Most of the reflection done on Presidents’ Day in the United States [not that there is an overabundance of reflection about it] is reserved for contemplating who should be named among the greatest Presidents in our history. Around the 2019 President’s Day holiday, I did that in this journal with my “top ten” greatest Presidents.
Before moving on to the somewhat different presidential category that is the subject of this article, I want to reiterate that the current President, Donald John Trump, is not eligible for inclusion in any ranking at present simply because current office-holders are ineligible. It is better to include the entirety of presidential tenure before making any decision about that person’s performance as President.
It is also prudent to wait a substantial amount of time after a former President is out of the office to render an informed opinion from a historical perspective. Thus, former President Obama is not in consideration for this list, just as he was not considered for my list last year.
This election year of 2020 also brought to mind that very few people give indications of who should be considered among the worst of all the American Presidents. It is impossible to make any judgments that are devoid of emotion and at least partial subjectivity.
However, to lessen the effects of such subjective judgments, there are some rules that need to be set forth to determine how a President arrives at the ranking of one of the worst. Here are some criteria that should apply for consideration as a terrible Chief Executive.
What Makes a Horrible President?
There have been 45 U.S. Presidents in history. Most of those have performed at acceptable levels and haven’t been very bad or exceptionally good.
However, in some ways picking the worst Presidents is much more difficult than choosing the greatest ones. The question is how many Presidents have damaged the nation significantly enough to warrant inclusion as one of the worst ever.
I decided to use the same qualifications as were used for determining presidential greatness in last year’s article with the emphasis upon how these individuals failed to meet those standards. These are the inability to meet a national challenge, their incompetence as President, and/or their infidelity to the Constitution.
It should be noted that these are not meant to measure any level of scandal in a particular administration, as some kind of scandal can be attributed to almost every President who has ever occupied the White House. Scandals exist in many ways solely in the eye of the beholder, and the presence of one or two, while not desirable, should not brand someone as a horrible Commander in Chief.
Rather, it should be their actual accomplishments, for good or ill, that determine presidential rankings. Therefore, for your consideration here is a list of who I believe are the five worst Presidents of the “land of the free and the home of the brave” in history.
5. Millard Fillmore – 13th President, 1850-1853
It is rare that a President is so bad that the party which selected him perishes shortly afterward. Fillmore was the last President affiliated with the Whig Party and that political group disbanded largely as a result of Fillmore’s support and signing of the “Compromise of 1850,” which strengthened the old “Fugitive Slave Act.”
The demand from the South for more effective legislation resulted in enactment of a second Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Under this law fugitives could not testify on their own behalf, nor were they permitted a trial by jury. …Attempts to carry into effect the law of 1850 aroused much bitterness and probably had as much to do with inciting sectional hostility as did the controversy over slavery in the territories.
Though this action stalled the start of the Civil War for over a decade, it also served to increase the tensions between the Northern and Southern states and began a course that ensured armed conflict would be the only remaining solution to the slavery question. The hope that the Founding Fathers held onto that slavery would peacefully fade away as the nation matured was lost for good because of the “Compromise of 1850,” and that marks the Fillmore presidency as the fifth-worst in American history.
4. Andrew Johnson – 17th President, 1865-1868
America was reminded of the most familiar and infamous fact about President Andrew Johnson after enduring the sham impeachment effort aimed at current President Trump. Johnson became the first Chief Executive to be impeached by the House of Representatives and missed being removed by one vote in the Senate.
Whether or not the impeachment was warranted, Johnson was certainly a very ineffective President because he tried to please everyone on both sides of the issue of slavery immediately after the Civil War. For example, while in Congress,
Johnson supported the Fugitive Slave Act and the right to own slaves. However, when states started to secede from the Union in 1861, Johnson was the only southern senator who did not agree.
Johnson became President upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and carried his politics into the Reconstruction era with terrible results. This places Andrew Johnson at the fourth-worst President in our history.
3. Lyndon B. Johnson – 36th President, 1963-1968
I am courting some opposition with the choice of Lyndon B. Johnson as one of our worst Presidents ever. The reason this choice is controversial is that LBJ, as he was popularly known, racked up a list of accomplishments that many would see as very positive for America.
After all, LBJ signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that recognized the legal rights of blacks and other minorities. However, it wasn’t LBJ who originally pushed for these, and actions he did take through the rest of his presidency erased much of the good that resulted from the Civil Rights victories.
For one thing, LBJ seriously mishandled the Vietnam War and allowed the press and the protesters at home to determine policies for the battlefield. However, it was his “Great Society” program used to conduct a self-declared “war on poverty” that has caused incredible carnage in America for the last half-century.
The efforts championed by LBJ essentially subsidized poverty by creating a welfare state, as well as the gigantic entitlements of Medicare and Medicaid, and as basic economics tells us, anything which is subsidized grows larger. The welfare state mentality has crippled large urban areas in America for over 50 years and mired minorities in high unemployment and terrible poverty because of the results of LBJ’s efforts.
