Most obscure U.S. President

MaxTorque said:

Well, there was that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer was cornered by the Van Buren Boys, and escapes by accidentally making an eight with his fingers (Van Buren being the eighth president). Does that count?

I think you mean Robert David.

Just want to chime in that Polk is disqualified based on the They Might Be Giants song. I can’t hear that name without the song running through my head.

“Mr. James K. Polk, our eleventh preeeeesident…”

You headed me off at the pass.

For more info on the David Rice Atchison story go to

I suspect it is also probably on the SD somehwere.

Since I’ve had to cite that column before, I knew right where to go. Here it is: What if prez and VP die before being sworn in?

A quick phrase search for “the most obscure president” turns up sites about Hayes, Filmore, Polk, and Pierce, but I think that’s only because Arthur is too obscure to have a website about him. (Just kidding). By a wide margin, Arthur was the very last president I heard of. I vividly remember saying to my mother, “Some guy named Chester Arthur was president?! How come I never heard of him?”

Obscure is all relative. Chester Arthur was an alumni of my alma mater, used to attend church where I mail my letters (it’s now a post office), and is buried about five miles from where I work. He actually was a fairly good president overall.

I’d say Franklin Pierce deserves the honor. Not only is he part of the sad group of pre-Civil-War one-term presidents, but he also did practically nothing during his term, since he was plunged into a deep depression over the death of his son.

Chester Arthur by far. I believe he was the last foreign born president (Canada).

bwv: I don’t think so. CAA was born in Vermont.

There was rumor that Arthur had been born in Canada, but I think its pretty well settled that his father (a Baptist minister)had a congregation across the border, but lived in VT.

The last president not to be born a US citizen was Andrew Jackson (born before US Independence from Britain). So, that would make Martin Van Buren the first presdient born on US soil. A pretty good “first.”

One terrific story about Arthur, and something that Clinton should have remembered: Arthur was something of a dandy, spending lots of money on clothes, find food, drink, and decorating the White House. He was particularly fond of good wines. A visitor to the White House complained about his drinking and eating on such a lavish scale. His reply - “Madame, I may be President, but my private life is no one elses’s damn business.” Way to go Chet!

He also married a woman who was born and raised near where I grew up, so I guess I’m a little partial to the guy.

Well I’ll just agree with stuyguy and say that Polk was in fact a great president, and offer education on that fact ala Smeghead and a TMBG song.In 1844, the Democrats were split
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Louis Cass, a general and expansionist
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear
The factions soon agreed
He’s just the man we need
To bring about victory
Fulfill our manifest destiny
And annex the land the Mexicans command
And when the votes were cast the winner was
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump

In four short years he met his every goal
He seized the whole southwest from Mexico
Made sure the tarriffs fell
And made the English sell the Oregon territory
He built an independent treasury
Having done all this he sought no second term
But precious few have mourned the passing of
Mister James K. Polk, our eleventh president
Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump

For more:

I was just going to write:

“Most obscure President? Whatsisname, definitely Whatsisname.”

But seeing all these erudite answers, well, I just can’t bring myself to do it . . .

I would have to go with Chester A. Arthur. All the others, if you said their names, would ring a Presidential bell in my mind, but with him, it’s like “Whose that? Oh, yeah, some President guy. I think.” And then I have to look it up to be sure.

I stand corrected: three sources I checked
all indeed indicate Arthur was born in Vermont
although his father was from Northern Ireland
and taught in Canada. I was sure I read in
my local paper once that he was from Canada
but I must have confused the story. Thanks
for the corrections.

From the Groliers on-line encyclopaedia:
"Chester Alan Arthur was born in North Fairfield, Vt., on Oct. 5, 1829. His father, William Arthur,
emigrated from Ireland and, after teaching in Vermont and Canada, became a Baptist minister. His
mother, Malvina Stone, was a descendant of English settlers in New Hampshire.

