Not every president has been perfectly presidential. Especially not behind closed doors at the White House. Some people (on both sides of the political aisle) consider the use of profanity a sign of a limited vocabulary. But many presidents have resorted to vulgar language at some point during their tenure in the Oval Office. Yet some presidents had more of a reputation for their foul mouths than others.
Read on to learn about the most foul-mouthed presidents — and see how Donald Trump compares.
1. Andrew Jackson
- 7th president of the United States
The Washington Post relates one of the most memorable anecdotes about presidential profanity. This one stars Andrew Jackson — or at least one of his pets. Jackson bought an African gray parrot, named Poll, for his wife. When the first lady died, the parrot began spending a lot of time with the president. And Poll “apparently soaked up some of the president’s choice phrases,” according to the Post.
The publication reports, “When Jackson died in 1845, thousands of people gathered to pay a final tribute — along with one talking parrot that was apparently riled up by the crowds.” One witness said that the parrot “got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people.” Poll “let loose perfect guests of ‘cuss words.” Eventually, someone had to take her out of the house.
Next: This president enjoyed crude humor despite his melancholy demeanor.
2. Abraham Lincoln
- 16th president of the United States
Even Abraham Lincoln, known for his loneliness and melancholia, uttered at least a few profanities in the White House. He was known to tell off-color stories and jokes. Experts have dedicated a lot of thought to Lincoln’s particular sense of humor. One reported of Lincoln, “When hunting for wit, he had no ability to discriminate between the vulgar and refined substances from which he extracted it. It was the wit he was after, the pure jewel, and he would pick it up out of the mud or dirt just as readily as he would from a parlor table.”
Time notes that “Abraham Lincoln was never caught on tape insulting anyone — mainly because audiotape hadn’t been invented yet.” The publication explains, “Most examples of political profanity come from the 20th century and later. Earlier politicians didn’t have better manners, they just had fewer of their unofficial remarks recorded.”
Next: This president learned his vulgar vocabulary when working on the railroad.
3. Harry S. Truman
- 33rd president of the United States
Rolling Stone reports that Harry S. Truman “was beloved by some and tsk-tsked by others for the colorful language he attributed to his youthful days working on the Santa Fe railroad, when he slept in hobo camps.” An example of that colorful language? On one occasion, Truman called Nixon a “shifty-eyed goddamned liar.”
Time reports that Truman also called General Douglas MacArthur a “dumb son of a bitch.” And according to Rolling Stone, Truman once reminisced, “I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”
Next: This president used vulgar language in private.
4. Dwight D. Eisenhower
- 34th president of the United States
As the Baltimore Sun reports, Dwight D. Eisenhower did use profanities in private. But a former aide qualified that account. Douglas R. Price told the publication that Eisenhower “cursed privately on occasion, but only in light blue, not dark four-letter words.” Additionally, Price explained that Eisenhower had little tolerance for others using needlessly coarse language in his presence.
Price said, “Anyone who made the mistake of using scatological or vulgar language in Ike’s presence regretted it, as did any one of his friends who made the mistake of telling an off-color story. Eisenhower had too much respect for the presidency.” As Price added, “Ike could launch a more impressive verbal broadside using ‘Hell’s Fire,’ than most men could using a string of dark blue, four letter words.”
Next: This president ‘swore like a sailor.’
5. John F. Kennedy
- 35th president of the United States
John F. Kennedy had at least one thing in common with Truman: He used Truman’s insult for General MacArthur to refer to Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, according to Time. Rolling Stone reports that though the president remained “eloquent at the podium, JFK could swear like a sailor (which he was, of course) away from the microphone.”
Another example? When news leaked that the Air Force spent $5,000 to furnish a maternity suite for Jackie Kennedy at Otis Air Force Base, Kennedy knew that his opponents would turn the expenditure against him. “This is obviously a f***-up,” he reportedly said to a general over the phone.
Next: This president made numerous vulgar comments.
6. Lyndon B. Johnson
- 36th president of the United States
Lyndon B. Johnson was notoriously foul-mouthed, even by successor Richard Nixon’s standards. Rolling Stone reports that Nixon later said, “People said my language was bad, but Jesus, you should have heard LBJ.”Johnson famously consulted with cabinet members while he sat on the toilet (with the door open). Newser reports on two of Johnson’s choicest quotes: “I never trust a man unless I’ve got his pecker in my pocket,” and “I want someone who will kiss my a** in Macy’s window, and say it smells like roses.”
Time reports that Johnson scolded Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson for his anti-Vietnam stance with the statement, “You pissed on my rug.” Johnson also said that the difference between a Senator and a Representative amounted to “the difference between chicken salad and chicken sh*t.” And when he decided against removing J. Edgar Hoover as FBI chief, Johnson said, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.”
Next: This president recorded many of his conversations. Plenty contained crude language.
7. Richard Nixon
- 37th president of the United States
Rolling Stone notes that the Watergate tapes put the phrase “expletive deleted” on the map. And Time reports that Richard Nixon “holds the unofficial record for being the most openly profane U.S. president — probably because he recorded much of what he said in the Oval Office.”
Time notes that in a 1971 conversation between Nixon and two aides, the president called Mexicans “dishonest.” Nixon also said that blacks lived “like a bunch of dogs.” And he characterized San Francisco as a city full of “fags” and “decorators.” As Time notes, “that was just one conversation.” CNN reports that on other occasions, Nixon made antisemitic comments. And he also referred to the presidents of Ivy League universities as “sons of bitches.”
