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Presidential Scandals

Top 10 Presidential Scandals


With all the rhetoric that has been tossed around about voter turnout in the wake of Watergate, it might seem that presidential scandals were something new in the 1970s. In fact, this is inaccurate. There have been major and minor scandals during the administration of many if not most of the presidents. Here is a list of ten of these scandals that rocked the presidency. The following is listed in order from oldest to newest. 

1. Andrew Jackson's Marriage

Here is the official White House portrait of Andrew Jackson.
Source: White House. President of the United States.
Before Andrew Jackson was president, he married a woman named Rachel Donelson in 1791. She had previously been married and believed that she was legally divorced. However, after marrying Jackson, Rachel found out this was not the case. Her first husband charged her with adultery. Jackson would have to wait until 1794 to legally marry Rachel. Even though this happened over thirty years previously, it was used against Jackson in the election of 1828. Jackson blamed Rachel's untimely death two months before he took office on these personal attacks against him and his wife.

2. Black Friday - 1869

Ulysses S Grant, Seventeenth President of the United States
Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-13018 DLC
Ulysses S. Grant's administration was rife with scandal. The first major scandal dealt with speculation in the gold market. Jay Gould and James Fisk attempted to corner the market. They drove up the price of gold but Grant found out and quickly had the Treasury add gold to the economy. This in turn resulted in the lowering of gold prices on Friday, September 24, 1869 which adversely affected all those who had bought gold.

3. Credit Mobilier

The Credit Mobilier company was found to be stealing from the Union Pacific Railroad. However, they tried to cover this up by selling stocks in their company at a large discount to government officials and Congress members including Vice President Schuyler Colfax. When this was discovered, it hurt many reputations including that of Ulysses S. Grant's VP.

4. Whiskey Ring

Another scandal that occurred during Grant's presidency was the Whiskey Ring. In 1875, it was revealed that many government employees were pocketing whiskey taxes. Grant called for swift punishment but caused further scandal when he moved to protect his personal secretary who had been implicated in the affair.

5. Star Route Scandal

James Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States
Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-BH82601-1484-B DLC
While not implicating the president himself, James Garfield. had to deal with the Star Route Scandal in 1881 during his six months as president before his assassination. This scandal dealt with corruption in the postal service. Private organizations at the time were handling postal routes out west. They would give postal officials a low bid but when the officials would present these bids to Congress they would ask for higher payments. Obviously, they were profiting from this state of affairs. Garfield dealt with this head on even though many members of his own party were benefiting from the corruption.

6. Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa?

Grover Cleveland - Twenty-Second and Twenty-Fourth President of the United States
Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-7618 DLC
Grover Cleveland had to deal head on with a scandal while he was running for president in 1884. It was revealed that he had previously had an affair with a widow named Maria C. Halpin who had given birth to a son. She claimed that Cleveland was the father and named him Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Cleveland agreed to pay child support and then paid to put the child in an orphanage when she was no longer fit to raise him. When this issue was brought forth in the campaign and even became a chant "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!," Cleveland was honest about the entire affair. This helped rather than hurt him, and he won the election.

7. Teapot Dome

Warren G Harding, Twenty-Ninth President of the United States
Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-13029 DLC
Warren G. Harding's presidency was struck by many scandals. The Teapot Dome scandal was the most significant. In this, Albert Fall, Harding's Secretary of the Interior, sold the right to the oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming and other locations in exchange for personal profit and cattle. He was eventually caught, convicted and sentenced to jail.

8. Watergate

Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States
Library of Congress
Watergate has become synonymous with presidential scandal. In 1972, five men were caught breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters located at the Watergate business complex. As the investigation into this and the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office (Ellsberg had published the secret Pentagon Papers) developed, Richard Nixon and his advisors worked to cover-up the crimes. He would have surely been impeached but resigned instead on August 9, 1974.

9. Iran-Contra

Ronald Reagan, Fortieth President of the United States
Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library
Several individuals in Ronald Reagan's administration were implicated in the Iran-Contra Scandal. Basically, money that had been obtained through selling arms to Iran was given secretly to the revolutionary Contras in Nicaragua. Other than helping the Contras, the hope was that by selling the weapons to Iran, terrorists would be more willing to give up hostages. This scandal resulted in major Congressional hearings.

10. Monica Lewinsky Affair

Bill Clinton, Forty-Second President of the United States
Public Domain Image from NARA
Bill Clinton was implicated in a couple of scandals, the most significant for his presidency was the Monica Lewinsky affair. Lewinsky was a White House staffer with whom Clinton had an intimate relationship, or as he later put it, an "improper physical relationship." He had previously denied this while giving a deposition in another case which resulted in a vote to impeach him by the House of Representatives in 1998. The Senate did not vote to remove him from office but the event did mar his presidency as he joined Andrew Johnson as only the second president to be impeached.

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