Presidents Behaving Badly: Trump’s Got Nothing on These Guys

JFK and Marilyn Monroe

Think Donald Trump has cornered the market on dangerous, narcissistic, juvenile, or lewd behavior in the White House? Think again. The highest office in the land has seen an astonishing amount of idiotic behavior and good old fashioned corruption over the last 240 years.

Don’t think of the following 15 men as the “worst Presidents ever,” although some of them are certainly on this list. These are the guys that behaved poorly, the ones that had terrible impulse control or immoral personal lives. Mr. Trump has already made plenty of bad behavioral decisions, putting him in good company among the guys listed below. But many of these guys could actually give Trump some schooling.

15. Ulysses S. Grant: The Naïve Friend

Ulysses S. Grant statue

18th President Ulysses S. Grant was one of the most upstanding, moral Presidents in United States history. After winning the Civil War, his popularity skyrocketed enough to easily put him into the highest office in the land. While there, he worked to reconstruct America while fighting hard for the rights of former slaves and Native Americans.

If ever a President “tried to do everything right,” it’s Grant. But at the other end of his moral strength was a confidence in his friends that was extreme to a fault. Like most Presidents, Grant appointed friends and associates as advisors and in Cabinet positions. And those friends took advantage of his blind trust, corrupting every ounce of power he’d given them.

Scandals such as “Black Friday” (a plummet in the stock market due to a scheme by associates of Grant’s) and the “Whiskey Ring” (a conspiracy to defraud millions of dollars from liquor tax) marred his time in office. Some consider his administration “the most corrupt in American history.” Although his own character was never tarnished, his unquestioning faith in his friends lost him a great deal of respect and compromised his ability to create lasting change.

14. Grover Cleveland: The Cradle-Robber

Grover Cleveland statue

22nd President Grover Cleveland is the only president to ever serve two terms non-consecutively. He abused his veto power, nixing twice as many congressional bills as all 21 of his predecessors combined. He’s also the only President to hold his wedding in the White House.

He makes this list because of his taste in women. Before the presidency he was a successful lawyer, and there’s strong historical evidence to support allegations that he fathered a child with a woman named Maria Halpin, though both were unmarried. She insisted that he forced himself on her while he claimed to have accepted paternity to spare a friend public embarrassment. Halpin further claimed that the child, a boy, was taken from her after birth and that she was covertly admitted to a hospital for the insane. (She left the place a few days later.)

And then there’s that White House marriage. Back when he was a lawyer, he’d had a partner at his firm who was also his best friend. His name was Oscar Folsom, and he and Cleveland were the same age. Folsom died tragically young at just 36, leaving behind a wife and a daughter named Frances who turned 9 just two days before her dad’s death.

Almost thirteen years later, when Frances was about to turn 22, Grover Cleveland married her. She was the daughter of his best friend, and 27 years younger than Cleveland, who was 49 at the time of their wedding.

Say it together now: ewwww.

13. James Monroe: The Big Spender

James Monroe statue

5th President James Monroe was a much-loved President of the old guard — Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and their ilk — who ushered in an “Era of Good Feelings,” a period in which national pride was bolstered higher than ever. But nobody’s perfect. He had chronic money woes, yet he insisted on outfitting the White House with lavish, expensive furnishings. He accrued a huge pile of debt with these purchases, some of which came out of his own pocket. (He demanded reimbursement from Congress years later. You can imagine how that went.)

His most notorious misstep was the time his temper got the best of him. Hotheaded Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford entered the Oval Office one day and became angry with Monroe for being cagey about his plans. Crawford raised his cane in a threatening posture and moved toward the President. Monroe responded by grabbing a pair of metal tongs from the fireplace and chasing Crawford out of the room.

For all we know, any altercations that happen today in the Oval Office are purely verbal. Still, it’s not exactly a stretch to imagine Trump having a similar “conversation” with anyone on the inside who rubs him the wrong way.

12. John Quincy Adams: The Unlikeable Brown-Noser

John Quincy Adams

Just look at that face. You know he’s got issues.

As our 6th President, John Quincy Adams did a lot of good things. He had a strong anti-slavery position, he tried to do right by Native Americans, and he had a progressive view of the country that thought in terms of building its future instead of only satisfying its current needs.

