George Washington [1789-97] - The first president and "father of the nation" was from Virginia. As a young man, and loyal to the crown, he had served in the army and fought in the French and Indian Wars. By 1758, Washington had become a war hero and a national figure. After the struggle with the French he retired from the military to join the Virginia legislature. Within a very short period of time he became an outspoken critic of the policies of the British government, especially the tactic of taxing the colonies to pay for European wars.
In 1774, after the British passed the Intolerable Acts, the colonies called for a Continental Congress to discuss their options. The next year, at the Second continental Congress, Washington was elected commander-in-chief. John Adams of Massachusetts, his future vice-president, had nominated him to form an alliance between the southern and northern colonies.
After independence he supported the idea of a Constitutional Convention to revise the Articles, to be held in Philadelphia in 1787. At the convention, members picked Washington to chair the meeting. The product of the meeting was not a revised Articles of Confederation, but the Constitution. After finally ratifying the Constitution, the next problem was electing a president; there was no doubt that the first President would be Washington. The only issue was who would be selected to be vice-President. The Electoral College voted the vice-presidency to Washington’s old friend, John Adams.
In April 1789, George Washington became the nation’s first president. After taking the oath of office Washington added the phrase "so help me God." The first job was to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, which was done in 1791.
From the start Washington’s cabinet was unable to work together. Intense hatred developed between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson as each man vied for Washington’s support. For the most part Washington, an undeclared Federalist, managed to stay out of the argument and he steered a middle course working with both men as necessary. This rivalry would lead to the creation of the first two political parties.
The disagreement between Hamilton and Jefferson was instrumental in Washington seeking a second term. Even though he much preferred to return to Mount Vernon he realized the potential danger to the country that could result from a disagreement between two such powerful men. Washington won a second term because there was no opposition and was elected by a unanimous Electoral College vote the only president ever to be so elected.
In 1793, Washington faced his first real foreign policy problem. Britain, the mother country, was at war with France, the country that had helped America gain independence. Many people wanted the United States to ally with France, but Washington made the decision which would affect American foreign policy and commerce for the following half-century, to declare neutrality. The immediate consequence was that Washington violated the 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France. The French, deeply disturbed by Washington’s choice, sent Ambassador Edmond Genêt to the United States to speak with the president and to generate support for France. The move backfired and even Francophiles like Jefferson endorsed the Presidents’ neutrality policy.
In 1794, to raise revenue, Hamilton proposed a tax on liquor. The new tax was not greeted favorably and farmers in western Pennsylvania protested. Washington, himself, led the army to Pennsylvania to suppress the rebellion. The Whiskey Rebellion ended quickly and with little bloodshed, but it proved to all that the government was not going to tolerate public rebellion.
By 1796, Washington wanted to retire. After almost forty years of public service he was ready to retire to Mount Vernon. In his "Farewell Address," written by Madison, he warned the country against the dangers of foreign alliances and the benefit of trading with all nations. He realized the nation was not strong enough to fight a major European power and any alliance might cause the country to divide and fracture. Lastly, he warned of the dangers of political parties, which he said caused people to choose sides and not work in a spirit of cooperation. In 1797, Washington retired to Mount Vernon.
John Adams [1797-1801] A lawyer from Massachusetts and the product of a wealthy family, Adams, unlike Washington was not a military man. When the British government passed the Stamp Act (1765), Adams wrote a sophisticated defense based on the premise that since the colonies did not have direct representation in the British Parliament the tax was illegal. The British were so impressed with Adams that they offered him the position of judge advocate in the colonies. Adams rejected the offer.
While he was a supporter of the independence movement, Adams abhorred violence. In 1770, after the Boston Massacre, Adams defended the soldiers and got them acquitted. His reputation for uncompromising fairness and upholding the law spread throughout the colonies. In 1774 he represented Massachusetts at the first Continental Congress. By the second Continental Congress, Adams was advocating the creation of a colonial army and he nominated Washington to be the commander.
He helped write the Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress and later was the American representative in France. He was Washington’s vice-president and eventual successor.
In 1789 the Electoral College met to vote for the president. The electors had two votes; the runner-up would be the vice-president. Washington won and Adams, who was surprised, became his vice-president. Adams considered the role of the vice-president to openly support the president and his policies. He did not like being vice-president since it was an office he considered insignificant. Adams, a Federalist, did not shy away from becoming heavily involved in the argument between Hamilton and Jefferson. Because he felt a greater affinity towards Britain and British foreign policy, Adams soon found himself at odds with Jefferson on most issues.
In the 1796 election the Federalists proposed Adams and Thomas Pinckney, while the Democratic-Republics lined up behind Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Adams won with 71 electoral votes and Jefferson came second with 68 votes. For the only time the president and the vice-president represented different parties. To avoid this possibility in the future, the twelfth amendment was added to the Constitution.
Adams was the first president to live in the new presidential mansion in Washington D.C. and he hated the experience. Almost immediately he was forced to address the possibility of the United States being dragged into a European conflict. The French wanted the Americans to help them in their war with Britain. Believing that the United States had benefited from French help in the Revolutionary War it was now time for America to reciprocate. After Washington made the decision to stay neutral the French started seizing American ships. The Federalists demanded war with France, but Adams knew that Jefferson and his friends would oppose any war with France. The president sent a delegation to France but the French refused to even meet the Americans.
In what became known as the XYZ Affair, the Americans felt deeply insulted. The country prepared for war and Washington was asked to be the commander of the army, with Hamilton as his second in command. Adams handled the XYZ Affair with discretion and diplomacy until the Democratic-Republicans accused him of actually trying to start a war with France. Jefferson became so disenchanted with Adams that he left and did not return for a year. The country bogged down in party politics as the Democratic-Republicans refused to cooperate with the Federalists. In response Adams and the Federalist dominated Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts. One of the intents of the act was to limit criticism of the government, but most citizens viewed the act as an attempt to undermine democracy.
The election of 1800 was a rematch between Jefferson and Adams, but this time Hamilton was squarely against the President. One of Adams’ last jobs was to try to ensure his Federalist policies would be maintained by making as many appointments of Federalists as possible.
Thomas Jefferson [1801-09] Thomas Jefferson was born into an influential Virginia family. His father was owned a large plantation while his mother’s family had dominated Virginia politics. Not content with the life of a plantation owner, he entered politics and became a leading proponent of the independence movement.
A member of the Continental Congress in 1775, Jefferson was the chief architect of the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration, Jefferson attacked slavery, but because of pressure from southern leaders he removed that passage.
In 1789, at the start of the French Revolution, Jefferson was in Paris as ambassador following the retirement of Benjamin Franklin. In the same year he returned to America to serve as Washington’s Secretary of State, but was soon conflicting with Hamilton. The conflict led him to resign in 1793 when Washington sided with Hamilton over the National Bank
Jefferson accepted the Democratic-Republican nomination for the 1796 election even though he did not want the job. Adams won the election, but Jefferson, to his great surprise came in second. After arguing with the President over his policies for two years, Jefferson left Washington and returned to Virginia.
In the 1800 election, Jefferson decided to run again against Adams. Jefferson gained the same number of votes as his running mate Aaron Burr. After 36 ballots in the House, Jefferson was elected president. In his acceptance speech in 1801, Jefferson tried to heal the political dissension by saying "we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists." One of his first moves was to free everyone who had been imprisoned because of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Jefferson’s greatest achievement was the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory. He sent James Monroe to Paris to negotiate with Napoleon for the purchase New Orleans. The French surprised everyone by offering to sell the whole territory for $15 million. The possible purchase of the Louisiana Territory by the United States presented Jefferson with an ethical dilemma. A strict constructionist by nature, Jefferson believed the power of the President was limited to that which was specifically addressed in the Constitution. As there is no mention of the President purchasing large tracts of land in the Constitution, Jefferson had to abandon his own stance in order to do what he felt was best for the country. Jefferson approved the purchase after some deliberation in 1803; the purchase of the Louisiana Territory doubled the size of the United States.
The election of 1804 was not really a contest with Jefferson easily winning a second term. However, almost immediately things changed for the president. British ships had been stopping American ships for some time and kidnapping thousands of sailors to work on British ships. In 1807 the warship Chesapeake refused to let the British board her, so the British opened fire. Jefferson realized that war with Britain was not really an option so he opted instead for the Embargo Act. The Act made it illegal to export goods to Europe. Unfortunately the act backfired as the American economy started to collapse.
By 1808, Jefferson had had enough of politics and so he decided to not seek re-election. One of his last acts as president was to repeal the Embargo Act, before retiring to Virginia. After removing himself from political life Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. He died on July 4, 1826, the same day as his good friend John Adams.
James Madison [1809-17] When he was only 29 years old he was elected serve in the Continental Congress, the youngest delegate. Because he had been sick, Madison had not served in the Revolutionary War. After the war he served in the Virginia legislature and was responsible for Jefferson’s religious freedom bill. Madison soon saw the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation because they did not regulate trade between the states; thus Madison became a leading voice in reviewing the Articles. At the convention in Philadelphia Madison presented his Virginia Plan for the Constitution. His plan called for a government with two Houses and representation in each based on population, which would assure the larger states of controlling the government.
After writing the Constitution, Madison worked to get the document ratified. Working with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton he wrote The Federalist Papers, supporting the Constitution. He supported Hamilton against Jefferson on the issue of states’ rights. However, in 1792 he turned against Hamilton and allied himself with the Democratic-Republican Party. When the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Madison thought it violated the Bill of Rights and wrote the Virginia Resolution, which encouraged states to ignore the acts.
