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Controversial Acts per Presidency

With President Trump being in the news for a new controversial act, statement, or policy frequently, seemingly daily, it can seem as though America is embroiled in more  political turmoil than we have ever seen. However, Trump is not the first President to do something that inspired arguments. I have compiled an example of a controversial act for each President America has ever seen, organized below alphabetically by first name. Hopefully this will restore some of your faith in the country.

 

President Name

Abraham Lincoln

Years Served

1861-1865

Controversial Act or Policy

Abraham Lincoln may have been the most controversial- as we all know, he passed the Emancipation Proclamation and legally freed all slaves in an economy that had long survived on the trade.

 

President Name

Andrew Jackson

Years Served

1829-1837

Controversial Act or Policy

Jackson’s Congress passed the “Indian Removal Act,” leading to the “Trail of Tears” and increasing tensions between the European and Native American populations.

 

President Name

Andrew Johnson

Years Served

1865-1869

Controversial Act or Policy

President Johnson was extremely controversial, mainly due to his habit of vetoing many things that came across his desk. This included three Reconstruction Acts, which Congress passed to set up military bases in the South and rebuild after the Civil War, and a Civil Rights Act, which unlike the other President Johnson, this one was not a fan of. Johnson was also criticized for being too lenient with former Confederates, pardoning many.

 

President Name

Barack Obama

Years Served

2009-2017

Controversial Act or Policy

Barack Obama’s presidency had many controversial landmarks, including his movement towards immigration reform in 2014. This is the year Obama promised to allow illegal immigrants inside the country to not only continue their stay but also to find and secure employment. The steps our new President has already taken to reverse this are a prime example of why this was so controversial.

 

President Name

Benjamin Harrison

Years Served

1889-1893

Controversial Act or Policy

Harrison encouraged Congress’ passing of the McKinley tariff, which imposed over a 40% duty on certain items and was greatest presidential step at that point to increase foreign trade. The hope was that this would help with the trade relationships beginning to be formed between America and Latin America.

 

President Name

Bill Clinton

Years Served

1993-2001

Controversial Act or Policy

In one of the most notorious scandals in presidential history, Clinton was impeached by the House during his second term. The investigation leading to this was launched by reports of sexual affairs including a former White House Intern, Monica Lewinsky and culminated into a debate upon whether or not Clinton was abusing his power.

 

President Name

Calvin Coolidge

Years Served

1923-1929

Controversial Act or Policy

In 1926, the US Supreme Court nullified a previous decision during A. Johnson’s presidency, in doing so providing Coolidge and all future presidents with the ability to dispose of cabinet members “at their own discretion.” This was controversial because it was seen as an expansion of presidential power.

 

President Name

Chester Arthur

Years Served

1881-1885

Controversial Act or Policy

Arthur vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This would have meant not only that Chinese immigrants already residing in the United States could not become citizens, but also that no workers from China could come to America for twenty years. This was very angering to unions and laborers in the US, as at the time they felt very threatened by Chinese immigrant populations.

 

President Name

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Years Served

1953-1961

Controversial Act or Policy

Eisenhower refused to pardon and encouraged the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who had been suspected of espionage on behalf of Russia. Their deaths are still controversial to this date, with advocates arguing that it would have been impossible for the couple to receive a fair trial amid the anti-Communist fervor in the mid-20th century, and also that there was much more evidence against Julius than Ethel.

 

President Name

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Years Served

1933-1945

Controversial Act or Policy

FDR’s nomination of Hugo Black to the Supreme Court was extremely controversial, due to the Justice’s former involvement and membership in the KKK. Hopefully, such a nomination would not succeed today.

 

President Name

Franklin Pierce

Years Served

1853-1857

Controversial Act or Policy

Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The point of the document was to quell rising anger in the two states due to controversy about the legality of slavery by allowing them the opportunity to choose based on territory. However, this enraged the North, as the Act effectively negated the Missouri Compromise’s border rule. It is believed that the Act contributed majorly to the Civil War.

 

President Name

George H. W. Bush

Years Served

1989-1993

Controversial Act or Policy

Operation Desert Storm was undertaken at Bush’s command. The war in Iraq was controversial for two reasons, firstly because some did not feel that another country’s problems were not sufficient to destroy soldier’s lives, and also because the war did not remove Hussein from power.

 

President Name

George W. Bush

Years Served

2001-2009

Controversial Act or Policy

Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, which would have helped limit harmful emissions from industries and had the signatures of 180 countries.

 

President Name

George Washington

Years Served

1789-1797

Controversial Act or Policy

Washington, along with Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, established the first National Bank, enraging many citizens who saw the expansion of governmental control as repetitive of the types of micromanagement they had just fought to escape from under King George III.

