Jacksonville, AL.   Recently, American historians came out with another of their periodic rankings of U.S. presidents.  I didn’t bother to click on the link because I could guess the results.  They’re predictable.  Mainstream historians adore presidents who wage war.  If their administrations are despotic, in terms of overweening ambition and centralizing of power, that’s an added bonus, from their perspective.

Why?  It probably has to do with a low regard for the Constitution, disinterest in the sanctity of life, devotion to the cult of “progress,” and a vicariousness of scholars who lack power and influence in the real world.  Hence, it’s the Lincolns and FDRs who rank at the top while relatively peaceful and socially-well-adjusted men are at the bottom.

During the 2010 campaign, Dan Quayle’s son, Ben Quayle, made some headlines with a deliberately provocative and laughably pompous TV ad identifying Barack Obama as the worst president in history.  It’s an absurd commercial.  Not because we should like Obama but because it’s hyperbole coming from a hypocrite.

If you read a little about Ben Quayle, you learn that he was a skirt-chasing party boy not long ago and now he’s posing as a conservative with family values.  A typical phony politician, raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, who has a sense of entitlement when it comes to power.  Young Quayle promised to shake things up, or, in the eloquent words of the mouthpiece himself, “Somebody has to go to Washington and knock the hell out of the place.”  Unfortunately, there are a lot of conservative Republicans who are easily fooled by demagogues.  Like Pavlov’s dog, they salivate—or vote—when they hear the “Obama is evil” bell.  Enough turned out on election day to send Ben to Washington, where he will be a reliable vote for the same old shit while he plans his inevitable run for the U.S. Senate.

We can make our own Top Ten list of presidents, but let’s start at the bottom, since we live in an upside-down world.  Personally, I don’t think Obama is the worst president in history.  So far, he’s about average, in terms of badness.  In choosing the worst, there are many good candidates, but I vote for Woodrow Wilson.  Betrayer of the Jefferson-Jackson-Bryan tradition in the Democratic Party.  Enemy of racial equality.  Opponent of woman suffrage.  Architect of centralized government.  Bellhop of Wall Street.  Father of the Federal Reserve.  Enthusiast of World War I.  Violator of civil liberties.  Champion of the League of Nations.  Mentor of Franklin Roosevelt.  The damage he did to the nation and the world was immense.

Wilson was born 154 years ago: in Staunton, Virginia, on December 28, 1856.  Blessed with a fine education and considerable talent, he used his powers for evil rather than good.  It’s fitting that Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize, while true peacemakers of their generation, men like Tolstoy and Bryan, were snubbed.  Actual peace is not toasted among the fashionable set of the world.  As Dylan puts it, “We live a political world, where peace is not welcome at all.  It’s turned away from the door to wander some more, or put up against the wall.”  Pseudo-piety is part of Wilson’s longstanding appeal for certain types.  War is peace.  Power as service.  Special interest masquerading as common good.  Realpolitik cloaked in idealism.

Elected governor of New Jersey in 1910, he was running for president a year later.  As is also true with Carter and Obama, when presidents seemingly come out of nowhere, with little experience and no big accomplishments, something is afoot.  There are powerful men behind the scenes who discreetly sponsor the fresh-faced dark horse who will embody more of the same while promising change.

That’s another reason to detest Wilson.  After 16 years of Republican presidents, a Democrat was elected . . . who then ruled like a Hamiltonian Republican.  Another in a long line of bait and switch, but it came at a particularly crucial time in history.  A real change was needed, but instead the unholy alliance between big government and big business was cemented, empire was solidified, and the opposition party was co-opted. This story, among others, can be found in Gabriel Kolko’s Triumph of Conservatism.

George W. Bush—aka Mortimer Snerd in the lap of the Bergenesque triumvirate of Rove, Cheney, and Wolfowitz—was channeling Wilson when he launched wars and pledged to end tyranny in our world.  Neoconservatives are neither new nor conservative.  They are direct descendants of Wilson, with some Trotsky DNA thrown in for bad measure.  When Julian Assange of Wikileaks is threatened with prosecution under the Sedition Act, that’s a legacy of Wilson from 1918.  Wilson is the awful gift that keeps on giving.

