These Are the Presidents Who Were Hated During Their Lifetimes (and How Donald Trump Compares)
You might think of sharp criticism of the president as a new phenomenon, unique to the era of Barack Obama or Donald Trump. But if you look back in American history, hating the president seems about as American as apple pie. Sure, Americans loved some presidents during their lifetimes (and beyond). But on the other hand, large numbers of Americans hated other presidents during their time in office. (And historians have harsh words for some presidents even generations after their presidencies conclude.)
Read on to learn which presidents were hated by at least some Americans during their lifetime. And see how Donald Trump compares on page 15.
1. Andrew Jackson
- 7th president of the United States
Andrew Jackson became the first president to ascend from poverty. So from the get-go, he would make at least a few opponents. History Extra reports that his critics saw Jackson “as a profane, unprincipled demagogue.” They also considered him “a would-be tyrant in the Napoleonic mode.” And they criticized him as “a man with no respect for the checks and balances of the Constitution or the rule of law.”
Jackson took it all in stride. But the hatred deeply affected Mrs. Jackson. NPR notes that when Jackson won the election, his wife went to Nashville to buy a dress for the inauguration. She “read some old newspapers, saw the vitriol and hatred directed toward her and her husband, and died within weeks.”
Next: Many Americans hated this president for his lifestyle.
2. Martin Van Buren
- 8th president of the United States
Martin Van Buren became the first American-born president. And he also qualifies as the first professional politician — a distinction that on its own, seems enough to guarantee some derision. In fact, Van Buren didn’t escape criticism in his day.
Time reports that Van Buren’s extravagant lifestyle made him an “easy scapegoat” for his political opponents. Plus, an economic crisis — brought on by banks offering easy credit — overshadowed his accomplishments during his time in office.
Next: People hated this president because of the way he assumed office.
3. John Tyler
- 9th president of the United States
No matter who he is or what his political views, it’s basically guaranteed that some Americans will hate the president their country elects. So all bets are off for presidents who assume office without actually getting elected. Time reports that John Tyler’s enemies called the president “His Accidency” when he ascended to the presidency following the death of William Henry Harrison.
But Tyler’s troubles didn’t end there. As Time notes, Tyler proved “so deeply unpopular during his presidency that all but one of his Cabinet members resigned in protest when he vetoed a bill establishing a national bank.” Shortly afterward, Tyler got kicked out of his own political party. And the House of Representatives tried to impeach him. Clearly, Tyler didn’t make enough friends in Washington.
Next: This president always fares poorly in rankings by historians.
4. Millard Fillmore
- 13th president of the United States
Deseret News notes that Millard Fillmore consistently fares poorly in rankings compiled by historians. And he proved equally unpopular among regular Americans during his lifetime. Time reports that Fillmore “became myopically focused on the Compromise of 1850, which tried to quell sectional concerns by setting the balance of slave states and free states after the Mexican-American War.”
Fillmore treated the conflict over slavery as a political rather than moral question. And as Time explains, Fillmore “ended up with legislation that united everyone only in their displeasure and did little to ameliorate the tensions that would eventually lead to civil war.”
Next: Americans hated this president because of a controversial election.
5. James Buchanan
- 15th president of the United States
Do you think of the 2016 presidential election as controversial? History Extra reports that the key issue in the 1856 presidential election was the crisis over the expansion of slavery. James Buchanan became president by promising he “could heal the wounds and steady the ship of state.” But, after he assumed office, “almost every decision he took made things worse.”
Buchanan colluded with the Supreme Court on its Dred Scott decision. He caused a split in the Democratic party. And as seven states seceded and set up the Confederacy, “Buchanan did nothing to help.” Instead, he spent his time “loudly complaining that secession was illegal but claiming that he had no power to do anything about it.”
Next: Congress tried to impeach this president.
6. Andrew Johnson
- 17th president of the United States
How badly did American hate Andrew Johnson? Badly enough that Congress targeted him with impeachment proceedings. (But U.S. News reports that despite his opposition to Reconstruction initiatives — including the 14th amendment — he managed to survive impeachment and finish his term.)
History Extra reports that Johnson’s “personal insecurity and political belligerence made his presidency a disaster from start to finish.” Growing up poor, he had resented the slaveholding elites. Johnson supported emancipation to undermine the power of the slaveholding class But he didn’t want Republicans in Congress to give rights to freed slaves — an unpopular decision in Washington at the time.
Next: This president got assumed office after a ‘hostile’ election.
7. Rutherford B. Hayes
- 19th president of the United States
This might sound familiar. But Time reports that Rutherford B. Hayes ascended to the presidency as a Republican candidate who lost the popular vote in a disputed election but won the White House “after months of partisan wrangling.”
Plus, the publication adds, “If you thought George W. Bush had enemies, consider this: Hayes’ official Inauguration was secretly held inside the White House, for fear of the trouble his opponents might stir up.” Mental Floss characterizes Hayes’s election as one of the most hostile in history. And his enemies referred to him as “Rutherfraud” and “His Fraudulency” throughout his time in office.
