent in U.S. troops for the Korean War, which was a frustrating stalemate for two years, with over 30,000 Americans killed, until the armistice of 1953.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) was the 34th President of the United States. He was an Army General during World War II. In 1954, he articulated the "domino theory" of global communism, believing that if the communists were allowed to prevail in one country, it would cause a succession of countries to fall. This ideology ultimately proved false, but not before massively escalating the Cold War. Under Eisenhower, the CIA deposed the leaders of Iran and Guatemala. In 1958, he sent 15,000 U.S. troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government from falling to a revolution. In February 1955, Eisenhower dispatched the first American soldiers to Vietnam as military advisors to president Diem's army. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, Eisenhower expressed his concerns about future dangers of massive military spending, especially government contracts to private military manufacturers, stating: "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex."
John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963), was the 35th President of the United States. Kennedy appeared in the first televised presidential debate in U.S. history--considered a milestone in American political history—the point at which the medium of television began to play a dominant role in politics. In 1961, he ordered the unsuccessful "Bay of Pigs Invasion" of Cuba. In 1962, he dealt successfully with the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world closer to nuclear war than at any point before or since. He helped create the Peace Corps, in which Americans volunteer to help underdeveloped nations in areas such as education, farming, health care, and construction. He also increased military aid to South Vietnam, but was reluctant to order a full-scale deployment of troops. A vocal supporter of the emerging Civil Rights movement, Kennedy intervened when Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the entrance to the University of Alabama to stop two African American students, from attending. That evening Kennedy gave his famous civil rights address on national television and radio, launching his initiative for civil rights legislation—to provide equal access to public schools and other facilities, and greater protection of voting rights. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, which was aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on sex. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1908 – 1973), was the 36th President of the United States, succeeding to the presidency following President Kennedy's assassination. As President, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed most forms of racial segregation, and the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voting, thus allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the first time. He appointed Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American appointed to the U.S. Surpreme Court. Meanwhile, he escalated American involvement in the Vietnam War. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave him the exclusive right to use military force without consulting the Senate, was based on a false pretext, as Johnson later admitted. By 1968, over 550,000 American soldiers were in Vietnam; during 1967 and 1968 they were being killed at the rate of 1,000 a month. Over a million people were killed in the Vietnam War.
Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) was the 37th President of the United States. He was born in Yorba Linda California, attended Fullerton Union High School, and graduated from Whittier College. In congress, his reputation as a leading anti-communist (as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee) elevated him to national prominence. While Nixon was in office, the United States landed astronauts on the Moon in 1969, with the flight of Apollo 11. Although Nixon initially escalated America's involvement in the Vietnam War, he subsequently ended U.S. involvement by 1973. On June 17, 1972, five men were caught breaking into Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. This led to the infamous Watergate Scandal, which included an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration, including bugging the offices of political opponents and the harassment of activist groups and political figures. In total, 48 officials were convicted of wrongdoing. In 1974, Nixon resigned in the face of almost certain impeachment and removal from office. After his resignation, he accepted a pardon issued by his successor, Gerald Ford. Following his resignation, the Nixons moved back to their home in San Clemente, California.
Gerald Ford (born Leslie Lynch King) (1913 – 2006) was the 38th President of the United States. A star football player in college, he turned down contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. He became president upon Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974. Under Ford, U.S. involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Three future Republican "superstars" served in the Ford administration: Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense), Dick Cheney (Chief of Staff), and George H.W. Bush (Director of the CIA). One of his more controversial acts was to grant a presidential pardon to President Richard Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal. Ford faced two assassination attempts during his presidency. Following an incident in 1975 when he tripped while exiting the presidential jet in Austria, Ford acquired a reputation for clumsiness, and was famously and repetitively parodied by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live.
