Most obscure U.S. President

I am currently starting to read Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara, and it struck me about 20 pages in that they were talking about President Buchanan. Ye gods! He’s one of those presidents that usually doesn’t get a lot of press, so I was a bit surprised. Okay, okay, so I’m not a history major. But this got me to thinking…who is the least-known, most obscure U.S. President, in your opinions?
I’m saying Franklin Pierce. The only enlightenment I got on him was from a girl in my 5th grade class who was a distant relation…and even that was because he happened to be on the “U.S. Presidents Quick Quiz!” side of the milk box.

I was tempted to say William Henry Harrison, because he only served one month, but then you always hear about him for that very reason.

My vote goes to Chester A. Arthur, who served out James Garfield’s term after he was assassinated and not reelected.

Of course you never hear anything about that Tyler-Polk-Taylor-Fillmore-Pierce-Buchanan period.

Well, lessee.

James K. Polk is practically famous for his obscurity, so he’s disqualified on the grounds that he wins.

Does anyone else understand what I meant by that?

Likewise, Millard Filmore is almost a synonym for forgotten banality, so he can’t really qualify as ‘obscure’.
Pierce and Buchanan are good candidates; as is Benjamin Harrison (whose main claim to fame was serving between Grover Cleveland’s terms). Most 20th century presidents are a little too recent to be obscure, though Lord knows in one hundred and fifty years people may well say “Who’s James E. Carter?” the way we say “Who’s James K. Polk?”

Damn it, James K. Polk does NOT deserve his obscurity.

Polk was one of the greatest presidents in US history. And I don’t mean kinda-okay-he-didn’t-screw-up-too-badly great… I mean one or two steps behind Lincoln great!

That’s why presidential historians consistently rank him in the top four-to-ten of our chief executives.

James K. Polk, I salute ye!

For some very, very obscure reason, I have always been a big fan of Presidential trivia.

Arthur is a pretty good choice, except he actually managed to accomplish what everyone at the time thought couldn’t be done- Civil Service Reform (he was a spoilsman for the Republican Party of New York and had the most lucrative job in the spoils system - Port Collector of New York). The fact that Garfield’s assassin was a disgruntled office seeker probably made the reform idea a little easier to take.

Tyler was actually sort of famous for being the man without a party. He managed to piss off both the Whigs and Democrats so that neither party would nominate him. Instead he came back here to VA and sired a whole slew of children. His grandson (yes, grandson) is still a relatively young man and lives at Sherwood Forest out Route 5. I think Tyler’s youngest daughter died in about 1930 or so. Pretty good for a man who was President in the early 1840s.

Fillmore is also a good choice because I believe he made a conscious decision not to do anything.

Polk was an expansionist of the first order (“Hmmm, I think I’d like for us to have Texas now.”) He had a limited agenda, but managed to get everything accomplished so he didn’t bother to run for another term.

Martin Van Buren is also a pretty obscure one (love the sideburns, Mat). Not known for much except being Jackson’s VP and a political wizard. He did manage to do nothing to stem the panic of 1837.

I guess those guys have my vote: Arthur and Van Buren.

Someone once commented that all of the presidents from Hayes to Harrison were all quite forgetable - they called them “The Men With Beards.”

who is in charge now? That guy from Arkansas? Whatsisname?


David Roberts. See, you’ve never heard of him either. In fact, he is so obscure, I have never heard of him.

Well, my vote for most obscure president was Warren G. Harding. Remember him? He had two important things happen in his presidency: a) The “Teapot Dome” scandal, which is about as exciting as White Water, but without all the fun, and b) he died. He’s so obscure, people often forget even the second fact.

I’m fairly certain Rutherford B. Hayes will only be remembered for the election scandal that put him in office, though many forget what he did while president (answer: Nothing).

Wasn’t there a case where the U.S. had an acting president for a day? I thought that perhaps one of the presidents died on a sunday, and his Veep had religious reasons to wait until Monday to be sworn in, meaning that the Sec’y of State or Speaker of the House had to fill in for a day or so…

I’m fairly confident Gerald Ford will go down in history as “Who?”

