#ThrowbackThursday: 15 Most Controversial American Presidents Of All Time

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Controversial American Presidents

“Murder…Mystery…The macabre” Let us borrow this line from the Castle episode, ‘Flowers For Your Grave’ (S01E01), as it so eloquently suits the exact nature of what this article will showcase…

Politicians have always been controversy’s favorite children, leading to the term ‘dirty politics’ being coined. And dirty it is; political controversies can spiral from corruption rings to sex scandals, to military invasions, espionage and terrorism, with a pinch of alcohol and drugs and a mixture of assassinations, election riggings and many more. These controversies have all the makings of a mystery novel, but mostly without a happy ending for the good guys.

While politicians around the world, are all bad news, controversies tend to circulate far greatly around US politicians, especially Presidents; and that as well with a vengeance.

Now it could just be all rumors, with all the ex-lovers suddenly coming out of the blue to air the Presidents’ dirty laundry, or it could be like that saying ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.

Another theory could be that our Presidents are more in focus as they are leading one of the world’s strongest nations. Or it could simply be the case that our people have a softer reign on their tongues. Yet another excuse could be, blaming the freedom of media, unless you believe in the conspiracy theories about mind control and how all of this is just an elaborate plan to bring forward the new world order. It doesn’t matter what your take on all this is, unless it can make a difference.

Keeping all this and the nature of the controversies aside, it is safe to say that our horse is bigger than yours, in the controversies department that is, you dirty minds. So hurry forward and read, to reach the list of some of the most controversial Presidents of the United States of America, soon.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, but this list will neither kill you, nor make you stronger. What it will do however, is make you feel better about Trump’s election, or rather the Trump vs. Clinton showdown. After all this isn’t America’s first rodeo. Have a look!

1. Thomas Jefferson

In-office: 4th March 1801 – 4th March 1809

Thomas Jefferson
Image: Source

What could be a bigger scandal than on surrounding one of the founding fathers of our country? The fact that we have placed them on an unrealistically high pedestal could be the reason behind this, but they too are after all human.

Now there has been ample controversy over the fact where Jefferson stood on the slave ownership issue. Several sources have several accounts, but what we can be sure about is that the man had two very different sides. We aren’t saying that he was bipolar, but he definitely had some double standards. It might be shameful to say but our founding father’s moral compass didn’t exactly point North. We aren’t saying this because he tried to seduce his best friend’s wife, Betsy Walker, and had an affair with a married Parisian woman, Maria Cosway, while he was in France as America’s Ambassador.

But our theory is based on one of his most famous scandals, his affair with Sally Hemings. Sally was a mixed race slave and his deceased wife’s half-sister. For a man known to be against slavery, not only did he own around 200 slaves, but Sally was also one of them. It’s said that it was acceptable for him to keep slaves as he treated them better than the rest. Yet accounts claim that he whipped them on several occasions and had them commit to hard labor.

Jefferson according to a source was against fathering mix-raced children, yet he supposedly had six to seven children with Sally; at least one of whom, as proved by DNA testing, is his. He freed all his children from their obligations as slaves, yet didn’t grant Sally her freedom. Aside from the obvious romantic twist, this is a pretty twisted tale which created a lot of ruckus over the years.

The second worst scandal to hit Jefferson’s presidency involved his first-term Vice President, Aaron Burr. Burr had hatched a plan to create an independent nation in North America. It was a complex strategy which involved the Commander General of the Army, the British and the Spanish. He had also planned to incite a war between Spain and USA. Unlucky for him, Jefferson was informed of his schemes, after which Burr was tried for treason.

2. Andrew Jackson

In-office: 4th March 1829 – 4th March 1837

Andrew Jackson

Jackson is supposedly remembered most for the Petticoat Affair, which grew from general gossip sessions into what impacted the careers of many and resulted in the informal ‘Kitchen Cabinet’. The marriage of Jackson’s Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton to a recently widowed woman, Margaret Timberlake caused quite a stir in polite society. Rumors circulated that the couple was having an affair, while Margaret was previously married, which had led to her husband’s suicide. This vile gossip led to mounting tensions amongst the wives of the members of Jackson’s cabinet, resulting in the growing hostility between the men and Eaton. Jackson whose personal life had previously been targeted and his deceased wife’s reputation tarnished, fired most of the Cabinet, while some signed. This is what has come to be known as the Petticoat Affair.

Another of Jackson’s scandals include the Nullification Crisis that happened in 1832 due to South Carolina’s opposition against the ‘Tariff of Abomination’. Jackson had threatened to use military force if South Carolina refused to pay the taxes. It was one of the most public cases of infighting between the Central Government and the states, as seen before the Civil War.

