As a new presidential administration spins up, historians and pseudo-historians who just play them online are attempting to categorize the 45th president amongst the other 45 men (yes, all men) who have served as president. (Joe Biden is the 46th president but the 45th person to serve as president because Grover Cleveland served twice — 22nd and 24th.)
Everybody knows the big names, though. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, and so on. But what about President Williams? (Admit it: you just said to yourself “There was a President Williams?”)
There was no President Williams but there were a couple of Harrisons, a Monroe, an Arthur, and a few more names that make you think “ohhh, yeah, I kind of remember that guy.”
Here’s to the presidents you don’t remember.
1 — Benjamin Harrison: 23rd President. 1889-1893
Even his name is non-distinct. You probably went to high school with Ben Harrison. Dude probably isn’t even the top search result for “Benjamin Harrison.” His granddad was William Henry Harrison, the ninth president. His great-granddad was a Founding Father.
His administration was super corrupt but he, by all accounts, was an honorable guy. He tried unsuccessfully to secure voting rights for Black Americans. He also oversaw the admission of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming. He admitted more states than any other president.
2 — James A. Garfield: 20th President. 1881-a few months later in 1881
Garfield served in the United States Army during the Civil War. He advocated for civil rights for Black Americans, expanding education, and improving rural America. However, he accomplished almost none of that because he was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. He languished for months before dying in September of 1881.
A United States president died on September 19, 1881, and there’s not so much as a mention of him each September 19th. Poor James.
3 — Franklin Pierce: 14th President. 1853-1857
He signed the Gadsden Purchase, which Arizona and New Mexico are probably excited about. As a Democrat in the era when they were insanely racist, he worked to undermine abolitionists. He signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He unsuccessfully attempted to purchase Cuba from Spain.
His actions contributed directly to irreconcilable contradictions in the United States that ultimately led to the Civil War. Franklin just wasn’t a very good president.
He also criticized Abraham Lincoln throughout the Civil War. He’s not remembered because he’s not memorable.
4 — Calvin Coolidge: 30th President. 1923-1929
You probably recognize the name but if you know a single thing Calvin Coolidge did, you probably clean house on trivia night.
As Harding’s vice president, he ascended to the presidency when Harding died in 1923. He was nicknamed “Silent Cal.” An apocryphal story says that a woman bet she could get Silent Cal to utter more than two words. When she told President Coolidge of the wager, he replied only, “You lose.”
Silent Cal probably suffered from depression after the death of his son. He was in favor of racial equality, but he was also in favor of small government. He believed in laissez-faire principles and a tiny federal government. That means he was unable or unwilling to respond to economic crises or to secure equality for persons of color.
5 — John Tyler: 10th President. 1841-1845
He was the first vice president to ascend to the presidency. He had very few policy successes, but he did sign the annexation of Texas. He was also the first president to have his veto overridden by Congress.
In 1861, after his single un-elected term of office, he sided with the Confederacy. He was elected to the Confederate Congress and died while in office.
He was an unsuccessful president who died a traitor. Maybe we don’t need to remember him.
Several presidents have done some monumentally stupid things but at least they’re remembered. These dudes have been largely forgotten. At least they weren’t banned from Twitter, a fate worse than irrelevance.