Since George Washington, the United States has always been led by a president. A president of The United States differs from other heads of state in many key ways. First of all, the job is not inherited. Presidents are not kings. Secondly, presidents are all commanders in chief, which prime ministers are not. American presidents have the awesome power of the American military at their fingertips, so their words carry tremendous weight. Finally, presidents hold a ceremonial significance that almost no other heads of state have, outside kings and queens.
In the old days, it was believed that our politicians would be "gentlemen farmers" who would take turns in office, returning to their routine lives. This has quickly become a laughable idea. Some of our politicians and indeed some of our presidents were lifelong creatures of the capital, learning where to find the levers of power and how to use them. No president is as effective as one who knows where the bodies are buried.
So how is your knowledge of these historic men? Do you know your dynasties from your one-offs? Your major impact players from your flashes in the pan? How much do you really know about POTUS? Take this quiz to find out!
This "childless father" was noted for his legs, and being our first president. Who was he?
Nailed it! George Washington was our commander in chief during the revolution, and later became our first president. The richest man in the country, Washington had no heirs, save all the people who would ever call themselves Americans. In his lifetime, he was noted for his lovely legs, as people would enjoy watching him dance.
This brash real estate magnate has been married three times. Who is he?
Donald J. Trump, New York real estate developer, reality show host, and swearer of "til death do we part" three times is indeed our current POTUS. He was sworn in February, 2017.
This lawyer, political theorist, and founding father was our second president. Who was he?
John Adams was a bit of a sacrificial lamb when he was elected president. The presidency wasn't as powerful then as it is now, and his election was part of a larger machination to dismantle his political party, and it worked.
This former Arkansas governor saw his reputation seriously damaged because of a dalliance with an intern. Who is he?
Bill Clinton was a wildly popular president while in office. In 2000, polls indicated that if he could run again, he would win. In his second term, when the economy was booming and everyone seemed pretty happy with things, the Kenneth Starr investigation found that Clinton had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.
The current POTUS accused this president of being born outside of the United States. This president was the first black POTUS, and was noted for his brand of "cool" while in office. Who is he?
Barack Obama, the first black POTUS, was dogged by claims he was illegitimately elected all eight years of his time in office. All these claims turned out to be false, generated by right-wing forces. While in office, he passed major health care legislation called the Affordable Care Act, but often referred to as Obamacare. His successor has attempted to undo the legislation, but so far, failed.
This former head of the Screen Actors Guild was governor of California and a Democrat before being elected president. Who was he?
Ronald Reagan was a former actor who never quite achieved leading man status, but outside acting he was a competent leader of SAG and the state of California, which led inexorably to the White House. At a dinner after his election to the governor's mansion, he asked Warner Brothers head Jack Warner if he thought that Reagan was now leading man material. "No, Ron. I don't," was the response of the laconic studio mogul.
This president, known by his initials, is credited with defeating Hitler and enacting an era of mid-century liberal politics. Who was he?
Building on a family legacy, Franklin D. Roosevelt packed the Supreme Court with justices friendly to the sweeping legislation he felt he needed to pass to dig the U.S. out of the Great Depression, then he was forced into World War 2, where he had to take on the Nazi war machine and the Empire of Japan at the same time, all while pretending he wasn't paralyzed, which of course, he was.
This president's assassination became legendary, sparking many conspiracy theories, books, films, and family arguments. His legacy was the Civil Rights Bill, which was passed by his successor. Who was he?
JFK symbolized a new politics, being one of the youngest presidents ever elected. He pushed for massive changes, and appointed his brother the head of the Justice Department, where he began taking on the mob and union corruption. Then, in Dallas, 1963, his life ended in dramatic fashion.
This former general went by a folksy nickname, and warned against the power of the "Military Industrial Complex." Who was he?
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a heroic general in World War 2, immortalized in statues all over Europe. He had a singular perspective on the military, since he was part of the expansion of the military during WW2. In his farewell address in 1961, he warned the nation of the power of forces that would encourage us to waste our resources on the military in dangerous provocative ways, dubbing those entities "The Military Industrial Complex".
