These Presidents Had Infamous Tempers — a Little Like Donald Trump
It’s no secret that Donald Trump is a pretty controversial president. One of his most divisive qualities? His temper. Donald Trump’s anger has zeroed in on innumerable targets, both during his presidential campaign and in the time since he entered the Oval Office. But he’s not the first president to bring a hot temper to the White House. In fact, several other presidents throughout American history had infamous tempers, too.
Below, check out the other presidents whose anger could probably give Trump a run for his money!
1. George Washington
Politico reports that Donald Trump “isn’t the first president to lose his temper.” The publication names our very first president, George Washington, as one president who had a very strong temper. Fortunately, Washington took steps to curb his anger. For instance, Washington read and reread the work of Roman essayis Ltucius Annaeus Seneca. (Seneca, for the record, wrote that “anger comes, not from affection, but from weakness.”)
Politico adds that “The corrective worked, if only in part: At the Battle of Monmouth during the American Revolution, Washington swore at a subordinate, as one onlooker described it, ’til the leaves shook on the trees.'” And at a cabinet meeting during his presidency, Washington reportedly became “so distraught that he tore off his hat, threw it on the ground and stomped on it.”
Next: This president had the worst temper among the first five presidents of the United States.
2. John Adams
Politico points to John Adams as another president who had a notorious temper. “During the nation’s first five presidencies (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe), a phrase like ‘sir, you are a marplot‘ was an insulting stand-in for what would later become ‘you God damned son of a bitch,'” Politico explains. The publication adds that of America’s first five presidents, John Adams had the worst temper.
Adams reportedly once called Washington “a muttonhead” in a fit of anger. And James McHenry, his secretary of war, once witnessed one of Adams’s tirades and then resigned. McHenry later characterized Adams as “totally insane.” That must have been a pretty terrible temper tantrum. We’re hardly surprised to learn from History that Benjamin Franklin needed to open “diplomatic doors for his blunter, more combative colleague.”
Next: This angry president beat a would-be assassin with his cane.
3. Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson has gained infamy among historians for several reasons. His temper is just one. Politico reports that Jackson fought so many duels as a young man that one admirer said his body was so filled with lead that it “rattled like a bag of marbles.” Jackson’s ambition overcame his anger enough for him to use his achievements as a frontiersman, solider, and “Indian killer” to pave his path to the presidency.
But once president, Jackson nursed grudges and grievances against numerous other people. He referred to Henry Clay as “the basest, meanest scoundrel that ever disgraced the image of God.” In private, he promised of John C. Calhoun, “I will hang him higher than Haman.” Politico reports that “at least once, Jackson’s anger became public: When a would-be assassin’s gun misfired, Jackson turned on him, beating him with a cane.”
Next: This president sometimes flew into a fit of rage seemingly caused by the medication he took for his depression.
4. Abraham Lincoln
You might be surprised to hear that Abraham Lincoln at times showed a hot temper. But as Politico reports, Lincoln’s anger seems to have had a very different source than that of other presidents with notorious tempers. Lincoln rarely seemed angry, at least during his presidency. But he fought clinical depression his entire life, or “melancholia,” as people called Lincoln’s gloom at the time.
The treatment? “Blue mass” mercury pills, which claimed to clear the body of black bile but reportedly sent Lincoln into sudden rages. As Politico explains, “Biologists who subsequently studied the pills say they contained 120 times the accepted dose of mercury, which helps to explain why Lincoln returned to his calmer self when he stopped taking them.”
Next: This president used public displays of anger to his advantage.
5. Theodore Roosevelt
Another president whom you may not know had a temper? Theodore Roosevelt. As The Chicago Tribune reports, “People forget that Roosevelt had a temper. He stomped, he stormed, he beat his way through opposition like a dog on attack.” The publication elaborates, “He snapped his teeth viciously, threw speeches like punches and understood the awesome power of media. He campaigned through newspapers and witch hunts.” And, as the Tribune adds, Roosevelt “pioneered the art of spin, twisted facts and blasted enemies through explosive headlines.”