I nominate Woodrow Wilson for the title of “Worst President.”  Whom do you suggest?

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Jeff Taylor
Jeff Taylor was born and raised in Spencer, Iowa. He is Professor of Political Science at Dordt College. He is author of three books: Where Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy (University of Missouri Press), Politics on a Human Scale: The American Tradition of Decentralism (Lexington), and The Political World of Bob Dylan: Freedom and Justice, Power and Sin (Palgrave Macmillan).  He has written for Green Horizon Quarterly, Modern Age, Chronicles, The American Conservative, FirstPrinciplesJournal.com, HuffingtonPost.com, LewRockwell.com, AntiWarLeague.com, and CounterPunch.org. He is roughly half German, a quarter English, and the rest is Irish, Scotch-Irish, and French. In 1814, his ancestor Barzilla Taylor fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend as a Tennessee volunteer under General Andrew Jackson. The Taylors came from England in the early 1600s, settled in Virginia, and moved through the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois, and Indiana, before ending up in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Jeff spent his entire life in the Midwest until moving to Alabama in 2008. He returned to his home state three years later. He has degrees from Northwestern College, University of Iowa, and University of Missouri. His research emphases are American politics, political theory, political history, and international relations. A political independent, Jeff has been active within the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties at various times.  His ideology, or political philosophy, is a mix of moralism, libertarianism, and populism. His favorite writers include C.S. Lewis, Watchman Nee, A.W. Tozer, Gene Edwards, Bonaventure, François Mauriac, Leo Tolstoy, Søren Kierkegaard, Thomas Jefferson, George Orwell, Dwight Macdonald, C. Wright Mills, Gore Vidal, Gabriel Kolko, Noam Chomsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin, Malcolm X, Murray Rothbard, Kevin Phillips, and Bill Kauffman. Jeff is the husband of Shirley Taylor, and the father of William, Jane, and David.  He is an ethical vegetarian and a low church Protestant.  Jeff can be reached via email at wherego (at) aol.com.

46 COMMENTS

  1. Well, Washington was the best, amazingly enough, and while Lincoln was one of the best, I think there is good reason to think him also one of the worst, maybe the worst.

    Lincoln is so much the Civil War president and our reactions to him for each of us is entwined with our reaction to that so central event. There are two great misconceptions about that war. One is common among northerners, the opinion that it was about slavery. The other is common among southerners, the opinion that it was NOT about slavery. It is certainly true that the north did not go to war to free the slaves. The powers in the north had long been smelling a lucrative imperial future and were horrified that the south was going to scotch it at its birth. As for the south, they never (I mean, like NEVER) bridled about state’s rights except insofar it threatened that immense sin they so treasured. The south went to war to keep human beings as animals. (Many are the daughters and sons of old dixie who would disagree, but they are liars or, more commonly, have believed liars.)

    In their pride, they empowered the northern capitalists, which Lincoln was to the core, to construct an unconstitutionally powerful central government. I don’t think Lincoln was a bad man, and I do think he was, in moral terms, probably a great man. But he was the agent for the biggest jump towards centralization of power in our history.

    So he didn’t have to go to war? I think he probably did, though I think not for his expressed reasons. I think if we had parted ways we would then have spent ourselves in a series of increasing skirmishes and then wars hacking out a border stretching towards the Pacific.

    If he hadn’t been stuck with the war, I think he would have been a force for centralization of power. His pet was the transatlantic railroad, for instance. But it took the avaricious slaveholders of the south to give him the oomph to be as bad a president as he was.

    • As one of those “sons of old dixie” I do take offense to your characterization, Not all southerners were slave holding plantation masters. Many sons of the south were simple upper south yeomen farmers leading simple agrarian lives far removed from the politics of low country planters. And like many middle class families of today, they were caught up in a rising tide of politics over which they had little control.

      Yes, they fought in the war, but not to keep slaves for themselves or for low country planters. These simple farmers fought to save “their” way of life and not to preserve slavery.