Jimmy Carter (born 1924) was the 39th President of the United States. Before he became President, Carter was a peanut farmer. Carter is the only U.S. president to have lived in housing subsidized for the poor. During Carter's term as President, he created two new cabinet-level departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. In response to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Carter decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Although his presidency received mixed reviews, his peace keeping and humanitarian efforts since he left office have made Carter renowned as one of the most successful ex-presidents in US history.Carter and his wife Rosalynn founded the Carter Center in 1982, a nongovernmental, not-for-profit that works to advance human rights. He has traveled extensively to conduct peace negotiations, observe elections, and advance disease prevention and eradication in developing nations. Carter is a key figure in the Habitat for Humanity project, and also remains particularly vocal on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
Ronald Reagan (1911 – 2004) was an American actor and the 40th President of the United States. Some of his most notable films include Knute Rockne: All American (1940), King’s Row (1942), and Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). Prior to his presidency, he served as Governor of California. On May 15, 1969, during the People’s Park Protests at UC Berkeley, Reagan sent the California Highway Patrol and other officers to brutally suppress the protests, in an incident that became known as "Bloody Thursday", resulting in the death of student James Rector. As president, Reagan's cut the budget for public housing, Medicaid, food stamps, federal education programs, while increasing defense spending by 40 percent. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 reduced the tax rate of the wealthiest Americans, and raised taxes for the poorest Americans. Meanwhile, he granted amnesty to approximately three million undocumented immigrants. The Iran Contra scandal, which involved covert arms sales to Iran to fund military activity in Nicaragua, happened during the Reagan Administration. The International Court of Justice ruled that the United States had violated international law and breached treaties in Nicaragua in various ways. The scandal resulted in fourteen indictments within Reagan's staff, and eleven convictions.
George H. W. Bush (born 1924) was the 41st President of the United States. After serving in World War II, he moved his family to West Texas and entered the oil business, becoming a millionaire by the age of 40. He co-founded the Zapata Petroleum Corporation, which specialized in offshore drilling. He served as Director of the CIA during the Ford administration. During the the Bush presidency, military operations were conducted in Panama ("Operation Just Cause”) and the Persian Gulf (“Operation Desert Storm”). The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union dissolved two years later. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, but vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990. Bush became a life member of the NRA and campaigned as a "Pro-gun" candidate. Bush's administration spearheaded the negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was signed by Bill Clinton. On June 12, 2014, Bush fulfilled a long standing promise by skydiving on his 90th birthday.
Bill Clinton (born 1946) was the 42nd President of the United States. He earned a Rhodes Scholarship to attend the University of Oxford, where he studied philosophy and participated in Vietnam War protests. Before becoming president, he was the youngest governor in the country at age 32. As president, he cut taxes for fifteen million low-income families, made tax cuts available to 90 percent of small businesses, and raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2 percent of taxpayers. He presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history, with federal budget surpluses of $69 billion in 1998, $126 billion in 1999, and $236 billion in 2000. He tried to pass health care reform, aimed at achieving universal coverage through a national health care plan, but it was eventually doomed by well-organized opposition from conservatives. Clinton implemented “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which allowed gay men and women to serve in the armed services provided they kept their sexuality a secret, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as the legal union of one man and one woman. In 1998, he was impeached for perjury related to a sex scandal involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but was acquitted by the U.S. Senate. Military events during Clinton's presidency included a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999.
George W. Bush (born 1946) was the 43rd President of the United States. Before becoming president, he worked in the oil business, co-owned the Texas Rangers baseball team, and was governor of Texas. He was elected president in 2000 after a close and controversial election. Eight months into Bush's first term as president, the September 11 Terrorist Attacks occurred. In response, Bush launched the War on Terror, a military campaign which included the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq (although the United States never formally declared war on Iraq). The Iraq “War” lasted nine years and caused over 100,000 deaths including over 66,000 civilian deaths. The insurgency is ongoing and continues to cause thousands of fatalities. Bush signed into law the PATRIOT Act, which authorized indefinite detention of immigrants, warrantless searches, increased surveillance, and other elements which undermine basic human freedoms. Bush authorized the CIA to use water boarding as one of several enhanced interrogation techniques. The Global War on Terror started by Bush now includes dozens of countries, with no end in sight.
Barack Obama (born August 4, 1961) is the 44th and current president of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review. He worked as a civil rights attorney, taught at the University of Chicago, and served in congress before being elected President in 2008. Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, repealed the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy of the U.S. Military, ended U.S. military involvement in the Iraq War, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Obama appointed two women to serve on the Supreme Court in the first two years of his Presidency: Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, bringing the number of women sitting simultaneously on the Court to three, for the first time in American history. During his second inaugural address in 2013, Obama called for full equality for LGBT Americans: "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." This was a historic moment, being the first time that a president mentioned “gay rights” or the word "gay" in an inaugural address.