 

President Name

Gerald Ford

Years Served

1974-1977

Controversial Act or Policy

Ford pardoned former President Nixon. While he presented his case to the public, arguing that Nixon could not receive a fair or efficient trial due to his previous position and that the trial process would be a threat to national peace, the decision seemed an abuse of power and dropped Ford’s approval rating to less than 50%.

 

President Name

Grover Cleveland

Years Served

1885-1889, 1893-1897

Controversial Act or Policy

During his first presidency, Cleveland passed the Dawes Act, the goal of which was to “help” Native Americans by integrating them into American society and culture, which was to be accomplished by redefining and distributing Native American territories. In actuality, this only increased tensions with the Native American population, whose home was being taken away and/or moved.

 

President Name

Harry S. Truman

Years Served

1945-1953

Controversial Act or Policy

Truman approved the two bombings of Japan, which occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While supported at the time, the bombings have been a controversy ever since his presidency, not only because the US actually used an atomic bomb, opening up a new door for future wars, but also because the attacks came after Germany had surrendered and WWII was effectively over.

 

President Name

Herbert Hoover

Years Served

1929-1933

Controversial Act or Policy

Herbert Hoover was President during the Great Depression, unavoidably causing him to be blamed for the crisis, to the point where homeless families living under newspaper tents would call those houses “Hoover Houses.” Hoover’s lack of decisive action led to him being completely overtaken by FDR in the next election.

 

President Name

James Buchanan

Years Served

1857-1861

Controversial Act or Policy

Buchanan was President during John Brown’s raid on Harper Ferry, however he refused to side either with the South or the North when addressing the nation. With Lincoln and other advocates beginning to become more vocal towards abolitionism, tensions were heating up between the country’s hemisphere and a neutral President was not appreciated by either side.

 

President Name

James Carter

Years Served

1977-1981

Halfway through his presidency, Carter addressed the nation in what became known as his “Crisis of Confidence” speech. At the time, the energy crisis was overtaking the country, and Carter’s presentation of why America was failing/weak ended up being taken as a confession of his own shortcomings, and with Reagan surfacing as a more powerful candidate this interpretation seriously hurt Carter.

President Name

James Garfield

Years Served

1881

Controversial Act or Policy

While James Garfield did not get a chance to do much as President before his assassination, he did do everything in his power to prevent his former employer, Senator Conkling, from gaining political influence, leading to some slightly controversial cabinet appointments.

 

President Name

James K. Polk

Years Served

1845-1849

Controversial Act or Policy

Polk declared war, always a controversial move. This war was on Mexico, and was opposed by many new political players, including future President Abraham Lincoln. However, the move was also staunchly supported by many in the Union and led to an incredible surge of nationalism.

 

President Name

James Madison

Years Served

1809-1817

Controversial Act or Policy

During Madison’s tenure, a group of American citizens captured the Spanish territory of Florida. At this point, Spain, France and Britain were occupied at war. Madison, afraid of what would happen should America join the war with a foreign territory so close it could be a very successful military base, capitalized on the moment and annexed West Florida, a move that seemed wildly unconstitutional to his opposing  party, the Federalists.

 

President Name

James Monroe

Years Served

1817-1825

Controversial Act or Policy

Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise, again stoking the flames of the slavery crisis. The bill allowed Maine admittance to the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, and also established a border between the North and South to state clearly where slavery was and was not a legal practice. This was merely another log on the fire of the slavery controversy, which would soon transform into the Civil War, in which Missouri would participate as a border state.

 

President Name

John Adams

Years Served

1797-1801

Controversial Act or Policy

John Adams enacted the four Alien and Sedition Acts, posing the first strict regulations on immigrants wishing for citizenship, granting him the power to deport aliens for any reason, to deport aliens of the male order from dangerous nations, and adding the first legal punishments for “malicious or false writings” against the governments.

 

President Name

John F. Kennedy

Years Served

1961-1963

Controversial Act or Policy

John F. Kennedy, during his short tenure as President, sponsored the ultimate failed venture in Cuba known as the “Bay of Pigs” invasion. While many in his cabinet had advised against the move, Kennedy invaded Cuba anyway, causing many American casualties and many more captures, as the Cuban government captured over 1000 exiles.

 

President Name

John Quincy Adams

Years Served

1825-1829

Controversial Act or Policy

Adams passed the so called  “Tariff of Abominations,” intending to aid industries in both the North and South by implementing extremely high tariffs on both of their most abundant goods. However, the policy seemed too controlling next to new candidate Andrew Jackson’s free trade policy, which many believe is the reason Adams was not reelected.

 

President Name

John Tyler

Years Served

1841-1845

Controversial Act or Policy

Tyler opposed a bill proposing the establishment of the National Bank, prompting every member of his cabinet besides the Secretary of State to resign. Tyler also sparked controversy by being the first President to marry while in office, marrying a woman three decades his junior, whom he started courting mere months after the death of his first wife.

