The First 100 Days Of The Best And Worst U.S. Presidents

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Since the days of George Washington, The United States Presidency has been an institution of courage as well as controversy. The nation was founded by rebels and hard-won, giving us some of the greatest heroes of our proud history. Others among our elected officials make us wonder why we elected them in the first place.

Some of the Presidents of the United States started wars and ended up involved in major scandals, while others ushered in positive change and earned the respect not only of their people, but of generations to come, all within the first 100 days.

Many political analysts say that the first 100 days of a presidency set the tone for the four to eight years that will follow. The following list details the successes and shortfalls of our best and worst presidents during their first sprint after swearing in.

George Washington

George Washington

Source: Gilbert Stuart @ Wikipedia

As the first President on this list, it’s only fitting that Washington gets the first mention. After our nation’s secession from Great Britain, being the Commander-in-Chief of a brand new nation was a difficult burden to carry. In his first 100 days, he created the jobs of Secretary of State and Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

#11 also created new positions in the White House.

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford

Source: Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library

Ford served one of the shortest terms as President in history — only four months. The only reason he had held the office was because his predecessor Richard Nixon’s activities in the Watergate scandal led to his resignation. His fall from grace came quickly, as he’d pardoned Nixon within the first month and earned the disapproval of the United States. This was a fall from which Ford hadn’t had time to recover, never mind within the first 100 days.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Source: Alexander Gardner @ Wikimedia Commons

Lincoln had led the United States into the Civil War, after which he’d abolished slavery and made it illegal with the Emancipation Proclamation executive order. On his hundredth day as President, after struggling to make the government see the point of it, he’d made it a law, reversing the actions of previous Presidents. This made him a hero not only to the people of the United States but to minorities living on American soil for decades to come.

Of course not everybody was happy with him, as he was assassinated before he could finish his term. #7 was less of a hero, but still took a bullet for his efforts.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

Source: Public Domain @ Wikimedia Commons

This Republican is one of the most notable Presidents the United States has seen in recent decades, having transitioned from Hollywood to Washington D.C. in a landslide victory. He stressed urgency as he rivaled #19 for the number of proposals made in his first 100 days. Snipers had shot him in an assassination attempt near the end of that time period, but he survived, the attempt ironically gaining him more favor from the American people.

James Buchanan

James Buchanan

Source: George Peter Alexander Healy @ Wikimedia Commons

Buchanan had been part of the problem in his first 100 days, making the Dred Scott decision only two days after his inauguration. The decision basically meant that those of African descent could not be legal citizens of the United States. He had even pushed Associate Justice Robert Cooper Grier into voting in favor of it behind the scenes.

Buchanan’s racist actions early on were only rivaled by #14.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Source: United States Senate @ Wikimedia Commons

The President who signed the Affordable Care Act into law was also one of the most polarizing ones in United States history. He was a favorite among minorities, being the first African-American President in the nation’s history, as well as a champion of the LGBT rights movement. However, he tried to do too much in his first 100 days, and his promised “change” didn’t happen like he’d hoped.

Obama’s early attempts as President mirrored those of #9.

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Source: MattRocker @ Wikimedia Commons

Kennedy had been elected President during troubled times and inherited his own early on. He hadn’t accomplished much in his first 100 days due to a series of setbacks including Russia’s victory in being the first nation with a man sent into space. He also had to deal with a botched invasion of Cuba as well as Laos being lost to Communists.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Source: Harris & Ewing @ Wikimedia Commons

While most of Wilson’s accomplishments happened later in his term, he was the first United States President to hold press conferences. The first conference at the White House occurred 11 days after he was sworn in, and it’s been a weekly tradition ever since.

