#23 Benjamin Harrison

Life: Aug. 20, 1833 – March 13, 1901

Presidential Years: 1889-1893

Vice President: Levi Morton

The book: Benjamin Harrison (The American Presidents #23) by Charles W. Calhoun 224 pages

Date finished: Dec. 21, 2017

The grandson of William Henry Harrison wasn’t about to meet the same fate as his grandfather. Though it was raining, he was properly dressed and headed inside quickly.

Harrison fought Grover Cleveland for the presidency twice, and technically lost both times. In 1888, he lost the popular vote, but won in the electoral college. In 1892, he lost both.

He is generally seen as a “caretaker president,” existing to keep the office warm between Cleveland’s two terms. But he actually shaped the modern presidency, working seamlessly with Congress and supporting legislation he believed in, even if it wasn’t popular. 

He was basically destined for  the role. His great-grandfather, Benjamin Harrison V, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the first governor of Virginia. Despite some poverty, the younger Benjamin Harrison was well-educated. In a school essay that could be revisited today, he wrote:

“A good criterion for judging the true state of society was how it treated women, for women are appreciated in proportion as society is advanced. In America, a woman is considered a superior being, and in the eyes of many as an angel.”

An interesting take for the 1840s. He graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and began studying law in Cincinnati with Bellamy Storer, a “Henry Clay-Whig”, former Congressman and religious man on par with Harrison. It was here that he began to move toward politics. In 1857 he won his first election, as city attorney for Indianapolis. He had moved to Indy shortly after marrying his wife, Carrie — determined to make a name for himself and claiming he didn’t want to benefit from the Harrison name, though he moved to his grandfather’s home state. He was elected Supreme Court reporter in 1860, but soon left his post to serve as a colonel in the Union Army. He did so on request of the governor, who was dismayed at the lack of volunteers from Indiana and enlisted Harrison to help. While fighting, he returned to Indiana in 64 to run for election to the same position, which Democrats had convinced the state to declare vacant while Harrison was in the army. Harrison won and return to the fighting just as Sherman was sacking Atlanta. 

Harrison seemed to support Lincoln, as he “condemned the Democrats’ notion of state soverignty as a ‘deadly poison’ and “defying the widespread negrophobia in the state, Harrison fervently supported the Emancipation Proclamation and extolled the courageous service of blacks in suppressing the rebellion.”

Indeed, education and voting rights was something he fought for as a politician. He didn’t always succeed, but he was in favor of limited civil rights at a time when it was not popular to be.

As he rose up the ranks of the Republican party in Indiana, he almost was nominated for governor in 1872; was nominated in 1876, but lost the election by 1.1% and became head of the party in Indiana in 1880. He was appointed by Rutherford B. Hayes to the Mississippi River Commission and helped turn the tide for James Garfield at the 1880 national convention. 

It was also in 1880 that he won election to the Senate. In his term, he defended protectionism, advocated for generous pensions for Union vets and supported federal aid for education, particularly in the rural South. He also opposed the Chinese exclusion bill in 1882, although more on Constitutional grounds than on any moral opposition. 

As the 1884 election neared, James Blaine emerged as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Though Harrison got some votes, Blaine emerged victorious. But given his reputation as a pay-for-play politician and the general hatred of him by the public, he lost another election. So the Republicans were having none of it in 1888 and chose Harrison. As it was still the custom for the nominees to pretend they weren’t interested, Harrison wrote a letter of acceptance and conducted a “front porch campaign,” where people came to him to listen to speeches.

The tactic worked as he won the electoral vote by attacking Cleveland’s record of patronage and campaigning on the gold standard (the silver-backers wanted to make silver the monetary standard).

