A lot can happen over a four-year term and even more throughout a multi-term presidency. There have been major accomplishments, war, devastating scandals, unforgiving nicknames, and some very obscure presidential pets. And no matter what happened during the term, the public generally remembers a president for one or two actions he took or events that occurred during his term. Spanning nearly 250 years and 45 presidents (to date, January 2020) welcome to the Cliff Notes of American Presidency.
1. George Washington (1789-1797)
A founding father, military general, and the first president of the United States, President Washington calls the dollar bill home and knew how to cross the Delaware River in style.
2. John Adams (1797-1801)
The first vice president and soon thereafter, the second president, President John Adams was the author of the Massachusetts constitution and by chance died on July 4th, 1826 … 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted.
3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Growing up in Virginia (the state birthing the most presidents), President Thomas Jefferson was co-author of the Declaration of Independence and in his spare time was enthused by (proto) archaeology.
4. James Madison (1809-1817)
5’4” President James Madison was the chief author of the Constitution, one of two presidents to sign it (the other being George Washington), and he had a pet parrot named Polly.
5. James Monroe (1817-1825)
Another president from Virginia, President James Monroe studied law under Thomas Jefferson and established the country’s first foreign policy, known as the Monroe Doctrine.
6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
Gifted an alligator from Marquis De Lafayette, President John Quincy Adams was the first president to live in the White House.
7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
The only president to be a prisoner of war, President Andrew Jackson has been on the $20 bill since 1928 and is known for founding the Democratic Party.
8. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
President Van Buren was the first president to be born in the U.S., had his daughter-in-law serve as First Lady after his wife passed, and had a gang formed in his honor on Seinfeld — The Van Buren Boys.
9. William Henry Harrison (1841)
With the shortest presidential term, President William Henry Harrison passed one month into his presidency from pneumonia that fell on him after standing in the rain for an hour giving his inauguration speech.
10. John Tyler (1841-1845)
The first president to serve without being elected, President Tyler worked for the annexation of Texas to the United States and, with a strong belief in states’ rights caused major riffs through all political parties.
11. James K. Polk (1845-1849)
With a desire for expansion, President Polk set his eyes on the Pacific Ocean and extended the land of the U.S. by 1.2 million square miles.
12. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
A hero of the Mexican-American War, he won the presidency because Northerners voted for him because of war heroism and Southerners did so because he was a fellow slave owner.
13. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
The last of the Whigs, President Fillmore was all peace and smiles trying to make everyone happy with the Compromise of 1850.
14. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
Some point their fingers at President Pierce for fueling the fire that started the Civil War.
15. James Buchanan (1857-1861)
The last president before the Civil War, President Buchanan served without a wife and had an eagle as a pet.
16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
The tallest president, enshrined in the Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the man who issued The Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln led America during the Civil War, and, ironically, signed legislation creating the Secret Service hours before his assassination.
17. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
Known as The Veto President for continually vetoing bills passed by Congress, President Johnson is one of three presidents to be impeached.
18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
A Union war hero, President Grant helped establish the National Park System as well as pushing forward the 15th Amendment while fighting for the rights of Native Americans and African Americans.
19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
President Hayes did not serve alcohol at the White House and was the first to host the Easter Egg Roll (which continues today) and in his single term, dedicated his efforts to fighting to improve the government after the Civil War and protect the rights of people of all races.
20. James A. Garfield (1881)
The second of three presidents to serve in 1881, President Garfield was shot 200 days into his term and died a few months later from complications, but not before he left his mark with efforts to end political corruption.
21. Chester Arthur (1881-1885)
An unexpected leader by proxy, President Arthur helped to fund the Navy, which had been in decline, worked for funding for Native American education, reportedly had 80 pairs of pants, and held the nickname Elegant Arthur because of his desire to change outfits for every occasion.
22. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)
The only president to serve nonconsecutive terms, President Grover Cleveland also shared the name of Veto President and struggled to unite the country after the Panic of 1893.
23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
Grandson to the former President Harrison, this President Harrison welcomed Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming to the U.S. while being the first president to live in the White House with electricity.
24. Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)
He’s back for round two after a four-year breather.
25. William McKinley (1897-1901)
President through the Spanish-American War, President McKinley led the U.S. as it assumed recognition as a world power while making significant efforts to rebuild the economy.
26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Known as the trust buster, President Roosevelt worked to make American life better for all, won a Nobel Peace Prize, and was the first president to leave the country while in office, to visit the Panama Canal.
27. William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
President Taft established a federal tax through the 16th Amendment, was the first president to reign over the continuous 48 states, get stuck in a White House bathtub, and began the tradition of throwing out the first pitch at an MLB game.
28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
In office during WW1 and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to form the League of Nations, President Wilson also was printed on the $100,000 bill.
29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
The first president to be elected after the 19th Amendment and owner of size 19 feet, President Harding’s tenure was tainted by scandals caused by friends that he appointed to office.
30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
President Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which gave full U.S. citizenship rights to all Native Americans in the midst of the Roaring ’20s, and is the only president to be born on Independence Day.
31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
Perhaps outshined by the Great Depression, President Hoover did sign the congressional resolution that made “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem of the United States, was the first president to have a phone at his desk, and did not take a salary — instead he donated it to charity.
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
President Roosevelt brought America out of the Great Depression, led the U.S and Allied forces in WW2, and by the end of his fourth term, he laid the groundwork for the United Nations.
33. Harry S Truman (1945-1953)
Over two terms President Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, initiated the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, and embarked on the Korean War.
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
The commander and 5-Star General of the Allied forces during WW2, President Eisenhower established the current Interstate Highway System, helped to negotiate an end to the Korean War, and created a permanent civil rights office in the Department of Justice.
35. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
President Kennedy is credited for starting the Peace Corps, staying cool through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and with leaving the ongoing question of who was on the grassy knoll.
36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Vietnam War were the main events during President Johnson’s tenure.
37. Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Despite improving relations with the Soviet Union and China and the conclusion of the Vietnam War, President Nixon will be remembered primarily for the Watergate Scandal and his resignation — the only president to do so.
38. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
The only man to serve without being elected as either President or Vice President, President Ford spent a great deal of his term mending the country’s feelings towards its leaders while brokering a temporary truce in the Middle East.
39. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
Gas prices skyrocketed with cars waiting in line to fill up while President Carter was in office, and during his time in office the Department of Energy and the Department of Education were created.
40. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
From the Hollywood Hills to the White House, President Reagan battled through the Cold War, reasserted confidence in Americans, escaped an assassination attempt, and oversaw the events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
41. George Bush (1989-1993)
As the Soviet Union fell, the U.S. led by President Bush began fighting in the Persian Gulf War, and he was also the third American president to be knighted by the Queen.
42. Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Holding term during the longest period of peace and economic growth, President (and saxophone player) Clinton is also the second of three presidents to be impeached.
43. George W. Bush (2001-2009)
In office during 9/11 and deciding to lead the U.S. into Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush did overthrow Saddam Hussein.
44. Barack Obama (2009-2017)
The first African American president, President Obama established Health Care Reform, captured and killed Osama bin Laden, and kept the economy thriving through two terms.
45. Donald Trump (2017-present)
As of publication, President Trump’s story continues to be written.
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