      My ancestor (from my father’s side of the family) went to war riding the same horse he used to plow the same land his father and grandfather and their fathers before them had plowed. And by war’s end the family farm and most others in that part of Georgia was no more. All stock and crops were gone, and all that was left was bare, hard scrabble land hardly worth working.

      These agrarians were not slave holders and most detested the institution. But, their sense of place and pride in their way of life forced them to fight and in some cases die to preserve what was important to them – the land.

      So when many southerners say that the war was not about slavery, for many families this is true. They saw then and still see today that the war was about protecting power – the power of the northern industrialist and the power of the large slave-holding plantation owners. And then as now, the simple farmer was the one to pay the price. This is worth remembering.

      • I do believe that is well worth remembering and I do know that those people did fight for the reasons you state. But I do not believe they would have thought to institute secession which was to start the war, as anyone of considered judgment could have predicted. I believe they were led and deceived by those whose primary purpose was the defense of their peculiar and profitable institution. I welcome your clarifying addendum.

        • Tom,

          Unfortunately for the Southern states, those with the most power and wealth had interests that were quite different from the middle- and lower-class Southerners. The planter elite’s reason for seceding certainly was directly connected to slavery. However, the lower- and middle-class Southerners’ motivation to fight had little to do with slavery. They were persuaded by their leaders (in a self-fulfilling prophecy) that their homes were being threatened by a rapacious national government.

          We need to remember that for most Southerners, the question of whether to secede was not the same as whether to fight a war. There were many Southerners who did not want to secede, but when Lincoln mobilized the army, were outraged (thinking secession constitutional and Lincoln’s act despotic) and decided to fight. That is why four of the states that ultimately seceded did not vote for John Breckinridge, but rather the Constitutional Union Party. They wanted to remain a part of the Union, but not a Union that violated the right of secession.

        • There is no right to secession and there never was and the Tory lies about the Civil War are just that There are only two factual interpretation of the United States against the British Confederacy.

          Let’s quote the Constitution: “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation;”

          Either South Carolina entered an unconstitutional alliance and then attacked the Federal Government or the Independent “Nation-State” attacked U.S. the Army prior to any legal claims attacked the U.S. Army without cause. Lincoln simply fought back against the foreign Imperial British puppet state and saved the world from a kind of One World Government under British rule.

          The fact is the Southern states had no desire for “state sovereignty” as evidence by the fact that succession from the Confederacy was banned in the Confederate constitution. The succession was not valid because it was merely a tool form an illegal Confederacy which was banned under the Constitution. Confederation was illegal and trying using succession as an end run around the Constitution was a fraud and everyone knew it.

          The British created the Confederacy out the the network left over the traitor Aaron Burr’s “Western Conspiracy” If you do not under the “Western Conspiracy” then you shouldn’t be talking about the conflict. NPR just ran several stories about British support for Confederacy and I suggest you all review that history.

          If you do not understand the Global politics of American War against British/Confederate Aggression then you do not understand the conflict. Please read Bismark and the Russians on the issue. The Federal Government exists prior to the States as evidence by the determination of the state boundaries after the Constitution not before.

          What I don’t understand is how anyone who calls himself a Distributist could support the Confederacy or Southern so-called “Culture.”

          It was based on “Free Trade” and thus cash crop monoculture that destroyed the top soil and decreased productivity. Calling the plantation system “agrarian” is like calling the the ongoing rape of Africa under Neoliberalism “agrarian” culture.

          Today’s Ag-Business is simply a repeat of the plantation model and after passing of S.510 we are about to fully move into a Southern plantation style farming. Individual family farming is feature of the North. The “fear of Industrialization was simply a fear that smaller family farms would be able to out compete the slave labor and thus threaten the Slaver Oligarchy.

          Stop believing Tory Slavertarian slanders against our Republic.

          As for the worst presidents.