In 1800 when Jefferson took office Madison became his Secretary of State and closest advisor. When Jefferson retired in 1808 he picked Madison to be his successor. Much like the presidency of his predecessor, Madison’s tenure was dominated by foreign problems.
"War Hawks" in Congress were pushing for war with Britain. They blamed the British for Indian unrest on the frontier. When the Shawnee rebelled the Americans blamed the British. Others saw war with Britain as a chance to add British possessions in the north to the United States. In June 1812, Congress declared war on Britain.
The war was a disaster and became known as "Mr. Madison’s War." Yet, Madison was still able to win re-election in 1812. In 1814, the British attacked Washington D.C. and even burned the presidential mansion. The war ended in 1814 with neither side having a significant advantage. But reputations were saved by Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans.
After picking James Monroe as his successor, Madison retired and spent his retirement working with Jefferson to create the University of Virginia.
James Monroe [1817-25] A fervent supporter of States’ Rights and an opponent of the Federalists, Monroe was the nation’s fifth president and the last of the Virginia dynasty. Despite being a strong supporter of revising the Articles of Confederation, he was disappointed not to be invited to Philadelphia.
When he read the Constitution, he opposed it, believing that the proposed government would be too strong. When Jefferson and Hamilton started to argue, Monroe took Jefferson’s side and eventually became a leader of the Democratic-Republicans. He was appointed as Minister to France (1794) by Washington, but was recalled after a few years for being too supportive of the French. After returning to America he retired to his estate in Virginia determined to leave politics.
Monroe’s sweeping victory in 1816 marked the beginning of what was known as the "Era of Good Feeling." As President, Monroe focused almost totally on foreign affairs. Having spent so much time in Europe he was determined that there would never be a war between the United States and Britain or France. However, he was equally determined that the United States would not ever be as unprepared as they were in 1812. In 1818, he successfully negotiated the Rush-Bagot Agreement. Monroe’s greatest contribution was the Monroe Doctrine, which warned foreign powers against further colonization in the Americas.
In terms of domestic policies, two issues haunted the Monroe presidency - slavery and the economy. The question of slavery arose when Missouri and Maine applied for statehood. Missouri insisted as being added as a slave state, but the idea of other areas of the Louisiana Purchase being added as slave states worried Congress. Before Missouri and Maine, there was a balance between slave and non-slave states. The continual westward land expansion would pose problems for future presidents and because of the possible extension of slavery would ultimately lead to the Civil War. Congress agreed upon the Missouri Compromise which added Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state, but it also outlawed slavery in areas above the southern Missouri border.
As for the economy, a major recession hit the country in 1819 and although Monroe did little to help the situation there were signs of hope by 1820. Because Monroe had been so successful, especially in foreign policy, the election was a landslide. Monroe gained every electoral vote, except one. (One person voted for John Quincy Adams so that Washington would be the only president that was elected unanimously.)
His second term was, in many ways uneventful. By 1824, he had grown tired and adhered to the two-term policy established by Washington. However, a major split occurred in the Democratic-Republican Party when Monroe refused to name a successor. Monroe died on July 4, 1841 the third president to die on that day.
John Quincy Adams [1825-29] The eldest son of John Adams and Monroe’s vice-president was exceptionally intelligent; unfortunately, he had difficulty getting along with others. Being the son of President Adams was a huge advantage, and Adams was easily elected to serve Massachusetts. However, his policy of putting the nation before his state often created conflict with his supporters.
The election of 1824 was complicated by the fact President Monroe refused to nominate a successor. Four people ran in the election, with General Jackson getting the most votes, and Adams coming in second. However, because neither candidate received a majority the House of Representatives had to pick the next president. Henry Clay, one of the nominees threw his support behind Adams and assured him of victory. In return, Adams appointed Clay Secretary of State. Since in the past, the position of Secretary of State had been a stepping-stone to the presidency, this appointment did not go unnoticed by Jackson and his supporters. The Jacksonian Democrats called the cooperation between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay the "corrupt bargain." This "corrupt bargain" ultimately made John Quincy Adams a one-term president and kept Henry Clay out of the White House all together.
Because of his continual disagreements with Andrew Jackson over federal powers, Adams was able to achieve very little. In 1828 he supported the passing of what became known as the "Tariff of Abominations," which placed high tariffs on foreign goods and raw material. Southerners and those from the western states who needed cheap imports vehemently opposed the bill.
The election of 1828 was easily the nastiest election to date and possibly the nastiest election ever. Both parties resorted to mud slinging and name-calling. Jackson and his supporters believed that they had won the 1824 election, but had been robbed by Adams. Adams lost the election to Jackson and served in the House of Representative from 1831 until his death.
Andrew Jackson [1829-37] Jackson, trained as a lawyer, served the state of Tennessee in the Senate and as a judge in the Tennessee Supreme Court before personal issues forced him to adopt a lower profile. In 1815 he defeated the British
at the Battle of New Orleans; in 1818 on instructions of the President, he invaded Florida in the Seminole War. Jackson practically wiped out the Seminole Indians.
People identified with Jackson as he, too, was a self-made man who had risen in society by hard work and perseverance. Thus Jackson entered national politics as a member of the Democratic Party and narrowly lost the 1824 election despite gaining the most popular votes. Because Jackson did not gain enough electoral votes the election passed to the House of Representatives. The election involved 4 candidates, apart from Jackson and Adams, there was House Speaker Henry Clay and William Crawford. When the election became a contested one, Clay dropped out and supported Adams; consequently Adams won the election.
Not surprisingly Clay was appointed Secretary of State in the John Quincy Adams presidential administration. Jackson supporters labeled the events of the 1824 election the "corrupt bargain."
In 1828, Jackson challenged Adams again, focusing on the Tariff of Abominations and claiming Adams only represented the interests of the wealthy. Jackson won easily and became the peoples’ president because he seemed to believe that the chief executive should work for the people, especially the poor people. Yet despite this philosophy his friends were handsomely rewarded for their loyalty through the spoils system.
His first political challenge was an attempt to get Congress to repeal the Tariff of Abominations. He persuaded Congress to lower the tariffs but he could not get the act repealed. The southern states which had been most affected by the tariff, united in their complaining. South Carolina tried to get the tariff nullified and in 1833 the state passed the ordinance of nullification, claiming the tariff was void in their state and if the federal government forced the issue the state would secede.
Jackson, previously a strong advocate of states’ rights, saw the action as treason, and told the leaders of the state that he would do everything in his powers to preserve the Union.
The charter of the national Bank was scheduled to be renewed in 1836, but the Republicans started the process early. Jackson considered the National Bank an elitist institution, but realized that banks were a necessity. Still Jackson believed the states should control them, not the federal government. When the Republicans tried to get the charter passed in 1832, Jackson, to no one’s surprise vetoed the bill. So hostile to the National Bank was Jackson that he refused to put money in the bank and instead put the money in the state banks.
Since the states did not possess gold or silver to back up the paper money the states faced serious inflation. In 1836, Jackson ordered that public land could only be paid for with gold or silver. This caused the Panic of 1837.
Apart from state’s rights and banking problems Jackson also faced a problem of what to do with the Indians. Jackson, the hero of the Seminole Wars, hated the Indians. He believed that the Indians should not prevent the expansion of the United States and if they had to be forcibly relocated then so be it.
The state of Georgia insisted the Cherokee Indians adhere to the laws of the state as well as federal laws. The Cherokee appealed to the legal system for help. In Worcester vs. Georgia in 1832, Chief Justice Marshall ruled that only the federal government had jurisdiction over the Native Americans, not the states. Of course, this decision was not what Jackson wanted to hear.
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act allowing the federal government to establish the Bureau of Indian Affairs to handle all issues concerning the Native Americans. The Removal Act demanded the removal of all Indians east of the Mississippi. The result of the refusal by the Indians was the Black Hawk War of 1832. In 1834, Congress voted to create an area of land for the Indians (present-day Oklahoma) regardless of what the Indians wanted.
The election of 1832 was the first time candidates were chosen by party conventions. Jackson was the Democratic nomination with Henry Clay representing the National Republicans. Jackson won in a landslide.
During his second term, Jackson was faced with the issue of Texas. Eventually, led by General Houston the Texans won their independence and wanted to join the United States. However, Mexico objected to Texas joining the Union and northern states objected to Texas being added as another slave state. Forced to make a decision, Jackson simply recognized Texas as an independent country.
In 1836, Jackson had tuberculosis and was happy to leave the presidency. He hand selected Martin Van Buren as his successor, and Van Buren handily won the election.
Martin Van Buren [1837-41] Martin Van Buren was the first president born an American citizen (all the earlier presidents had been British citizens.) His family had been active in politics in New York, but they were not wealthy.
In 1828, Van Buren persuaded several dissident factions of the Democratic-Republican Party to form the Democratic Party, supporting strong states’ rights and a weak federal government. He became the governor of New York with the aim of giving Jackson the state. He resigned as governor in 1829 to serve as Jackson’s Secretary of State. In 1832 he became Jackson’s Vice-President before being elected President in 1836.