He nominated his old rival Blaine for secretary of state, and Blaine served decently, though he spent most of his time on vacation  in Bar Harbor, Me. Despite desiring to focus on the tariff, gold standard and veterans’ benefits, international affairs intruded. Harrison ended up devoting a lot  of time to Central and South America and implicitly approved the overthrow of Hawaii’s queen — something Cleveland reversed basically the second he got back into office. Two international incidents almost derailed the US standing abroad — in Chile, some American sailors were attacked by Chilean sailors; and in Louisiana, Italian mobsters were acquitted of killing the New Orleans police chief so a mob took justice into its own hands, killing the Italians and Americans. In Chile, the US demanded apologizes and reparations and eventually got it. The scene was reversed in Italy, but after much diplomacy, tensions subsided. He also faced domestic strife with the Battle of Wounded Knee, which was caused by mismanagement and lies from the Indian Affairs director stationed in South Dakota.

On the domestic front, the 51st Congress, which covered Harrison’s first two years, was the most productive in history to that point. It passed 531 laws, including the McKinley Tariff Act, the Dependent Pension Act, the Sherman Antitrust Act and the International Copyright Act. It was criticized as the “Billion Dollar Congress” for its spending — which caused the public to turn on the productive president, leading to Cleveland’s return in 1892.

Harrison’s wife, Caroline, died two weeks before the election, casting a pall over the campaigns. Upon losing the election, Harrison returned to Indiana still relatively young (57) and began practicing law. He continued the special relationship he had had with his wife’s niece, Mary Dimmick. As a senator and president, when “Mame” was in town, they would take long walks together. Harrison’s children didn’t like it because they thought he paid more attention to her than them. They had reason to be suspicious. After leaving the presidency, he spent more and more time  with her and they married in 1896, with none of his children attending.

Harrison became the lead counsel for Venezuela in its border dispute with England and served at the First Hague Peace Convention in 1899. He died in 1901. His wife survived him by nearly 50 years.

States Admitted to the Union: 

  • North Dakota (39) 1889
  • South Dakota (40) 1889
  • Montana (41) 1889
  • Washington (42) 1889
  • Idaho (43) 1890
  • Wyoming (44) 1890

#22 and #24 Grover Cleveland

Life: March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908

Presidential Years: 1885-1889; 1893-1897

Vice President: Thomas A. Hendricks (first term); Adlai Stevenson I (second term)

The book: Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character by Alyn Brodsky (496 pages)

Date finished: Nov. 7, 2017

The only man to serve two, non-consecutive terms as president was a stubborn man who held true to what he believed in, even if his decisions didn’t make sense.  He won the popular vote in three straight elections, which, as we well know, doesn’t always matter.

Stephen Grover Cleveland was born in New Jersey and grew up in New York. After school upstate, he taught at the New York School for the Blind, then moved to Buffalo, where his uncle hooked him up with a clerkship at a law firm Millard Fillmore had worked for. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1859.

He left his law firm job to become district attorney of Erie County, and so began his journey into politics. This also enabled him to avoid serving in the Union Army in Civil War. Though he was drafted in 1864, he paid $300 to get a substitute to go to war for him since he was the main financial support for his mother and sisters.

He soon became sheriff, a post usually reserved for political hacks, but one that earned him higher income, and since Buffalo was home to the “highest concentration of lowlife east of the Ohio River,” he had his work cut out for him.

In 1881, he was elected mayor of Buffalo and began cleaning up corruption, earning his reputation as a reform-minded politician. This led to his election as governor in 1882 and nomination for president in 1884, despite opposition from the Tammany Hall machine in New York City.

Upon his nomination for president in 1884, corruption became a top issue as he opposed James G. Blaine, one of the more corrupt men in politics in the 19th century. While Cleveland campaigned to end corruption and support civil service reform. Republicans assailed him for allegedly fathering a child out of wedlock, which he sort of admitted he did.

His support of the gold standard over silver became a key issue in the election, and he won with 219 electoral votes. He set out to reform the government, refusing to appoint anyone based on a spoils system, but also not firing anyone because they were from the opposing party. Though popular, he faced an opposition Congress and found himself using his veto powers often, especially when it came to sketchy claims by former Civil War soldiers, many of whom were not actually soldiers.