I was gonna say Taft. The only thing I know about him is that he was so fat he had to have a special bathtub made. If you really wanted to embarass me, you’d challange me to come up with his first name. :wink: Having an American education, I have to admit I don’t know much of anything about anyone else mentioned in this thread. :rolleyes:

What about Lesile King. Bet you don’t even know which prez that really is.

I remember taunting my Republican friends back in '92 with “Bush is a footnote in history now” since he’ll be remembered for basically blowing a sure-fire re-election campaign.

I’m sure that that the only late 20th-Century presidents to be remembered a hundred years or so from now are Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton (especially if he gets that Nobel Peace Prize he’s trying so hard to win this week).

pkbites said:

“What about Leslie King. Bet you don’t even know which prez that really is.”

Carter, though I might be mistaken.

voguevixen said:

“I was gonna say Taft. The only thing I know about him is that he was so fat he had to have a special bathtub made. If you really wanted to embarass me, you’d challange me to come up with his first name.”

William Howard Taft.

Hmm . . . polk I always remember. How about Silent Cal? Hayes is my personal fav because we share a birthday.

Well, let’s go through 'em:

George Washington - Extremely high-profile. Next!

John Adams - Remembered by default as President Numero Dos. Thus, not too obscure.

Thomas Jefferson - Okay, you’re not a candidate for “most obscure” if your head is carved into a mountain. Next!

James Madison - Students have this name indelibly associated with “Marbury” in their minds. Not obscure. Next!

James Monroe - Has a whole doctrine named after him. Next!

John Quincy Adams - Thanks to John Adams, ol’ Quincy is easy to remember. Next!

Andrew Jackson - Nope, we see him on currency far too often. Next!

Martin Van Buren - Possibly. Anyone have a good reason to remember him?

William H. Harrison - Famous for keeping only one campaign promise: not to run for a second term, a promise he kept by dying 30 days after being inaugurated. First prez to die in office, shortest term, quite well known. Next!

John Tyler - A possible candidate, although being the first vice-president to ascend to the presidency by death does give him some notoriety.

James K. Polk - Way obscure. But They Might Be Giants has a song about him that has eliminated some of his obscurity.

Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan - a whole string of forgettables. Good candidates all.

Abraham Lincoln - Get real. There are Amazon rainforest Indians who have never seen a white man, yet have heard of Honest Abe. Next!

Andrew Johnson - first impeached pres. Not the best way to get famous, but hey, it worked. Next!

Ulysses S. Grant - Lotsa fame from his Civil War days, plus he’s on currency (although not currency most of us handle often), so no way. Next!

Rutherford B. Hayes - He’d be forgotten in an instant if the name “Rutherford” weren’t so hard to forget. Still, possible.

James A. Garfield - assassinated, only the second Pres so to die. Otherwise, didn’t have time to do a whole lot. Pretty forgettable, but still not the most obscure.

Chester A. Arthur - Perhaps deserves more recognition, but pretty much forgotten. A good candidate.

Grover Cleveland - Two non-consecutive terms! This guy’s done more to drive up the Total President Count than any other individual!

Benjamin Harrison - Another good candidate. Apart from having the same last name as another President, nothing very memorable about him.

William McKinley - assassinated. Notoriety through being a murder victim. Otherwise, plenty forgettable in my book.

Theodore Roosevelt - Spoke softly, but carried a big stick! National parks! Bull Moose Party! Youngest President! Mount Rushmore! Got shot, but gave his speech anyway! No WAY is Teddy obscure. Next!

William H. Taft - heaviest President, plus was on the Supreme Court after leaving office. Plenty famous.

Woodrow Wilson - May be best remembered for stuff he didn’t do. It’s highly possible that, after his stroke, his wife was de facto President of the U.S. Plus, his name just doesn’t fall out of your memory the way Fillmore’s does.

Warren G. Harding - Largely forgettable; his presidency’s biggest claim to fame is that no administration until Reagan was more fraught with corruption.

Calvin Coolidge - ah, Silent Cal. A few good jokes and quotes attributed. Despite his apparent efforts, he ain’t the most obscure.