3. James Buchanan

In-office: 4th March 1857 – 4th March 1861

James Buchanan

With the States disputed over the issue of slavery, it was obvious that Buchanan’s stance over the Lecompton Dispute would cause a big controversy. Buchanan was pro-slavery, and his support for the Lecompton Constitution which didn’t sit well with many. Within two days of his inauguration, the Supreme Court presented their ruling on the Dred Scott case. The ruling was that no government had the right to exclude slavery from the states, therefore the Missouri Compromise was deemed unconstitutional. This resulted in quite a scandal.

The prime scandal however which dominated not only Buchanan’s presidency but also his entire life was his relationship with Alabama Senator William Rufus King. Buchanan a lifelong bachelor, lived with King for 23 years. Buchanan was perhaps the first gay President of the US but his homosexuality was neither accepted nor denied as per the conservative and unjust LGBT rules of those times.

4. Andrew Johnson

In-office: 15th April 1865 – 4th March 1869

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson was the first US President to be impeached, which led to a huge scandal. The main reason behind this was his constant cold war and disagreements with the Congress and his resistance against implementing their Civil War Reconstruction policies.

Johnson had sacked several government officials without the Congress’s consent or probable cause. But the last nail in the coffin was when he fired the Secretary of War Edwin Staton. The Congress claimed that Johnson had violated the Tenure of Office Act and this is what in turn led to his impeachment.

5. Ulysses S. Grant

In-office: 4th March 1869 – 4th March 1877

Ulysses S. Grant

US witnessed inflated greed and copious amounts of corruption during Grant’s presidency. Though Grant wasn’t directly involved, but his association with mainly corrupt officials, even after their conviction, is what made him appear unfavorable.

Urban corruption shot to the skies, as can be seen by the Whisky Ring scandal, the Tweed Ring of New York, the Credit Mobilier scandal and the Black Friday Gold scandal. The worst amongst these, and the most publicized, was the Whiskey Ring; investigations of which incriminated many prominent officials many of whom had ties to Grant, including his personal secretary.

6. Grover Cleveland

In-office: 4th March 1885 – 4th March 1889, 4th March 1893 – 4th March 1897

Grover Cleveland

Cleveland aka. Uncle Jumbo largely due to his size was one labeled one of the last healthy Presidents of the US. He drank a lot of beer and had a keen fondness of cigars, also he was the second heaviest President, weighing about 250 pounds.

Grover was the only President to ever serve nonconsecutive terms, but it was understandable since his terms were perhaps the most honest and corruption free. There was perhaps just one black spot on his personal life, which his opposition targeted greatly — Cleveland’s problem child.  Grover supposedly had an illegitimate child with Maria Halpin. The paternity of the child was never proved, as rumors were that Halpin had affairs with numerous high-ranking men. But due to the fact that Cleveland paid her child support, it was widely speculated that the child was his, though he never accepted nor rejected the fact. A child out of wedlock isn’t that big an issue now, but according to the conservative norms of society at that time, it was considered immoral. This scandal is what led to the “Ma, ma, where’s my PA?” chant.

7. Woodrow Wilson

In-office: 4th March 1913 – 4th March 1921

Woodrow Wilson

Wilson’s personal life became the target of a scandal when he got engaged to a widow Edith Bolling Galt within a year of his wife’s death. Wilson’s skipping the mourning period was seen as a sign of disrespect to his late wife, who had been First Lady for just 17 months. This also gave rise to speculation that he might have murdered her. 

Wilson might have been a racist — his lenient policies and supposed ties to the Ku Klux Klan caused much controversy.

Another relatively big scandal that caused some stir during his time in-office was the on-going Newport sex scandal. The controversy arose from the secret investigation that was carried out on the Navy personnel at Newport, Rhode Island to identify gays. Wilson became linked to it after inhabitants of Newport wrote lengthy letters to him directly regarding the Navy’s handling of the investigation.

8. Warren G. Harding

In-office: 4th March 1921 – 2nd August 1923

Warren G. Harding

Harding was a supporter of alcohol right and a strong advocate for women’s rights. He put much effort for women suffrage which was enough cause for scandal in the 1920s.
However corruption and greed also plagued his presidency, but like Grant, Harding as well had no direct involvement to it. The Teapot Dome incident is what brought his downfall and eventually his death, as is said.

The Teapot Dome scandal was centered on some men in Harding’s administration, including Secretary of Interior Albert B. Fall; who took over $100,000 in bribes from private companies (Mammoth Oil Company), leasing them naval oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming.

On a lighter note, let’s have a look at one of Harding’s somewhat amusing scandals… Harding had a gambling problem, he loved poker lot. Out of recklessness once, he lost all of the White House’s china, on one hand of cards.

