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Hail to the Chief: One Great Article About Every U.S. President

Take a trip through American history this President’s Day with this chronological collection featuring one fascinating thing to read about every person who has ever served as POTUS.

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Forty-five people have served as President of the United States across 46 presidential administrations (Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms—more on that below, plus the sordid sex scandal that nearly brought him down). We’ve curated one great story or essay about every single one of them. Impress your friends by getting to know obscure facts about lesser-known presidents like Martin Van Buren—the diminutive architect of the Democratic Party known as the “Little Magician”—or Rutherford B. Hayes—mostly forgotten in the U.S., but a legend in Paraguay. Or learn something new about giants like George Washington, who was surprisingly unpopular toward the end of his second term.


Table of Contents

1. The Founding Generation (1789—1824)
2. Antebellum America (1824—1860)
3. Civil War and Reconstruction (1860—1876)
4. The Gilded Age (1876—1900)
5. The Progressive Era (1900—1920)
6. Prosperity, Depression, and War (1920—1945)
7. Cold War Presidents (1945—1992)
8. The Internet Age (1992—Present)
9. Related Collections


The Founding Generation (1789—1824)

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Everyone Loved George Washington, Until He Became President

Gillian BrockellThe Washington Post

Toward the end of his second term, Washington was so disliked that the House voted against adjourning for 30 minutes to wish him well on his birthday.

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On the Peaceful Transfer of Power: Lessons from 1800

Sara Georgini Perspectives on History

John Adams quietly returned power to where it rightfully rests—with the people.

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What Thomas Jefferson Taught Me About Charlottesville and America

Joshua AdamsLongreads

University of Virginia grad Joshua Adams believes that if you want to understand the violence that erupted there in 2017, look back at history and the school’s complicated founder.

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What the Least Fun Founding Father Can Teach Us Now

Alexis CoeThe New Yorker

Few of America’s citizens have believed more fervently or optimistically in its promise than James Madison, and yet he fell prey to the same divisiveness and petty grievance that have dogged the country and its stewards since the founding.

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The Last Founder

Harry Kollatz Jr. and Tina EshlemanRichmond Magazine

An ‘era of good feelings’ followed James Monroe’s inauguration 200 years ago — but shadows loomed.

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Antebellum America (1824—1860)

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John Quincy Adams Kept a Diary and Didn’t Skimp on the Details

Sara GeorginiSmithsonian Magazine

The making of our sixth president in his own words.

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The Two Andrew Jacksons

Michael KazinThe Nation

Jacksonian democracy may have been liberating for some, but it was repressive for many others.

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The Strange Case of the Papers of Martin Van Buren

Betsy PhillipsNashville Scene

How they came to Tennessee — and a chat with the man sifting through the papers a president left behind.

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Women Embraced William Henry Harrison’s Presidential Campaign. Some Men Were Scandalized

Ronald G. ShaferThe Washington Post

1840 marked the first time American women became openly involved in a presidential campaign.

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Why John Tyler May Be the Most Reviled U.S. President Ever

Christopher KleinHistory.com

His party expelled him. His cabinet resigned. He was even hung in effigy on the White House porch. What made America’s 10th president such a political pariah?

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A Somewhat Forgotten President: The Legacy of James K. Polk

Daniel BurgeWe’re History

Arguably, no one-term president ever accomplished as much as he did.

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How an Outsider President Killed a Party

Gil TroyPolitico Magazine

The Whigs chose power over principles when they nominated Zachary Taylor in 1848. The party never recovered.

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A Reckoning: Reconsidering Millard Fillmore’s Legacy

Stephen T. WatsonBuffalo News

Millard Fillmore gets little love from presidential historians, but he’s enjoyed favorite son status in Buffalo for more than 150 years. That's beginning to change.

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Nathaniel Hawthorne, Party Hack

James M. LundbergSlate

Why did the famous novelist (pictured left) agree to write a campaign biography for Franklin Pierce, an infamously bad president?

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The 175-Year History of Speculating About President James Buchanan’s Bachelorhood

Thomas BalcerskiSmithsonian Magazine

Was his close friendship with William Rufus King just that, or was it evidence that he was the nation’s first gay chief executive?

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Civil War and Reconstruction (1860—1876)

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This Guilty Land: Every Possible Lincoln

Eric FonerLondon Review of Books

It seems safe to assume that even the most diligent researcher will not be able to discover significant new material about Lincoln – a diary, say, or previously unknown speeches and letters. Instead the biographer must take an original interpretative approach.

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How a Difficult, Racist, Stubborn President Was Removed From Power—If Not From Office

David PriessPolitico Magazine

Members of Congress and some in Andrew Johnson’s own Cabinet wanted him gone. They did the next best thing.

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The Silent Type

David W. BlightThe New York Review of Books

The life of Ulysses S. Grant, a nobody who became almost everything.

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The Gilded Age (1876—1900)

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Rutherford B. Hayes Is More Famous in Paraguay Than in the U.S.

Mark JohansonAtlas Obscura

The 19th U.S. President lends his name to a city, region, school, and annual festival.

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The Dirty, Painful Death of President James A. Garfield

Dr. Howard MarkelPBS NewsHour

Historians have taken Garfield’s doctors to task for not applying sterile technique, and, thus, saving the President’s life. Are they right?

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The Pen Pal Who Changed a President

Toni FitzgeraldNarratively

When corruption threatened the administration of Chester A. Arthur, one ordinary woman put pen to paper.

