What is the History of US Presidential Scandals
Presidential scandals, in all countries, have a long history and this is the case in the United States. Such history has included affairs, corruption, and various crimes and misdemeanors. Some of the scandals are hard to believe even, yet the American public has often been forgiving, as history shows.
The Early Presidents
George Washington is not often thought of as a scandalous president, but even he could not get away from some rumors. This included having been accused of fathering children out of wedlock, something not acceptable to 18th-century norms. However, one documented scandal did great problems for him and may have contributed to his somewhat early death. The Jay Treaty was a treaty signed in 1795 between the United States Government and Great Britain, which helped establish a firmer peace between the two countries at the time. The treaty gave Britain favored trading status and this greatly angered France, the ally of the United States, and led to a split among US politicians, with Jefferson accusing Washington of treason. The Jeffersonian party saw this as a power grab by the Hamiltonians; in Washington's own farewell address he warned against party politics and the influence of political parties.
Another early scandal involved a cabinet member of Andrew Jackson, John Eaton, who was Secretary of War. Eaton had just married Peggy O’Neale after his previous wife had died. O'Neale herself was a young widow and had soon married Eaton after her husband died, which led to many accusations that the two were conducting an affair prior to what was seen as a convenient death. The wives of Jackson's cabinet refused to socialize with O'Neale, leading to Jackson becoming angry with his cabinet and scolding them for not having their wives socialize with O'Neale. Eventually, Jackson's entire cabinet resigned, as they saw Eaton's relationship as scandalous for the moral standards of the day.
Andrew Johnson is known as the president who came closest to being impeached. His relationship with Congress was so fractious that he even refussed to carry out laws they had passed, resulting in continous problems between the president and Congress. He also fired officials despite having been warrned he could not and repeatly created crises with congressional leaders. In fact, his violation of the Tenure of Office Act, which gave authority to Congress for removing certain office holders, is what led to impeachment. The scandle did not reflect well on Congress either, as it was seen by the wider public as an attempt by Republicans to assert their authority on the President rather than being a legitimate reason for the impeachement.
Perhaps among the biggest scandals of 19th century American presidents involved Grover Cleveland. In 1884, he ran for president as a clean, moral president and was labeled as "Grover the Good." The reality was he had fathered an illegitimate child years earlier. The woman in question was Maria Halpin, a widow. Cleveland quickly admitted to the affair once it was revealed and said he even took care of the child in question by finding a family to adopt the child, even though he stated he was not sure he was the father of the child and Halpin had been accused of being with other men. Cleveland said he was being gallant for taking responsibility for the child even if he was not sure he was the father. Halpin, on the other hand, accused him of having forced her to give up the child and had effectively bribed his way out of the issue by making the child disappear from political scrutiny. This scandal occurred mostly during the campaign and led to a very close election that Cleveland was able to win perhaps through some clever spinning by making it look like he was ultimately trying to help the child.
From World War I to the Cold War
Perhaps the most notorious scandal to occur early in the 20th century occurred the curtailed presidency of Warren Harding. The Teapot Dome scandal was a scandal involving bribes taken by members of Harding's administration. It involved oil reserves that the US government had in Wyoming that it leased out to private companies. The scandal affected Harding directly because he was accused of having let the scandal occur and possibly being involved in bribery. Nevertheless, Harding would die while in office, but his administration would continue to be accused of corruption even after he had died.
Herbert Hoover was President from 1929-1933. Unfortunately for him, this was perhaps some of the worst economic years in US history. The Great Depression was likely not caused by him, but the public needed someone to blame and the President often is the first to get blamed. However, what made it worse for him is that World War I veterans, who were made jobless by the Great Depression, conducted a protest because they were promised pay bonuses that they never received. Hoover sent a general, by the name of Douglas MacArthur, to break up the demonstration. Unfortunately, the general seemed to be informed that a group of socialists was protesting rather than former soldiers who were made jobless. This led him to be far harsher than he might have otherwise been in breaking up the protest. Once the public heard about this, the public became even more negative of Hoover and this easily paved the way for Franklin Roosevelt to become President.