Next: This president used profanities occasionally.
8. Jimmy Carter
- 39th president of the United States
CNN puts Jimmy Carter on the list of the most foul-mouthed presidents, too. As CNN notes, “The relationship between former President Jimmy Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy was sometimes less than friendly.” So it’s no surprise that Carter eventually used some crude language when speaking about his opponent.
Time magazine reports that Carter told a group of congressmen in 1979 that if Kennedy ran against him in the 1980 presidential race, “I’ll whip his a**.” As Time adds, “most major news organizations hastened to quote the remark in living off-color.”
Next: This president swore on occasion.
9. Ronald Reagan
- 40th president of the United States
Ronald Reagan also makes the list of the most foul-mouthed presidents. NBC reports that in 1983, Reagan “got into a shouting match with Canadian Prime Minister Pierre-Elliott Trudeau at a London economic summit. Assailed for not more aggressively promoting détente with the Soviet Union, Reagan pounded the table and shouted, ‘God damn it, Pierre.'”
Newser adds that Reagan refused to write out profanities even his personal diary. On one occasion, he even resorted to writing “H–l” to get his point across. Nonetheless, Reagan was accusing of swearing at a congressman in 1985.
Next: Even this president displayed a foul mouth.
10. George H.W. Bush
- 41st president of the United States
As you’ll find out, both Bushes make the list of foul-mouthed presidents. (Like father, like son?) Newser reports that Bush’s remarks started making the news even as he ran for vice president.
The publication explains, “When discussing his 1984 vice presidential debate performance, he said, ‘We tried to kick a little a**.'”
Next: This president made some profane comments in private.
11. Bill Clinton
- 42nd president of the United States
Rolling Stone also puts Bill Clinton on the list of the most foul-mouthed presidents. (Even if one of his most infamous remarks came after the end of his tenure in the Oval Office.) When Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in South Carolina’s Democratic primary in 2008, Clinton compared the victory to Jesse Jackson’s primary wins in the 1980s.
The Obama campaign hinted that the analogy was “racially tinged,” as Rolling Stone puts it. So Clinton, thinking nobody could overhear his private conversation after an interview, remarked on the topic, “I don’t think I should take any sh*t from anybody on that, do you?”
Next: This president used profanities on several notable occasions.
12. George W. Bush
- 43rd president of the United States
Like any other president, George W. Bush made his share of faux pas once he got to the White House. But Time reports that one of Bush’s most famously profane remarks came in 2000. At the time, he was serving as the governor of Texas and campaigning for president. At that point, Bush called New York Times reporter Adam Clymer “a major league a**hole.” Rolling Stone reports that once Bush became president, he offered something of an apology by calling Clymer a “major league ass . . . et.”
NBC reports that in 1999, during an interview with Tucker Carlson for Talk Magazine, Bush also dropped the F-bomb several times. And CNN reported that in a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon, Bush said, “What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh*t and it’s over.”
Next: This president endorsed the practice of cursing.
13. Barack Obama
- 44th president of the United States
Time notes that Barack Obama has used his share of profanities, too. Obama ruffled some feathers when, in an interview about the BP oil spill, he said that he was speaking to experts in order to find out “whose a** to kick.” Obama also once called Kanye West a “jacka**.” And Rolling Stone notes that Obama “really drew the ire of the pious” when he called Mitt Romney a “bullsh*tter.”
Additionally, The Hill reported that Obama admitted, “I curse more than I should. And I find myself cursing more in this office than I had in my previous life.” But Obama said that his one saving grace is that his advisors used worse language than he did. “So it’s OK,” he reasoned. Obama even endorsed the practice of swearing as a stress-reliever.
Next: Donald Trump has used profanities on the campaign trail and in the White House.
14. Donald Trump
- 45th president of the United States
CNN reported in 2011, when Donald Trump was first flirting with a run for the GOP presidential nomination, that he delivered a “tirade” laced with f-bombs to an audience of Republican supporters. On the topic of Iraq, Trump said, “We build a school, we build a road. They blow up the road. They blow up the school. We build another school, we build another road, they blow them up. We build again, in the meantime we can’t get a f***ing school built in Brooklyn.”
The Washington Post reported that Trump also used the F-bomb at a 2016 campaign rally. “We’re gonna have businesses that used to be in New Hampshire, that are now in Mexico come back to New Hampshire, and you can tell them to go f*** themselves!” The Post adds that Trump promised to “beat the sh*t” out of anyone attacking the United States. And later, once he took office, Trump famously called African nations and Haiti “sh*thole countries.” That led Newsweek to dub Trump “the most foul-mouthed president since Richard Nixon.”
Next: Many Americans have asked themselves this question.
Should presidents swear?
Your opinion on whether or not presidents should use vulgar language in the White House (or elsewhere) likely depends on your own vocabulary. Some people argue that the occasional use of profanities makes a commander-in-chief more relatable. (At least to Americans who speak similarly.) But others argue that the use of coarse language is undignified and unworthy of the most powerful man in the world.
Yet regardless of our opinions, it doesn’t look like our presidents will stop their sharp tongues anytime soon. As Politico reports, “Unless and until the shock wears off, dirty words from an elected official’s mouth assure headlines and some degree of internet virality.” In at least some situations, that’s exactly what the president wants.
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