This president was derided for saying things like "strategery" and making up nicknames for people who he couldn't be bothered to remember by name. His greatest political blunder was landing a jet on an aircraft carrier with a banner reading "Mission Accomplished" long before his war of choice would come to a close. Who is he?
George W. Bush was the last of the Bush political dynasty to make it to the White House, and it will be hard for anyone from his line to make it back there with him as their baggage. This Connecticut Yankee styled himself a super-Texan after losing a race in Texas, and became governor and then POTUS. These days, he busies himself with paintings, and not having the weight of the world on his shoulders.
This president was the beginning of the last White House family dynasty. He goes skydiving on his June 12th birthday every year. His wife is a firecracker. Who is he?
George H. W. Bush, or "Bush 41" as he came to be known after the election of his son George W. Bush, was a one term POTUS. He was once the head of the CIA, then Ronald Reagan's VP, and then in the late 1980s he became our 41st president. He is perhaps best remembered not for something he said, but for something he said being repeated by impressionist Dana Carvey: "Read my lips, no new taxes."
This peanut farmer put solar panels on the White House roof and lost re-election after a primary challenge. Who is he?
Jimmy Carter was ahead of his time on a lot of fronts, but perhaps too far ahead of his time. His urging people to wear sweaters rather than waste oil in winter didn't go over well, and when he was succeeded, the first thing his rival did was dismantle the renewable energy he'd installed on the White House.
This president was never elected to office, famously fell down a flight of stairs, and was a star athlete in college. Who was he?
"I'm not a Lincoln, I'm a Ford," Gerald Ford famously said. Ford succeeded the resignations of the Nixon administration, and proposed himself as a return to stability. A spill on a flight of stairs immortalized him in the national imagination, and gave grist for the mill at upstart television show "Saturday Night Live," on NBC.
This president knew Congress better than anyone, and muscled through the Civil Rights Bill, while ramping up the Vietnam War. Who was he?
Lyndon B. Johnson is a divisive figure in American political history. He was responsible for turning American involvement in the conflict in Vietnam into full scale war, but he also pushed through the Civil Rights Bill, one of the most momentous pieces of legislation in American history. In the end, his actions contributed to the disunity of the Democratic party and the election of his successor.
This president famously recorded his conversations, harbored deep resentments of most minorities, and resigned, utterly disgraced. Who was he?
"Tricky Dick Nixon" was the 37th POTUS, elected on a "law and order" platform. One often overlooked aspect of his time as president was his proposal of something like the National Health Service in the UK, which he failed to pass. His re-election organization burglarized the DNC offices in the Watergate Hotel, and his campaign attempted to cover it up. The cover-up was unraveled and when it looked like Nixon would be driven from office, he resigned in disgrace. The suffix "-gate" is often added to the name of a scandal to invoke the seriousness of the Watergate affair.
This World War 1 veteran succeeded FDR, but was only recently his VP, since FDR's previous VP was let go over the divisiveness of his support for organized labor and working people. Who was he?
Harry S. Truman was considered a political opponent within the Democratic Party when he was selected by FDR as what would be FDR's final VP. When Roosevelt died in office, Truman took over, overseeing the end of WW2. Truman succeded Henry Wallace as FDR's VP. Wallace was a fierce opponent of big business, and it had angered various political powers. As president, Truman oversaw the Marshall Plan and the creation of the United Nations.
This former engineer and Secretary of Commerce was blamed for the Great Depression. Who was he?
Herbert Hoover believed strongly in the power of the invisible hand of the market, to a fault. The result of his inaction and lax regulations was The Great Depression. So strong was the association, the homeless ramshackle communities around the nation were referred to as Hoovervilles. The Hoover Dam is named for him.
This former governor of Massachusetts made his name confronting the police union when the Boston PD went on strike, and went from that straight to the White House. Who was he?