Once in office Van Buren had to replace the person that many believed was the greatest American president. Unfortunately, despite being a very capable politician, Van Buren lacked the personal skills and charisma needed to be president. He was continually arguing with people around him. In addition he was plagued from the start by the economic problems caused by Jackson’s banking policies. The Panic of 1837 saw the economy almost collapse at the very same time as a global recession was taking place. Van Buren believed that states should deal with their financial problems and that the national government should simply monitor the situation. In 1840, Congress enacted an independent treasury system that placed large amounts of money in large cities across the country.
Van Buren opposed slavery and refused to allow Texas and Florida to join the Union as slave state. At the same time he sent the military to destroy the Seminoles who had once again threatened to revolt.
In the election of 1840, Van Buren won the party nomination against the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison. While Van Buren addressed the nation on the campaign trail, the Whigs, because of internal problems decided to run a race based on image and not issues. Harrison won the election.
William H. Harrison  Harrison had gained fame as the governor of Indiana who had defeated Tecumseh at Tippecanoe (1811) and as an officer in the War of 1812. He served in the House of Representatives and the Senate before being elected President in 1840 as a Whig. He ran the election on the image of the common man while portraying Van Buren as a detached aristocrat. With Senator John Tyler as his vice president, he ran under the campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too." On the day of his inauguration, Harrison refused to wear a hat even though it was raining and cold. He caught cold and died one month after his inauguration.
John Tyler [1841-45] Tyler started his political career as a Democrat serving the state of Virginia in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Tyler was a stubborn man who refused to compromise. In 1820 he had opposed the Missouri Compromise. He believed in states’ rights, owned slaves, and was the last president to defend slavery. Initially supportive of Jackson’s policies over the National Bank, Tyler disagreed with Jackson over the Nullification Crisis. He ran as Harrison’s Vice-President on the Whig ticket when it was decided that Harrison needed the support of the south. After Harrison’s death in 1841, Tyler became the tenth President.
As President, Tyler still refused to compromise. In 1841 a disagreement with Whig leader Henry Clay had drastic results. First, most of Tyler’s cabinet resigned.
Second, Tyler was thrown out of the Whig party, and finally, the House called for Tyler*s impeachment. As a result Tyler allied himself to Calhoun and the Southern Democrats, but they did not want to be associated with him either. He even tried to form his own party, but that too, failed.
Tyler’s success came in foreign policy when he opened trade with China and when the United States annexed Texas. Thanks to Tyler’s work, Texas was able to join the Union.
James K. Polk [1845-49] James Polk aligned himself politically with the Democrats who wanted free education and lower tariffs. As a representative from Tennessee he was determined to help Jackson’s policies pass through Congress. In 1835, Polk was selected Speaker of the House; Polk is the only president to hold that position prior to becoming president. Then in 1839, to prevent a Republican from becoming governor of Tennessee, Polk ran for governor and won. However, he was not reelected in 1841 and it looked like his political career might be over.
In the 1844 election, Polk wanted to be vice president to Van Buren, but Van Buren opposed the annexation of Texas as a slave state. At the Democratic convention the party changed the rules for nomination to prevent Van Buren from being nominated. Jackson proposed Polk. In the selection process it became obvious that Van Buren would not get the two-thirds majority vote. Gradually more and more turned to the dark horse Polk, whose political career seemed over a few months earlier.
Polk won a narrow victory based on public support, especially strong in the South. Once in office one of his first moves was to seek lower tariffs. The Walker Tariff did lower tariffs on luxury items so the average citizen could afford items once considered outside their price range. His next move was to encourage trade with Britain to stimulate American exports.
Like his mentor, Jackson, Polk was against a National Bank and paper money. Van Buren had destroyed the independent treasury system; Polk was determined to restore it.
After negotiating with Britain, Polk was able to add the Oregon Territory in 1846 and give Americans access to the Pacific. Next he turned south to deal with Mexico. He offered Mexico $25 million for California and to drop the American claims for $3 million against the Mexican government. The Mexican still angry over Texas refused to discuss the matter. By 1846, Polk realized the only way to gain California was war with Mexico.
When there was a border dispute between Texas and Mexico, the president sent General Zachary Taylor with an army of 4,000 men to the area. Mexican troops attacked an American patrol and killed 11 soldiers. Polk told the nation that Mexico had invaded the United States and called for war. The southern and western states called for war, northern states, fearing the spread of slavery were not so ready. A Congressman from Illinois called Abraham Lincoln voiced his opposition to the war.
When the war started, Polk organized the army and tactics since he only trusted himself to do the right job. In 1847, American troops captured Mexico City and ended the war with an American victory. The next year Mexico was forced to sign the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo which added New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming to the United States. Polk did agree to pay Mexico $10 million, which was $15 million less than he had originally offered. Many people wanted Polk to annex all of Mexico, but the President refused.
In 1848, gold was discovered in California, starting the California gold rush. Military success and territorial expansion did not help Polk politically. He had alienated many northern Democrats and Whigs. Polk argued that he was just fulfilling Manifest Destiny.
In 1846, David Wilmot, a northern Democrat, proposed that land acquired from Mexico could not be slave states. The Wilmot Proviso caused so much aggravation in the southern states that many threatened to secede if the Proviso was passed. The southern states wanted the issue to be settled by popular sovereignty. The Proviso did not pass in Congress, but it did become a major issue prior to the Civil War.
Polk decided not to run again in 1848.
Zachary Taylor [1849-50] Zachary Taylor’s military successes made him a national figure. He had fought in the War of 1812, and the Black Hawk and Seminole Wars, and the Mexican-American War before entering politics as a member of the Whig Party and easily winning the presidency. Although Taylor owned a large number of slaves, the Whigs opposed slavery.
In 1849, California and New Mexico applied for statehood. Both states wanted to enter the Union as free states. Taylor supported their decision because he thought the issue of slavery should be determined by the states not the federal government. Some southern states, notably South Carolina, led by John C. Calhoun tried to put pressure on the president to change the situation by promising to secede. Taylor threatened to personally lead the army to the south and restore the Union if the southern states seceded.
Taylor, who would not compromise on the issue of slavery, was not able to keep the Union together because he died after one year in office. On July 4, 1850, he ate some cherries and frozen milk, took ill and died several days later. It was his successor, Millard Fillmore whose policies led the country to war.
Millard Fillmore [1850-53] When Taylor died in 1850, Millard Fillmore became the thirteenth President. As president, Fillmore dismissed most of Taylor’s cabinet, led the country to war, and destroyed the Whig Party.
He was the obvious choice for Taylor’s vice president as a northern politician who opposed slavery. Fillmore addressed the major problem of the day, the status of new states by signing the Compromise of 1850. However, many Whigs saw the Compromise as pro-slavery because it included a stricter fugitive slave law and because popular sovereignty would decide the issue of slavery in the Mexican Cession. Thus anti-slavery Whigs withdrew support for Fillmore.
Fillmore’s one success was in foreign policy. Fillmore authorized Perry’s naval expedition to Japan (1853); this opened Japan to trade with the United States. However, because of his stance on slavery, he was not re-nominated by his Party. The Whigs nominated General Winfield Scott who lost the election. Fillmore has gone down in history as one of the most ineffective presidents ever to hold the office.
Franklin Pierce [1853-57] Franklin Pierce was a walking contradiction since he was a northern democrat, but a supporter of the institution of slavery. A fervent believer in the constitution, Pierce refused to compromise on any issue that concerned the constitution. He thought slavery was immoral, but since it was not addressed in the constitution, he had no problem with maintaining the institution. In his early career, Pierce aligned himself with the southern Democrats and was a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson.
Pierce was selected as the Democratic nominee for the 1852 election because of his ability to compromise in a time of great political dissension. In a time of great trouble Pierce tried to pacify all factions of the party. In addition to the slavery problem Pierce was a supporter of Manifest Destiny and tried to expand the territory of the United States. He offered the Mexican government $20 million for a large part of northern Mexico so he could build a railroad from New Orleans to San Diego. However the Mexican government would only sell part of southern Mexico for $15 million. This was the Gadsden Purchase.
In the Ostend Manifesto, he offered Spain $130 million for Cuba. The southern states wanted Cuba to join the Union as a slave state. The deal upset northern Democrats to such an extent that Pierce denied any part of the Manifesto.
In 1854, Senator Douglas of Illinois, proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act so a northern railroad could be built across his state. In the same year Pierce repealed the Missouri Compromise, which prohibited slavery in the territories. Nebraska wanted to be a free state, but Kansas was split. When the vote was held, thousands
of pro-slavery men crossed from Missouri into Kansas to vote and won the day. Those in Kansas that opposed slavery formed their own government. The president recognized the pro-slavery government and in what was known as "Bleeding Kansas," a virtual civil war broke out.
Because Pierce had repealed the Missouri Compromise and supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act, he lost the support of northern Democrats and any possibility of re-nomination.
James Buchanan [1857-61] Besides being the first president not to be married, President Buchanan is perennially rated one of the worst presidents to hold office. Like his predecessor he firmly believed in the constitution, and like Pierce he did not like slavery but tolerated the practice. He was a principle author of the Ostend Manifesto. Although a northerner, he was acceptable to the southern Democrats and won the Party nomination for 1856.
The Republican Party first appeared in the 1856 election, as did former president Fillmore as head of an extreme right wing party, allowing Buchanan to easily win the election. Almost immediately he was forced to face the Dred Scott decision, whereby the Supreme Court ruled that slaves were property and could be taken anywhere by their masters thus nullifying the Missouri Compromise.
