The history of the U.S. Presidents begins before George Washington and the Constitution. It actually begins in the minds of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and birthed painfully through the American Revolutionary War and almost dissolved during the era of the Articles of Confederation and then came to pass with great struggle and compromise during the Constitutional Convention.
It survived through the War of 1812, the Texas War of Annexation, and even remained when the nation was divided throughout the Civil War. Various political powers have risen and fallen throughout its young history.
In the span of 220 years of American Presidents, there have been 45 different leaders. In contrast, the monarchies of Europe during the Medieval Age would average around 15 different changes in power and with each change came the possibility of civil war.
Even though the list of Presidents is fluid, its foundation has been the most consistent in the world. Due to this consistency, it has quickly become the most powerful nation in the world.
The responsibilities of the President are numerous, but the main responsibilities given to the President through the Constitution are as follows:
- Commander-in-Chief of the American Military
- Leader of the Executive Branch of Government
- Head of the State
- Head of the Government
- Empowered to grant federal pardons and reprieves
- To convene and conjure both Congresses
- Power of veto
- Largely responsible for the domestic, foreign, and economic policies of America.
U.S. Presidents History
When George Washington took office after the election of 1789 he would become the first President of the United States.
He had risen in popularity through his heroics in the American Revolutionary War as well as his influence in the development of the Constitution.
His presidency would set numerous precedents. One of which is the name, “Mr. President.” His most important precedent was when he stepped down from being president after two terms. This was important for these reasons:
- Washington’s popularity was undeniable and he could have remained in power until his death. He instead chose to step down from power permanently which shocked the European world.
- Washington died in 1799. If he had run for a third term then he would have died in the office which would have established the precedent that elections were every 4 years, but a President could stay in office until his death.
The Founding Fathers believed the government to be a necessary evil and only something that was necessary in order to protect people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
To protect the people from the government they created three separate branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Each of these three departments has different responsibilities but equal power.
These checks and balances were put into place because the founders believed that any man in control of the government is corrupt.
The founders believed that by creating three divisions of government each one would check the other due to their own self-interest of not losing power. This seems to have worked.
Party Primaries did not come into being until the late 19th century and did not come to dominate the election process until Lyndon Johnson’s second term in elected office. It now plays a key role in choosing the Republican and Democrat nominees.
List of Presidents
George Washington: Won Election of 1789 and Election of 1792: Served as First President of the United States and set many precedents while in office. He was the only president to be elected unanimously and when he left office and returned to civilian life it was said by many that he was the man of his age. Read his First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address.
John Adams: Won Election of 1796: Served as the 2nd President of the United States and was one of the more accomplished politicians to serve prior to taking office. Adams had been involved in most of the major events in United States history and was the first Vice President. He served 1 term and was defeated by Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, his presidency, which had some success, is remembered for the Alien and Sedition Acts. Read his Inaugural Address.
Thomas Jefferson: Won Election of 1800 and Election of 1804: Served as the 3rd President of the United States and the 1st president to take office from a different political party and this turnover of power was completed peacefully. Jefferson’s presidency would be defined by the Louisiana Purchase and the Embargo Act. Read his First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address.
James Madison: Won Election of 1808 and Election of 1812: The shortest president to ever take office and known as the Father of the Constitution. His presidency would be defined by the War of 1812 and ushering in the “Era of Good Feeling”. Read his First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address.
James Monroe: Won Election of 1816 and Election of 1820: Served as the 5th President of the United States and the last of those that fought in the Revolutionary War. James Monroe ran unopposed in his 2nd term and began to adopt Federalist principles that he agreed with which merged the two parties. He was almost elected unanimously, except for 1 electoral vote. Read his First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address.
John Quincy Adams: Won Election of 1824: The son of John Adams and one of the greatest Secretary of State’s in United States history. His presidency was unspectacular and began with controversy that upset much of the population. He would go on to become an ardent fighter for the abolition of slaves. Read his Inaugural Address.
Andrew Jackson: Won Election of 1828 and Election of 1832: The founder of the Democratic party and a war hero of the War of 1812. He was charismatic and no-nonsense and the populists loved him. He was known for his fight against the Bank of the United States, states’ rights, and Indian removal. Read his First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address.
Martin Van Buren: Won Election of 1836: Took over during a financial panic which doomed him from the start. Even though the panic was caused by Andrew Jackson, Van Buren was blamed for it. He served one term. Read his Inaugural Address.
William Henry Harrison: Won Election of 1840: Served the shortest term in history when he delivered the longest inaugural address in the rain and caught pneumonia. He died in office the next month. Read his Inaugural Address.
John Tyler: Nicknamed “His Accidency” due to being the only president at the time to not be elected. He did not do anything that Harrison said he was going to do and made enemies on both sides of the party. Known as one of the worst Presidents in history.
James K. Polk: Won Election of 1844: The first dark horse candidate to win the election. He promised to serve only one term and had a goal to accomplish four things. He accomplished everything, won the Mexican-American War in the process, and made good on his promise when he stepped down after the first term. Known as the best president during the era between Jackson and Lincoln. Read his Inaugural Address.
