These Are the Greatest Fears of American Presidents (Including Donald Trump’s)
Though many great men have governed from the White House, nobody’s perfect. Some presidents have had tempers. Others were at least a little narcissistic. Still other presidents fathered illegitimate children (and lied about it). And a few had some well-known fears, both rational and irrational.
Read on to discover American presidents’ biggest fears. And don’t miss the opportunity to learn what current president Donald Trump fears the most, starting on page 13.
1. George Washington feared being buried alive
- Fear: Taphephobia
George Washington reportedly had taphephobia: the fear of being buried alive. History reports that Washington — and other historical figures — had this particular fear because “there were no machines to tell observers when an ailing person had ‘flatlined.'” The publication adds, “declaring someone dead was an imperfect process, based on guesswork.” The fear was actually quite common. And as History notes, Washington felt so afraid of being buried alive that “he wanted his seemingly deceased body to be laid out for three days, just to make sure he was really dead.”
Next: A painfully shy Thomas Jefferson had this unusual fear.
2. Thomas Jefferson lived in fear of biographers
- Fear: Biographers
As The Boston Globe reports, Thomas Jefferson “repeatedly insisted that the private lives of America’s founders should be off limits to historians.” The publication reports that thanks to the work of a historian who uncovered Jefferson’s long-term sexual relationship with an enslaved woman — and discovered that he fathered several children with her — ” we can now readily understand why Jefferson lived in such mortal fear of biographers.” Furthermore, Jefferson was reportedly painfully shy. He “had such a fear of appearing in public that he gave just two speeches during his entire presidency.”
Next: Abraham Lincoln developed this fear after a medical procedure gone wrong.
3. Abraham Lincoln feared dentists and dental work
- Fear: Dental work
If you hate going to the dentist, then you have something in common with Abraham Lincoln. According to the Journal of Endodontics Research, a dentist broke off part of Lincoln’s jaw bone while pulling a tooth without anesthesia. “It has been said that Lincoln was afraid of dentists,” the publication notes, though he seems to have had good reason for that fear! Later, when Lincoln needed to have another tooth extracted, he reportedly inhaled chloroform as a sedative before allowing the dentist to proceed.
Next: Ulysses S. Grant had several unusual fears — one of which may have helped him during the Civil War.
4. Ulysses S. Grant was afraid to retrace his steps
- Fear: Retracing his steps
This may be one of the more surprising fears associated with U.S. presidents. As The Huffington Post, Ulysses S. Grant reportedly believed it bad luck to retrace one’s steps. As one historian notes, “If he inadvertently walked beyond his destination, for example, he would not simply turn around and walk back down the same street, but rather would keep going further away from the place and return via another road.” But this fear may have accounted for Grant’s successes in war, as he refused to retreat.
Next: Grant’s fears also included this surprising phobia.
5. Grant also feared blood
- Fear: Blood
Retracing his steps wasn’t Grant’s only fear. As PBS explains, Grant “once said he detested war and had an aversion to guns.” Additionally, he hated killing animals. And PBS reports that Grant “hated blood so much he refused to eat meat unless it was charred.” As the publication notes, “This view of the early Grant is a stark contrast to the Civil War image of the ‘bloody butcher,’ always pictured with an unkempt beard, rumpled clothes, and the stump of a cigar gripped between his teeth.”
Next: Rutherford B. Hayes experienced this fear during his youth.
6. Rutherford B. Hayes feared losing his mind
- Fear: Lyssophobia
Mental Floss reports that in his youth, Rutherford B. Hayes experienced lyssophobia, or the fear of going insane. Presidential Ham elaborates, explaining that as a young man, Hayes “went through a period of great inner tension, which he himself attributed to a fear that he would one day lose his mind, as some relatives, on both sides of his family, had done.” Fortunately, he seems to have moved past the phobia — which is more than can be said for some other presidents and their fears.
Next: Benjamin Harrison had this comical fear while in the White House.
7. Benjamin Harrison was afraid of light switches
- Fear: Light switches
This is one of those fears that sounds ridiculous now, but actually made sense at the time. Gizmodo reports that Benjamin Harrison was the first president to install electric lighting in the White House. He did so in 1891, but he never touched the light switches himself. In fact, Harrison feared being electrocuted — what Gizmodo characterizes as “a reasonable fear, given how crude household electric wiring could be at the time.” Harrison seems to have had his domestic staff operate the light switches for him.
Next: Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t keep this superstition a secret.