Cleveland was a bachelor upon winning the presidency, however he soon courted the favor of Frances Folsom, whom Cleveland knew from when she was a little girl. He had become executor of her father’s estate after he died and had overseen Frances’ upbringing. Somehow the public was OK with this, and Cleveland is still the only president to be married in the White House.

He nominated two Supreme Court justices during his first term, but also ran afoul of the public because of the tariff issue. His re-election campaign ran badly and Benjamin Harrison took advantage of public dislike of the tariff issue. He lost, but as they left,  Frances Cleveland told a staff member, “I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, for I want to find everything just as it is now, when we come back again.” When asked when she would return, she responded, “We are coming back four years from today.”

They moved to New York City, where Cleveland practiced law and stayed involved in politics. As Harrison passed the protectionist McKinley Tariff act and increased the money backed by silver, rather than gold, Cleveland first stayed silent. But by 1891, he had had enough and published an open letter, later known as the “silver letter,” to address his concerns. This put him back in the spotlight for the 1892 election. The tariff was still an issue, but this time, public view had flipped, as Harrison’s reforms had made imported goods so expensive that the public viewed big business with skepticism.

Cleveland won and immediately got to work reversing the McKinley Tariff act. However, problems at home derailed him. In addition to dealing with voting rights and Hawaii’s annexation (Queen Lilikulani had been overthrown by people associated with Harrison, but Cleveland sought to reverse it; Congress disagreed and he dropped the subject), the Pullman Strike took up his time in 1894. And while the labor dispute and silver coinage issues were taking up his time, Cleveland realized he had soreness on the roof of his mouth. It turned out to be a tumor, and he was operated on in secret on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The procedure nearly killed him and the administration kept it so secret that everyone thought he had a tooth removed for nearly 25 years.

He decided not to run for reelection in 1896 and supported William Jennings Bryan, who would lose to William McKinley. After leaving office in March 1897, he retired to New Jersey, where he briefly served as a trustee at Princeton, where he often clashed with Woodrow Wilson, who was university president. In 1905, he wrote an article opposing women’s rights to vote. He died in 1907. Among his many honors, he appeared on the $1000 bill in the 1920s and 1930s.

States Admitted to the Union: Utah (45) 1896

#21 Chester A. Arthur

Life: October 5, 1829 – November 18, 1886

Presidential Years: 1881-1885

Vice President: None

The book: Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves (500 pages)

Date finished: May 22, 2017

A man no one wanted to be president becomes president. The public has very little faith in him, thinking he’s corrupt and in the pockets of businessmen from New York. Will it turn out OK?

As Arthur ascended to office, one of the prevailing quotes of the day was, “Chet Arthur President of the United States. Good God.”

Before that, he was the son of a preacher. He was born in Vermont and grew up in Albany, N.Y. He joined the Union Army but never really saw battle, getting close while examining troops in the South in 1862. He spent most of his time in the military building political connections.

After the war, he became connected with New York’s governor and was elected to the Century Club, where he “could now meet the likes of J. Pierpont Morgan, the actor Edwin Booth” and others. His election “undoubtedly involved Arthur’s literary proficiency but it mostly bore evidence of his increasing status within the Republican party.”

And that was a positive for Arthur, as it was a time when Tammany Hall had a firm grip on all of New York’s politics.

“The postwar years were infected with corruption; the decay of standards seems to have been triggered by the cynicism that followed the crusade to end slavery and the emergence of Big Business. … The Gilded Age was fire with thievery, bribery, fraud and personal irresponsibility.”

And though by all accounts, Arthur, a snappy dresser who was devoted to his wife even after she died in 1880 and was fervently anti-slavery, was hardly an irresponsible man, he did partner with some of the shadiest, self-promoting characters in the country. His rise up the Republican Party ranks after the war set the stage for two lifelong relationships — a friendship with the irascible Roscoe Conkling and a rivalry with James G. Blaine.