But Politico maintains that Roosevelt’s anger, unlike that of many other presidents, “was public—and studied.” Roosevelt “used sweeping gestures, a nodding visage, a mouth bristling with white teeth, a tightly balled fist, and a leaning-over-the-lectern approach to seduce his audiences.” Politico adds that the 26th president weaponized the media, and “would wag his finger and project his booming voice, though this too was rehearsed.”
Next: This president got into a major altercation in his office.
6. Warren G. Harding
Though most people know little about Warren G. Harding, Politico uncovered an anecdote about him that we won’t forget anytime soon:
A White House visitor recalled an incident in 1923 when he let himself into the president’s office only to see Harding choking a man against a wall. The victim was gasping for breath, waving his arms, while Harding raged at him. “You yellow rat!” Harding screamed. “You double-crossing bastard. If I ever… ”—at which point Harding noticed his visitor. Taken aback, he loosened his grip on the man who, eyes ablaze, staggered from the room. “You have an appointment,” Harding said to his visitor. “Come into the next room.”
The official Harding was choking was Charles Forbes. Forbes, after being appointed as director of the Veterans Bureau, stole $2 million from it — just one such incident during the “brief but criminally eventful administration of President Harding.”
Next: This president lost his temper at his political opponents.
7. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Politico reports that Franklin D. Roosevelt had a “famous” temper, though he usually reserved his anger for his political opponents. The publication notes that Roosevelt “despised” fellow New Yorker Thomas E. Dewey. (Roosevelt referred to Dewey as “that little man.” Dewey ran against Roosevelt in 1944, and accepted his eventual loss with grace. But Roosevelt was unmoved, and reportedly said, “I still don’t like the son of a bitch.”
Roosevelt also famously lost his temper at Douglas MacArthur, the Army chief of staff, when MacArthur met with him about repeated cuts to the Army budget during the Great Depression. MacArthur recounted the incident, “I said something to the effect that when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.” According to Politico, Roosevelt roared back, “You must not talk that way to the president.”
Next: This president reserved much of his anger for his diary — and his letters.
8. Harry S. Truman
Politico characterizes Harry S. Truman as “peevish, petulant and vengeful.” (A Truman biographer adds “narrow, clannish, short-tempered, [and] stubborn” to the list, too.) But Politico concedes that Truman saved most of his anger for his diary. In that diary, he described Douglas MacArthur as “Mr. Prima Donna, Brass Hat, Five Star MacArthur.” Then, he insulted some of MacArthur’s Republican “buddies,” writing, “He’s worse than the Cabots and the Lodges — they at least talked with one another before they told God what to do.”
Politico adds, “Give ‘em hell Harry could be confrontational in person, but he was out of control in print.” When a music critic gave Truman’s daughter, Margaret, a bad review after a piano recital, Truman wrote back. “Some day I want to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below.”
Next: This president tried to control his anger — but mostly failed, especially when squirrels got involved.
9. Dwight Eisenhower
The 34th president had one of the most notorious tempers of all. Eisenhower’s White House staff referred to him as “the terrible-tempered Mr. Bang.” But he developed several ways to try to control his anger. When he got angry, he quoted his mother, who said, “he who conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city.” He wrote down the names of people who provoked his rage on slips of paper, which he placed in an “anger drawer.” And he began playing golf — even installing a putting green at the White House — to relax.
However, Politico reports, none of it worked very well. Eisenhower “exploded as if on cue when anyone mentioned communist witch-hunter Joe McCarthy and flew into a rage with Secretary of State Christian Herter for talking with journalist Joseph Alsop.” And even golf didn’t serve as a distraction for long. When squirrels dug up the White House putting green, “Ike got so angry he ordered them shot.” (Luckily, his staff didn’t oblige.)
Next: This president wanted to intimidate people, and lost his temper when that didn’t work.
10. Lyndon B. Johnson
Next on the list? Lyndon B. Johnson. Politico reports that Johnson referred to his enemies as “little pissants” and North Vietnam as “a rageddy-ass fourth-rate country.” He even referred to John F. Kennedy as “sonny boy.” Politico reports that did his best to appear intimidating — which likely wasn’t too difficult, give his “iron handshake” and his height of 6 feet 4 inches. As a biographer explains, Johnson believed that “intimidation was indispensable in bending people to his will.”