In 1857 Kansas applied for statehood as a slave state. Buchanan accepted the pro-slavery constitution even though it did not pass a statewide referendum. The state was forced to hold another referendum and the pro-slavery group failed again. Congress refused to allow Kansas to join the Union.
Abraham Lincoln [1861-65] In most surveys about presidents, Abraham Lincoln ranks first. The Lincoln-Douglas debates won Lincoln national acclaim and propelled him to the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1860.
The 1860 election involved four candidates: northern Democrats nominated Stephen Douglas, southern Democrats nominated John Breckinridge, Constitutional Unionists nominated John Bell, and the new Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln. As soon as Lincoln was elected the southern states started to secede. By March 1861, 7 states seceded. In his inaugural address the president assured the southern states they had no reason to secede and that he had no intention to interfere with the institution of slavery where it was already in existence. He went further and promised to do all he could to maintain the Union and that he would not let the southern states seize federal property.
When Lincoln took office, South Carolina had already taken Fort Sumter. Lincoln refused to let the confederacy take the fort and attempted to reinforce the garrison. When the confederates took the fort, Lincoln was forced to act and called up 75,000 militiamen, while 4 more states left the Union.
During the Civil War the President expanded the powers of the President. Because Congress was not in session, Lincoln acted unilaterally for the first three months of his presidency. He blockaded the southern ports, increased the size of the army, and suspended the habeas corpus. Lincoln did all this, even though much of it was not technically legal, by claiming that in an emergency the president can assume additional powers. Even so, initially he came under criticism from the Supreme Court and the Democrats, but both groups eventually supported the President.
In 1862 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. In the Proclamation Lincoln gave the "rebellious states" 100 days to rejoin the Union, and guaranteed the continuation of slavery. Only if the states refused to join the Union would he issue a declaration ending slavery in the southern states. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves in states that stayed loyal to the Union. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves at the time it was issued. However, this only stiffened the resolve of the southern states to continue fighting the Civil War.
At Gettysburg, in 1863, Lincoln gave his most memorable speech. In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln stressed liberty and equality, and told the people the war would continue and the Union would be preserved. While the speech is now considered one of the greatest speeches of all time, in 1863 it received little attention.
Lincoln won a second term in 1864, despite stiff opposition from members of his own party who believed he had been too lenient towards the south. When General Sherman reached Atlanta, it was the boost Lincoln needed. After being elected Lincoln started work on Reconstruction. The southern states rejected Lincoln’s offer to end the war, which disappointed the president. Consequently he refused to accept compromise with the South. As the war ended, Lincoln was concerned with the problems of Reconstruction and reconciliation with the South, to many he was being too lenient. Lincoln stated he wanted to reunite the Union and not punish the southern states. President Lincoln was fatally wounded by pro-southern actor, John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theater, Washington in 1865.
Andrew Johnson [1865-69] Johnson entered politics in Tennessee, running on a platform of representing the poor, working man. He was a staunch believer in states’ rights, a Democrat and supporter of Jacksonian policies. Although he championed the poor man, Johnson owned slaves and supported the institution of slavery. Although he was a southern Senator, he refused to recognize the confederacy and supported the Union during the war.
President Lincoln appointed Johnson the military governor of Tennessee and Johnson responded by utilizing his power against the white plantation owners in the state. In 1864, he was made Lincoln’s vice-president as a reward for his loyalty to the Union.
Only days after the end of the war, Lincoln was assassinated and in 1865, Johnson became the nation’s seventeenth President. Ironically the person who was now responsible for bringing the southern states back into the Union was a southerner who had owned slaves. Congress, which was dominated by the Republican Party wanted to give the vote to the black man and punish the confederate states for seceding. Unfortunately it was a plan not shared by the President.
Johnson was more concerned with punishing the large plantation owners than with civil rights for the blacks. His plan for Reconstruction included: amnesty for those in the Confederacy who swore an oath of loyalty to the Union (except large plantation owners), force the Confederate states to ratify the thirteenth amendment and abolish slavery, he repealed the ordinance of secession, and renounced all Confederate debts. In response the Confederate states passed the Black Codes, which denied the black man the vote, own property, serve on juries, and even testify against a white person.
In 1865, Johnson started to return land back to the former plantation owners, because he believed that only they had the skills and knowledge necessary to save the economy of the south. Two years later, Johnson declared Reconstruction over and he told Congress to readmit southern representatives. Congress was shocked and immediately moved to act against the president. Radical Republicans, sure that Johnson was a southern sympathizer started to change the president’s Reconstruction plan.
In 1866, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which gave citizenship to the black man and overturned the Black Codes. The president vetoed the legislation. Congress, equally determined took the Civil Rights Act and incorporated it into the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection for all U.S. citizens. In the Congressional elections of 1866, the Republicans won enough seats to override any presidential veto.
Congress started to undo Johnson’s Reconstruction and passed the Military Reconstruction Act. Johnson responded by calling on southerners to oppose the new Reconstruction.
The Radical republicans started the impeachment process. When the votes were tallied the President survived by one vote. Realizing the futility of his actions, the President served out the rest of his term. Even his one successful idea was ridiculed. He had instructed Secretary of State William Seward to purchase Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million; it was referred to as "Seward’s Folly."
Ulysses S. Grant [1869-77] Grant’s military success in the Civil War earned him fast promotion and national recognition. In 1868, as far as the Republicans were concerned there was only one choice for president, and that was Ulysses S. Grant. Despite the fact his first term was seen by many as a failure, the popularity of Grant carried him to a second term in 1872. His second term was dwarfed by scandals, many of which were brought about by the president’s own stupidity.
Besides dealing with many political problems, Grant’s main job was integrate the South back into the Union. When the Ku Klux Klan was organized to deny civil rights to the blacks, Grant responded by passing the Force Acts of 1870 and 1871, making it a federal offense to deny anyone’s civil rights. But for the most part, Grant left the South alone and the racial problems of the former Confederacy resurfaced.
Because of many scandals, the Republican Party was not keen on renominating Grant for a third term, even though Grant himself was enthusiastic about the possibility. Gradually Grant came to see reason and withdrew his name. He left politics and even though he did consider the running again in 1880, he did not.
Rutherford B. Hayes [1877-81] Following the corruption of the Grant administration Rutherford B. Hates is remembered as possibly the most honest man to hold the office. After the war the Republican Party saw him as a candidate for the House of Representatives. He won his seat in 1864 without ever campaigning since he refused to leave his men.
In the 1876 election the Republican Party realized they needed a candidate who would make people forget Grant.
The Democratic nominee, Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and it appeared he had gained more electoral votes. The Republicans contested the results claiming that blacks had not been allowed to vote in some southern states. A bipartisan electoral commission was established to decide the question of the disputed votes. The electoral commission decided that the disputed votes the from South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Oregon should go to Hayes . Thus Hayes won the election of 1876 with 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184 electoral votes.
To gain the support of the southern states and to get them not to challenge the results, the Republicans promised to end Reconstruction. In 1877, Hayes removed the last federal troops from the South and ended Reconstruction.
As soon as he was in office, Hayes started to eliminate corruption, alienating both Democrats and Republicans. Without support in either party, Hayes decided not to seek a second term.
James A. Garfield  Garfield entered politics as a Republican after serving in the Union army. His reputation was damaged during the Crédit Mobilier scandal, but he emerged as a presidential candidate because of the work of James Blaine. During the Republican Party quarrel between the "Half Breeds" [those favoring conciliation with the South] and the "Stalwarts" [professional politicians], Garfield became known as a compromiser. He was assassinated within a month of taking office.
Chester A. Arthur [1881-85] Arthur worked as Collector of the Port of New York, a very influential position that allowed him to control the politics of the city. He often rewarded Republican friends with jobs in the city, regardless of their qualifications. In 1877, he was investigated by President Hayes, and although there was no proof of corruption, he was fired.
In 1880 he was selected to be Garfield’s running mate. When Garfield was assassinated, many people had little faith in the abilities of Arthur who had been a beneficiary of the spoils system. Arthur realized that he would not be elected for a second term so he set out to reform the system that had rewarded him so handsomely.
In 1883, he signed the Pendleton Act, to reform the civil service. The reforms included not hiring alcoholics and competitive tests for some positions. He also initiated some amazing foreign policy ideas including, an international conference to create standard time zones around the world as well as strengthening the navy. The following year he considered running again, but he had alienated so many of his own party that he lost the party nomination.
Grover Cleveland [1885-89] Much like his predecessor, Cleveland spent a great deal of energy eliminating corruption and fighting the spoils system. Also like Arthur, he alienated many in his own party, but unlike Arthur, Cleveland was re-elected, albeit in non-consecutive terms.
As president, Cleveland maintained his independence by appointing the most qualified people to his cabinet, regardless of party affiliation. Acting as President he vetoed over 200 bills, many of them dealing with veterans of the Civil War.
In 1887 he passed the Dawes Act which was supposed to allocate land that belonged to Native American tribes to individual Native Americans. Unfortunately the act backfired when many of the Native Americans were tricked out of their land and left with nothing.
Also in 1887, he signed the Interstate Commerce Act, which was the first act designed to regulate business. Initially the legislation was ignored or simply not enforced but later it became a very important piece of legislation.