 

President Name

Lyndon B. Johnson

Years Served

1963-1969

Controversial Act or Policy

Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, outlawing discrimination and segregation. The Act was passed during the Civil Rights Era, making it of course controversial as many Americans were opposing the increase to the amount of rights that were being granted to African Americans and other minorities at the time.

 

President Name

Martin Van Buren

Years Served

1837-1841

Controversial Act or Policy

The Van Buren administration captured the Amistad, a ship that had been commandeered by Cuban slaves, and returned the mutinous prisoners to their homeland of Havana, exacerbating the growing conflict over slavery by effectively supporting the practice by treating the seamen as property.

 

President Name

Millard Fillmore

Years Served

1850-1853

Controversial Act or Policy

Under Fillmore, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Bill, giving runaway slaves no rights to any type of trial or self-representation and making it illegal not only to aid runaways but also to knowingly not “return” them. The Bill was part of the Compromise of 1850 and had the goal of easing tensions between the North and South, however by undermining the Underground Railroad and further endorsing slavery the act drove the two sides further apart.

 

President Name

Richard Nixon

Years Served

1969-1974

Controversial Act or Policy

Again, I am pointing out the obvious here, and so I will just write one word. WATERGATE.

 

President Name

Ronald Reagan

Years Served

1981-1989

Controversial Act or Policy

In 1985, Reagan signed an embargo against Nicaragua. While not a huge controversy at the time, the move was found to be illegal and therefore tarnished his reputation. This was not his only illegal act, as the President also violated statutes to sell weapons to Iran, leading to the Iran-Contra Affair.

 

President Name

Rutherford Hayes

Years Served

1877-1881

Controversial Act or Policy

Hayes vetoed many versions of the Army Appropriations Bill, which would have allowed the House Democrats control over the southern elections and effectively nullified black voting rights. This was a large step for Civil Rights, however controversial at the time.

 

President Name

Theodore Roosevelt

Years Served

1901-1909

Controversial Act or Policy

Roosevelt’s measures to counteract the Panic of 1907, which included distributing over 60 million dollars of government money, was unsuccessful, shaking support for the Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

 

President Name

Thomas Jefferson

Years Served

1801-1809

Controversial Act or Policy

Jefferson undertook the Louisiana Purchase, which while technically a peace treaty was highly controversial in that it necessitated Jefferson to interpret the Constitution broadly in order to gain the power necessary to make a deal with Napoleon, a technique that Jefferson had spoken out against multiple times.

 

President Name

Ulysses S. Grant

Years Served

1869-1877

Controversial Act or Policy

In 1869, Grant’s actions led to “Black Friday.” He knew that his brother and law/brother and law’s friends were attempting to dive up the price of gold by buying more and more while the government was not selling any. Grant counteracted this by immediately selling $4 million in governmental gold. While he was successful in curbing the efforts of those individuals, the abrupt economic act led to bankruptcy in New York for many investors and an economic crisis.

 

President Name

Warren G. Harding

Years Served

1921-1923

Controversial Act or Policy

It was during Harding’s presidency that women were unanimously granted suffrage. While the idea was definitely not his and much of the work leading up to the Supreme Court’s decision had begun years before, Harding will forever be remembered at the President during one of American women’s greatest victories.

 

President Name

William H. Taft

Years Served

1909-1913

Controversial Act or Policy

The Panama Canal Act was signed by Taft, allowing American shippers to escape tolls on the route. This was seen as an affront to former agreements involving the canal, including the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty.

 

President Name

William Henry Harrison

Years Served

1841

Controversial Act or Policy

Harrison was only President for one month, however his death became quite controversial. It was not that the country had to figure out what happened when a President died- would the VP be in charge as VP or would the VP become President? John Tyler is inaugurated and the issue is resolved.

 

President Name

William McKinley

Years Served

1897-1901

Controversial Act or Policy

McKinley annexed Hawaii. The move had been debated for many years, and was opposed by the previous President Cleveland. However, the war with Spain allowed McKinley to disguise the takeover as a military strategy and succeed amid less controversy than he otherwise would have.

 

President Name

Woodrow Wilson

Years Served

1913-1921

Controversial Act or Policy

Wilson was criticized for remaining neutral during the beginning of WWI, especially after Germans had killed multiple American civilians in U-boat attacks. It was not until the Lusitania sinking that Wilson was forced to declare war, a tragedy that many felt could have been avoided by his acting more promptly.

 

President Name

Zachary Taylor

Years Served

1849-1850

Controversial Act or Policy

Zachary Taylor opposed the Compromise of 1850, however his tenure was short enough to prevent him doing anything else majorly controversial. The Compromise would be passed by President Fillmore.

Noelle Keegan

Quinnipiac '22

Noelle is a Freshman Management Major at Quinnipiac and a raging feminist. Her son is a fish named Damon and her favorite things to do are watch Netflix and sing showtunes. (Plus eat buffalo wings.) One day, Noelle will be CEO of a company.
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