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Profiles: US presidents through the years

  • 1789 to 1825

    Painting of the signing of the U.S. Constitution

    George Washington (I)

    1789-1797

    George Washington led the colonial forces against Britain in the American Revolutionary War (1775-83). Following victory, he presided over the convention that drafted the United States Constitution and became the first and only president to be unanimously elected, receiving all 69 electoral votes in 1788.

    John Adams (F)

    1797-1801

    A signatory of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Adams, as a diplomat in Europe, helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris (1783), which officially ended the Revolutionary War, and he became the first US ambassador to Britain. Upon his return to the US, he served two terms as vice-president, before his own election to office in 1796.

    Thomas Jefferson (D-R)

    1801-1809

    Jefferson is recognised as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and a visionary among the Founding Fathers. He served as the first US Secretary of State (1789-94) and as the country’s second vice-president under John Adams. His presidency is marked by the purchase of Louisiana Territory from France (1803).

    James Madison (D-R)

    1809-1817

    Known as the Father of the Constitution for his role in drafting the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. With Jefferson, Madison founded in 1792 what was to become the Republican Party and later served under Jefferson as Secretary of State. During his presidency, Madison led the US into the War of 1812 against Britain.

    James Monroe (D-R)

    1817-1825

    The last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, Monroe oversaw rapid westward expansion of the country. He issued a key foreign policy declaration in the Monroe Doctrine (1823) — a warning to European nations against interference in US interests in the western hemisphere.


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1825 to 1845

    John Quincy Adams (D-R)

    1825-1829

    The son of former president John Adams is recognised as one of America’s greatest diplomats, negotiating many international treaties prior to his presidency and formulating foreign policy as Secretary of State under James Monroe. Adams developed into an outspoken opponent of slavery during his political career and predicted the Union’s dissolution over the issue

    Andrew Jackson (D)

    1829-1837

    Known as the “People’s President”, Jackson became a war hero after defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He is known for founding the Democratic Party and for his support of individual liberty, but is also remembered for his role in implementing the “Trail of Tears” – the forced removal of Native American people from the southeast to new lands west of the Mississippi

    Martin Van Buren (D)

    1837-1841

    Van Buren served as Secretary of State and Vice President under Andrew Jackson before being elected president in 1836 – he was the first president to be born a U.S. citizen rather than a British subject. He is credited with playing a key role in organizing the Democratic Party but his presidency was marred by a financial panic which gripped the nation in 1837

    William Henry Harrison (W)

    1841

    Best known for his military service against Native American tribes on the U.S. frontier, Harrison had the shortest tenure of any American president. He delivered the longest ever inaugural speech – lasting nearly two hours – in freezing rain, and died of pneumonia 32 days after being sworn in. He was the first U.S. president to die in office

    John Tyler (W)

    1841-1845

    John Tyler was the first vice president to succeed to the office of President due to the death of his predecessor. A political maverick, he refused to give allegiance to any party and finished his presidency as an independent. He annexed the Republic of Texas, making it the 28th U.S. state


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1845 to 1861

    James K. Polk (D)

    1845-1849

    The first “dark horse” candidate to be elected to the presidency, Polk became one of the most successful U.S. presidents, keeping all of his campaign promises. During his tenure, the U.S. increased in size by over a third as a result of securing the Oregon Territory from Britain, and victory in the Mexican-American War (1846-48), which gave the country much of the present-day Southwest

    Zachary Taylor (W)

    1849-1850

    Known as “Old Rough and Ready” by the men under his command, Taylor had a 40-year military career in the U.S. Army and became a war hero as a result of his leadership in the Mexican-American War. Elected president in 1848 as a result of his extreme popularity, he died only 16 months after taking office

    Millard Fillmore (W)

    1850-1853

    Became Vice President under Zachary Taylor, assuming the presidency after Taylor’s death in 1850. He was the last member of the Whig party to hold the office of president. Although personally opposed to slavery, Fillmore signed the controversial Compromise of 1850 in order to preserve the Union, but his enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act alienated voters in the North

    Franklin Pierce (D)

    1853-1857

    Coming to office in a period of growing tension between the North and South, Pierce failed to deal effectively with the crisis over slavery. His signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 – which undid previous legislation limiting the expansion of slavery – outraged many Northerners and did much to set the nation on a path to civil war

    James Buchanan (D)

    1857-1861

    Served as Secretary of State under James Polk and appointed ambassador to Britain by Franklin Pierce before being nominated for president in 1856. As the country moved towards civil war, Buchanan’s efforts to maintain peace between the North and South alienated both sides and the Southern states began seceding from the Union, forming the Confederate States of America in 1861


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1861 to 1881

    Abraham Lincoln (R/NU)

    1861-1865

    One of America’s greatest presidents and heroes, Abraham Lincoln led the nation through the Civil War – its bloodiest conflict – preserving the Union and bringing about the emancipation of slaves, while promoting economic modernization. With Union forces on the brink of victory, Lincoln was fatally shot by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth while he was watching a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C.