In the election of 1888 Cleveland faced the war hero Benjamin Harrison, who quickly reminded people of Cleveland’s continual vetoing of legislation aimed to help veterans. Cleveland supported lower tariffs with Europe to stimulate trade while Harrison supported higher tariffs to protect domestic producers. Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the Electoral vote. Defeated, Cleveland returned to New York to practice law and promised to return to politics.
Benjamin Harrison [1889-93] Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of former President William Henry Harrison.
In the 1888 election Senator Blaine refused the Republican nomination and instead endorsed Harrison. Harrison made the perfect candidate as he was widely known because of his family and as he had solid political connections. Equally important was the fact he was supported by veterans. The election proved to be one of the nastiest elections in history. However, Harrison did lose the popular vote to Cleveland, but he won the electoral vote.
Once in office Harrison proved to be a major surprise. He nominated people for his cabinet based on merit, including future presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In 1890 he rewarded the veterans for their support by signing the Dependent Pension Act, which guaranteed pensions for all disabled Union war veterans, as well as providing relief for the children and parents of veterans.
His most significant piece of legislation was the Sherman Antitrust Act, which made it illegal for companies to have a monopoly and gave the government the authority to break up any company deemed in violation. Another important piece of legislation was the McKinley Tariff Act, which increased tariffs on imported goods to the highest level in American history. He also was instrumental in adding the Pacific colonies of Hawaii and Samoa, and in opening up Oklahoma Indian Territory to settlement.
In the 1892 election he once again ran against Cleveland. The main issue was tariffs. Cleveland wanted to reduce tariffs, while Harrison wanted to increase them. During the election process the first lady was dying and Harrison could not focus on the race. When his wife died only weeks before the election, Harrison’s fate was sealed. He lost to Cleveland in a landslide.
Grover Cleveland [1893-97] In 1892 the Democrats were once again divided. The Silver Democrats wanted unlimited coinage of silver. The Gold Democrats, including Cleveland, believed money should be backed by gold. In the election Cleveland easily defeated Harrison and gained a second term.
His second term was fairly unsuccessful as he opposed annexing Hawaii and unions. In 1893, during a major recession in the economy, the President was diagnosed with cancer and had his jaw replaced with an artificial one. The recession was directly related to poor management of the railroads, which had grown too fast.
The depression dragged on for years, fuelled by a global down turn in the economy. Cleveland ignored the unemployed workers, preferring to stay out of the situation. Slowly more and more Democrats turned against the President and blamed him for the problems of the country.
William McKinley [1897-1901] When the 1896 elections came round a group of friends paid for McKinley to travel around the country and speak to the people. Speakers and newspapers that supported McKinley promised business men that if McKinley was not elected then there would be a recession. Consequently, McKinley easily defeated William Jennings Bryan by carrying all the industrial states.
After the election the country slowly emerged from recession and McKinley did not hesitate to take the credit. He moved the United States away from a policy of isolationism by involving the country in world trade. He soon realized that the high tariffs he had advocated only a few years earlier were actually hurting the country so he changed his stance and advocated free trade.
McKinley was a believer in Manifest Destiny. To this end he, perhaps more than any other president, was responsible for American imperialism. The Spanish-American War led to the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines as well as the domination of Cuba, the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, and the introduction of the Open Door policy with China.
After defeating William Jennings Bryan in 1900, McKinley was re-elected. He chose Theodore Roosevelt as his vice-president a move that worried many people. However, the opposition dissipated because it was believed that Roosevelt would have little power as vice-president. In 1901, while speaking at the Pan-American exposition in Buffalo, McKinley was shot twice by an anarchist. A week later he died from his wounds, Roosevelt was sworn in as president.
Theodore Roosevelt [1901-09] Roosevelt is always ranked as one of the best presidents to hold office he made the United States a true world power, increased the power of the president, protected the average citizen, and in 1906 won the Nobel Peace Prize. He is referred to as a progressive Republican because he believed politicians should protect citizens from the abuses of power.
The Republican Party decided that Roosevelt was liability and wanted to be rid of him. The opportunity came when McKinley was looking for a vice-president, after all, the vice-president had no real power. When McKinley was assassinated (1901) Roosevelt became the twenty-sixth President.
As soon as he was in office he started to alienate Republicans and Democrats. Forced to make concessions to the Progressive Party he adopted an aggressive foreign policy. Instrumental in the construction of the Panama Canal, he favored "big stick" diplomacy. He also added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine stating that the United States would be responsible for collecting debts from Latin American countries.
In the 1904 election there was little doubt who would win. In fact the Democrats nominated a virtual unknown. Roosevelt took the re-election as a mandate to continue his domestic reforms. But once again, foreign policy dominated the administration.
On the domestic front he approved the Meat Inspection Act (1906), which allowed federal inspectors to inspect meat packing plants. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, caused a public outcry as people became outraged at the practices used by the meat packers. Roosevelt used this opinion to get his Meat Inspection Act passed. Other Theodore Roosevelt legislation which passed was the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) and the Hepburn Act (1906). The Pure Food and Drug Act dealt with outlawing unsafe food and liquor. The Hepburn Act regulated railroads. This act was later extended to include telephone and telegram companies.
When the Knickerbocker Bank of New York collapsed, the president persuaded a group of wealthy investors led by J.P. Morgan to bail out the bank and prevent a national crisis. In 1908, Congress passed the Aldrich-Vreeland Act, which made federal funds available to unstable banks.
In 1908, Roosevelt fulfilled his promise not to seek a third term, instead he nominated his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft. Roosevelt had chosen Taft because he believed Taft was a Progressive Republican who would continue the reforms he had started. With Roosevelt campaigning for him, Taft won easily.
William H. Taft [1909-13] His Presidency was remembered for his "Dollar Diplomacy" policies, which were attacked by the Progressives as being too soft on big business. Like many of his predecessors he alienated members of his own party, a move which eventually cost him re-election.
When Roosevelt was considering retiring he turned the job over to Taft, believing that Taft was a Progressive Republican who would carry on with his policies. In the election Taft easily defeated William Jennings Bryan.
As soon as he assumed the office Taft was confronted with problems. His first problem was trying fulfill a campaign promise to lower tariffs. The Conservative Republicans who represented big business actually raised tariffs. Taft believed he should not interfere with the workings of Congress and refused to address the tariff issue, a move that immediately cost him public support.
Shortly after Taft moved into the White House the Republican Party philosophically split. The Conservatives wanted higher tariffs and supported business interests while opposing reform. The Progressive, supporters of Roosevelt wanted to curb the influence of business, lower tariffs, and instigate reforms. By following his heart, Taft alienated both factions.
President Taft expanded the Interstate Commerce Act to include telephone, radio, and cable services. He introduced the Publicity Act in 1910, which required political parties to reveal their financial sources. In foreign affairs Taft was not successful at all. His policies failed in China and in the Caribbean.
The election of 1912 was one of the most interesting and unusual elections of this century. Roosevelt, angry over the failure of Taft to pursue his progressive policies, re-entered politics as the nominee of the Bull Moose Party. Taft and Roosevelt shared the traditional Republican vote, allowing Wilson to win the Presidency. Taft retired to lecture at Yale University. In 1921, his lifelong wish came true when President Wilson appointed him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Woodrow Wilson [1913-1921] By 1912, it was obvious that Taft was in serious political trouble. At the Democratic convention the party could not decide on the two frontrunners, and in desperation, they turned to Wilson. Thanks to Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party, Wilson was able to handily win the election. If Roosevelt had not run, it is likely Wilson would have lost.
Wilson’s presidential policies focused on his "New Freedom" program designed to stimulate competition, eliminate corruption, and promote equal opportunities. The list of achievements and legislation passed during his two terms is as long as it is impressive.
The Underwood Tariff (1913), reduced tariffs and allowed people to purchase cheap imports. The 16th Amendment to the Constitution allowed the federal government to tax incomes. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution allowed Senators to be elected by the people and state legislators. The Federal Trade Commission (1914) created the Federal Trade Commission to investigate business practices and dismantle monopolies. The Clayton Antitrust Act (1914) permitted workers to strike and picket factories. The Child Labor Act (1916) declared child labor illegal. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the production and sale of alcohol. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the vote.
Wilson did not agree with the "big stick" policies of Roosevelt and Taft, instead he preferred to coerce countries with financial incentives. But he did not want to give countries money, he wanted to install a moral government. An example of his policies was when he gave Columbia $20 million in compensation for Panama. Roosevelt and Taft had both refused to listen to the claims of the Columbian government.
He refused to intervene in the Mexican revolution and wanted the Mexicans to sort out their own problems. Ultimately President Wilson had to send troops into Mexico to capture the bandit. After almost a year of futility, the Americans returned home. The President’s foreign policy toward Mexico was a disaster.
At the start of World War I, he was determined to keep America neutral, but gradually became convinced that America should join the Allies. While trying to find a peaceful settlement with both combatants, Wilson was concerned about keeping open the trade routes to and from Europe for American ships. In 1915 the Germans sank the Lusitania, killing over 100 American citizens, causing public opinion to shift against the Germans.
By 1916, Wilson was getting the country ready for war and preparing for the election. Wilson had campaigned on a promise to keep the United States out of the war, but he realized that that idea was getting less realistic.
In 1917 the German policy of unrestricted submarine warfare forced the United States into the war. At the same time the Zimmerman telegram sent by the Germans to Mexico to curry support for the war was the last straw. Germany promised to return to Mexico the land that had been taken by the United States for support in the war.