His partnership with Conkling began in earnest 1868 upon Arthur’s appointment as chairman of the New York City Republican executive committee. Ulysses S. Grant appointed Arthur to the “lucrative and politically powerful” New York port Collector, solidifying him as a member of the Republican Party’s Stalwart faction. Collector was an important job, but also one that lined his and many others’ pockets, as he took a cut from every item that came through the port.

The Stalwarts controlled the majority of the party and reigned in a machine that doled out jobs through patronage. In fact, their only real platform was keeping the spoils system intact. But when Rutherford B. Hayes became president, he aimed to remove the patronage system as he had removed liquor from the White House — quickly and with much fanfare. He fired Arthur from his post and issued an executive order forbidding federal employees from managing political campaigns and requiring “donations” to campaigns. This set up a huge fight with Conkling, who initially was going to run for president in 1880, and James Blaine, a reform-minded senator who also was running.

The 1880 Republican convention was a stalemate until votes started moving over for James Garfield. To placate the Stalwarts in the party, he offered the vice presidency to Arthur. Conkling tried to persuade Arthur to decline, but Arthur, saying “the office of the Vice-President is a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining,” accepted.

The race was close, but Garfield prevailed. Arthur used his connections–and more importantly, his money–to secure victory in New York and, likely, the country.

Arthur wanted Garfield to fill federal jobs with Stalwarts and worked hard to secure the secretary of treasury for the Stalwarts, but not only would Garfield not agree (even though the Stalwarts claimed he had promised them a position upon his nomination), he appointed Blaine as secretary of state. To make matters worse for the Stalwarts, Democrats had an advantage in the Senate due to four vacancies. With their newfound, if not permanent, majority, the Democrats moved fast to establish a speaker and gain control of the Senate. Conkling continued to try to influence the process, trying to delay votes and get his cronies nominated to important posts. When Garfield continued to refuse him, he and New York’s other senator, Thomas Platt, resigned in protest. It didn’t work, and their careers were over.

And Arthur’s was just beginning. He was in Albany on July 2 when Garfield was shot and laid low while Garfield hung onto life for the next few months. No one seriously believed that Charles Guiteau had shot Garfield to get Arthur in office, but there were still rumblings that patronage would make a comeback under President Arthur.

To everyone’s surprise—and especially Conkling’s—that didn’t happen. Though many assumed he’d revert back to his ways, especially after he was linked to the 1870s Star Route scandal, in which remote post offices were set up with low bids and grossly overpaid for their services, he came to champion civil service reform. In fact, he was preparing to be a good legislator while Garfield suffered. After attending Garfield’s funeral, he sent a sealed envelope requesting a special session of Congress to name a President Pro Tempore in the event that he died en route to Washington, since there was no vice president. He later destroyed the envelope and though the Senate did fill its empty seats, he never had a vice president.

Arthur worked with Congress on immigration reform and vetoed a measure to severely restrict Chinese immigration to the US. The Senate propose an all-out ban of 20 years, but Arthur said it was too harsh. He did approve a revised ban of 10 years and signed that into law, however. He also worked to build up the navy, establish relations with Central and South America and brokered peace between Mexico and Guatemala.

Arthur’s sister, Mary Arthur McElroy served as White House hostess. Arthur liked fancy dress, a good drink and a good party and threw many shindigs as president.

But he also was a sound legislator. Or as Journalist Alexander McClure wrote, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired … more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe.”

Shortly after his inauguration, he was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease, a serious kidney ailment that he was able to keep secret until 1883 when he began to show signs of weakness and weight loss. He began to take trips to Florida in the hopes that he’d get better. He decided against running for election in 1884 and retired to New York, where the Stalwarts tried to get him to run for Senate, but he declined. He died in 1886.

