The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.
— Albert Ellis
Martin Van Buren (1782-1862)
Term (1837-1841) Vice President Richard M. Johnson (1837-1841)
The 8th President of the United States, he also serviced as Vice President to Andrew Jackson. He was a key organizer of the Democratic Party and the first president to be born an American citizen. As the descendant of Dutch immigrants, he was also the first president whose ethnic background wasn’t mostly from the British Isles. He was best known for his shrewd political skills. He considered himself a follower of Thomas Jefferson and was one of the founders of the Democratic Party. We have Van Buren to thank for the expression “OK.” He was from Kinderhook, New York, which was sometimes referred to as “Old Kinderhook.” “O.K. Clubs” were created to support Van Buren’s political campaigns, and the expression “OK” came to mean “all right.”
William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)
Term 1841 Vice President John Tyler (1841)
The 9th President of the United States, military officer and politician, he was the first president to die in office. He had the shortest tenure in presidential history. As an Army officer and governor of the territory that is now Indiana and Illinois, he fought Indians and made harsh treaties with them, clearing the way for more westward settlement by whites. His military victories against Indians made him a hero to white Americans. Harrison’s father, Benjamin Harrison, signed the Declaration of Independence. William Henry Harrison’s grandson, also named Benjamin Harrison, became the 23rd president.
John Tyler (1790-1862)
Term (1841-1845) Vice President –None
The 10th President of the United States, he was the first to succeed to the office following the death of a predecessor. As president, he stood against his party’s platform and vetoed several of their proposals, resulting in most of his cabinet resigning and the Whigs expelling him from their party. His most famous achievement was the annexation of the Republic of Texas in 1845. Tyler had other “firsts” as president: His first wife was the first wife to die while her husband was still president, and he was the first president to marry while in office. Tyler was the last of the Virginia aristocrats in the White House. He was a Southerner until his death, even being elected to the Confederate Congress after unsuccessfully trying to keep the Union from dissolving and entering the Civil War. He was the only president who also allied himself with the Confederacy.
James K. Polk (1795-1849)
Term (1845-1849) Vice President George M. Dallas (1845-1849)
The 11th President of the United States, Polk also served as Speaker of the House and Governor of Tennessee. Polk was the last strong pre-Civil War president and was noted for his foreign policy successes. Scholars have ranked him favorably on the list of greatest presidents for his ability to set an agenda and achieve all of it. Polk was too sick as a child to get formal schooling, yet managed to graduate at the top of his class from the University of North Carolina when he was 22. He was nicknamed “Napoleon of the Stump” for his excellent speaking skills. Polk was a very hard-working chief executive who proved to be one of the most productive presidents in history. He greatly expanded the U.S. territory and re-established the independent treasury system, among many other accomplishments. Upon election, he vowed to serve only one term, a promise he kept when he declined to run in 1848.
Zachary Taylor (1784-1850)
Term (1849-1850) Vice President Millard Fillmore (1849-1850)
Distinguished general and 12th President of the United States, Taylor served in the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, where he earned the nickname of “Old Rough and Ready.” He was elected president in 1848, the first to never have held any previous elected office. He was also the last President to hold slaves while in office. Just two years into his presidency he died.
Millard Fillmore (1800-1874)
Term (1850-1853) Vice President – None
The 13th President of the United States, he assumed the presidency after the death of Zachary Taylor. After serving out Taylor’s term, he failed to gain the nomination for re-election.
Franklin Pierce (1804-1869)
Term (1853-1857) Vice President William King (1853), None (1853-1857)
Politician, lawyer, soldier, and 14th U.S. President, Pierce was a brigadier general in the Mexican-American War. As president, he made many divisive decisions which were widely criticized and earned him a reputation as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. His popularity fell after he came out in favor of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, repealing the Missouri Compromise and renewed the debate over expanding slavery in the West. He lost the nomination for re-election.
James Buchanan (1791-1868)
Term (1857-1861) Vice President John C. Breckinridge (1857-1861)
The 15th U.S. President, politician and attorney, he was often referred to as a “doughface,” meaning a Northerner with Southern sympathies. Buchanan’s efforts to maintain peace between the North and the South alienated both sides, and the Southern states declared their secession. His inability to impose peace on sharply divided partisans on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst Presidents.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Term (1861-1865) Vice President(s) Hannibal Hamlin (1861-1865), Andrew Johnson (1865)
Pioneer, attorney, and 16th U.S. President, he guided this country through the most devastating experience in its national history — the Civil War. He was assassinated on April 14, 1865 and died the next day. He is considered by many historians to have been the greatest American president.