The situation with federal and state government entitlements is the single most significant and ignored portion of our astounding amount of national debt. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are the three largest portions of the unfunded liabilities of the government, and those three together total more than 50 trillion dollars and make the true total of our national debt, almost 130 trillion dollars, all begun with LBJ’s actions earning him the title of third-worst President.
2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt – 32nd President, 1932-1945
If choosing LBJ as one of the worst Presidents was controversial, choosing FDR as the second-worst is going about as far out on a limb as one could go. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is as close to a Leftist deity as can be imagined, and he is the GOAT [Greatest Of All Time] of the Democratic Party rivaled perhaps only by another three-letter Dem, JFK.
It has been said that his policies successfully led America through two great crises of the time, the Great Depression and World War II. However, there are others who would rightfully contend that what FDR’s actions really did was make these crises worse than they should have been all along.
His “New Deal” programs actually lengthened the Great Depression and it wasn’t until World War II that the nation began to recover economically.
As the state sector drained the private sector, controlling it in alarming detail, the economy continued to wallow in depression. The combined impact of Herbert Hoover’s and Roosevelt’s interventions meant that the market was never allowed to correct itself. Far from having gotten us out of the Depression, FDR prolonged and deepened it, and brought unnecessary suffering to millions.
During World War II, the domestic policy of FDR was nothing short of heinous. The infamous Japanese Internment camps created by FDR’s executive order forcibly “relocated” people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were born in America, into government camps farther inland and in remote areas.
One of the most stunning ironies in this episode of American civil liberties was articulated by an internee who, when told that the Japanese were put in those camps for their own protection, countered “If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?”
The following video presentation of “Life, Liberty, and Levin” gives further insight into why FDR earns my ranking of the second-worst American President in history.
The final rather dubious accomplishment of FDR’s reign was the creation of the United Nations after WWII. The legacy of this Leftist dream is the epitome of the old saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and has been covered by this journal in more detail in a three-part series from 2017.
This leads us to the President who was essentially FDR’s unseen mentor and began the efforts to steer America toward Socialism, Woodrow Wilson.
1. Woodrow Wilson – 28th President, 1913-1921
During the eight years of the presidency of Thomas Woodrow Wilson, he accomplished an amazing amount of changes in the American landscape, and the vast majority of it was detrimental and produced negative consequences we are still wrestling with today, a century later.
The two most influential and destructive domestic economic programs Wilson was involved with were the creation of the Federal Reserve and the IRS. The Federal Reserve was created essentially to serve as a nationalized Bank of the United States and has dramatically changed our economics in an unstable direction as a result.
The single most destructive measure during Wilson’s tenure was his implementation of the progressive income tax system in America. This created the Internal Revenue Service that has fed the insatiable maw of federal government spending that has brought America to the atrocious and dangerous levels we see today.
It is even more troubling that the IRS was granted a power that no other government agency enjoyed up till then in that its regulations were given the force of federal law to be used against the taxpayers of America. This means that the IRS is empowered to enforce its rules as if they were laws, even though these are not technically laws under the Constitution.
That power has been used to severely limit constitutional freedoms, greatly assist in the destruction of the American family, assert the authority of the government over individual liberty, and provide unprecedented enablement of government corruption since its inception. This renders the progressive income tax system in America antithetical to the Constitutional premise of no taxation without representation and amounts to legalized theft.
Wilson was also a noted racist who enforced his wishes by resegregating the U.S. military and the federal government. Though he has been a darling of Leftists for his progressive policies, his racism has also been rebuked by others of a leftist bent.
Wilson was a bigot who sanctioned official segregation in Washington, D.C., say critics on the left. He used America’s entry into World War I as a rationale for crushing civil liberties. He was autocratic.
His sanction of bigotry and enforcement of blatant racist policies at the federal level set race relations back decades at a time when Americans were beginning to come together in all areas of society without regard for race. He essentially put his stamp of approval on the “Jim Crow” laws throughout the South and emboldened groups like the Klu Klux Klan to perpetuate racism.
What made Wilson more sinister than other Presidents was his open disdain of the Constitution and the form of government enshrined in America. He believed that America had essentially out-grown the Constitution and a much more centralized government system was necessary for the 20th century.
Wilson contended that a system of government established in the late 1700s for a smaller, sparsely populated country had become inadequate in a world of industrialization, immigration, international tensions and other developments the founders couldn’t have foreseen. Government therefore had to adapt. …He deplored the way the branches of government checkmated each other to stall progress—or what he saw as progress…
Woodrow Wilson set America on the road toward today’s ‘Democratic Socialists’ who are democratic in name only, and believe the American political system should be overturned and a Socialist system should be established. He has certainly earned the ranking of America’s worst President ever.
Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? Psalm 94:20 [ESV]
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
Featured and Top Image courtesy of Robert Couse Baker’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Tina Saey’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of Opus Penguin’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of David’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 4 courtesy of FDR Presidential Library’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 5 courtesy of Jared Enos’ Flickr page – Creative Commons License
All other sources linked or cited in the text