By the summer of 1917, U.S. soldiers where in Europe. The following year the Germans surrendered. As the fighting closed, Wilson became concerned with his Fourteen Point Plan for peace in a post-war world. He gradually lost the support of the people who favored a policy of isolationism and consequently his policies and his appeal waned.
In the congressional elections of 1918 the Republicans won both Houses of Congress as people gradually turned away from Wilson. In the same year Wilson became the first president to travel to Europe to promote his peace plan. Europeans worshipped him as the savior of Europe. When Wilson left Europe he was sure the Senate would ratify the Versailles Treaty.
Once back on American soil Wilson discovered the Republicans were undermining his attempts to get the treaty ratified. The main problem was the League of Nations, which promised to provide American troops for foreign problems. The Senate rejected the treaty in 1919 and in 1920. In 1921, President Harding signed a separate peace with Germany.
In 1919, Wilson suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. He refused to resign and remained in office until the end of his term in 1921. He retired and spent the last three years of his life in seclusion. He never forgave the Republicans.
Warren G. Harding [1921-23] While Wilson was one of the best presidents he was followed by Warren G. Harding who was widely considered one of the worst presidents.
In 1919 Harding toured the country speaking to the people and advocating a "return to normalcy" after the Wilson administration. At the convention the Republicans could not agree on a candidate, which slowly caused Harding to gain more appeal. Harding gained the nomination after hours of backroom negotiations.
In the election the Republican Party did not want Harding to speak or even be seen in public because he was so unappealing. He filled the cabinet with his friends and awarded those who were loyal with influential positions in the government. The people that gained the most were known as the "Ohio Gang," people who had been with Harding since the beginning. Cabinet members began defrauding the country with impunity. The worst case was the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Harding did have some success. He called the Washington Conference which resulted in the Five Power Treaty, limiting the number of aircraft carriers and other ships the five great powers could possess. The conference also facilitated the Four Power Treaty in which the United States, Japan, France, and Great Britain agreed to recognize each other’s possessions in the Pacific.
In 1923 Harding fell sick while on a trip to Alaska. He returned to San Francisco where he died.
Calvin Coolidge [1923-29] Coolidge’s gained national recognition for his handling of the Boston Police strike (1919). At the Republican convention in 1920 he won the vice-presidency and resigned as governor of Massachusetts.
Once in office, Coolidge had to remove all the people that were legacies of the previous administration and appoint qualified, respected politicians in their place.
He won the 1924 election and earned a reputation as an honest and fair President in a time of corruption and dishonesty. In a prosperous world, Coolidge did not have to do much to be successful. He did lower the national debt and limit immigration, but his greatest success was in foreign affairs with the passing of the Kellogg-Briand Act of 1928. The act renounced the use of war as an instrument of foreign policy, and was signed by over 60 countries.
Prior to the election of 1928, Coolidge decided not to run again and simply issued the message saying that he had chosen not to run.
Herbert C. Hoover [1929-33] Herbert Hoover is the most criticized president of the twentieth century. He will always be known as the President who could not stop the Great Depression.
For the first six months of his tenure, things went well. The country enjoyed the continued economic boom that had started early in the decade. When the Great Depression started the President believed that it would probably be short-term and refused to act. Hoover promised the public the recession would soon be over, but he was wrong.
As the Great Depression worsened Hoover started to act by encouraging Congress to pass laws designed to help the majority of Americans including: The Agricultural Marketing Act (1929), the Hawley-Smoot Tariff (1930), the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (1932), the Glass-Steagall Act (1932), and the Federal Home Loan Bank Act (1932).
Yet it did not matter what Hoover did, the Great Depression got worse. In 1932 a large number of veterans gathered in Washington D.C. to ask the government for relief. When the government refused the veterans refused to disperse and built a city out of tents and cardboard. Soon the site was known as Hooverville. On the command of the president General MacArthur used tanks to destroy Hooverville. This was the last straw for the public who had grown tired of presidential inactivity.
Hoover ran for re-election in 1932, but was overwhelmingly defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. [1933-45] At the 1932 Democratic convention Roosevelt won the nomination. Once he had the party nomination winning the presidency was a foregone conclusion, the public hated Hoover.
In his inaugural address the new president told the people what he was planning on doing. He promised help for the farmers and the unemployed, he wanted to regulate banks, the stock market, and brokerage firms. Then he shut down all the banks for a four-day holiday so he could buy himself some time and start working on the solution without causing a panic.
Roosevelt knew he had to solidify the banking system and restore the confidence of the people. He started immediately working with Congress to create the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which federally insured all deposits up to $100,000. Next he called a special session of Congress to propose his New Deal which included:
The Emergency Banking Act (1933), which allowed the regulation of banks by the federal government. The Economy Act (1933), which cut the salaries of federal employees to save the government money. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) (1933), which provided federal money to local and state government to subsidize relief efforts. The Civilian Conservation Corp (1933) which employed over 3 million unmarried men. The National Industrial Recovery Act (1933), which suspended the antitrust laws. The Tennessee Valley Authority (1933), which built dams to provide cheap power to the people of the southeast region. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (1933), which bought produce from farmers and paid farmers to produce less. The Securities Exchange Act (1934), which established the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) to regulate the sale of stocks and bonds. The Works Progress Administration (1935), which provided jobs for the unemployed. The Social Security Act (1935), which created a retirement system for people over 65.
Roosevelt gained the confidence of the people by holding weekly fireside chats starting in 1933. In the 1936 election, Roosevelt won easily and took the victory as a mandate for his New Deal policies. But by the following year the economy had started to decline again. To make matters worse the Supreme Court seemed to be dismantling the New Deal by declaring parts of the program unconstitutional.
To counter the Supreme Court, Roosevelt suggested putting more justices on the bench and, of course those new justices would support Roosevelt’s policies. Almost immediately Congress turned on the President and refused to have any part of his court-packing scheme. Just when it looked like a political disaster, one of the original justices changed his opinion and started to support the President. As a consequence of the court- packing scheme, the Republicans made a sweep of the 1938 Congressional elections.
Listening to the mood of the people, Congress passed a series of Neutrality Bills, trying to keep the country out of foreign wars. By 1940, the mood of the country changed again. Soon Congress realized that Britain needed help and realistically the only country that could help was the United States. Also in 1940, after the fall of France, Roosevelt promised to protect democracies in Europe, thereby entering the war without having to fight the Axis powers.
Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Act (1941) enabled the Allies to continue fighting the Axis powers by sending 50 destroyers to Britain. Everything changed on December 7, 1941, the "date that will live in infamy" when the Japanese launched surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor. A few days later both Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.
Roosevelt ran for a fourth term in 1944, and once again his margin of victory had decreased. Also in 1944, to help the returning veterans, Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, which promised free health care, free education, and low-rate loans to veterans. The G.I. Bill as it was known changed the lives of millions of men and women.
In 1945 at the Yalta conference the idea of a United Nations was presented, so was discussion about the division of Germany, and the Soviet Union turning to fight Japan. After returning to the United States after the Yalta conference, the President became ill and died.
Truman, Harry S. [1945-53] Truman became President in April, 1945, the war ended in May, 1945, and Truman traveled to the Potsdam Conference in July. At the conference Truman was determined to get Soviet support for the war against Japan. He issued the Potsdam Declaration, which called for the unconditional surrender of Japan; otherwise he would use atomic weapons against the Japanese. Within 3 days in 1945, Truman authorized the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered in August of the same year.
In 1946, the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, made the decision to break the promises made at Yalta and Potsdam and to limit free elections in eastern Europe. When Stalin tried to influence the elections in Greece and Turkey by supporting the Communist Parties, Truman realized he needed to step in.
His political agenda, later dubbed the "Fair Deal" was limited by Congress but did make some significant social changes. Truman tried to end segregation in the armed services and in schools that received federal funding. He created the Fair Employment Practice Commission to prevent discrimination. When southern Democrats formed a coalition to act against the President he acted without Congress as much as he could. His most important move was to pass executive order #9981 which desegregated the U.S. military. In the congressional elections of 1946, Truman felt the backlash when the Republicans won control of both Houses of Congress. The Republicans were determined to stop the President*s legislation at every opportunity.
When several unions went on strike in 1946, the President refused to act. The Republicans decided to act on their own and passed the Taft-Hartley Act. Truman, a supporter of unions, vetoed the act. Congress, undeterred united to override the veto and passed the act over the President*s wishes. The act was the first step in the decline of the unions in the United States.
When the election of 1948 came round Truman was not even sure he could count on his own party. The Progressives appealed to the left, the Dixiecrats appealed to the right, Truman was somewhere in the center. Truman won the election.
Truman’s second term was dominated by foreign policy issues. He persuaded the United States to join NATO, its first peacetime military pact. The Truman administration received the blame for not saving China from falling under the control of the communists, when the nationalists were forced to flee to Taiwan. When the communists took China the Republicans, led by Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin, accused the administration of being full of communists. McCarthy’s accusations led to the passing of the Internal Security Act in 1947.
In 1950 the Korean War erupted as the communist-supported North Koreans invaded Democratic South Korea. When the United States sent troops to Korea to help the South Koreans, China started helping the North Koreans. After an initial spurt neither side was able to capitalize on the situation and the war dragged on until 1953. The commander of the NATO troops, General MacArthur, wanted to invade China and blamed President Truman for limiting the fight against communism. Truman immediately fired MacArthur for insubordination.