8. Franklin D. Roosevelt feared the number 13
- Fear: Triskaidekaphobia
Many people are a little superstitious about the number 13. Franklin D. Roosevelt definitely numbered among them. As NBC reports, fear of the number 13 is called triskaidekaphobia. (Fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia.) Roosevelt reportedly refused to travel on the 13th day of any month. And he would never host 13 guests at a meal. Interestingly enough, he wasn’t alone: President Herbert Hoover also feared the number 13.
Next: Richard Nixon strongly feared this place.
9. Richard Nixon feared hospitals
- Fear: Nosocomephobia
Richard Nixon had one of the other fears with which many people can identify: nosocomephobia, or a fear of hospitals. Newsweek reports that Nixon “was known to fear going into hospitals, concerned he would not get out alive.” Nixon reportedly hesitated to go to the hospital for treatment for a blood clot because of this fear. Nixon’s fears about hospitals may have been a little more extreme than the anxiety that many of us experience at a hospital. But Newsweek notes that it’s quite common for people to feel uncomfortable at the thought of spending a night in the ER or even visiting a sick relative.
Next: Ronald Reagan may have had a fear or superstition about this number.
10. Ronald Reagan may have been superstitious about the number 666
- Fear: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
Some people argue that Ronald Reagan had hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia, or a fear of the number 666. The evidence they cite? When Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved to California after Reagan concluded his eight years in office, they moved to a “$2.5-million Bel-Air home purchased and refurbished to their taste by friends,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The original house number was 666 St. Cloud Road. The address was officially changed to 668 on city records. Some people think that the Reagans feared the number 666. But according to the Times, the change came about “because of the ‘mutual concern’ of the Reagans that the old number could be construed as a Biblical reference to Satan.”
Next: It’s possible that George W. Bush has this common fear.
11. George W. Bush might have a fear of ghosts
- Fear: Ghosts
Many presidents have believed the White House to be haunted. George W. Bush apparently had an encounter with some White House guests during his father’s presidency. The younger Bush supposedly saw ghosts “coming out of the walls! Or were they portraits? Or ghosts coming out of the portraits? Rubber-legged, he retreated to his bedroom and shut the door.” While some presidents have regarded encounters with White House ghosts as part of the territory, Bush seems to have reacted a little more fearfully than other presidents — though many Americans probably wouldn’t blame him!
Next: Barack Obama admitted to this surprising fear.
12. Barack Obama is at least a little afraid of snowmen
- Fear: Snowmen
We’d count this as one of the weirder fears among presidents. Barack Obama is reportedly afraid of snowmen — particularly of the plastic, life-size snowmen decorations used around the White House. Obama told People, “There’s a whole kind of Chucky element to them,” referring to the horror film franchise in which a scary doll comes to life. “They’re a little creepy.” Michelle Obama joked that she should try putting one of the snowmen in the couple’s bedroom. “I would move,” Obama joked. “If I see one of those snowmen in my bedroom, I’m moving.”
Next: Donald Trump fears this — understandably so.
13. Donald Trump fears being poisoned
- Fear: Being poisoned
Donald Trump has at least one pretty reasonable fear: The president is afraid of getting poisoned. As Newsweek notes, a passage from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury claims that part of Trump’s love of McDonald’s and other fast food chains stems from a fear of being poisoned. Wolff writes, “He had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade.” Newsweek notes that the germaphobic president — more on that on the next page — has also said that he likes McDonald’s for the consistency of its cooking and cleaning standards.
Next: Poison isn’t the only thing that Donald Trump fears.
14. Trump also has a case of germaphobia
- Fear: Germaphobia
Reports that Donald Trump is a germaphobe are common. The Washington Post notes that Trump has characterized the custom of shaking hands as “barbaric.” Newsweek notes that he reportedly washes his hands frequently throughout the day, and prefers to drink through a straw in order to avoid “contamination.” Politico reports that Trump also has “a distaste for pressing elevator buttons and a revulsion to fans and the public getting too close to him, such as for autographs.”
Next: Despite headlines to the contrary, Trump probably doesn’t fear this architectural feature.
15. But Trump probably doesn’t fear stairs
- Fear: Bathmophobia
As The New Republic explains, several reports surfaced that Donald Trump has bathmophobia, a pathological fear of stairs or inclines. But as the publication notes, “In the psychological literature, however, bathmophobia doesn’t seem to exist.” Plus, we have little proof that Trump actually fears stairs. While people love what The New Republic calls “junk psychology,” the publication notes that “There’s something exceptionally titillating about a powerful man who is terrified of something harmless.” That’s exactly why we’re talking about presidents’ biggest fears! By talking about Trump’s — or another president’s — fears, we remind ourselves that these men are flawed as anyone else.
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