Styling himself Calvin Coolidge, he was first elected VP. He became POTUS on the death of the president, and was reelected after his term was up. He was well known for his laconic style. He presided over the most roaring of the roaring 1920s, stripping away regulations in the name of the economy, and setting up the conditions that would lead to the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
This president was only in office three years, and his legacy was utterly trashed after his death. He is considered one of America's worst presidents. Who was he?
If you've ever heard the words "Teapot Dome Scandal", you've heard of Warren G. Harding. Harding looked the part of president, but did next to nothing, while fraud and corruption spread through his bureaucracy like a cancer. The Teapot Dome Scandal was an affair in which oil reserves owned by the government were sold off to private interests, netting corrupt appointees hundreds of thousands of dollars. In today's money, $100,000 from 1921 is worth $1,270,742.27.
This president was also the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the only man to ever do both jobs. He lost re-election when his political sponsor decided to run against him as a third party candidate. He had an expansive mustache. Who was he?
Taft was Teddy Roosevelt's hand-picked successor, but when T.R. decided to run against him after Taft's first term, it split the Republican vote and Taft was not re-elected. As a consolation prize, the next Republican president appointed Taft to the Supreme Court.
This POTUS announced his candidacy in Springfield, Ill. He went on to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and was assassinated while watching "Our American Cousin." Who was he?
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most important presidents in history. He reshaped both the country and the GOP, giving it an identity and laying down the law about how Americans treat other human beings, and each other. He was killed after the Civil War by an actor whose family was so influential in the theater world that there was a theater named for them in New York. He is memorialized by one of the most breathtaking monuments in the world.
This alcoholic former general wasn't at his best as president, and under his guidance, the GOP became the party of its rich donors. Who was he?
Grant wasn't as good a general as Robert E. Lee, but he had the industrial power of the Union on his side of the Civil War. After the war, and perhaps because of it, he developed something of a drinking problem, and while he wasn't actively guiding his party, the burgeoning class of Robber Barons took over, turning the party from the party of Lincoln to the party of big business.
This president was impeached by the House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate by only one vote. He did not think former slaves needed any legal protections. Who was he?
Andrew Johnson was Lincoln's VP, who had run with Lincoln on the "National Unity" ticket. He took the reins after Lincoln's death, but while he favored the return of southern states to the Union, he was against any legal protections for former slaves, making him lock horns with the GOP-controlled congress. The result of all this conflict was his nearly being thrown out of office, and ultimately, the election of President Grant.
This president was one of the founders of the Democratic Party, totally ignored the problem of slavery, and as Minister to Russia he negotiated trade and maritime treaties. Who was he?
Considered one of the worst presidents in U.S. history, Buchanan was a Jackson supporter and staunch defender of "states' rights," but mostly it was states' rights to keep slaves that he was concerned with protecting. He put his finger on the scales of the Dred Scott case, and supported a federal code to protect slave owners. His lax moral leadership and inability to work with the other side resulted in the election of Lincoln, and the Civil War.
Considered perhaps the worst U.S. president, this man was an alcoholic who supported slavery, alienating his own local political base. Who was he?
Franklin Pierce was a northern Democrat who undid the Missouri Compromise, passing the Kansas–Nebraska Act and vigorously enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act, and making everyone so unhappy with his presidency that his own party decided not to re-nominate him for re-election. Much of his drinking and strange behavior could be due to his personal tragedies: His wife suffered from depression and all his children died, including his last child, a son who was killed by a train shortly after his election. After his time as POTUS, he spent his remaining years drinking heavily, alienating everyone he knew, and publicly criticizing Abraham Lincoln.
This president negotiated an international border between the US and the UK (at the time), served only one term (as he promised he would) and rocked a mullet. Who was he?
Ranked as one of the most effective pre-Civil War presidents, Polk annexed Texas, negotiated the border along what is now Washington State and Canada (he's the reason Vancouver Island is Canadian) and he did all of this in one term. Three months after leaving office, he got sick and died.
This $20 president fought several Indian tribes and the British, served as a territorial governor, a senator, and in the House before becoming president. Who was he?