By the 1952 election Truman had decided to call it quits and endorsed Adlai Stevenson, but the Republicans had an unbeatable candidate, the war hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Dwight D. Eisenhower [1953-61] Eisenhower gained the Republican nomination in 1952 and selected a young politician from California who had been instrumental in fighting communism as his running mate. The vice-president was Richard Nixon. His election campaign was built on the promise that he would end the war in Korea. Some thought he would seek a peace, others thought he would invade China.
Once in office many believed that Eisenhower would remove many of the New Deal programs that Roosevelt and Truman implemented. However, Eisenhower actually increased welfare programs. He increased the minimum wage and started many public works projects. The big issue during his first term was civil rights. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in the Brown vs the Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, which declared segregation in public schools illegal.
Eisenhower cut back on the size of the conventional army while increasing the strength and size of the nuclear deterrent. He termed this philosophy the Doctrine of Massive Retaliation and it allowed the president to balance the budget.
When the actions of the French in Indochina were not going well they asked the United States to help them fight communism. Initially, Eisenhower rejected the request, but as he became convinced that the South Vietnamese would fall without help he changed his philosophy. Based on the domino theory, Eisenhower claimed he could not afford to let one country fall to the communists. By the end of the year he was sending military advisors to Vietnam to help train the South Vietnamese troops.
In the Middle East another dilemma occurred when Britain and France asked the United States help them regain control of the Suez Canal. Eisenhower did not want to be seen as supporting imperialism so he refused. The matter was resolved but not without leaving Britain and France resenting the American decision. Eisenhower*s response was the Eisenhower Doctrine, which told Middle Eastern countries that they could depend upon American help in their fight against communism.
Eisenhower was persuaded by the party to run again and once again he faced Adlai Stevenson, this time he won easily.
When the Soviets launched Sputnik, Eisenhower developed a new policy one of flexible response. The new policy was based on keeping options open and not committing to using nuclear and/or conventional weapons.
In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew the pro-American dictator Batista. Eisenhower planned an invasion of the island but he left office before he had time to complete the plan.
John F. Kennedy [1961-63] John Kennedy was only 41, an age that seemed to many to be far to young for a position of such responsibility. He was Catholic, many voters, especially in the south feared the influence of the Catholic Church in American politics if Kennedy was elected. He was a very conservative Democrat and had even opposed some of Truman’s ideas. Despite all these problems John Kennedy won the nomination on the first ballot and named Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Senate majority leader from Texas as his running mate.
The youngest President to be elected and the first born in the 20th century, Kennedy flooded Congress with a wave of social and civil rights reforms in a program dubbed the "New Frontier." One of his first appointments was to make his brother, Robert Kennedy the attorney-general. Eventually another brother, Teddy would be elected to the Senate.
Kennedy was ready to abandon the idea of containment and realized that the best path to peace was through negotiation with the Soviets, not threats. However, the actions of the Soviets in Berlin and Cuba forced the president to change his opinion. He also believed that global stability depended on good relations with Third World countries and to this end he sent aid and workers to Third World countries to help the people. One of his greatest achievements was the creation of the Peace Corp.
When Kennedy became president he inherited Eisenhower’s problems with Cuba and authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion. In 1961 the invasion turned into a disaster as the Cubans were waiting for the CIA-supported exiles. The events forced Castro to turn to the Soviet Union for assistance. Khrushchev was happy to help and in the process locate missiles on the island aimed at the United States. When American intelligence discovered the missiles the administration was forced to act.
Kennedy demanded the Soviets remove the missiles and threatened to stop Soviet ships sailing to the island. The Soviets conceded and ordered ships to sail away from Cuba. The Soviets agreed to remove the missiles, but as part of the deal the United States agreed to remove their missiles from Turkey and promised not to invade the island. This incident was known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The other big foreign event that highlighted Kennedy’s presidency was the building of the Berlin Wall. In August, 1961 the East German government built a wall across the city to stop people crossing over to the west. In Vietnam Kennedy increased American involvement and raised the number of American advisors from the hundreds to the thousands.
Kennedy’s domestic agenda involved major improvements in the civil rights. When the governors of Alabama and Mississippi tried to stop Africa-Americans from attending universities in their states Kennedy sent federal troops to enforce his policies. Kennedy’s civil rights legislation included giving African-Americans the vote, allowing them to attend public schools and universities, and ending discrimination in employment. Much of this passed after his death.
President Kennedy was also responsible for getting Congress to approve over $1 billion for space exploration. In May 1961, John Glenn became the first man to travel in space and Kennedy promised that within a decade a man would visit the moon. Many of Kennedy’s ideas were left uncompleted when the President was assassinated in 1963 while campaigning for re-election in Dallas, Texas. His vice-president, Lyndon Johnson was given the oath of office while on board Air Force One.
Lyndon B. Johnson [1963-69] Only days after the assassination of Kennedy, President Johnson addressed both Houses of Congress and promised to continue Kennedy’s legislation. He realized that this was his best chance for success since few people would risk their political career to vote against the ideals of the dead President. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination based on gender, race, or religion and the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed all citizens the right to vote, regardless of color. It also outlawed barriers to voting which had been put in place in many southern states. This legislation was supported by Lyndon Johnson.
In 1964, LBJ won the Presidency on his own terms despite pushing for radical civil rights reforms. His opponent had been the Republican Barry Goldwater from Arizona, who wanted to do away with the Civil Rights Act, end Social Security, and use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Johnson won one of the greatest landslide victories in presidential history. Johnson’s reform program was called the Great Society, and entailed the Higher Education Act; the Elementary and secondary Education act; and the Medicare act. Despite his civil rights agenda the country witnessed unprecedented racial tension.
Johnson issued the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which claimed that American ships had been attacked by North Vietnamese gunboats. When Johnson asked Congress to increase spending in Vietnam, the Congress passed the resolution.
By 1967 public opinion in America was starting to shift away from supporting the war as the cost and the number of casualties increased. In 1968 the president announced a change in policy toward Vietnam. The new policy was to empower the South Vietnamese to fight their own war and slowly remove American soldiers from the country. At the same time Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.
Richard M. Nixon [1969-74] Richard Milhous Nixon traveled the world promoting Eisenhower’s agenda.
In 1968 the Republicans faced Democrat Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate, George Wallace. When the votes were counted, Nixon won a close race with Humphrey coming a close second.
His first term was spent trying to find money to pay for the social programs of the previous administrations and ending the war. He believed that he needed to negotiate an end to the arms race with Russia and open a dialogue with the Chinese. Nixon’s policy in Vietnam was based on the philosophy of Vietnamization making the South Vietnamese do more of the fighting. He also issued the Nixon Doctrine, which said any country fighting communism could expect economic and military aid, but not American soldiers. However, when peace talks broke down in 1972, Nixon made the decision to bomb North Vietnam. The following year a cease-fire was signed which ended American involvement in Vietnam.
In 1972, he signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Treaty (SALT I) with the Soviets. In the same year he became the first President to visit the People’s Republic of China. During his first term the first man walked on the moon (1969), he established the Environmental Protection Agency, and passed the Water Pollution Act. He passed the 26th Amendment to the Constitution giving 18 year olds the right to vote, and he ended the draft. He easily won a second term in 1972.
In 1972 there was a break in at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. At first no one paid much attention to the news until evidence on one of the burglars linked the crooks to the committee to re-elect the President (CREEP). The Senate named special prosecutor Archibald Cox to find out if the president was involved. Congress wanted the tapes that recorded Oval Office conversations, but Nixon refused to turn them over by citing executive privilege. Congress became suspicious and more determined.
In what was known as the Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon told Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and tendered his own resignation. The Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus also resigned. The job then fell to Robert Bork, the solicitor general. Bork fired Cox, but this only made matters worse. The House Judiciary Committee instigated impeachment proceeding against the President.
In 1973 federal prosecutors brought charges against Spiro Agnew, the vice-president, who resigned on charges of tax evasion. Nixon replaced Agnew with Gerald Ford of Michigan.
When Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski asked for more tapes Nixon refused. Eventually the case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled against the president. The same day, impeachment proceedings were started by the House Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives. In August, Nixon released the tapes and days later he addressed the nation and offered his resignation. He never admitted his guilt and continued to claim his innocence. In September he was replaced by Vice-President Ford, who subsequently pardoned Nixon of any crimes associated with Watergate.
Gerald R. Ford [1974-77] Gerald Ford had replaced Nixon’s vice-president Spiro Agnew in 1973 when Agnew was involved in legal trouble and then he succeeded Nixon after he resigned. It can be said that he was the least likely president ever to hold office since he was the only vice-president and then president not to be elected to either office.
When Ford spoke to the nation he reassured them that he would change the situation and return the country to normalcy. However, a little over a month later he lost the confidence of the people when he completely pardoned Nixon. Ford claimed he did it to save the country even though he realized it was political suicide. It was no surprise when the Democrats won control of both Houses in Congress. Ford spent the next two years fighting Congress and vetoing legislation.
When the 1976 elections came round the Republicans were split between Ronald Reagan, the hard line conservative governor of California or Ford. Eventually Ford won the nomination, but was defeated by Jimmy Carter of Georgia.
James E. Carter [1977-81] Jimmy Carter spent much of his early political career working in his home state of Georgia. In 1975 Carter announced he would run for the presidency, and he chose Walter Mondale of Minnesota as his running mate. Carter campaigned, and won, on a platform of disassociation from the traditional Washington establishment in the wake of the Watergate Scandal. His first move was to pardon all draft dodgers, and then he focused on the environment and education with some success.