States Admitted to the Union: None

#20 James Garfield

Life: November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881

Presidential Years: 1881

Vice President: Chester A. Arthur

The book: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (339 pages)

Date finished: Feb. 7, 2017

In a train station in Washington, DC, just weeks into his presidency, James Garfield was shot by an insane man who believed he was doing God’s and Garfield’s enemies’ work. Ten doctors immediately rushed to his aide. And if they had done nothing, Garfield would have survived. Instead, they poked and prodded him with unsanitary fingers and probes, relentlessly for hours, days, weeks, months. Garfield’s body filled with pus and infection and in September 1881, he died from infection, not his assassin’s bullet, which his body had isolated on his left side. Doctors kept probing his right side, convinced that his bullet was underneath his liver. In fact, it was behind his pancreas and caused him no danger.

While sterilization was a source of discussion in the medical community– Joseph Lister had been “traveling the world, proving the source of infection and pleading with physicians to sterilize their hands and instruments,” most doctors in the US shunned his theories. The first doctor “inserted an unsterilized finger into the wound in his back, causing a small hemorrhage and almost certainly introducing an infection that was far more lethal than Guiteau’s bullet.”

Alexander Graham Bell was even brought in to test his new induction machine on the president in the hopes of finding the bullets. But Garfield’s controlling doctor, Bliss, would only allow him to examine the side he believed the bullet was in. In fact, Bliss made all of the doctors leave, downgraded Garfield’s family doctors essentially to nurses and controlled the information so strongly that it wasn’t until the very end that the nation knew just how bad it was.

Born into poverty in Ohio, James Garfield was destined for a life of education leadership. He graduated with honors from Williams College and came back to Ohio to teach at the Eclectic Institute, where he became school president at 26. But in 1859, a state senator died and Garfield was asked to stand for election. He won the election and then joined the Union Army, where he earned a promotion to colonel by 30. In his first major battle, his Ohio troops were outmanned by troops in Kentucky. But by studying the maps, he developed a strategy that made it seem that the army was bigger than it was and he scored a major victory.

While still in the army, he was elected to Congress, but stayed on the battlefield until Abraham Lincoln personally asked him to come to Washington in 1863. As a politician, he was known as a great speaker. He was also fully anti-slavery.

“Although Garfield had chosen a life of calm, rational thought, when it came to abolition he freely admitted that he had “never been anything else than radical.” He found it difficult to condemn even the most violent abolitionists, men like John Brown whose hatred of slavery allowed for any means of destroying it.”

In 1880, he was tasked with giving the nominating speech for John Sherman at the Republican Convention. But his speech was so great–and opposed Roscoe Conkling, leader of the Stalwarts, a segment of the party that favored the spoils system–that he was held up for nomination instead. The balloting lasted two days  and after more than 60 ballots, “Garfield was left with 399 votes, 20 more than were needed to win. Having never agreed to become even a candidate— on the contrary, having vigorously resisted it— he was suddenly the nominee.”

Meanwhile, Charles Guiteau, a grifter, conman and sometime preacher was stalking Garfield, convinced first that he would give him an ambassadorship because he plagiarized a speech and gave it once, which convinced him he helped elected the president. When that failed, he became convinced that God told him to kill the president to help Arthur and the Stalwarts gain the office. As the two men’s lives ran in parallel, Garfield assumed the White House, complete with a view of the unfinished Washington Monument. The White House was also in disrepair and Lucretia Garfield convinced Congress to give her the $30,000 it would not give Lucy Hayes for needed repairs.

Because of his desire to improve education in the South and finish joining them back into the Union, he was seen as president by North and South. It was the first time in a long time that had happened, and made his assassination all the worse.