   Arthur entered Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., at the age of 15. After his graduation in 1848 he
   studied law at home and earned his living as a teacher at North Pownal, Vt., and as principal of the
   academy at Cohoes, N.Y. He received his final training in New York City at the law office of Culver
   and Parker. Admitted to the bar in 1854, he formed his own law firm in 1856."

I’m not so sure that a Nobel Prize would help so much. How many people could tell you what other president won one?

Admittedly, Teddy is known for other reasons, but how many people remember the Nobel. Hell, how many people even remember that there was a Sino-Russian war.

I’d like to chime in with others in naming Polk and the most undeservedly obscure president.

Probably not very many, but this isn’t a “false memories” thread. But a few people, I suspect, do remember the Russo-Japanese War.

Since we are momentarily sidetracked, I’d like to list a couple of examples, given by a Londan Times correspondant, as to why the Russians lost this war (which Russia start) so badly. 1) In the first encounter, the Russians fought the Japanese to a standstill during a daylong battle. Then night fell, and the Russian troops relaxed, because the Japanese would never launch a night attack. 2) In the second encounter, the Russian troops held a ridge, and didn’t bother to conceal their positions, because the ground the Japanese troops were on was much too rough for them to ever be able to bring in heavy artillary.

Getting back to most obscure U.S. president, after reviewing the various posts, I’ll vote for Pierce.

Just a quick Teddy/medals hijack:

I heard on the news TR will likely get that Medal of Honor he lobbied for all his life:

"The Army has recommended that Theodore Roosevelt receive the nation’s highest military honor more than 100 years after he led the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.

A recommendation to honor the former president with the Medal of Honor is awaiting President Clinton’s signature, Army spokeswoman Karin Martinez said in Thursday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

If awarded, it would be the most belated Medal of Honor in history, the newspaper said.

Two years ago, Congress approved legislation asking that Roosevelt be awarded the medal, but Clinton said he wanted a review by Army scholars."

– Associated Press

Yeah, put me down for Pierce, too. I’ve always had a soft spot for Chester A. Arthur…he had the damnedest whiskers of any American President.

A couple of addenda to Max’s excellent list:

Ford will elude obscurity due to his pardon of Nixon. And Ike did manage to organize the Allied win in WWII - no small potatoes.

Now, to my vote: IMO, the nominees are Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, and Warren Harding.

Harding, Garfield, and Zachary Taylor drop out due to death in office. It may not be much, but it’s the sort of trivia they always feed you in lieu of real history when you’re a kid. So you know who they were, sort of.

Hayes is known for winning a rather disputed election; kick him out of there.

Buchanan was prez as we stumbled toward the Civil War; that kicks him off the short list.

That leaves Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, Fillmore, Pierce, and Arthur. I’m gonna kick Tyler off as the first veep to ascend to the presidency due to the death of a president. Fillmore, Polk, and Pierce, by becoming virtual synonyms for obscure presidents, lose out in a perverse sort of way. That leaves Martin Van Buren and Chester A. Arthur.

I’m gonna go with Van Buren, but it’s a tough call.

I’m sure that Ronald Reagen would answer
the question “Ronald who?”

Max, I was so swept up in the excellence of your list earlier that I forgot to mention one item which I found somewhat absurd. And thanks, RT, for reminding me.

You said that Eisenhower is likely our most forgettable 20th C prez. No way, Max!

Three things prevent this: 1. As RT points out, his WWII record gives him a huge boost; to my dad’s generation the man was Godlike, 2. Historians are reevaluating him, as they did Truman, and concluding that much of the “coasting” you refer to was a mask for some pretty shrewd politicing, and 3. On roadsides coast-to-coast there are thousands of those rectangular blue signs with the circle of white stars reminding us of the guy.

No, Ike is here to stay. As for most forgettable in 20th C, I’d say Taft, Harding, maybe Bush in time. Frankly, I hope it will be Kennedy – who I suspect will be the Garfield of the 20th C. Fifty years from now kids will go Kenne-who? as their grandparents’ jaws drop in disbelief. Funny thing is, the kids will be right.

Anyway Max, it’s still a boffo list, despite my disagreement regarding Ike.