    Andrew Johnson (D/NU)

    1865-1869

    Became the 17th president of the United States upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. Johnson was the first U.S. president to be impeached, in 1868, after falling foul of the Republican-dominated Congress over his efforts to quickly incorporate the southern states back into the Union. He was acquitted by just one vote

    Ulysses S. Grant (R)

    1869-1877

    U.S. general and commander of the Union armies during the late years of the American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant – at the age of 46 – was the youngest president elected up to that time. As president, Grant worked to reconstruct the nation and protect the rights of newly-freed  slaves, although his two terms were marred by scandals caused by corrupt associates

    Rutherford B. Hayes (R)

    1877-1881

    Hayes is best known for winning one of the most controversial elections in U.S. history, which had to be determined by Congressional commission, giving Hayes the presidency by just one electoral vote. As President, he brought an end to the period of reconstruction after the Civil War and took steps to deal with civil service corruption

    James A. Garfield (R)

    1881

    Garfield served as a general in the Union army during the Civil War and a Congressman from 1863-81, but his tenure as president was the second shortest in U.S. history. In July 1881 Garfield was shot and incapacitated by Charles Guiteau, a mentally deranged lawyer. He survived for almost three months before succumbing to his injuries, serving just 200 days in office


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1881 to 1901

    Chester A. Arthur (R)

    1881-1885

    Elected Vice President in 1880, Arthur acceded to the presidency upon the assassination of President James A. Garfield. As president, Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (1883), which provided for the open appointment and promotion of federal employees based on merit rather than patronage

    Grover Cleveland (D)

    1885-1889

    Grover Cleveland is the only U.S. president to win two non-consecutive terms, and also the only Democrat to become president during the era of Republican domination that lasted from 1861-1913. Cleveland continued the civil service reform of his predecessor, and distinguished himself as a politician of integrity, working to tackle government waste and fraud

    Benjamin Harrison (R)

    1889-1893

    Harrison was the only president whose grandfather (William Henry Harrison) had also been president, and his administration is chiefly remembered for the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 – the first legislation to prohibit abusive monopolies. Harrison was a protectionist who favoured high tariffs – duties on imported goods were increased by up to 50% – and his economic policies may have contributed to the depression that struck the country after he left office

    Grover Cleveland (D)

    1893-1897

    Two weeks into Cleveland’s second term, the stock market crashed, sparking a four-year economic depression, the worst the U.S. had ever experienced at the time. Unemployment soared as thousands of businesses went under, and Cleveland’s popularity waned, opening the way for a Republican landslide in the 1896 election

    William McKinley (R)

    1897-1901

    McKinley’s administration ushered in a new world order – with the U.S. becoming increasingly active in global affairs and acquiring an overseas empire – including Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines – after a brief war with Spain in 1898. The economy was booming again and McKinley was easily re-elected in 1900, but his second term was cut short when he was shot and fatally wounded by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, in September 1901


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1901 to 1929

    Theodore Roosevelt (R)

    1901-1909

    At age 42, Teddy Roosevelt became the youngest man to assume the U.S. presidency, following the assassination of William McKinley. Roosevelt aimed to balance the needs of the working class with those of business, and he was a committed conservationist, adding millions of acres to the nation’s forest reserve. In foreign policy, he ensured the construction of the Panama Canal and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the Russo-Japanese War

    William Howard Taft (R)

    1909-1913

    Chosen by Theodore Roosevelt to succeed him and carry on the progressive Republican agenda, Taft won an easy victory in his 1908 bid for the presidency. However, he alienated many liberal Republicans – including Roosevelt – contributing to a split in the party ranks in 1912. In 1921, Taft achieved a lifelong ambition when he was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. – becoming the only person to hold that title and the office of President

    Woodrow Wilson (D)

    1913-1921

    A scholar and university professor, Woodrow Wilson enjoyed a meteoric rise to the nation’s highest office. He guided America through World War I and helped to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, which provided for the League of Nations – a precursor to the United Nations. Wilson also pursued an ambitious domestic reform agenda, creating the Federal Reserve and signing the 19th Amendment, allowing women to vote

    Warren G. Harding (R) 

    1921-1923

    A successful newspaper publisher, Harding promised a postwar “return to normalcy” in his 1920 campaign and was elected by an unprecedented 60 percent of the popular vote. As President, he reduced the national debt and immigration, but served for less than three years, dying suddenly in 1923. After his death, several scandals emerged which damaged the legacy of his administration

    Calvin Coolidge (R)

    1923-1929

    Coolidge took office on the sudden death of Warren G. Harding, continuing the conservative pro-business policies of his predecessor. Nicknamed “Silent Cal” for his quiet demeanour, Coolidge restored public faith in the White House after the scandals of the previous administration and remained popular throughout his presidency


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1929 to 1963

    Herbert Hoover (R)

    1929-1933

    Renowned for his humanitarian work during World War I, and for his role in the construction of the Hoover Dam as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover was elected on a wave of popularity which lasted just seven months – wiped out by the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. Hoover’s administration was blamed for failing to alleviate the suffering of millions during the Great Depression and he was easily beaten by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 election

