While everyone is quick to commemorate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on Presidents’ Day each year, what about the other 42 U.S. Presidents who get less love? More specifically, what about some of the Presidents who contemporary Americans have more or less forgotten about altogether?
Here is a list of five Presidents that rarely receive more than a mention in history textbooks. Their terms may not be highly regarded overall and their lists of accomplishments may be pretty short, but all of them have done something noteworthy to leave a significant mark on the United States.
1. Warren G. Harding
Still, Harding wasn’t entirely bad. Following World War I, soldiers came home to discover a lack of jobs; by the time Harding was elected, the unemployment rate neared 12%. In order to slash joblessness, Harding instituted a stimulus plan that managed to help drop the rate to just 2.4% by the time he passed away.
2. James K. Polk
It’s not often that a U.S. President sticks to his campaign promises, but Polk is one of the few who can honestly say he fulfilled his four pre-election pledges.
His first promise was to end the conflict with England over Oregon Territory. By bluffing that he was willing to go to war for the disputed land, Polk got Great Britain to compromise and split the area peacefully. His second promise was to lower the exorbitant tariffs, which he accomplished by setting a standardized tax rate. For his third promise, Polk avoided the conflict of a national bank by creating an independent treasury. Lastly, Polk successfully gained California from Mexico for the price of $15 million… although U.S. military intimidation basically forced Mexico into selling the land.
3. Calvin Coolidge
Though his economic policies were popular with Americans during the 1920s, Coolidge’s actions were later blamed in part for the Great Depression, thereby tarnishing his legacy.
In better news, in 1924, Coolidge signed the Indian Citizen Act into law. Because of this legislation, Native Americans born in the United States were automatically granted citizenship. Prior to this Act, Native Americans were in a strange legal limbo that left them impoverished and without rights. Though the law was, in part, an attempt to assimilate tribes into white culture, it also protected tribal sovereignty so that Indian culture could be maintained on protected land.
4. Benjamin Harrison
Like Coolidge, Harrison’s financial and corporate regulations have been blamed for setting the Great Depression into motion even though Harrison’s term was from 1889-1893.
Even if his economic policies were to fault, his early civil rights advocacy was remarkable given how many leaders tried to avoid this divisive issue. Though the 15th Amendment had recently given African Americans the right to vote, Southern states had their own tactics for disenfranchising black men. To counter these shady maneuvers, Harrison promoted bills aimed to protect the black vote. He also named famed black activist Frederick Douglass as the ambassador to Haiti.
5. James Garfield
It’s sort of pitiful that a comic strip cat is more commonly associated with the name Garfield than a U.S. President, but James never got to prove his merit when he was assassinated just six months after taking office.
Though his legacy is understandably small, the major issue of the day does indicate that he had strong principles. When a post office scandal seemed to implicate members of his own party as law-breakers, Garfield nonetheless encouraged investigators to pursue justice. As a result, his non-partisan commitment to ethics helped to inspire civil service reform.
Photo Credit: Jim Bowen
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