9. Calvin Coolidge

In-office: 2nd August 1923 – 4th March 1929

Calvin Coolidge

While Coolidge’s presidency could be classed as one of the best and his policies right on point, even he couldn’t escape scandals. However, the only scandal which directly involved him were the false accusations of his involvement in the Teapot Dome incident. The actual incident had occurred during his time as Vice President.  

There was a scandal about the First Lady Grace Coolidge but no one knows how much merit these rumors bore. It was said that Grace had liaisons with secret service agents during her time in the White House.

Aside from these minor controversies, no big scandal plagued Coolidge’s presidency, so we can tick it off as a successful run. Some dust was kicked up over things that happened during Harding’s tenure, but it wasn’t anything Calvin Coolidge couldn’t handle. 

10. John F. Kennedy

In-office: 20th January 1961 – 22nd November 1963

John F. Kennedy

The entire life of JFK can be marked off as a big controversy, but his years as president are the only ones we will be focusing on here. He was an inspiration to many, his charisma drew many people in, making him a very desirable man. While most men wanted to be him, what they didn’t know was his constant and painful struggle with illness. He had osteoporosis in his lower back, colitis, prostatitis, Addison’s disease and God knows what else; which coupled with the stressful job of being President, led him to consume a daily cocktail of injections and pills. He claimed to have a short stint smoking marijuana, in his youth before he supposedly quit. But prescription pills, steroids for Addison’s and some pot weren’t the only drugs he ingested. JFK was rumored to take a number of recreational drugs including Methamphetamine.

Where drugs failed him, JFK found his salvation in women; hoards and hoards of them parading in and out of his life. Being a compulsive womanizer, he had casual flings with all types of women, of different ages, from various walks of life. He slept with some of the Whitehouse staff, interns, acquaintances and even a few famous icons including, the gem of the film industry and international sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe. Other renowned conquests of this notorious playboy included Inga Arvad and Judith Exner. The worst part is, his wife Jackie probably knew about this.

JFK’s foreign policies also caused a few turbulences and some controversies, troubling him to a great extent. The most famous of those were the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, which was a botched up attempt at invading Cuba. This, added to our hostility with the Soviet Union, later led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Relations with the Soviet Union were so bad that Kennedy, in the first few months of his presidency, once made an open challenge to them. The challenge was to see which country could land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. However by September 1963, the cost of the space programs grew so high, that he proposed partnering up with the Soviets on a joint expedition to the moon.

Kennedy had a secret taping system installed in the Oval Office where he not only recorded all dealings taking place inside, but also all phone calls. These recording were kept a secret and hidden by his family until 1976. The reason behind the recordings is still a mystery but one likely theory could be that he was keeping them as research, for a book he used to joke about writing later in his life.

Yet perhaps the greatest controversy of them all is JFK’s assassination that is still an unsolved mystery. No one knows who shot the bullet killing Kennedy, whether it was one man or a group or an organization. Over the years many theories have emerged as to who could have caused this catastrophic event. There were rumors that he was thinking of dropping Lyndon Johnson from the 1964 ticket, so Johnson might have motive. Another theory suggests that our own intelligence agencies might be involved. While others assumed it had something to do with organized crime rings as JFK was said to have strong ties to the mafia. Maybe we’ll never know what actually happened on 22nd November, 1963, and why.

11. Lyndon Johnson

In-office: 22nd November 1963 – 20th January 1969

Lyndon Johnson

Johnson’s presidency began with a scandal, rumors were that he was involved in JFK’s assassination. He did have motive; JFK was thinking of finding another running mate for the 1964 ticket and probably carrying out an investigation regarding Johnson’s involvement in the Bobby Baker case which could end Johnson’s political career.

Another scandal that blew up during his tenure was centered on his trusted aide Walter Jenkins, a married man and father. Jenkins was arrested at YMCA along with an army veteran Andy Choka on charges of ‘homosexual conduct’. This was amidst Johnson’s re-election campaign.

After the arrest, Jenkins resigned and soon after a loaned aide and friend of the Johnson family Robert ‘Bob’ Waldron also resigned and changed his career. Waldron was also gay, and his resignation was probably a mutual decision reached between him and Johnson to avoid another Jenkins scandal.

The Vietnam War was a subject of great controversy throughout Johnson’s presidency and blew up to a full-fledged scandal after his term ended when The Pentagon Papers were published in the New York Times.

12. Richard Nixon

In-office: 20th January 1969 – 9th August 1974

Richard Nixon

When Nixon started his presidential term, the Vietnam War was well underway and a deep seated aversion had developed in the public for it. So to cap US’s involvement in this war gracefully, Nixon introduced a strategy called ‘Vietnamization’. Whatever, the reason behind this strategy was, it had a grim outcome. It triggered a bloody civil war and ensued the brutal Communist forces of Khmer Rouge to come into power. Furthermore, it resulted in countless the deaths of US soldiers who were fighting someone else’s war. One-third of the troops who had did in combat in the Vietnam War, were killed during Nixon’s term. Also it almost crippled the US economy. Some say that Nixon himself prolonged the War to scare off his opponent in the coming elections, but no one knows for sure.