This could have led to greater transparency, which is almost the opposite of what #15 did.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter

Source: Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Naval Photographic Center @ Wikimedia Commons

President Carter had pardoned all invaders in the Vietnam War draft on his second day in office, which at the time made him a hero to the families and friends of veterans. He had tried to fix the economy with a $50 rebate to all Americans, but he couldn’t get approval for it. He also tried fighting Congress over pork barrel spending, leading to them mostly ignoring him. His intentions mostly fell flat and his first 100 days as President were considered a disaster.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

Source: Mathew Brady @ Wikimedia Commons

Grant attempted to have the Tenure of Office Act repealed only a few days after delivering his inauguration speech. The Act stated that the President could not remove people from office without the Senate’s approval. His efforts proved to be in vain, but it didn’t stop him from amending the law after his first 100 days.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Source: White House @ Wikimedia Commons

Eisenhower created two new positions in the White House within two months of his Presidency. One was White House Chief of Staff, and the other was National Security Advisor. The latter of these may have laid the bedrock for recent controversy: the potential invasion of citizen privacy revealed by Edward Snowden.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

Source: Rembrandt Peale @ Wikimedia Commons

Harrison didn’t do much in his first 100 days, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He had fallen ill with pneumonia, which killed him before day 100. The only thing he apparently accomplished was delivering one of the longest inauguration speeches in United States history.

Technically, Harrison did more in his time as President than #16.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson

Source: Arnold Newman, White House Press Office @ Wikipedia

Riding the coattails of the deceased John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson was keen on continuing his predecessor’s agenda in his first 100 days. He sought to ensure a smooth transition in a time of national trauma, and kept most of Kennedy’s cabinet and began to lay the groundwork for historic civil rights reform in Congress, while also beginning to scale U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore

Source: Public Domain @ Wikimedia Commons

While Andrew Jackson had forcefully relocated Native Americans, Fillmore signed one of the most racist laws in his first 100 days. He signed the Fugitive Slave Act, which stated that slaves who ran away would be caught and returned to their masters. Citizens who didn’t arrest an escaped slave were fined $1,000, and anyone caught helping said slaves was sent to prison for six months.

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon

Source: NARA National Archives and Records Administration @ Wikimedia Commons

Richard Nixon had ordered wiretapping of the press who covered the Vietnamese war less than a month after his rise to the presidency, an action which violated the transparency of his position. This became the first of many actions which were later considered abuse of power, including many orders given in secret such as the bombing of Cambodia. Nixon’s first 100 days turned out to make him one of the worst Presidents in history.

Only #20 rivals Nixon in his initial actions.

Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren

Source: George Peter Alexander Healy @ Wikimedia Commons

Van Buren was considered one of the laziest of all United States Presidents, having been elected during a time of national crisis. He took an extremely passive approach to the collapse of 900 banks, food riots, and severe economic depression. There’s not much good in history you can look to as an example of Van Buren’s legacy.

Harry Truman

Harry Truman

Source: Edmonston Studio @ Wikimedia Commons

Truman had been elected just before World War II ended, and in his first 100 days, the Nazis had surrendered. He had the distinct privilege of announcing the end of Hitler’s regime on his 61st birthday. He had also grandfathered in #19’s cabinet, deciding he wouldn’t change anyone in it.

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding

Source: Harris & Ewing @ Wikimedia Commons

Harding had become known for his stance on immigration and foreign relations in his first 100 days. He’d signed the temporary Emergency Quota Act, which limited the number of immigrants from other nations. He had also raised tariffs on all imports and exports of farming goods and other products in an effort to encourage local economic growth and put an end to post war recession.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Source: Elias Goldensky @ Wikimedia Commons

Roosevelt pushed his power more than almost every other President in United States history. Within the first week of his presidency, he passed the Emergency Banking Act, closing all banks in the nation in an effort to “reboot” the economy during the Great Depression.

Franklin also officially established the rule of the “First 100 Days.”

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Source: Bob McNeely, The White House @ Wikimedia Commons

Clinton’s first 100 days as President were also about as controversial as they could be, replacing many members of the staff with his friends, and ignoring the usual protocol of consulting Congress to put his wife in charge of healthcare reform.

However, Clinton had also signed the Family and Medical Leave Act into law, allowing 12 unpaid work weeks per year for the employed to attend to health issues.