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Grover Cleveland’s Sex Scandal: The Most Despicable in American Political History

Charles LachmanThe Daily Beast

Forget Arnold Schwarzenegger or John Edwards. One of the greatest political sex scandals happened to Grover Cleveland.

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What’s the Worst a Vengeful Lame-Duck Administration Can Do?

Rebecca OnionSlate

Consider Benjamin Harrison’s role in the entirely on purpose “Panic of 1893.”

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Trump Wouldn’t Be the First President to Try a Comeback. And It’s a Lot Harder Than It Looks

Ed KilgoreNew York

Grover Cleveland is the one successful presidential Comeback Kid.

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The Presidential Candidate Who Campaigned From His Porch

Jay SerafinoMental Floss

 In 1896, William McKinley ran for office without having to ever leave home.

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The Progressive Era (1900—1920)

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Revisiting The Tangled Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Robert Earle HowellsNational Geographic

At his namesake park in North Dakota, reconciling the president’s conservation successes with his racist views.

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William Howard Taft Is Still Stuck in the Tub

Alexis CoeThe New York Times

One humiliating story is often the only thing people remember him for — a real shame, considering his unique position in American political history.

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During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, Woodrow Wilson’s White House Stayed Silent

Melissa AugustTime

The 28th president never uttered a single public statement about the 1918-1919 flu pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.

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Prosperity, Depression, and War (1920—1945)

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The Letters That Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want You to See

Jordan Michael SmithThe New York Times Magazine

Even in the age of Anthony Weiner sexts and John Edwards revelations, it still has the power to astonish.

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When the President Was the Quietest Man in the Room

Dan NosowitzAtlas Obscura

Near-silent, famously prudish, yet also quite funny and the proud owner of the White House pet raccoon, our 30th president, Calvin Coolidge, makes a pretty strong argument for never ignoring the quiet ones.

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Hating on Herbert Hoover

Nicholas LemannThe New Yorker

He was a brilliant manager, a wizard of logistics, and an extraordinarily effective humanitarian. How come we remember him as a failure?

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The Art of the New Deal

Rebecca OnionSlate

How an inexperienced New Yorker famous for his name emerged from the contested 1932 convention to win the presidency.

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Cold War Presidents (1945—1992)

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How Harry S. Truman Went From Being a Racist to Desegregating the Military

DeNeen L. BrownThe Washington Post

Truman’s dramatic transformation from segregationist to civil rights advocate was nothing short of astonishing.

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How the US-Soviet Relationship Shaped Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Presidency

Tim WeinerLiterary Hub

How Eisenhower reshaped the presidency in the service of the struggle against the Soviets.

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‘I Would Rather Win a Pulitzer Prize Than Be President’

Craig FehrmanPolitico Magazine

John F. Kennedy might not have really written Profiles in Courage, but he certainly promoted it.

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The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives

Robert A. CaroThe New Yorker

On a Presidential paper trail.

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It Took A Long Time For Republicans To Abandon Richard Nixon

Amelia Thomson-DeVeauxFiveThirtyEight

While we tend to focus on the bipartisan rebellion that led to Nixon’s resignation, it’s also worth understanding how public opinion and the party eventually turned against the president.

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The Pardon

Barry WerthSmithsonian Magazine

President Gerald R. Ford’s priority was to unite a divided nation. The decision that defined his term proved how difficult that would be.

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Jimmy Carter for Higher Office

Michael PaternitiGQ

Ex-presidents are supposed to gently retire. Make a life of lucrative speeches, or stay home and paint. But for nearly 40 years, Jimmy Carter has refused to fade away.

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The Road to Reagandom

Jacob WeisbergSlate

How Ronald Reagan’s eight-year gig as the host of General Electric Theater sparked his conservative conversion and became the genesis of his political career.

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The Long Boyhood of George H.W. Bush

Harry Hurt IIITexas Monthly

Like the hero of a boys’ novel, George Bush moved from the East to the wild and woolly West. He wanted to prove himself, by golly, to Yale, Procter & Gamble, and the old man.

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The Internet Age (1992—Present)

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The Clinton Impeachment, as Told by the People Who Lived It

David A. Graham and Cullen MurphyThe Atlantic

Bill Clinton became the first president to be impeached since Andrew Johnson, in 1868. A recounting by people who played a role.

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Are We Ready to Rehabilitate George W. Bush’s Reputation?

Andrew R. GraybillTexas Monthly

Can a batch of new books, a documentary, and Donald Trump’s calamitous administration resuscitate the legacy of our 43rd president—and his illustrious family?

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My President Was Black

Ta-Nehisi CoatesThe Atlantic

A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next.

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The Remaking of Donald Trump

Joshua GreenBloomberg

In the multicultural days of The Apprentice, he rose to a level of popularity with minorities that the GOP could only dream of. Then he torched it all to prepare for a hard-right run at the presidency.

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How Misfortune—and Stunning Luck—Brought Joe Biden to the Presidency

Michael KrusePolitico Magazine

A life marked by missteps and personal tragedy has also been buoyed by a series of remarkably fortuitous events. And the combination hit the moment just right.

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America’s History of Nasty, Tumultuous, and Strange Presidential Elections


An electoral chaos reading list.

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Vice Presidents: From Afterthought to Indispensable


From the Veep who wrote a #1 song to the one considered the most useless in history.

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The History of Inauguration Day, From George Washington to Joe Biden


Looking back at the highs and lows of past presidential inaugurations.

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Hidden Histories of Presidential Medical Dramas


There’s a long history of presidential ailments, including George Washington’s near-death encounter with the flu, Grover Cleveland’s secret tumor, and the clandestine suffering of John F. Kennedy.

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