Next: This president appointed a corrupt cabinet.
8. Warren G. Harding
- 29th president of the United States
One sure way to go down in history as one of the most hated presidents? Become mired in a major scandal. Time reports that Warren G. Harding appointed numerous corrupt officials when he became president. (What an auspicious start!) The corruption led to the Teapot Dome bribery scandal. The scandal sent a Cabinet secretary to prison and ruined Harding’s reputation.
Harding also became the subject of what Time characterizes as the “best-selling memoir by a woman who claimed to be his mistress and the mother of his illegitimate daughter.” Interestingly enough, History Extra reports that Harding wasn’t hated as widely during his lifetime as he is now. Upon his death, Americans mourned him “as a calm presence; a ‘man of peace’ for the postwar period.”
Next: Americans hated this president because of the Great Depression.
9. Herbert Hoover
- 31st president of the United States
Many Americans hated Herbert Hoover during his lifetime. As The Atlantic puts it, “The Great Depression that reduced the country to rubble is laid, fairly or not, at Hoover’s feet.” Time reports that he was vilified for his “disastrous response” to the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression.
Hoover championed self-reliance instead of government intervention. But millions of Americans suffered because of his policies. “The nickname for shantytowns that cropped up all over the country — Hoovervilles — left little doubt as to who was blamed for the crisis,” Time explains. Plus, “Hoover’s popularity wasn’t helped by his continued support for Prohibition.”
Next: Wealthy Americans hated this president and his policies.
10. Franklin D. Roosevelt
- 32nd president of the United States
Many Americans today have a favorable opinion of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But he had many critics in his day. And many Americans, especially those in high places, hated him. In fact, according to NPR, “The Hearst radio network was organized to bring down Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”
The publication adds that “the mocking of the president has ebbed and flowed through the years,” referring not just to Roosevelt, but to other presidents, as well. But Roosevelt, especially, found himself “despised by America’s upper class — some referred to him as ‘rubber legs.'”
Next: Unpopularity drove this president out of office.
11. Lyndon B. Johnson
- 36th president of the United States
NPR reports that historians say that the more consequential a president, the more intensely he’s likely to be hated by the American people. Lyndon B. Johnson, for instance, “had a play written about him called MacBird which accused him of killing Kennedy.”
Even stronger evidence that many Americans hated him? Johnson left office deeply unpopular thanks to the Vietnam War, according to The Washington Post. In fact, the publication reports that “Unpopularity drove Johnson out of office.” And even until the end of his life, other politicians saw Johnson “as a liability instead of a political asset.”
Next: Americans hated this president for his cover-up of a major scandal.
12. Richard Nixon
- 37th president of the United States
U.S. News characterizes Nixon as “politically gifted.” But, of course, many Americans hated him because of the Watergate scandal. As History Extra reports, “It was not the original deed (authorising a break-in into Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate building during the 1972 presidential race) that did for him, but the lies and the cover-up.”
Yet the publication reports that Nixon had also become an “unusually hated politician” before Watergate. The Orlando Sentinel aptly expresses many Americans’ opinions about Nixon. “There was something about Nixon’s personality that made him easy to hate. It’s really a surprise that he got to be president.”
Next: Many Americans hated this president during his time in office, but like him better now.
13. George W. Bush
- 43rd president of the United States
U.S. News characterizes Bush’s presidency as tainted by “a series of public speaking gaffes and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Many Americans hated Bush during his time in office. But as the Pacific Standard reports, Bush has more recently made an “improbable” recovery.
Bush left office with “one of the lowest approval ratings of any president in history,” the publication notes. And he had endured “eight years of both lighthearted mockery and aggressive political denouncement.” But polls show that Americans have begun to like him again, in much larger numbers than they did during his time in office.
Next: Many Americans hated — and still hate — Barack Obama.
14. Barack Obama
- 44th president of the United States
The American Prospect posits that Republicans have never hated a president more than they hate Barack Obama. In 2015, Vox characterized Obama as “the most polarizing president since the birth of modern polling — Democrats love him, and Republicans can’t stand him.” (Donald Trump later broke Obama’s record on that quality, though.)
The Pew Research Center reports that the United States changed significantly during Obama’s presidency. The economy improved, but income inequality increased. Obama elevated the U.S. image abroad, but race relations at home remained bad. And many Republicans — Donald Trump included — continue to hate Obama.
Next: Here’s how Donald Trump compares.
15. Donald Trump
- 45th president of the United States
We probably don’t have to tell you that while some American love Donald Trump, others hate him. Approval ratings showed Trump ending his first year in office as the most unpopular president in modern history. Global survey data also painted a picture of a president hated around the world.
Trump also remains a deeply polarizing president. And the Brookings Institution attributed that phenomenon to the Trump White House’s “fractious policies in seeking to implement a travel ban, dismantling Obamacare, withdrawing from a global climate pact, and agreeing to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”
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