1. Woodrow Wilson
(Twenty-Eighth, Democrat 1913-1921)
Elected with only 40% of the popular vote in a three way race in 1912, Wilson had a vision of spreading democracy everywhere. His administration would seek out pro-US factions all over the world and sometimes intervene in the name of democracy. Instead of making friends, that diplomacy would make enemies. His vision would take America into World War I, and allow the allies to defeat Germany, which would leave a European bitter. That environment would help lead to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. A strong case can be made that Wilson’s actions made World War II unavoidable. At home, he set up the Federal Reserve System and imposed the income tax. Wilson took the federal budget from less than 3% of GDP to over 20%. Personally, he was said to be a racist and a mad man. Wilson suffered a stroke in 1919, and ignored most of his presidential responsibilities for the last two years of his term. Woodrow Wilson, more than any other president, did far more harm to America than good.
2. James Buchanan
(Fifteenth, Democrat 1857-1861)
Supported the states rights for slavery. With his flawed interpretation of the Constitution, he thought the states had a right to secede from the nation, and going to war to stop it was illegal - but Buchanon did not do a darn thing to prevent it! With lack of leadership in trying to compromise the differences between the North and South, southern states began to secede, one by one. The Civil War was unavoidable after his four years in office.
3. Warren Harding
(Twenty-Ninth, Republican 1921-1923)
Several scandals occurred during his administration, involving bribery, kickbacks and fraud, and they were mainly due to the fact that Harding appointed many of his friends, as well as some political opponents to prominent positions. No evidence exists that the president benefited from these scandals, but Harding was slow to respond, and should have used better judgment, as the public saw him as a weak and ineffective leader. Harding died two and a half years into his term, and one wonders if he would have finished it (Impeachment) if he had lived.
4. John Tyler
(Tenth, Whig 1841-1845)
He became president upon the death of William Henry Harrison, and was expected to carry out his policies. But he didn’t. His non-support for Harrison and the Whig party policies lead to all but one of the Harrison/Tyler cabinet to resign. The Whigs viewed Tyler as a hypocrite. A life long slave owner, he supported the states right to choose slavery and defended South Carolina's choice to secede if it wished.
5. Herbert Hoover
(Thirty-First, Republican 1929-1933)
Hoover had the unfortunate circumstance of becoming president six months before The Wall Street Crash of 1929. He then made a fatal economic error by supporting and signing into law a tariff act that fueled international trade wars and made the Great Depression even worse. You don’t raise taxes in a depression! That one decision lengthened the Great Depression and sealed his fate as one of the worst presidents.
6. Franklin Pierce
(Fourteenth, Democrat 1853-1857)
Advocating the states right to decide slavery issues, Pierce made the mistake of supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise, which guaranteed free territories north and west of Missouri. Ignorant of the local anti-slavery feelings in the region, his actions would result in bloody rebellions in Kansas and sewed the seeds for Civil War.
7. Jimmy Carter
(Thirty-Ninth, Democrat 1977-1981)
His Administration is rightly associated with the loss of Iran, the hostage crisis and the "Desert One" debacle, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, not to mention recession, inflation, "malaise" (his own word), disco, rampant promiscuity on Main Street, and drugs in his own teetotaling White House. Perceived by the world as weak and thankfully paved the way for Ronald Reagan. Carter gets the tag for the worst former president we have ever had after his almost forgettable four year term.
8. Ulysses Grant
(Eighteenth, Republican 1869-1877)
Grant’s administration is remembered by several scandals that he managed badly. There was an attempt to corner the gold market, stolen money and bribes. Although Grant never profited from any of the crimes, he hardly acted against the criminals, and went as far as criticizing those who spoke against them. He hired friends and political contributors rather than looking out for the countries needs. Overshadowed by his popularity as a General, in reality his presidency was mostly ineffective and achieved little in eight lackluster years.
9. Lyndon Johnson
(Thirty-sixth, Democrat 1963-1969)
His Great Society was wasteful and counterproductive. Big government in all of it’s glory. It taught the poor and the minorities to rely on the big brother in Washington instead of earning some self confidence. The ripples of his programs would be long lasting and still crash on the shores of our society today. Johnson’s escalated the Vietnam War, after saying he would not while campaigning for re-election in 1964. His mismanagement of Vietnam was legendary.
10. Andrew Johnson
(Seventeenth, Democrat 1865-1869)
Elected with the Republican President on the Union ticket in 1964, Johnson, a democrat, became commander in chief upon Lincoln’s assassination. He got in trouble with republicans right from the start when he vetoed Civil Rights legislation. He has the distinction of the first president to be impeached. Twice it was attempted, and both times it failed. Impeachment was more political, initiated by a republican controlled house, rather than based on any serious crimes. Johnson had some good intentions, and historians have graded him better recently, but with impeachment and his inept reconstruction in the South, he makes my list just barely.
11. Martin Van Buren
(Eighth, Democrat 1837-1841)
His administration got off to a bad start in just two months when hundreds of banks began to change the way of converting money, setting of a wide spread panic and economic depression, that left Van Buren’s four years in ruin. He was snake bit, and probably was not his fault, but that specter was always with him as he governed. Van Buren was able to hold control of his fellow democrats, getting re-nominated, but was handily defeated by Harrison in 1840. A truly unspectactular four years.
12. John Quincy Adams
(Sixth, Democratic-Republican 1825-1829)
Expectations were high for the son of the second president, as he squeaked into office over Andrew Jackson (who got the most votes) in an election that was decided in the House of Representatives. As James Monroe’s Secretary of State, Adams was one of the prime movers of The Monroe Doctrine. However, once in office, his foreign policy left much to be desired, as did much else he tried to do, since most of his decisons were met with opposition by congress. At times he was indecisive, and would not fire any of his cabinet who were Jackson supporters.
Note: William Henry Harrison(Ninth, Whig March-April 1841) and James Garfield (Twentieth, Republican March-September 1881) could easily be number one and two, however, both cannot be fairly judged, based on their short time as president. Surely any the above ten would rank higher in non-accomplishments, but the one month spent by Harrison before death and the five and a half months spent by Garfield before his assassination pales in comparison to the years spent wrecking America by each of the men on my list.
Why is Richard Nixon (Thirty-Seventh, Republican, 1969-1974) not on my list? Although he was the only president to resign, the Watergate scandal overshadowed some of his accomplishments in foreign policy. I do not believe he was a good president, however, it is my opinion ten men did much worse in the oval office than Nixon.