Zachary Taylor: Won Election of 1848: A hero of the Mexican-American War who did not have any political experience. It seemed as though he was going to be a strong president during a tumultuous time as he did not oppose slavery, but opposed secession and threatened to use the army if secession began. He died in the office under suspicious circumstances. Read his Inaugural Address.
Millard Fillmore: The second president to take over the presidency that was not elected. He was a weak president and tried to compromise too much that he ended up making enemies on both sides. He would later be part of the Know-nothing party which was a fitting name for Fillmore as he is ranked as one of the worst presidents in history.
Franklin Pierce: Won Election of 1852: On his way to the White House to begin his presidency he and his family were involved in a tragic train accident that took the life of his son. Franklin went into a severe depression and became an alcoholic. His biggest issue that he had to deal with was the Kansas-Nebraska Act. After his presidency, he criticized Lincoln’s policies and believed an avoidance of a Civil War was necessary. Read his Inaugural Address.
James Buchanan: Won Election of 1856: Consistently ranked as the worst President in the United States history. Under his watch, Bleeding Kansas occurred and some have argued that he was guilty of treason with some of his back-door dealings. He was a supporter of the south further alienating the much more populated North. Read his Inaugural Address.
Abraham Lincoln: Won Election of 1860 and Election of 1864: Took over the Presidency and immediately had to deal with conflict. He oversaw the Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment. He is listed among the greatest Presidents in history and gave his life for the slaves. He was assassinated by a southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth. Read his First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address.
Andrew Johnson: The first president to be impeached and one of the worst presidents in history. He did not oppose slavery but opposed the secession of the states. He vetoed all of the legislation that Congress passed to aid free blacks and protect them from angry southerners who used to own them. Congress would continue to go over his head to pass the legislation that was necessary.
Ulysses S. Grant: Won Election of 1868 and Election of 1872: His presidency was known for corruption and civil rights. Ulysses S. Grant did more to aid free blacks than anyone before or after him with exception of Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, his accomplishments get lost in the corruption that took place during his presidency. Read his First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address.
Rutherford B. Hayes: Won Election of 1876: Took over in one of the most controversial elections to ever occur. Hayes promised to only serve one term and did. His wife was known as “Lemonade Lucy” since she did not serve alcohol while Hayes was in the White House. Read his Inaugural Address.
Chester Arthur: Took over after the assassination of James Garfield and became the fourth president to serve without being elected. His presidency was short and his health was weak so he did not push hard for another term. He was known for passing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act.
Grover Cleveland: Won Election of 1884: He would serve two non-consecutive terms and be the 22nd and 24th president. His first term was known for reform and the use of his veto. Read his First Inaugural Address.
Benjamin Harrison: Won Election of 1888: He was the grandson of William Henry Harrison and had a rough presidency. The biggest issue that he dealt with was tariffs. He inherited a surplus in the treasury and then by the end of his presidency the surplus had evaporated. Read his Inaugural Address.
Grover Cleveland: Won Election of 1892: The conservative Cleveland returned for a second term. He dealt with railroad strikes and the Venezuelan border. His harsh treatment was unpopular among Americans and his party did not nominate him for another term. Read his Second Inaugural Address.
William McKinley: Won Election of 1896 and Election of 1900: Served as president during a time of unprecedented economic growth. During his presidency, he fought the shortest war in American history at that time, the Spanish-American War. He was elected for a second term, but his second term was cut short when he was assassinated.
Theodore Roosevelt: Won Election of 1904: Teddy became one of the greatest presidents of all time. He pushed for reform for workers, broke up the monopolies of JP Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and others, and gave rise to a new era of nationalism. He also began the construction of the Panama Canal.
William H. Taft: Won Election of 1908: He had a rough presidency due to being the shadow of Theodore Roosevelt. He is known as the fattest President in history and the only President of the United States to also serve as Supreme Court Justice.
Calvin Coolidge: Won Election of 1924: Took over for President Harding and became a popular president that led the country through the “Roaring 20s.” He was known as “Silent Cal” for his quiet demeanor.
Herbert Hoover: Won Election of 1928: After the election, Hoover was immediately was hit with the Great Depression. His inability to provide answers and create results led to him losing the next election.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Won Election of 1932, Election of 1936, Election of 1940, and Election of 1944: The only President to serve 4 terms, although he died in office during his last term. He led America through the Great Depression and World War II.
Harry Truman: Won Election of 1948: Took over for FDR after he died in office and made the decision to drop the atomic bombs. He would upset his opponent in the Election of 1948 but would refuse to run in the election of 1952 due to the Korean War.
John F. Kennedy Won the Election of 1960
Lyndon B. Johnson Won the Election of 1964
Gerald R. Ford
Jimmy Carter: Won the Election of 1976
George H. W. Bush: Won the Election of 1988
Donald Trump: Won the Election of 2016
Joe Biden: Won the Election of 2020