Nixon’s decision to send US troops into Cambodia had catastrophic ramifications, it enkindled a new wave of protests in universities, across the nation. A somber incident occurred in Kent State University, Ohio that antagonized the masses making them spring in action. 115 colleges went on strike after National Guardsmen gunned down four students. The protests got so out of hand that the Governor of California, Ronald Reagan had to temporarily shut down his state’s university system.

Nevertheless, the War was just a hiccup in Nixon’s presidency which caused nothing more than a dent. The momentous Gordian’s knot for him however, was the Watergate Scandal. In the wee hours of June 17th, 1972, five men broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex, which was a mile from the White House. The reason for the break-in was to photograph important documents and replace the recording equipment, installed during a previous break-in, used to eavesdrop on crucial information. Upon investigation of the incident, the FBI discovered links back to officials in the Nixon Administration. However, Nixon’s failed attempts of a cover-up, were what essentially incriminated him, leaving him with no choice but to resign.

13. Ronald Reagan

In-office: 20th January 1981 – 20th January 1989

Ronald Reagan

Corruption was the main issue that led to innumerable scandals in Reagan’s presidency. 138 of his officials were investigated, indicted or convicted. Each of them had their own massive (but under-reported) scandals, but perhaps the greats amongst all of the controversies that happened during Reagan’s tenure was the Iran-Contra affair.

With the Boland Amendment and Arms Embargo in place, the sale of arms to Iran and using that money to secretly fund Contra in South America, while pocketing the rest was completely illegal. This happened right under Reagan’s nose, yet he claimed to be unaware of the Iran-Contra affair.

While Iran-Contra was the main controversy that occurred during Reagan’s run, it wasn’t the only. US’s support to the Contra Army or the South American terrorists, who committed mass genocide was a grisly affair and brought much notoriety. Other scandals reaped during Reagan’s administration include the CIA-crack cocaine scandal, Reagan’s support for apartheid in South Africa, the Sewergate scandal, the Mental Health controversy, creation of Islamic terrorists and more.

14. Bill Clinton

In-office: 20th January 1993 – 20th January 2001

Bill Clinton

It is said that ‘behind every successful man, there’s a woman’, what they cease to mention is that often enough after success hits, ‘a woman’ becomes ‘multiple women’ and the success can easily slide down to infamy. Clinton it appears is another notorious playboy, though he can’t match JFK’s score, neither could any other President. But hey there’s still time!

Former White House aide Kathleen Willey accused Clinton of sexual assault, while a former nursing house administrator Juanita Broaddrrick accused him of raping her during his days as Attorney General.

Clinton was sued by Paula Jones during his presidency for sexual harassment which uncovered some other of his affairs with a cabaret singer Gennifer Flowers and White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Though at that time Clinton denied to an affair with Monica, while under oath during Jones’s case proceedings.

Independent Counsel Ken Starr led his own investigation, during which he garnered Lewinsky’s cooperation and got DNA testing done on her blue dress which supposedly had Clinton’s semen stain. Clinton went on record to apologize for lying about the affair, but was acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice for wrongfully concealing evidence in a criminal proceeding. Clinton became the second President in history to be impeached.

Other of Clinton’s presidential scandals include the Troopergate scandal, Travelgate scandal, Whitewater scandal, Filegate scandal, Vince Foster controversy, Chinagate scandal, the Commerce Department trade mission controversy, the 1996 US campaign finance controversy, and more.

15. George W. Bush

In-office: 20th January 2001 – 20th January 2009

George W. Bush

Bush’s presidency was perhaps one of the worst the US has seen. The man was not only notorious for his excessive alcohol consumption, but also of recreational drugs. He was accused of sexual assault by multiple women. The most famous of which was a lawsuit filed by Margie Schoedinger during Bush’s term, and the circumstances surrounding her suicide a year later, still devoid of justice. Racism and sexism were also some things Bush was accused off. His government was one of the most corrupted, immoral and scandalous, in US history.

Some other famous scandals of his presidency include the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, Bush’s extramarital affairs with stripper Tammy Phillips and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the 2008 Market Crash and Bush’s policies that led to recession, the Hurricane Katrina flyover, the Iraq War, the dismissal of US State Attorneys and the many forgotten Bush scandals.

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About The Author

Kelvin Stiles is a tech enthusiast and works as a marketing consultant at SurveyCrest – FREE online survey software and publishing tools for academic and business use. He is also an avid blogger and a comic book fanatic.