    Franklin D. Roosevelt (D)

    1933-1945

    Franklin D. Roosevelt was the only U.S. president to be elected four times. He led the United States through the Great Depression, implementing a programme of federal aid and reform known as the New Deal. During World War II he was the principal architect of the alliance between the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union that gained victory over Nazi Germany, and he laid the groundwork for an enduring postwar peace in what would become the United Nations. Roosevelt died in office in April 1945

    Harry S. Truman (D)

    1945-1953

    Following Roosevelt’s death, Truman led America during the final months of World War II, making the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan. Truman agreed to help rebuild postwar Europe through the Marshall Plan, but increasing tensions with the Soviet Union led to the Cold War and U.S. involvement in the Korean War (1950-53)

    Dwight D. Eisenhower (R)

    1953-1961

    Eisenhower came to the presidency as a war hero, having commanded the Allied forces in Europe during World War II. In office, he helped bring about an end to the Korean War, but the Cold War continued to intensify, along with a nuclear arms race. At home, America enjoyed a period of relative prosperity and scientific innovation, although Eisenhower was criticized for being too cautious over implementing civil rights legislation

    John F. Kennedy (D)

    1961-1963

    John F. Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the presidency, at the age of 43. Less than three years later, he became the youngest president to die in office. In his short time as president, Kennedy faced mounting Cold War tensions – particularly in Cuba and Vietnam. Among his achievements were the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and federal support for the civil rights movement. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1963 to 1989

    Lyndon B. Johnson (D)

    1963-1969

    Lyndon B. Johnson took office upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, completing Kennedy’s term and being elected President in his own right in 1964. During his administration he signed the Civil Rights Act (1964) – ending segregation in schools, work sites, and public places – and implemented many social reforms, but his popularity plummeted as a result of increasing American troop losses in Vietnam

    Richard Nixon (R)

    1969-1974

    Nixon served two terms as Vice President under Dwight D. Eisenhower and finally made it to the White House after narrowly losing to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Nixon ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam, improved relations with Russia and China, and presided over the moon landings, but his administration ended in disgrace over the Watergate affair and Nixon resigned to avoid almost certain impeachment. He is the only president ever to resign from office

    Gerald Ford (R)

    1974-1977

    Following the resignation of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford became the first unelected president in U.S. history – having been appointed vice president in 1973 under the terms of the 25th Amendment when Nixon’s original vice president resigned. Ford worked to restore public confidence in the presidency after the Watergate scandal but his approval rating suffered after he controversially gave Nixon a full pardon. He was narrowly defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election

    Jimmy Carter (D)

    1977-1981

    Jimmy Carter was elected to the presidency without any previous federal government experience, and at a time when the country was facing a number of challenges – including an energy crisis and a deteriorating economic situation. Carter’s main achievement was the 1978 Camp David Accords, which brought peace between Israel and Egypt, but he was perceived as weak in other issues, particularly the Iran hostage crisis (1979-81)

    Ronald Reagan (R)

    1981-1989

    At 69 years of age, former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan was the oldest person to be elected president. America prospered under his leadership, experiencing economic growth and strengthened national defence. He improved relations with the Soviet Union, negotiating a nuclear arms reduction treaty – many believe his diplomacy helped to bring an end to the Cold War. He survived an assassination attempt in 1981


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union

  • 1989 to 2017

    George H. W. Bush (R)

    1989-1993

    A naval aviator during World War II, Bush held a variety of government posts before becoming president, including Director of the CIA. His presidency was chiefly consumed with foreign affairs, with a successful military operation in Panama (1989) and the U.S.-led campaign to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from Kuwait (1990-91). However, his popularity at home was affected by economic recession and he lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton (D)

    1993-2001

    The first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term, Clinton presided over the country’s longest period of peacetime economic expansion. In 1998 he became the second U.S. president to be impeached – over a scandal involving a White House intern – but was acquitted in 1999 and left office with the highest approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II

    George W. Bush (R)

    2001-2009

    Eldest son of the 41st U.S. President, George W. Bush won the presidency in an extremely close and controversial race against Democratic challenger Al Gore. Bush’s time in office was defined by the attacks of September 11, 2001, and his subsequent global war on terror, establishing the Department of Homeland Security and leading the U.S. into protracted and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

    Barack Obama (D)

    2009-2017

    With a campaign message of hope and change, Barack Obama became the first African American to serve as president, focusing on health care reform at home and the fallout from the global economic crisis. Grappling with a Republican-controlled Congress blocked his legislative path in his second term but key achievements included brokering a nuclear deal with Iran, and the rapprochement with Cuba

    Hillary Clinton (D) or Donald Trump (R)

    2017

    Either Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump will be elected as the 45th President of the United States. Clinton would be the first woman President, while Trump would be the first occupant of the White House since Eisenhower with no prior experience of political office. The successful candidate will be sworn in on January 20, 2017


    Key: (I) Independent, (F) Federalist, (D) Democrat, (R) Republican, (D-R) Democrat-Republican, (W) Whig, (NU) National Union