Yet he was a cold man, an unpleasant perfectionist who lacked social skills of any kind and very likely suffered from Clinical Depression. His narcissistic level of perfectionism drove two of his three sons into psychological torment, never feeling they lived up to their old man’s expectations. One of them committed suicide, the other died of excessive alcohol and obesity.

But Adams made an even bigger mistake that he’ll always be famous for. In 1824, the Presidential election had to be decided for the first time ever by the House of Representatives. The “Corrupt Bargain” was the name given to a behind-closed-doors deal that secured Adams the win thanks to a little you scratch my back... Afterwards, Speaker Henry Clay publicly supported Adams for the Presidency; after his inauguration, Adams returned the favor by naming Clay his Secretary of State. Corrupt Bargain indeed.

Oh and Adams had a weird thing about swimming nude in the Potomac River. You’re welcome for that mental image.

11. Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Moral Sham

Franklin D. Roosevelt statue

He was much-loved for his upstanding leadership during World War II, galvanizing and inspiring American forces to meet the great challenge before them. Too bad the moral authority projected by 32nd President Franklin Roosevelt was a lie.

It’s hard to maintain the moral high ground, for example, when you hunt down and punish gays serving in the military, setting back gay rights by decades. FDR was also no friend of Japanese-American citizens; his solution during WWII was to order them interred (think “family prison” but without having committed any crimes) in numbers exceeding 100,000.

His worst personal mistake had to be his decades-long affair with a young woman named Lucy Mercer, while he was still married to his wife Eleanor. The Mercer relationship long preceded FDR’s tenure in the Oval Office, and lasted until the day he died. In fact, Mercer was in the room where his portrait was being painted when he suddenly suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. Her presence at his death was kept secret from the media at the time. But Eleanor knew, just as she’d always known. Over the years, Roosevelt’s relationship with his wife had become so frosty that their son James later described it as “an armed truce that endured until the day he died.”

10. Franklin Pierce: The Tragic Drunk

Franklin Pierce

An unlikely choice from the start, Franklin Pierce served just one term in office as the 14th President. His downfall came from helping dismantle the Missouri Compromise, a move that gave all states the power to allow slavery if they chose. Outrage turned to violence — a sneak peek at the War yet to come — and Mr. Pierce was viewed as incapable of doing anything about it.

Pierce is better known as a lifelong drunk. He managed to fend off the urge while a private citizen, but when he was elected President, the old habit came back hard. Having already lost two sons from infancy complications, he and his wife Jane lost their 11-year-old boy just two months before he was sworn in. Benjamin Pierce died in a freak train derailment that all but decapitated the poor kid. Pierce tried to hide the grisly sight from his wife, but was too late.

Their marriage turned to estrangement as Jane descended into severe Depression. It’s possible that Pierce’s heart was simply too broken to do his job properly in the Oval Office. You can’t help feeling bad for the guy, even if he made some really bad calls. After failing to secure a reelection, he became a recluse who literally drank himself to death.

9. Thomas Jefferson: The Brilliant Scoundrel

Thomas Jefferson statue

The name “Thomas Jefferson” has become synonymous with American ideals, the Declaration of Independence, and our stalwart founding fathers. The man behind the name was nothing like you’d expect: fiercely original and uninterested in others’ opinions of him, he was… “eccentric.” To put it mildly.

Undeniably a genius in many ways, he was also an enigma who contradicted himself. He was a staunch supporter of abolishing slavery, yet owned a huge number of slaves himself (though to be fair, he freed many of them over the years). Despite his respect for government, he loved to buck tradition and formality. He habitually greeted foreign dignitaries in his pajamas — a faux pas at the time tantamount to a personal insult.

Overall, his ideas on things like freedom, liberty, and justice would help shape the nation that we became. But the personal life of our 3rd President was hardly noble. He seduced the wives of two of his closest friends. After the death of his own wife, he had a torrid, extended affair with a slave he owned named Sally Hemings. Five or six illegitimate children (there are conflicting reports) resulted from their affair, but Jefferson went to his grave denying that any of them were his. A modern DNA test has proven that at least one of them was.


