Americans unconcerned with problems outside of borders.
Rural country first
Disdain for strong leaders
Concern for the economy
Failing to change
What political characteristics, personal patterns do unsuccessful presidents share in common between 1865 and 1940?
From the period 1865 to 1940, a total of fifteen men served as President of the United States. These fifteen - Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Harrison, McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, and Roosevelt - served during what should have been mostly prosperous times. Yet several of these men and their presidencies must be labeled as failures.
Of these men, four have been identified as unsuccessful presidents. This paper will examine Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Herbert Hoover. None are remembered fondly by history.
Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency following the murder of President Abraham Lincoln. On April 15, 1865, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase administered the oath to then Vice President Johnson at the Kirkwood Hotel in Washington, D.C. Johnson was the first vice president to assume the presidency following the assassination of a president. Johnson presided over the beginning of what is known in American History as the Reconstruction Period. The Civil War had ended, and it was time for the country to reunite and rebuild. Expansion and settlement into the west half of the country continued. Bitter politics soon plagued President Johnson.
Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as president. His first term started March 4, 1885 and his second term began March 4, 1893. Benjamin Harrison served a four-year term between the two terms of Cleveland. Cleveland rose quickly in politics. Running as a reformer, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo in 1881 and later, Governor of New York. During Cleveland's first term, he vigorously pursued a policy barring special favors to any economic group. He vetoed bills that would have granted pensions to soldiers that served in the Civil War. He angered the railroads by ordering an investigation of western lands they held by Government grant and forced them to return 81,000,000 acres. He also signed the Interstate Commerce Act, the first law that attempted regulation of the railroads. Cleveland lost the Electoral College vote, but won the popular vote, during his reelection bid against Harrison.
Cleveland was elected again in 1892. He soon faced an acute depression. He dealt directly with the Treasury crisis rather than with business failures, farm mortgage foreclosures, and unemployment. He maintained the Treasury's gold reserve with the assistance of Wall Street. When railroad strikers in Chicago violated a court-ordered injunction, Cleveland sent Federal troops to enforce it. "If it takes the entire army and navy of the United States to deliver a post card in Chicago, that card will be delivered!" The rotund president thundered.
When William McKinley became president in 1896, the country was just coming out of the economic depression of 1893. The Democrats wanted to issue silver coins freely. Foreign affairs became his focus when reports of hostilities in Cuba reached the United States. Newspaper reports prodded Congress to vote three resolutions tantamount to a declaration of war for the liberation and independence of Cuba. In the 100-day war that followed, the United States destroyed the Spanish fleet outside Santiago harbor in Cuba, seized Manila in the Philippines, and occupied Puerto Rico.
Herbert Hoover's presidency followed the two-terms of President Coolidge. Hoover took office March 4, 1929. The country was in the middle of the industrial age, supplying manufactured goods to a global market. Europe was still rebuilding after World War I. Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce under both Presidents Harding and Coolidge. When he was seeking the presidency, he said, "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land." His election seemed to ensure America's prosperity. Yet within just months after his election, the stock market crashed. The Nation fell into a deep depression.
Of these four men, two were Democrats, and two were Republicans. Hoover and McKinley were Republicans, while Johnson and Cleveland were Democrats. All four men came from humble beginnings. Johnson grew up in poverty, and apprenticed as a tailor. Cleveland was one of nine children of a Presbyterian minister. McKinley was teaching in a country school when the Civil War broke out, and joined the military. Hoover was the son of a Quaker blacksmith. All four men gained their position as president from hard work and opportunities available to those in the country. Their formative years provided the base of knowledge and skills they had and lacked later as president.
Theses presidents, as a group, found their dealings with Congress problematic. Soon the relationship turned bad and cooperation ceased.
Johnson was weak and unable to control a well-disciplined Republican congress. Johnson, a senator from Tennessee, maintained his seat when the Civil War broke out. He issued pardons to the Southerners that would take an oath of allegiance to the United States. Slavery was being abolished, but Southern states, readmitted to the Union, were passing laws to control the freedmen. Radical Republicans refused to seat any Senator or Representative from the old Confederacy. The Congress overrode his veto of a bill that dealt with former slaves. Johnson was often out maneuvered by the congressional leaders.
In 1867, Congress set aside the governments Johnson had created in the South and put Southerners under military supervision until new governments based on equal civil and political rights were established. Northerners feared that the freed slaves basic rights of citizenship would not be recognized, and considered it unsafe to restore the Union until that discrimination was ended. To President Johnson, this marked the total subversion of the federal system, and he resisted the Republicans. He cooperated with the Democrats to encourage Southern resistance. This set off a political reaction in the North. He also used his power as commander in chief to hinder the Army's enforcement of the laws in the South. When Johnson attempted to gain control of the Army in February 1868, removing the secretary of war in apparent violation of law, he was promptly impeached by the House of Representatives and tried before the Senate. The skill of Johnson's lawyers, the ambiguity of the law, the cessation of his interference in the South, the establishment of new governments there, and the admission of their representatives to Congress, as well as divisions among the radical Republicans led to a verdict of "not guilty."
Cleveland lost his first reelection attempt because of his stance against high protective tariffs. In his second term, a depression occurred, and he remained against assistance to those Americans suffering from the economic conditions. His policies became unpopular. He was paralyzed by Congress, unable to move his programs forward. There was a constant battle between the President and Congress. Cleveland vetoed 414 bills in his first term, more than double the 204 vetoes cast by all the previous presidents. Cleveland used his power of the veto 584 times during his two terms.
McKinley called congress into session to enact the highest tariff in history. The question of silver, and how it should be handled with the monetary system, remained an unresolved issue until 1900, when the Gold Standard Act declared the gold dollar to be the sole standard of currency. McKinley could not control Congress or have them accept his plan of neutral intervention. Congress forced McKinley into the Spanish-American War.
Hoover announced that while he would keep the Federal budget balanced, he would cut taxes and expand public works spending after the stock market crash. Repercussions from Europe deepened the crisis in America. The President presented Congress with a program to create the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to aid businesses. It tried to provide indirect relief to the unemployed by lending insurance companies, banks, farm organizations, railroads, and state, county, and city governments money to stimulate economic activity and employment. He also asked for additional help for farmers facing mortgage foreclosures, banking reforms, a loan to states for feeding the unemployed, expansion of public works, and drastic governmental economy.
Hoover also stated that his view was that while people must not suffer from hunger and cold, caring for them must be primarily a local and voluntary responsibility. His opponents in Congress, who he believed were sabotaging his programs for their own political benefit, labeled him as callous and cruel. He was unable to control Congress. Hoover's opponents criticized him for this "trickle down" theory, based on the principal that if the government aided big business at the top of the nation's financial structure, business would create more jobs and then relieve unemployment at the bottom. Hoover inaugurated a new policy of government assistance to those in need at…
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