Andrew Jackson was lionized in his lifetime for what, by today's standards, amounts to slavery, slave trafficking, wars of aggression, genocide and threatening to go to war over taxes. As president, he amended a tax package aimed at protecting American industry against cheap, imported British goods, a tariff that South Carolina said it would secede over, keeping the South in line. He opposed the Abolitionist movement and founded the Democratic Party.
This son of a former president bore the same first and last name as his father, and thus styled himself using his middle name. He was once Minister to The Netherlands. Who was he?
John Quincy Adams was the scion of an early American political dynasty. He could read Latin and Greek early on, was Minister to the Netherlands, later to Russia, and to Britain. He was secretary of state, and then elected president in a contentious affair involving a tie in the electoral college and a parsing out of the battle in Congress, angering his opponent (Andrew Jackson) and resulting in the creation of the Democratic Party. His policies mostly centered around keeping the U.S. focus on westward expansion and the assimilation of Indians through consensual treaties rather than pounding them with the army. He lost re-election in a landslide.
This POTUS had a Dutch name, looked like a mad scientist, and helped found the Democratic Party. Who was he?
Called "The Little Magician" for his mastery of early American "machine politics" and the "spoils system" of patronage, in which political winners give all the civil service jobs to their allies, Van Buren rose from being a lawyer and local pol in New York to the White House. Perhaps his most dramatic historical turn was when the case United States v. The Amistad, backing his Attorney General Henry D. Gilpin who personally argued the case, facing off with former President John Quincy Adams, who spoke on behalf of the slaves. Van Buren's administration appealed the decision in an attempt to return the human cargo to the Spanish. That pretty much defines them.
He had the same last name as a famous "golden age of Hollywood" actress, he was a former Secretary of War, and supported the creation of what would become Liberia. Who was he?
Perhaps James Monroe will be best remembered for supporting a scheme to create African colonies for freed slaves, a program that paved the way for the creation of Liberia. He was the last president of what is termed "The First Party System" of America.
This founding father is called "The Father of the Constitution," and oversaw the War of 1812. Who was he?
James Madison was a founding father and one of the founders of the Democratic-Republican Party and a staunch opponent of federalism. During his presidency, the U.S. and Britain engaged in the War of 1812 (most of which didn't happen in 1812), a conflict which resulted in the burning of the White House.
This president worked as a lawyer for slaves suing for their freedom, oversaw the Barbary Wars, and was a slave owner all at the same time. Who was he?
Jefferson's legacy was very mixed. Though he was a great statesman and thinker, his work benefiting slaves is offset by the fact that he owned slaves. During his tenure, 300 American sailors were taken hostage by Tripoli (Libya) and after briefly flirting with taking them back by force, he paid the ransom, further incentivizing pirates to kidnap anyone flying an American flag. Perhaps one of his greatest contributions was the Louisiana Purchase.
This ninth U.S. president was the last president who was born before the revolutionary war. Who was he?
President Harrison had something to prove to Washington, so when he was inaugurated, he gave an incredibly long and well thought-out speech to demonstrate his education, but in order to cement his tough-guy bona fides, he did this in terrible weather while not wearing a coat. As a result, he got sick and died.
This major-general in the Mexican-American War became our 12th president. He was one of the few presidents under 6 feet tall. Who was he?
Taylor didn't resign his command until his inauguration, eschewing Washington politics until the last possible moment. While moving to Washington, he was delayed repeatedly by sicknesses and injuries, and that one time he was kidnapped. Once in Washington, he played his wish-washy slave policies to the hilt, taking responsibility for little and leaving most decisions to Congress.
This president was shot by an assassin, but it was the infection caused by the lax doctors of the age that led to his death. He expanded the Navy. Who was he?
President Garfield wasn't president for long, but in his short term he took on a corrupt Post Office, changed how executive appointments are confirmed, and threw his political weight behind the expansion of the Navy. Then, a lawyer who didn't like him took a pot shot at him in a train station, and the doctors who treated the non-lethal wound didn't bother to wash up first, causing President Garfield to die of an infection.
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