However many of his foreign policy decisions ended in failure. In 1978, he decided to stop aid to countries if the dictator violated human rights. As a consequence the pro-American governments of Nicaragua and Iran collapsed. He also issued the Carter Doctrine, which said the United States would use military force to prevent Soviet expansion in the Middle East.
Carter negotiated the SALT II agreement with Soviet Premier Brezhnev but the Senate refused to ratify the agreement to limit strategic weapons. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Carter withdrew the treaty. He also prohibited American athletes from participating in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and the sale of U.S. grain to the Soviets. Carter did manage to broker the Camp David Accords between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He also signed the Panama Canal Treaty, which returned the canal to the Panamanians in the year 2000.
Despite these successes, he was never able to free himself of the problems associated with Iran. In 1979, the pro-American Shah of Iran was overthrown by Muslim fundamentalists led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. The shah, who had cancer fled to the United States for treatment. The new Iranian government demanded that he be returned to their country for trial, Carter refused. Fundamentalists invaded the American Embassy in Teheran and took the employees hostage. All negotiations to free them failed so Carter initiated military action. Unfortunately, the rescue attempt ended in disaster when two helicopters crashed.
The Republicans blamed Carter for all the failures, while their candidate in the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan threatened to use the military to free the hostages. On Reagan’s inauguration day, the hostages were released.
Ronald W. Reagan [1981-89] - The one-time Hollywood actor was elected President of the United States in 1980 on the promise of reducing the budget deficit. He cut many programs, reduced spending, but increased the military budget to fight Communism. The economy did improve, but increased military spending caused the deficit to increase again. Reagan was especially aggressive in his policies concerning Latin America. He was the oldest president elected to office and he was the first president who had been divorced, but neither of these two factors stopped him from becoming a favorite of the people.
He ran in 1980 and won the Republican nomination. Initially he had planned on asking Ford to be his vice-president, but changed his mind and named George Bush as vice-president. Reagan won the election easily because he appealed to conservative Democrats.
Once in office Reagan set about to establish his agenda of major social and economic reforms. He believed in fewer government regulations, lower taxes, and a major reduction in the role of the welfare system.
In 1981 Reagan faced his first major domestic crisis when air traffic controllers went on strike and threatened to bring the country to a standstill. Since their action was illegal, Reagan refused to negotiate, fired all the strikers, and hired replacements. A message was sent to the unions that the new government would not tolerate any threat at any price.
In his first term he initiated major tax cuts in his Economic Recovery Act. He also cut back social spending including training programs, deregulated the saving and loan industry, and reduced the environmental restrictions on businesses. However, at the same time he also increased defense spending. Reagan’s economic policies were based on supply-side economics. He believed that by giving the money back to businesses and the public then that money would be reinvested.
By 1984 Reagan was enjoying the benefits of a successful term in office. The economy had turned and the country was enjoying a relative boom. Unfortunately, with the tax cuts Reagan had to borrow heavily to support his agenda. As he borrowed more and more so the national debt increased. Interest rates increased making American products more expensive abroad and foreign imports cheaper. The result was a massive trade deficit forcing the government to devalue the dollar.
Reagan worried that his programs would not endure and he realized that to make lasting changes he would need the support of the Supreme Court. At every opportunity he appointed staunch conservatives to the bench. His first appointment was Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
Reagan’s greatest success came in foreign affairs especially when he dealt with communism. He issued the Reagan Doctrine, which promised military and economic help to any government that was fighting communism. The policy led to American aid being sent to Angola and Nicaragua.
In 1983 Reagan ordered the invasion of Granada after the communists had overthrown the pro-American government. After finding out that the Libyan government was behind the killing of an American marine in Berlin, Reagan ordered an air strike against Libya. Throughout the 1980s the American government supported the mujahidin fighters of Afghanistan in their struggle against the Soviets by giving them weapons. Reagan spent billions of dollars on rearmament as he started the arms race. By the middle of the decade the Soviets realized that they could no longer keep pace.
The new Soviet leader was Mikhail Gorbachev who wanted to negotiate an end to the arms race and open a new period of détente. In addition the Soviets promised to withdraw from Afghanistan.
In 1984, Reagan won re-election because the economy was doing well and the country loved the strong leadership that Reagan offered.
It was revealed in 1986 that the administration had been illegally selling weapons to Iran in exchange for the freeing of U.S. hostages in Lebanon. Since the money from the sale had to "disappear" it was used to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, another covert operation. After a congressional inquiry, it was reported that the President had no knowledge of the events and his approval ratings remained high.
George H. W. Bush [1989-93] A career politician from Connecticut, he served as Reagan’s Vice-President. Despite his success in foreign affairs President Bush was unable to solve the problems with the economy that remained from the Reagan years. He witnessed the end to the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and a successful Gulf War.
In December 1989, he ordered the invasion of Panama, in which the dictator Manuel Noriega was overthrown, arrested, and transported back to the United States to stand trial for drug trafficking. Bush was instrumental in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which in 1991 reduced the number of nuclear warheads in the United States and Soviet Union.
But Bush’s biggest achievement was a victory over Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the 1990 Gulf War. Iraq had invaded neighboring Kuwait in order to possess her oil reserves. President Bush constructed an alliance of countries that was sanctioned by the United Nations, to remove the Iraqis. Success came in weeks, but Saddam Hussein was left in power, his removal would come almost a decade later at the hands of another President Bush.
Bush did enjoy some success at home with the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Clean Air Act. But he was never able to overcome the domestic problems. On becoming president, Bush faced a budget deficit of over $3 trillion. To address the problem he was forced to raise taxes, a direct violation of a campaign promise. He also had to face the collapse of the savings and loan industry, which had been deregulated by President Reagan.
Despite having an approval rating over 90% at the end of the Gulf War, Bush still lost the 1992 election to the governor of Arkansas, William Clinton. What cost Bush the election was the appearance of Texas billionaire Ross Perot as Third Party candidate who appealed to the conservative Democrats and Republicans. Perot took enough Republican votes away from Bush that Clinton was able to win the election.
William J. Clinton [1993-2001] In the 1992 general election William Clinton campaigned on a platform of domestic reform. He knew that Bush was viewed as ineffective on many domestic issues, but almost untouchable on foreign affairs.
Clinton gave the nation 8 years of unprecedented economic growth. People were willing to ignore any personal flaws or indiscretions so long as the economy was rolling along. His successful economic policies led to a lowering of the deficit and unparalleled economic success at home and abroad.
He focused on trying to balance the budget and reducing the national debt by implementing a tax increase and cutting spending. It worked. He also passed the Crime Bill, which put more police officers on the streets and led to a reduction in crime. It also banned assault weapons and placed controls on the sale of handguns. He passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allowed new parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and similar proposals for looking after a sick relative.
In the congressional elections of 1994 the Republicans took control of both Houses and forced the President to accept compromise. The result was not compromise but deadlock. Twice the government almost shut down because they could not reach an agreement with the President.
He was reelected in 1996 because the Republicans were blamed for the deadlock between the government and the President. Also in 1996, he instigated major welfare reform that forced welfare recipients to find work after being on welfare for 2 years.
In his second term he passed the NAFTA legislation that had been proposed during the Bush administration, despite opposition from his own party. He also inherited a political mess in Somalia where Bush had sent American troops. When 18 American soldiers were killed, Clinton recalled the soldiers.
However problems over his personal life refused to go away and the President continued to make poor decisions. One such scandal was the Whitewater Affair. An independent counsel found the president innocent of any wrong doings, but several of his close friends were charged and convicted of various crimes.
In 1994 a former secretary in Arkansas, Paula Jones, accused Clinton of sexual harassment. Clinton paid the secretary $850,000 to drop the charges. But the biggest scandal involved a 24-year old intern called Monica Lewinsky. In 1998 Clinton denied having an affair with the intern. Lewinsky admitted to the affair and told people that the president had told her to lie about their relationship. When he was forced to appear before a grand jury, the President was caught in a lie when he admitted to the affair. Later he appeared on television and apologized to the nation.
In December 1998 the house of Representative started the impeachment process on the basis that the president obstructed justice and committed perjury. The Senate failed to get the necessary two-thirds votes to remove the president.
George W. Bush [2001- present] The son of the former President Bush ran for governor of Texas in 1994, and won. As governor Bush earned a reputation as a compromiser because he was able to get the Democrats and the Republicans to work together.
Despite stiff opposition Bush won the Republican nomination for the 2000 election. In the election he faced Al Gore, who had been Clinton’s vice-president. The 2000 election will go down in history as one of the most controversial elections ever. Both candidates claimed victory at various times during the day. The television networks awarded Florida to the Democrats before all the votes were counted, a move which made Gore the probable winner. The networks even announced that Gore had won the election. Hours later they switched Florida to the Republicans awarded the election to Bush. Gore even called Bush to congratulate him. Later in the night Gore was told that Bush’s lead was diminishing and so he took back his concession. In the morning neither candidate had won the election and a legal process started that would end in the Supreme Court.
At various times over the next few days both parties wanted recounts or wanted to stop the recounts as they appealed for legal help. Eventually the Supreme Court ruled that there would be no more recounts making Bush the winner in the Electoral College although he did not win the popular vote. Bush was elected President with almost no political experience.