          1. Wilson (Sold out the Nation)
          2. Jackson (Destroyed the development of Industrial Economy thereby lending the Civil War)
          3. Bunchanan (Failed utterly causing the Civil War)
          4. Nixon ( Destroyed the American System of Protection, Wages, Health Care, Infrastructure, Agriculture, and the Space program)
          5. Bush/Obama (I consider them the same)

          The Best 5 where

          1. Washington (Patriarch of the Nation)
          2. Lincoln (Saved the Union, Saved the World)
          3.FDR (Built Modern America, Defeated Fascism, and layed the ground work the greatest of wealth creation know to man aka Bretton Woods)
          4.John Quincy Adams (Built Roads, Canals, Schools, Observatories, and promoted a culture of science and learning and peace.)
          5. Eisenhower (the greatest Road builder since the Romans)

          • “5. Eisenhower (the greatest Road builder since the Romans)”

            You mean that great destroyer of localism, the Interstate Highway System?

          • Americans were moving around like mad long before the interstates, before cars, even before railroads. If we were not a rootless people our forebearers would have stayed in Europe, etc. (those who were not brought here forcefully). Consider the wanderlust of Davy Crockett or of the Ingalls family in the Little House books. From what I know of my ancestry they pretty much packed up and moved at least once a generation: almost no one died where they were born.

      • The free-hold farmers with no slaves in the old South were in no way endangered and had naught they needed to be defended. Many of them recognized this, especially in the up-country and so supported the Union, often at great danger and cost to themselves. Hence the very existence of West Virginia as a separate state. In eastern Tenessee, northern Alabama, the mountains of North Carolina and Arkansas and on the Texas frontier there were also many who felt the same, but could not make good a break from the plantocrats’ junta.

        • Secession was primarily (but not totally) about slavery, which was part of the bigger politico-economic picture of the times. The war was not about slavery, but about secession. It only came to be seen as directly about slavery later during the course of the conflict. In that sense, it made no difference whatsoever what the South seceded over — the issue for the Federal Government wasn’t the reason for secession, but the fact of secession itself.

          Lincoln was in many ways an admirable man, but his presidency got the ball rolling towards our current Leviathan state. And I don’t see saving the Union at gunpoint to be any great shakes.

          • Re: The war was not about slavery, but about secession.

            This similar to the fact that my mother’s death certficate lists hemorrhage (I forget the medicalese adjective accompnying that word) as cause of death, which is true: she bled to death internally when a major vein ruputured. But the underlying cause was cancer of the liver. So saying “slavery caused the Civil War” is no more erroneous than when I tell people “My mother died of cancer”.

            Elsewhere here I make the point (which I now repeat) that the govermment shrank down again after Reconstruction so blaming Lincoln for today’s growth of govermment is wrong. You’d do better to blame TR, Wilson and FDR.

            Re: And I don’t see saving the Union at gunpoint to be any great shakes.

            How else to deal with treason and rebellion against lawful authority? I have pacifistic leanings due to my Christain beliefs, but I do recognize that lines must be drawn, and sometimes use of force is the lesser evil. Of the various major wars our nation has fought, the Civil War and WWII definitely clear what I have set as fairly high bar to be seen as lamentable but necessary evils.

          • It would not have mattered to Lincoln and the Federal government WHAT the South seceded over. If it would have been, say, tariffs i/o slavery, the result would have been the same. The issue precipitating the war was secession, not slavery.

            The government may have shrunk after Reconstruction, but in crucial areas it did not shrink back to antebellum dimensions. Also, the Jeffersonian check on Federal authority — states’ rights — was gone, allowing the Fed to aggrandize even more power. We’ve been on a downward spiral ever since.

            “How else to deal with treason and rebellion against lawful authority?”

            Secession was neither of these, but that’s not a debate to enter into here. In any case, the Civil War fails the traditional test for a just war, so it’s more than just a lamentable, necessary evil. Lamentable? Undoubtedly. Necessary? Not a chance.

          • Re: It would not have mattered to Lincoln and the Federal government WHAT the South seceded over.

            Irrelevant, because the South seceded over slavery. Please let’s not rewrite history!