“But when that didn’t work,” Politico explains, “he was vengeful, profane (he sat on the toilet while telling Robert Kennedy he wouldn’t be vice president) and occasionally crazed: Once, on Air Force One, he ordered his aide Horace Busby off of the plane. ‘But we’re over the ocean,’ Busby said. ‘I don’t give a fucking damn,’ LBJ responded.”
Next: This president had a ‘crazy’ bad temper.
11. Richard Nixon
It probably surprises nobody to see Richard Nixon on the list of the presidents with the worst tempers. Politico characterizes Nixon as “self pitying, narrow-minded and spiteful.” And that’s not even the worst of it. “Consumed by rage, his was the worst kind of temper: personally abusive,” Politico explains. “His shove of press secretary Ron Ziegler might have told us more about Nixon than any White House tape—there’s abuse of power, and then there’s just abuse.”
Journalist Kevin Baker writes that Nixon’s temper has become uniquely infamous. “The only president generally thought of as possessing a ‘crazy’ bad temper is Richard Nixon. Releases of tapes from the National Archives continue to confirm the widespread notion that Nixon spent much of his time in the White House doing a sort of free-form imitation of Captain Queeg.” Baker adds, “Even in his own time, Nixon’s sort of temper did not play well—no doubt in part because of his repeated, Freudian need to let his darkest inner conflicts slip.”
Next: This president used ‘contrived indignation’ to his advantage.
12. Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan rarely showed his temper, according to Politico. “But when he did it was to good effect,” the publication reports. Politico recounts one such incident:
In 1980, during a candidate’s forum in New Hampshire, the irritable Great Communicator turned on a federal election official: “I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green,” he bellowed. The statement brought an approving roar from the crowd. Reagan used his temper as a kind of exclamation point, to show others that he’d made up his mind.
Baker adds that “contrived indignation” has proven useful to numerous presidents. He writes of Reagan’s performance in New Hampshire, “No matter that his campaign had set up the whole incident—or that his lines were taken almost verbatim from a speech by Spencer Tracey in the 1948 film State of the Union. It was an extremely effective piece of political theatre.”
Next: This president was a late bloomer, but never quite outgrew his temper.
13. George W. Bush
Different presidents have expressed their anger in different ways. And Politico reports that George W. Bush seems to have inherited his particular breed of temper from his father, George H.W. Bush. The publication explains, “Both showed anger, but expressed it with aloof disinterest. When father and son didn’t like something they would turn their back on the listener.”
But Politico gives George W. Bush major credit for “transforming himself from a dilettante of alcohol-fueled tantrums to a politician who mastered the art of the peevish expression and clipped sentence.” The New York Times characterizes the younger Bush as a “late bloomer.” The publication notes that at 40 years old, he was still “a heavy-drinking, fun-loving oilman struggling to control his temper, salvage his business and hold on to his marriage.”
Next: This president went into ‘purple fits’ of rage at his aides.
14. Bill Clinton
Politico reports that Bill Clinton “had the mother of all tempers, vying for that title with John Adams.” Clinton was aware of the problem, and once wrote, “I am a little disturbed by my anger. Because of the way Daddy behaved when he was angry and drunk, I associated anger with being out of control and I was determined not to lose control.”
That didn’t stop Clinton from losing control numerous times during his presidency (and even during his wife’s first presidential campaign). Politico reports, “Clinton’s tirades, dubbed ‘purple fits’ by his aides, were often accompanied by a wagging finger and threats.” One Democratic strategist said that while Clinton didn’t show his temper publicly as president, “he gets more aggravated by attacks on his wife, and he tends to show it.”
Next: This president tried to hide his short fuse.
15. Barack Obama
Politico reports that thought Barack Obama kept his temper “tightly controlled,” numerous sources provided accounts of Obama occasionally raising his voice or thumping a table. A senior military officer told the publication, “You knew Obama was angry when he backed up his chair, muttered to himself, and left the room to have a cigarette. But he could be cutting, mean.”
Obama’s chief strategist told U.S. News that the 44th president had a short fuse, though he kept it hidden from the public. GQ learned that Obama has yelled and even sworn at people, including a senior adviser whom he called a “motherfucker.”
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