Seven Forgotten Presidents?
Herbert Hoover, Warren Harding, "His Accidency" John Tyler, "Old Kinderhook" Martin Van Buren.
By Michael Stillman
CNN recently issued a list of seven American presidents nobody remembers. I remember them. So much for CNN being the voice I can trust. Perhaps forgettable rather than forgotten would have been a better title, except then we would have had to include some more recent names we wish we could no longer recall.
Atop the CNN list is Herbert Hoover. Huh? Hoover may not be beloved, but he certainly isn't unknown. His name is synonymous with the Great Depression, which he did not cause, but which fell on his watch. It is too bad, for Hoover was a great humanitarian during both of the great wars, providing food for countless displaced persons. However, when the Depression struck, he could never get past his laissez-faire economic principles, which led him to take few actions to reduce the misery surrounding him. People interpreted this as heartlessness.
Warren Harding makes the list, and he is fairly obscure. Harding, a decent gentleman but by his own admission over his head, trusted too many corrupt aides. His name is now synonymous with Teapot Dome and scandal, though Harding died in office before most of the bad news hit the fan. Harding pledged to return the country to "normalcy," and corruption being "normal" for Washington, he can be considered a success.
An easy choice for this list is "His Accidency," John Tyler. Tyler became president after William Henry Harrison died barely a month after taking office. Tyler served the remaining 47 months as one of the most despised presidents in history. His entire cabinet resigned on him, his political party, the Whigs, disowned him, but he found no support among the rival Democrats either. He was refused his party's nomination when his term expired in 1844. Tyler would return the disrespect he received from his nation in 1861 when he was the only U.S. President to support the rebellion that sought to dismantle it.
Martin Van Buren, "Old Kinderhook," was a wily politician. He survived Andrew Jackson's purge of his cabinet in 1831, and became Jackson's vice-presidential nominee when the President dumped his first V.P., secession-minded John Calhoun. Van Buren was Jackson's hand-picked successor and successful presidential candidate in 1836, but like Hoover, was the victim of brewing economic problems the following year. Naturally, he was held to blame. He lost his bid for reelection in 1840, and a bid for president as the nominee of the Free Soil Party in 1848.
Millard Fillmore has become so synonymous with obscurity that everyone knows his name, though little about him. Fillmore was another accidental president, succeeding Zachary Taylor when the latter died in 1850. Fillmore, like the two presidents who succeeded him, tried to compromise the nation out of civil war, ultimately to no avail. Fillmore was denied the nomination of his Whig Party in 1852, but it mattered little as the party was well on its way to total disintegration. He did run again in 1856, this time as the nominee of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic No Nothing Party, which promptly followed the Whigs into oblivion.
Seven Forgotten Presidents?
Millard Fillmore, Rutherford B. Hayes, Chester Arthur.
Then there is Rutherford B. Hayes. His name was back in the news during the election of 2000, as Hayes was also a minority president, selected when another branch of government, in this case the House of Representatives, selected him over the leader in the popular vote. To garner the southern support needed to "elect" Hayes, who trailed in both the popular and electoral vote, Republicans agreed to compromises such as removing federal troops from the South, opening the door to almost a century of segregation and Jim Crow. Hayes reputation was ruined before he ever started.
Finally, we have Chester Arthur. A political hack from New York, he rose to the presidency when James Garfield was assassinated. Surprisingly, Arthur asserted his independence from the Republican Party machine and bosses who created him, to their surprise and consternation. However, the machine would return the favor in 1884 when it refused to renominate him. Instead it selected James G. Blaine, the "continental liar from the State of Maine." Imagine losing to someone like that. Arthur is the last incumbent president to seek but be denied his party's nomination.
All of this leads us to wonder why so many others were slighted. Could not at least one of the Harrisons make the list? William Henry was the one who died after one month in office, while Benjamin Harrison is best known as the answer to the question, "who served in-between Grover Cleveland's two nonconsecutive terms?" Of course Cleveland himself isn't remembered for much other than serving those nonconsecutive terms. And what about James Knox Polk and Zachary Taylor? Or how about Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan? Don't they too deserve their proper non-recognition?