            Re: Also, the Jeffersonian check on Federal authority — states’ rights — was gone,

            States rights never gave the states the authority to override the federal government. The federal government’s authority is supreme and the Constitition explicitly establishes this. The genetleman of 1861 desired otherwise, but too bad for them: that’s not the Constitution their grandfathers gave them.

            Re: Secession was neither of these, but that’s not a debate to enter into here.

            Secesson was both. Again, let’s not rewrite history.

            Re: In any case, the Civil War fails the traditional test for a just war

            I don’t in fact subscribe to strict Roman Catholic dogma here (I am not Catholic), but as I note I do believe that the Civil War and WWII clear the bar for wars that necessary evils. Of course if history had oen otherwise neither war would have been necessary: if the southerners had accepted the election returnns of 1860 with rebellion or if the Nazis had not come to power in Germany. But I too will not rewrite history.

          • Again you miss my point about secession (I won’t try a 3rd time — however, Lincoln did write that if he could save the union without freeing a single slave he would do it. And this was almost a year and a half in.) Hence the war was all about secession and nothing about slavery).

            You are wrong about states’ rights. Read Jefferson and the later Jeffersonians — they said explicitly that states’ rights were a bulwark against Federal aggrandizement of power. You have bought into a liberal historiography which manifests an attempt to read a strong central government back into the Constitution when it isn’t there. Hamilton may have been killed in 1804 but his ghost managed to beat Jefferson’s at long last in 1865.

            If you don’t believe in just war theory (which, btw, isn’t strictly Catholic) we’ve got nil to discuss on that score.

          • Mr Jefferson played no role in drafting the Constitution: he was in Paris (and thought ill of the document when he read it).
            I have not “bought into” anything except the plain text of the Constitution which establishes the federal govermment as superior to the states; and that’s hardly a liberal notion. Unless figures as diverse as Andrew Jackson and Anton Scalia are now also liberals. The main issue of course is with the 10th amendment since it states that the federal govermment may not trespass on those powers reserved for the states– but does not tell us what those powers specifically are, just as the 9th amendment doesn’t list the “rights rerserved by the people”. We will still be arguing about both of those on Judgment Day no doubt.
            I am the great-great-grandson of two men who died fighting for the Union (and one, explicitly in his letters home, against slavery) in the Civil War. To be very blunt I will no more buy into latter-day revisionism on the subject that I will buy into latter-day revisionism about the Holocaust, having heard my father’s eyewitness description of a concentration camp he saw in WWII within hours of its liberation. Primary sources are always to be preferred to clever ideas thought up generations later, (something of which I also remind certain “debunkers” of Christianity when they dismiss the gospels in favor today’s academic nonsense) I am very fortunate I surprise to have primary sources for some of our nation’s profound times.

          • You are accepting a narrative that has its root not in history but in the desire of Northern liberal historians to justify both the war and its result, an increasingly strong central government. I suggest you read some older Civil War history, as well as some of the more recent historians that have not fallen prey to political correctness and liberal big government historiography.

            And by the way, I am a Pennsylvanian born and bred, and have spent very little time in the South, other than two years in Dallas. I have no regional or personal axe to grind, as my grandparents on both sides emigrated here long after the Civil War was over.

          • There are innumerable first-person and contemporary sources for the Civil War which I have seen. For me, those include my own ancestor’s letters to his family. Are all these sources contaminated by “northern liberalism”? I don’t think so.
            And as I have said before, the South’s own contemporary sources make it clear what they were about: the defense of white supremacy via the protection and extension of slavery, period.
            There is no need for us to go on about this. I do not accept historical revisionism about this, nor any defense of what I consider toi have been a deeply wicked cause which came to justified ruin. If that involved some aggrandizement of the federal govermment, I don’t much care: it was a great evil and that was a trivial price to pay for its eradication. The death of half a million men and the maiming of many more is a graver cost, but even that is not too great a cost to have been paid.

    • Re: The other is common among southerners, the opinion that it was NOT about slavery.

      Modern Southerners seeking to excuse an old evil maybe– but the genetlemen of 1861 were not coy about what they were up to, Their declarations of secession rant on endlessly about the defense of slavery and the god-given right of white people to own black people.