States Admitted to the Union: None

#19 Rutherford B. Hayes

Life: October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893

Presidential Years: 1877-1881

Vice President: William A. Wheeler

The book: Rutherford B. Hayes and His America by Harry Barnard (606 pages)

Date finished: Dec. 21, 2016

Rutherford B. Hayes is one of those forgotten presidents who, when you learn about him, you wonder why. He had some interesting views–he was a teetotaller, sort of and mostly because his wife wanted him to be; he thought Ohio was the greatest thing in the world; and he very much cared about education and social justice. He was a very accomplished lawyer, soldier and politician and was the only president to be wounded in the Civil War.

And mirroring recent events, his victory in the 1876 was one of the most contentious ever. He lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden, although because of voter suppression in the South, it’s not completely known who actually won the popular vote. He won the electoral college after a Congressional Commission, conveniently formed of more Republicans than Democrats, awarded him 20 contested electoral votes.

But unlike some today, he did believe in education for all.

“Hayes point—that it was difficult for a demagogue to manipulate an educated electorate—was well taken. Demagogues routinely exploited poor southern whites by plaing the race card when there were issues in which poor blacks and poor whites shared common interests.”

He helped found Ohio State University, sat on two major educational boards and championed equal rights for blacks and education for the poor. He also tried to eliminate the spoils system in government and civil service, believing that everyone should be in a meritocracy, regardless of race or status. He met with limited success.

Hayes married Lucy Webb in 1852 and often spoke of his love for her throughout his life. They had been married nearly 40 years when she died in 1889.

Before politics, he was a lawyer and Cincinnati solicitor from 1858-61. He felt drawn to the military at the beginning of the Civil War and served as an officer. He served in Congress from 1865-67 and as governor of Ohio from 1868-77, serving three terms. His first term, he was still in the Army when elected. When urged to abandon the Army to campaign, he reportedly said, “an officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress ought to be scalped.”


As president, he followed his wife’s lead and made the White House dry, allowing some to quip that the “water flowed like wine.” He tried to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments but congress didn’t want to provide military support or monetary support for education to the South. And he had to deal with the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, which prompted workers from numerous railroads to walk off their jobs and started riots in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis. Hayes was reluctant to send in federal troops until the governor requested them. Ultimately he did send in federal troops to put down the riots and public opinion forced the railroads to improve benefits and not cut service.

Hayes trusted Interior Secretary Carl Schurz with the American Indian policy, preventing the War Department from taking over the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Their policies included assimilation, education and household land division. Hays wanted the Native Americas to be self-sufficient and have peace with whites. He dealt with uprisings by the Nez Perce, Utes, Ponca and Sioux over land disputes.

In 1880, he and Lucy took a 71-day tour of the American West. This made him the first sitting president to go west of the Rockies. They took the railroad from Chicago to Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. After visiting Sacramento and San Francisco, they went to Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., then Seattle and San Francisco. On the way back to Washington, he stopped in Ohio to vote in the 1880 presidential election. But he wasn’t running–having promised to only serve one term. So he voted for fellow Ohioan James Garfield. He was happy to have another Ohioan in office and mentored both Garfield and future Ohioan president William McKinley.  After leaving office, he Hayes advocated for federal education subsidies for all children. He believed only education could raise people out of poverty and ignorance. 


He also oversaw the building of the Washington Monument, whose design continued to change and sometimes suffered from funding issues. But not under Hayes.

After his presidency, he spoke in favor of education and against the disparity between rich and poor. He died in 1893 on trip to give a speech.

Fun facts: He was the first president to have a telephone and a typewriter in the White House and was the first president to visit the West Coast. He loved Oregon.

States Admitted to the Union: None

#18 Ulysses S. Grant

Life: April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885

Presidential Years: 1869-1877

Vice President: Schuyler Colfax, Henry Wilson

The book: Grant: A Biography by William S. McFeely (608 pages)

Date finished: July 1, 2016

War Hero. Business Failure. President with corrupt administration. Tried to annex the Dominican Republic to make it Liberia. But also championed racial harmony and presided over the longest stretch of war-free presidency to that point.

