Forgotten presidents, part 1
actions regarding slavery.
Numbers 4 and 5, James Madison and James Monroe, have always been overshadowed by their predecessors. They got some things done, though. Madison is primarily responsible for the checks and balances that are possible with our three branches of government. Monroe is the man behind the doctrine that basically kept European countries from interfering with our business, and kept us from interfering with theirs. And in an ironic historical footnote, Monroe died on the 4th of July, becoming the third of our first five presidents (along with Adams and Jefferson) to do so.
Number 6, John Quincy Adams was best known for being the son of Number 2, John Adams. They had their own exclusive club until the Bushes came along. JQ was fluent in six languages, and you can also thank him for purchasing Florida from Spain. Some Vols football fans wish he had left it alone.
Next came “Old Hickory,” Andrew Jackson who dismantled the national bank, yet somehow ended up on the $20 bill. Some believed he was a war hero (others had their doubts), and he believed the earth was flat. But he lowered the national debt, which may have helped him win a second term.
Numbers 8 through 15 are largely forgotten, for various reasons. Martin Van Buren led the nation into an economic depression, and failed to win another term. William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia on his inauguration day, giving a two hour speech in freezing weather, and died a month later.
Harrison’s VP John Tyler was the first man to assume the presidency following the death of an incumbent, and accomplished little. He mostly vetoed the bills Congress had passed, and ended up getting kicked out of his own party.
James Polk was another one-term president, but that’s all he wanted. He came to office with a handful of goals, and achieved them all. His policies helped fix the economy, and he expanded the nation westward into several states. Three months after happily leaving office, he died at age 53 from intestinal issues.
“Old Rough and Ready” Zachary Taylor fought in several wars, supported Native American causes, and tried to keep a divided nation together, but died less than two years after taking office. He was succeeded by his vice president, Millard Fillmore. It turned out that he and Taylor were total opposites, and Taylor’s entire cabinet resigned when Fillmore took over. It is widely believed Fillmore helped accelerate the tensions that would lead to the Civil War.
When Number 14, Franklin Pierce took over in 1853, the slavery issue was heating up, and he too fanned the flames. He was also arrested for running over a woman with his horse, while he was president. He’s lucky cable news wasn’t around back then.
He was followed by James Buchanan, the final president in this largely forgotten, and forgettable category. Historians have a hard time finding anything positive to say about his one term (1857 to 1861) in office. While Buchanan was president, seven states (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana) seceded from the Union. Buchanan didn’t seem to care.
Abraham Lincoln’s tragic, but courageous wartime presidency has been well documented in books and movies, and he was faced with challenges like no president before him. Next week, we’ll pick up after the Civil War with more presidential studs and duds.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Chattanooga Radio and Television” and “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. Books are available at ChattanoogaRadioTV.com, or by sending $23 each to David Carroll Book, 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405. You may contact David at email@example.com.