      Today’s Southerners are utterly guiltless of those men’s deeds, no one in his right mind would hold any modern person to blame for things 150 years gone. But why cannot these Southerners who still seek to defend the evil thing that was the CSA also not see this? Look, about half my ancestors were Germans and most of the rest were English. I can easily accept that Cromwell’s Irish massacres or Henry VIII’s tyranny, or the manifold sins of the Germans were wicked things– and I do not feel belittled or accused in myself. Why can’t the neo-Confederates do likewise with their region’s past? If 150 years hence abortion on demand has long since ceased to bet he law of the land, I certainly hope no one will say simulatneously “Abortion was wrong” and yet “The abortionists and pro-choicers were good people who had good ideas we ought not have lost.”

      You can no more sunder slavery from the Confederacy than you can breath from life.

  2. “But he was the agent for the biggest jump towards centralization of power in our history.”

    How could that make anyone, in moral terms, good?

      • If Lincoln’s centralization of power jumpstarted the process which lead to our current condition I think the case could be made that it at least makes a flirtatious glance in the direction of evil.

        Anyhow I find it hard to enter this discussion, since I don’t think we’ve had a real quality president since Andrew Jackson.

        • Yes, I think you’re on to something. Andrew Jackson’s pre-presidency illegal invasion and raid of Spanish Florida certainly showed he was a great man. Then there was his foresight about how whites would need the land currently occupied by the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw which led him not only to pass the Indian Removal Act but also to force as many as possible to move to the supposedly infertile Western Plains. Truly a great man and president.

          • Your sarcasm is unwarranted. If we focused on the misdeeds and depraved acts of all presidents then we couldn’t come up with many that qualify as great men. Jackson at least had the gravitas to stand up to the central bankers and the Supreme Court.

        • It’s worth remembering that after Reconstruction the federal govermment shrank drastically in size and expenditures. People who complain about Lincoln growing government ignore the fact that this was done in the face of an overwhelming emergency, and once the emergency had passed govermment downsized again. One might as well carp about a doctor who prescribes strong medication, with ugly side effects, when faced with a potentially fatal illness in a patient.

        • Andy Jackson, eh Your choice tells more about you than you may have intended! Jackson was the first of now many persons who proved the maxim that “Any American (boy) can grow up and become president, His personal life was act one for the continuing dalliances of our presidents in both parties. His racist war against the First Americans aka Native Americans leaves a blotch on our history as a nation and a people. But at least Andy was who he was! My vote for worst President is GWB. He had no record to live up to and now has a record he will never live down.

      • If Lincoln’s centralization of power jumpstarted the process which lead to our current condition I think the case could be made that it at least makes a flirtatious glance in the direction of evil.

        Anyhow I find it hard to enter this discussion, since I don’t think we’ve had a real quality president since Andrew Jackson.

  3. Worst president? Nixon. The case against Wilson is strong (though, I continue to think, not the complete story), but in the end, the very talented and smart man who allowed his bitterness, hostility, and paranoia to lead him into crass, criminal, and clearly unconstitutional abuses of power has to remain at the bottom of the barrel. We might prefer that some more incompetent and deservingly reviled president reside there (James Buchanan!), but I think we just have to admit to ourselves that it was a decent and hard-working human being who nonetheless, fairly or not, as president chose to scrape the very dregs.

    • Russell–

      I have been reading your posts and find your support for progressivism somewhat compelling. I have been wondering what you thought about Kolko type criticisms of the progressive movement.

  4. I’m wit choo, Jeff, on that sanctimonious fryer of doughboys and jailer of Debs. My bottom five:
    1) Wilson
    2) Truman
    3) George W. Bush
    4) FDR
    5) McKinley

  5. LBJ deserves at least dishonorable mention. Wilson’s chief negative attribute was his mindless Democratism (a heritage of the Democratic Party, not Hamilton!). It was that Democratism that motivated his disastrous, interventionist foreign policy.

  6. The problem with a list like this is that it is makes it difficult to adequately consider precedents. So, while I agree that Wilson is the worst president in history, much of his mischief was made possible by his predecessors such as Lincoln, who also should be on the list. Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and others in the more recent past were able to wreak considerable havoc, because they stood on the shoulders of giant demons.