Both complicated and misunderstood, Grant was a celebrated war-hero, a failure in business and known to have led the most corrupt presidential administration until Harding’s in the 1920s. But he was not a drunk as everyone said. He was not simple, and he liked to disappoint his detractors, especially his father.

He went into West Point at 16. In 1843, he graduated from West Point and was assigned to St. Louis. He served in the Mexican–American War  where he became known for his horsemanship and bravery. He also began studying military strategy. After the war, he was stationed in Detroit and then in Oregon, where he went by himself since his wife Julia was pregnant. He was miserable and considered quitting the military. He started a number of business ventures but they all failed. He retired in 1854 but rejoined the Army for the Civil War and quickly took Kentucky and Tennessee for the Union. In 1863, he seized Vicksburg and earned control of the Mississippi River. In 1864, he was promoted to lieutenant general and commanding general of the US Army. After victories in Virginia and Sherman’s march to the sea, Robert E. Lee surrendered to him at Appomattox in 1865. 

As Lincoln looked toward the 1864 election, he worried that Grant may try to take the nomination from him, but Grant was not interested in leaving the Army yet. After the Civil War, Grant remained commander of the Army and oversaw Reconstruction in the South. He also opposed Andrew Johnson’s attempts remove Stanton as war secretary and install Grant in the position. This move gave him the upper hand in the 1868 election, which Grant won handily.

As president, Grant urged Congress to pass the 14th amendment, created the Justice Department to enforce laws in the South, passed the Enforcement Acts to weaken the Ku Klux Klan, enacted a peace policy toward Native Americans and named Ely Parker, a Native American, to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tried to annex the Dominican Republic for the United States. But Congress wouldn’t appropriate the money. He tried to set monetary policy and passed laws that established the gold standard.

But his administration was also tarnished by corruption, as the pace of expansion in railroads, oil and steel led to government corruption. Although he was never implicated, many members of his administration and the government were. Grant decided not to run for a third term and was replaced by Rutherford B. Hayes.

The Grants embarked on a world tour, where they were celebrated everywhere they went. Grant came home to try to run for a third term but did not win the Republican nomination. So he went home to New York City and worked on his memoirs. Throat cancer killed him in 1885.

States Admitted to the Union:

  • Colorado (38) 1876

#17 Andrew Johnson

Life: December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875

Presidential Years: 1865-1869

Vice President: None

The book: Andrew Johnson (The American Presidents, #17) by Annette Gordon-Reed (192 pages)

Date finished: January 12, 2016

When your boss says to Congress,  “oh don’t worry, he ain’t a drunk” when you show up to be inaugurated as vice president, perhaps it’s a sign that your political career isn’t going well. That’s what Abraham Lincoln said upon Johnson showing up drunk on whiskey to the 1865 presidential inauguration, his first as vice president.

A few weeks later, he’d be president. He was a complete contrast to Lincoln — Democrat, southern, not really feeling the whole Reconstruction thing. He became the first president to be impeached, though he avoided prosecution by one vote.

Before turning to politics, Johnson was a poor man in North Carolina and Tennessee. He was a mayor, US rep and senator as well as governor of Tennessee.  Because he was the only confederate senator not to resign his seat when his state seceded, Lincoln named him military governor of Tennessee, an important border state.

After Lincoln’s assassination, he was sworn in three hours later. Johnson changed course on reconstructions, enacting proclamations allowing the states to hold elections to renew their governments, leading to the return of many old leaders and black codes to deprive blacks of freedom. He opposed the 14th Amendment, which gave former slaves citizenship and vetoed bills intended to deprive southern states of racist representation. In response to his moves, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which lowered the president’s ability to fire Cabinet members. Still, he tried to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, leading the House to impeach him. Though he lost the 1868 election to Grant, he was elected senator again in 1875.  

States Admitted to the Union:

  • Nebraska (37) 1864