Presidential Biographies


  • The Presidents - Biography: 1. George Washington

    The Revolutionary War hero, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington was everyone's choice to lead the nation as its first president. An able administrator with a keen appreciation of the historic import of each of his decisions, Washington established important precedents of American government that were not explicitly addressed in the Constitution. He also experienced highly favored elections and implemented controversial economic policies. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 2. John Adams

    A man of compassion and intellect, John Adams tried to keep the office of president apolitical. However, his responsibilty for the Alien and Sedition Acts, which threatened constitutional rights and directly affected non-citizens, opened him to wide criticism. Learn more about his presidency with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 3. Thomas Jefferson

    Jefferson wrote his own epitaph: "Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and the Father of the University of Virginia." Yet he did not mention that he served as president. As president, he authorized the Louisiana Purchase and kept America free of the international entanglements of the Napoleonic Wars. Learn more about his presidency with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 4. James Madison

    As president, James Madison helped establish the Democratic-Republican Party of Jeffersonian ideals. He asked Congress to declare war on Britain in 1812, and the war began so badly that by fighting to a draw, Americans of 1815 felt they had earned a victory and were swept up in a self-congratulating nationalism. A slight man of less than 100 pounds, Madison's marriage to the buxom and vivacious Dolley Payne Todd surprised many and provided the nation with one of its great First Ladies. Learn more with this resource from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 5. James Monroe

    Monroe, a charming man admired for his honesty, presided over two decisions that presaged the rest of 19th century American history -- the Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine. The first represented the growing discord within the United States over the issue of slavery and the second asserted American influence in the Western hemisphere. Learn more with this resource from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 6. John Quincy Adams

    John Quincy Adams, the first son of a president (John Adams) to be elected, was raised by his parents to attain the highest office in the land. As it turned out, the circumstances of his election created enemies that neutralized his presidency. Adams is now considered to have been one of America's greatest diplomats (before his presidency) and one of America's greatest congressmen (after his presidency) but not a particularly effective president. Learn more with this resource from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 7. Andrew Jackson

    Jackson embodied the ideal of the self-made American man, and his populist appeal lay in his message of inclusion against what he characterized as entrenched establishment interests. He frustrated the professional politicians of Congress with his insistence that any man should be able to hold elected (or appointed) office and by his forceful and effective use of the presidential veto and bully pulpit. Critics charged that his ballyhooed disenfranchisement of establishment interests was just a cover for the patronage and installation of his own supporters. Learn more with this resource from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 8. Martin Van Buren

    Martin Van Buren allied himself with President Andrew Jackson, who in turn rewarded Van Buren with cabinet positions and the vice presidency. As president, however, Van Buren maintained Jacksonian policies that magnified an economic downturn, leading to the Panic of 1837. "Martin Van Ruin" was not re-elected. Learn more with this resource from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 9. William Henry Harrison

    William Harrison, a frontier army general whose fame (and nickname) was assured at the battle of Tippecanoe, spent only 32 days in office before dying. He caught pneumonia after delivering a 90-minute inaugural address in freezing rain. Learn more with this resource from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 10. John Tyler

    Following the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, Vice President John Tyler assumed the presidency. "His Accidency" quickly ran afoul of his own party, causing controversy over his bias towards states' rights and his veto of the national bank and tariff bills. Some Whigs in Congress attempted to impeach him. His entire cabinet, except Secretary of State Daniel Webster, resigned. He died during the Civil War while serving in the Confederate Congress. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 11. James Knox Polk

    Billed as the "Manifest Destiny" candidate, James K. Polk laid out his foreign policy and domestic aims early, achieved them in one term, and then declined to run again. Polk negotiated the Oregon territory to the north, and his attempt to acquire California and New Mexico from the south provoked the Mexican War. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 12. Zachary Taylor

    Born in Virginia, raised in Kentucky, with a home in Louisiana and a plantation in Mississippi, Zachary Taylor lived the nomadic life of a career soldier, never casting a vote. Although a slave-holder and Southerner, Taylor was above all a nationalist who threatened to lead the Army personally to recapture any states that seceded from the Union. His presidency was cut short by a sudden illness. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 13. Millard Fillmore

    Like several other presidents, Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin. He was an uninspiring individual with no particular talents (he refused an honorary degree from Oxford claiming to have "neither literary or scientific attainment"). Ascending to the presidency after the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850, Millard found the politics of his era dominated by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster's Compromise of 1850 and its ramifications. Fillmore's supportive position, however, deprived him of the Whig nomination in 1852. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 14. Franklin Pierce

    Franklin Pierce's strong support for the Compromise of 1850 appeared to indicate that he was not going to press the issue of slavery. With the country in precarious balance, almost every decision made during his administration -- buying Mexican territory for a southern railroad route, a potential invasion of Cuba -- was scrutinized and criticized for its bias toward pro-slavery forces. The Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively nullified the Missouri Compromise, leading to a race to settle Kansas that resulted in a prelude to the Civil War. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 15. James Buchanan

    James Buchanan presided over the dissolution of the Union. His faith that the legal system would resolve the slavery issue -- with the Dred Scott decision -- locked him into inaction. Most historians blame Buchanan for hastening the greatest crisis in American history. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 17. Andrew Johnson

    A Southern supporter of the Union who balanced the ticket in Abraham Lincoln's 1864 reelection, Johnson led the Southern Reconstruction effort following the president's assassination. Conflicts with the Radical Republican Congress and his own ineptness led to an impeachment trial; Johnson was acquitted in the Senate by one vote. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 18. Ulysses S. Grant

    Ulysses S. Grant, master military strategist and Union hero of the Civil War, was a terrible businessman and a popular, but somewhat hapless, president. His presidency was plagued by corruption and the failure of Reconstruction efforts to change the rights of former slaves. He allowed his advisers and Congress to control many of the events of the day. By his second term, financial improprieties came to light embroiling his administration in scandal, although the president's personal reputation remained untarnished. Learn more with this resource from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 19. Rutherford Birchard Hayes

    Hayes' reputation as a man of integrity proved a welcome relief from Andrew Johnson's contentious administration and Ulysses Grant's scandal-ridden administration. However, the election that put Hayes in office was one of the most corrupt in history. Learn about his regulation of Chinese immigration and his dismantling of the Reconstruction regime, with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 21. Chester Alan Arthur

    A cog in the New York party machine, upon his presidency, Chester Alan Arthur revealed an unanticipated integrity and honesty. He helped reform the civil service, prosecuted corruption in the post office and attempted to lower tariffs. He protected Chinese Americans by vetoing a law that threatened a ban on their immigration. By the end of his term, Mark Twain decided, "it would be hard to better President Arthur's administration." Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12
  • The Presidents - Biography: 22/24. Grover Cleveland

    "What is the use of being elected or re-elected unless you stand for something?" The first Democrat elected president since the Civil War, Grover Cleveland stood for probity, self-sufficiency, and fiscal conservatism. He refused government aid during his term's financial depression, and he alienated unions, breaking up a strike in Chicago using federal troops. Learn more with this biography from American Experience: "The Presidents."

    Grades: 9-12