    • I cannot take seriously anyone who puts Lincoln on a list of Worst Presidents. No, he was neither impeccable not infallible, but he was faced with real evil in his foes and one cannot be gentle and sing hymns when faced with such.

      • JonF,

        Is it can’t? No. it’s won’t take seriously someone who picks at the pecadillos of the Real Lincoln! Wilson was the worst president in the modern era, earlier and right alongside Abe! He would be a sad footnote in history if Booth had stayed with acting and Pinkerton had stayed at his post at Ford’s Theatre! We now have the clarity of hidsight and the ability to see Lincoln’s bait and switch political speeches as he ran across the north to be elected, his supension of the Bill of Rights to American citizens, his rewarding and promoting officers for crimes against civilians in the South, his duplicity in issuing and Emancipation that only covered those inslaved in other than Union Territory. His DNA, politically, was passed on to GWB, with repercussions still to follow!

        • All I can say is that you are posting from an alterrnate universe.
          As for “crimes against civilians” they didn’t need to be dealt with by the Federal government, since Union commanders (including Sherman himself) punished the rare instances of rape and murder with summary executions.
          Lincoln’s fault (and the Union’s), if fault it was, is that the treason of the CSA (note I am careful not to say “the South”) was not punished much more severely. As a result a great evil was wounded but still lived on in American politics where it threatens ruin even today.
          As I note elsewhere in this thread I am, through religious conviction, of a pacifistic bent. But some infections do have to be cut out, lest you lose the whole person.

  7. I have to agree with your choice of Wilson. In terms of sheer irreparable, incalculable long-term damage, he’s almost in a class by himself. I believe that in time, however, George W. Bush will offer stiff competion. It is still too early to fully assess the breadth of damage wrought by his presidency. And then I agree with a previous comment that LBJ certainly deserves dishonorable mention. But LBJ knew he had made a bargain with the devil, and died a broken man. GWB, like Wilson, will go to his grave never doubting–serenely and smugly confident in the wisdom of his decisions.

    • Please. You can’t use George W. and wisdom in the same sentence. Smug and arrogant, absolutely. George W, the smart assed frat boy with a sense of entitlement a mile wide. Too stupid to comprehend the depths of his incompetence and what a colossal national embarrassment he is and was.

  8. I hold no brief for Wilson, since everything you say about is true. However, the two presidents who bracket Lincoln and the Civil War are tied for worst in my estimation: Buchanan who let the nation fall apart, and Andrew Johnson who was utterly incompetent and knitting it back together when the bugles were stilled and fires quenched.

  9. Al Gore.

    Betrayer of the Jefferson-Jackson-Bryan tradition in the Democratic Party. Enemy of racial equality. Opponent of woman suffrage. Architect of centralized government. Bellhop of Wall Street. Father of the Federal Reserve. Enthusiast of World War I. Violator of civil liberties. Champion of the League of Nations. Mentor of Franklin Roosevelt.

    At least he got two things right.

  10. I would have to argue that while we could easily name Woodrow Wilson as the epitome of all that is wrong with American economics and politics, the stage was merely set for his tyranny. Same goes for those who argue Lincoln was worst or LBJ. Sure they were horrible but you have to look at how they were even given the opportunity to be horrible under our political system.

    My nomination for worst President in American history has to go to our second President, John Adams. How some historians can claim Alexander Hamilton was the champion of Burkean and Classical conservatism is beyond me. The man, along with the entire Federalist Party, were monsters and tyrants. While Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans were not exactly angels they definitely stood on the side of the yeoman farmer, agrarian lifestyle, and opposition to the industrial revolution.

    Like usual in American politics neither party had it right and no President ever succeeded in truly giving us peace, moderation, and cultural preservation.

  11. I like your pick – I have Wilson as the second worst of the Twentieth Century. Even as a High School student reading the white-washed version of Woodrow Wilson I detected an arrogant insufferable peachiness about the man.