Herbert C. Hoover - Poor Herb. Thanks to the Depression, and the subsequent creation of Hoovervilles, he’s doomed to be remembered in a less-than-favorable light.

Franklin D. Roosevelt - No one could forget the four-term President. Next!

Harry S. Truman - What are you, nuts? Everyone knows Truman as the Pres Who Dropped The Bomb. He’s the first Pres that most Baby Boomers remember. So, not obscure by any measure.

Dwight D. Eisenhower - Talk about a President who just kinda coasted. If there’s a 20th-century Pres who’s forgettable, this is him.

John F. Kennedy - The Baby Boomers won’t let us forget Kennedy, no matter how hard we try.

Lyndon B. Johnson - A royal prick who escalated Vietnam beyond belief. Remembered because we’re still pissed.

Richard M. Nixon - First Pres to resign in office, plus all the associated scandals. We couldn’t forget him if we had a 30-horsepower Forgetting Machine.

Gerald R. Ford - Not that he did much, but he’s mostly remembered for 1) stumbling and 2) the first Chief Exec who wasn’t elected to be either Pres or VP.

Jimmy Carter - Too much was going on in the world, what with oil embargos, hostage crises, and so forth. Plus, he’s going to keep scampering around the world and negotiating treaties until someone gives him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Ronald W. Reagan - I only wish. But, what with massive government spending increases, Iran-Contra, and the endless speeches and sound bites, he’s gonna be in our memories a while. If nothing else, people remember him for breaking the “Tecumseh Curse”.

George H. W. Bush - Again, I wish, but unlikely. Berlin Wall plus Gulf War plus recession means we’ll remember him.

Bill Clinton - First removal vote since Andrew Johnson. We shall never forget Slick Willie.

Overall, my vote goes to Millard Fillmore, because I can’t think of a single thing about him other than his name.

I always loved this story about Coolidge. Apparently, Coolidge was a man of very few words. At a party once, a female guest related to him that she had made a wager with one of her friends. Her friend told her that Coolidge wouldn’t say three words to her.

“So, Mr. President, what do you have to say about that?” the woman asked.

“You lose,” Coolidge responded.

Leslie King was Gerald Ford… His born name was Leslie King but he was adopted as a toddler and renamed Gerald Ford after his adoptive father.

Likewise Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III, and renamed for his step dad.

To quote Dave Barry:


  1. The Earth did not fall into the Sun."

We need more threads devoted to Presidential trivia, dammit! Makes me feel like I add something to this board…

stuyguy said:

Never said he did; I certainly consider him one of the best Presidents. But obscure he is, and well-remembered as the President no one remembers. Lovely paradox.

Some claim David Rice Atkinson (IIRC) was President for a day- as Speaker pro tem of the Senate, he was next in line of succession when Taylor and Filmore refused to be sworn in on a Sunday, even though Polk’s term expired upon on Saturday; however, that’s ignoring that Atkinson’s term as Speaker pro tem had also ended on that Saturday, which means that, officialy, there was no President on that day.

Taylor shows up in a few other places as a Mexican War General, and he was in the news a few years ago when they exhumed him to see if he had been murdered. Pierce - has his own portion of fame for being 1) a drunk, and 2) maybe the best looking president. Incompetent yes, and I think the only pro-slavery Northerner that I can think of. Buchanan also seems to be noted for his worthlessness, especially when compared to the rep of his succssor.

Garfield could write in Latin in one hand, and Greek in the other. Simultaneously. That’s damn cool. Anyway…

Not just the same last name, but WHH’s grandson. But I think I’d vote for Benjamin H over Millard F, just because Millard is a funnier name, and ‘Milestones with Millard’ is a better catchphrase.

*Originally posted by John Corrado *

Alright. Presidential quotes? Careers? Lovers? Shoe sizes?

I know that Cecil did a column on this; if I had the time right now, I’d look it up.

Max T: Really nicely written!

John C: Sorry, I did not mean to imply that you thought JKP deserved his obscurity. My remark (“Damn it, James K. Polk does NOT deserve his obscurity”) was merely a fist-shaking cry to the heavens. That’s all.

Again, Max, good job.