8. John F. Kennedy: The Sex Addict

John F. Kennedy

35th President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is known for many things. His charming demeanor, his primetime TV good looks, his Ivy League breeding, his masterful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and his ingenious challenge to America to beat Russia to the moon that opened up new avenues of space exploration and new technologies.

Unfortunately, he’s better known for his vividly-photographed assassination and the many bad decisions he made both in office and in his private life. “Jack” had many secrets, and chief among them was his notorious libido. Thanks to a sexual appetite that was never sated, his various “conquests,” which ranged from seemingly genuine feelings to near-predatory harassment, included everyone from obscure White House secretaries to superstar Marilyn Monroe.

One memoir goes so far as to insinuate that Kennedy sometimes functioned as a pimp, asking his dalliances to relieve the “tension” of his political allies by performing oral sex on them. None of these affairs ever seemed to result in actual love; one biographer states that JFK was more interested in quantity than quality.

There’s just no other way to put it: John F. Kennedy was addicted to sex. It’s not like he was the first — or the last.

7. Bill Clinton: The Shameful Womanizer

Bill Clinton

By now a pattern should be emerging: men in the most powerful office in the nation can’t seem to keep their pants on. No President in recent history has embodied this abuse of power for physical pleasure more than 42nd President Bill Clinton.

It all began with a woman named Paula Jones, who alleged Clinton had sexually harassed her while he was still Governor of Arkansas. Her court case became much bigger than even she likely imagined, especially when a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky came into the picture. Clinton and Lewinsky had engaged in sexual relations on multiple occasions, leading to the President of the United States lying under oath about their relationship during a sworn deposition.

Clinton was later impeached by Congress, although they never achieved enough votes to remove him from office. But the damage to his reputation and his legacy was done. There were other scandals that affected his time in office, such as Whitewater, but the Lewinsky affair was and always will be the defining moment of the Clinton Presidency.

6. Lyndon B. Johnson: The Loud-Mouthed Bully

Lyndon B. Johnson

A firebrand with a bawdy reputation, 36th President LBJ was famously sworn in on Air Force One just minutes after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Despite being cut from a wholly different cloth than his predecessor, he fought even harder than Kennedy had to accomplish his agenda, and staked out a unique place in American history in so doing.

Johnson’s bad behavior wasn’t so much in public policy — although he made one massive, unforgivable blunder: wasting countless American lives on the Vietnam War — as much as his abrasive personality. Vulgar, crass, and rude, he spoke his mind freely to the media or whoever else was opposite him. Like a certain someone currently in office, he had no interest in decorum. He was a bully, willing to do whatever it took to push through legislation, even if that meant actual bullying — both verbal and physical.

His domineering approach to governing wasn’t reserved for his American rivals, either. He once manhandled Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson, lifting him off the ground by his lapels and threatening him at a private Camp David meeting.

5. Richard Nixon: The Crooked Liar

Richard Nixon

“I am not a crook,” he told America. Just one of the thousands of lies and dirty schemes conducted by 37th President Richard Nixon during his six-year administration.

He rose to power on the back of “Communist infiltration” paranoia, pointing fingers at his political opponents and smearing them in the media as Communists or sympathizers — and always without a shred of evidence. Once in office, he intentionally prolonged the Vietnam War for his own political gain, delaying its end by an incredible five years and costing thousands of American lives in the process. He also expanded the war illegally into Cambodia, which destabilized the Asian country and ultimately led to the massacre of more than two million souls. That’s a full quarter of the Cambodian population.

All of these things were eclipsed one night in 1972 when a team of five men linked to the White House were caught breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex. “Watergate” would go down in history as the biggest scandal of political corruption in American history, and Nixon’s involvement would sink his second term of office. It was made all the worse because Nixon was dumb enough to secretly record everything he ever said and did in the Oval Office — including his illegal activity. Facing imminent impeachment, Nixon (for once) chose to do the graceful thing and save the nation time and money that would’ve been spent on endless hearings by simply resigning from office.

4. James Madison: The Shortsighted Fool

James Madison statue

Despite his brilliant mind and the significant contributions he made to the formation of the United States government, 4th President James Madison made one mistake that very nearly destroyed an entire nation.