    FDR takes the cake for me. He took a shaky economy and created the Great Depression (albeit with help from Hoover and Congress). It was during FDR’s administration that the Constitution went from being revered to despised as too restrictive. Our current $14 trillion national debt is the legacy of the welfare state that FDR implemented in the 30’s.

    The best of the Twentieth – the underrated Calvin Coolidge. He calmly undid some of Wilson’s damage and briefly returned America to small federalist government. He (and Harding and Congress) gave us the Roaring Twenties before the Progressives took over for good and gave us the Great Depression.

    • Soldier,

      you need a little brush up on cause and effect. the unregulated greed and excess of the roaring twenties gave us the crash and the world wide depression of the thirties. you can argue w/ the way fdr handled the economic collapse, but that is what he inherited in 1932 when he took the reins.

      similarly, the even greater celebration of unrestrained greed, arrogance corruption and criminality presided over and encouraged by the bush administration brought the collapse of late 2007/2008. Obama inherited this economic disaster and piled more debt atop the national debt that bush doubled in his 2 terms. Obama has not done a good job. Obama and his Goldman sachs advisers continued the massive Tarp bailout that bush and his goldman sachs advisers began.

      Economic collapses are caused by the policies that PREceded them not followed them. Times arrow goes in one direction. How one handles the messes, that you can gripe about.

    • Gee, is that what they taught you in High School? All the bad greedy men made the Depression and good old FDR saved us? FDR has the best whitewash historical re-write since William the Conqueror. The recession FDR inherited wasn’t nearly as bad as what Harding got from Wilson in 1923.

      Sure Hoover screwed up – he was a meddling Progressive, that’s what they do. But FDR didn’t reverse Hoover’s failure – he expanded it. Just as Europe was emerging from the recession, FDR took us into the depths of the Depression with one bad, wasteful, unconstitutional program after another. Taxes, borrowing, regulations, and general interference with commerce kept business at an all time low.

      FDR was President for 9 peace-time years. The period collectively called “The Great Depression”. At some point, you can’t blame your predecessor.

      • Soldier,

        Like many in High school, my history course ran out of time at about WW1. And if anyone got sanctified it was the WASPy prig Wilson as you suggest.

        I certainly do blame bad greedy men, Wall St. types for causing the Great Depression and our current Great Recession. It certainly wasn’t caused by cab drivers, housewives, plumbers or factory shift workers carrying their lunchbuckets. Rich, selfish, arrogant jackasses wearing suits and reading Ayn Rand are to blame.

        Reread my 1st comment. I don’t glorify FDR. I clearly state that you can argue about how he handled the economic mess. But the mess was one he inherited.

        Also what are your thoughts about today’s mess? Don’t tell me you believe it was caused by minorities getting mortgages they couldn’t afford? Are you a Tea Party guy? Were you a George W. man? Certainly W, that insufferable, smirking, arrogant frat boy earned consideration for the worst of modern, if not all time?

  12. Wilson is right up there and so is FDR. But what makes a president “bad” – his character (Clinton, Kennedy), his ineptness, (Carter), his policies he was able to implement (Obama), or something else? I would give my vote for worst president to our 16th president, Abe Lincoln. After making the worst military miscalculation perhaps in the history of mankind, ala Manasas in 1861 where he thought he’d have little resistance in liberating the once federal forts in the now Confederate States of America, he plunged the nation into its worst war ever. He basically suspended large parts of the Constitution, arrested anyone who protested, freed slaves without owner restitution, the list is endless. He did all this in the name of “saving the union”, basically using the means to justify the ends. But the Constitution does not give a president the authority to do things like suspend habeus corpus, and take property from owners without compensation. Lincoln deluded himself into thinking his objectives were higher than the nation’s own laws. When a sitting president believes he is above the law, in my view tthat makes him “bad”.

  13. Lincoln. How can you get worse than destroying half the country?

    If he really wanted an America without slavery, he could have simply let the Confederacy go. Then the remaining part of America would be without the Southern form of slavery, though other forms of involuntary servitude, sweatshops and ‘dark Satanic mills’ would remain.

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