When a bill was put before him to authorize the charter of the Second National Bank, which would fund military training, readiness, and supplies, Madison vetoed it. It would be one of the most shortsighted decisions in American history. The War of 1812 soon broke out, and America had no choice but to declare against the British. U.S. armies were woefully unprepared, suffering defeat after defeat, plummeting morale to all-time lows when the Brits made landfall in 1814 and captured Washington DC. Not satisfied with merely occupying the fledgling nation’s capitol, they set fire to everything in sight, burning down the White House and very nearly wiping out the whole city.

In the last years of his life, Madison became obsessed with preserving his legacy — primarily that of one of the founding fathers of the United States. This obsession turned dangerous when he began willfully altering dozens of historical documents to cast himself in a better light. This went way beyond punctuation and grammar; he plagiarized the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson in correspondence between the two men from decades earlier. He likewise tried to erase evidence that he’d once been critical of contemporaries like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

Not okay, Jimbo.

3. Warren G. Harding: The Horny Moron

Warren G. Harding

Despite serving just two years in office — he died suddenly of either a heart attack or stroke while traveling — 29th President Warren Harding still managed to tarnish the reputation of the Presidency with several acts of mind-boggling stupidity.

First, there was his own incompetence, a fact he was well aware of and frequently bemoaned behind closed doors. He wasn’t fit to serve as President and he knew it; he’d been elected largely on the will power of his wife Florence, who possessed a keen mind for business and the ambition Harding himself lacked. He appointed friends and colleagues to various important positions, and then spent most of his time playing poker and golf. Meanwhile, those same pals he’d put into office were dipping deep into the waters of corruption, including one who embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from World War I veterans.

Second, there was his sexual appetite. He had multiple affairs and mistresses, both before his time in the White House and during, thanks to, as he himself put it, an inability to “say no.” His most famous affair was with Nan Britton, a girl a shocking 31 years his junior, with whom he fathered an illegitimate daughter.

2. Andrew Johnson: The Bigoted Drunk

Andrew Johnson

One of only two Presidents to be impeached (the other was Clinton), 17th President Andrew Johnson had problems. A Southern Senator chosen as Abraham Lincoln’s running mate as a show of solidarity when the Civil War ended, he was never intended to become the leader of the free world. Lincoln’s assassination changed that, and instead of carrying out Lincoln’s reconstruction plans responsibly, Johnson botched things in every way imaginable.

His own racism got in the way of Lincoln’s desire to abolish slavery altogether; Johnson instead allowed Southern states to pass “Black Codes” that restricted the freedoms of former slaves and their ability to earn a living. It was his unabashed opposition to the rights of former slaves that resulted in his impeachment.

Despite these horrible deeds, he’s most notorious in the annals of history for being a ferocious drunk. He was heavily sloshed at his own swearing-in as Lincoln’s VP, launching into an unplanned, 17-minute speech that rambled incoherently. Likewise, when he was sworn in as President, there are reports that he was equally drunk and belligerent at his own inauguration. That would explain the bizarre inaugural address he gave, in which he angrily attacked the Confederacy.

1. Andrew Jackson: The Violent Ethnic Cleanser

Andrew Jackson statue

Tall, lanky, and idiosyncratically nasty, Andrew Jackson is undoubtedly one of the worst Presidents the United States has ever had. Not that he was supremely bad at leading — he was just bad at being a person. He possessed a fiery strength and unshakable will power, never hesitating to use his veto or any other executive authority as he felt justified. As you can imagine, this led to a power trip of epic proportions.

Biographers have referred to him as “fearsome,” “wrathful and argumentative,” a “fire of resentments and rage,” and “essentially a madman.” As such, it should come as no surprise that he was a selfish, opportunistic slave owner who traded men for profit the same way stocks are traded today. He once ordered the destruction of an old fort where 270 escaped slaves were hiding, massacring every last one of them.

His desire to create a “purer” American South (sound at all familiar?), if you will, led to the Indian Removal Act. Enforcing this Act was a military action now known as the Trail of Tears, a brutal march that claimed more than 4,000 Native American lives.

Despite all of this — and much, much more — history records that he left the White House as one of the most popular Presidents in U.S. history (at the time).

Warren Michaels
Stupidity should be called by name, especially when it's stupid people in power. You could say that's my life's mission, but I'd like to think I'm a broader guy than that.


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