Presidential Scandals

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Presidential Scandals

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Dez 30, 2008, 8:16 am

Watergate may be the first presidential scandal that comes to mind, but our history contains others. It might be interesting to contrast and compare some of these through the books that have been written about them.

Dez 30, 2008, 9:13 am

I have found a book by Laton McCartney about the Teapot Dome Scandal involving the Harding administration and I think I'll start with that. It sounds juicy!

Jan 2, 2009, 7:00 pm

Oh my, you don't remember the scandals about the 1800 (or so) election or the Burr-Hamilton duel--you can move up to Andrew Jackson for some of the most colorful scandal and gossip for some time. Then you also have Grant's terms which featured early examples of Teapot Dome-type scandal. There was the whole debate as to whether or not Mrs. Wilson was running the country after Mr. Wilson's stroke in office--we can lots of others, I'm sure!

Jan 2, 2009, 7:51 pm

I suspect we can probably find at least one scandal for every president, particularly with the luxury of well researched hindsight. Perhaps we can ask people as they report out on each thread what the scandals were, and then we can gather up a composite list (Cheli can do?) at the end. I hope we can however, keep the scandal mongering to resasonably verifiable facts. We may need a separate thread for juicy rumors.

Jan 2, 2009, 8:27 pm

Sure should be interesting

Editado: Set 10, 2009, 9:30 pm

Since we are progressing along in our challenge to read about all the president's lives, I took a look into the scandals that have surrounded or happened during their presidencies. Here is the list of the Top 10 Scandals. I have indicated books that are related to the scandals themselves when I could. (touchstones aren't working so I underlined the titles.

Top Ten U.S. Presidential Scandals

10. Woodrow Wilson's Engagement

Sex has long played a role in the world of presidential sex scandals. Woodrow Wilson, famed for his role in the progressive movement and World War I, was not without scandal. His sin, however, was not sex per se but simply an engagement. His first wife, Ellen Louise Axson, died in August of 1914. The next spring Wilson met Edith Galt and by May they were engaged. This was seen as scandalous at the time, rumors began to fly about the President including that he had even murdered his first wife in order to marry Galt (although they had not met until after Ellen had died).

Edith and Woodrow : the Wilson White House
Edith & Woodrow: a Presidential romance

9. Grover Cleveland's Illegitimate Son

Grover Cleveland is best known as the only president in history to be elected for two non-sequential terms. During his first electoral campaign in 1884 information was released that he had fathered an illegitimate child ten years before. Unusual for a candidate mired in such a scandal Cleveland admitted guilt in the matter. Chants of "Ma, ma, where's my pa? Off to the White House, ha ha ha!" became popular throughout the country, but it did not stop Cleveland from getting elected (and elected again in 1892).

8. The Petticoat Affair

This is an often forgotten but at the time major scandal under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, one of the most famous presidents in United States history. It began with the marriage of Jackson's secretary of war, John Henry Eaton, to recently widowed Margaret Timberlake, whose husband had committed suicide. The marriage proved a great scandal in American high society, with rumors that Eaton had been having an affair with Timberlake which led to her first husband's suicide. Most of Jackson's cabinet turned against Eaton but Jackson supported him, and the controversy led to such a conflict that almost Jackson's entire cabinet resigned over the issue. It also led to Jackson's vice president, John C. Calhoun, falling from favor and being replaced by Martin Van Buren in Jackson's second election campaign. Van Buren had been the only cabinet member to support the Eatons and thus had gained Jackson's favor.

The Petticoat Affair

7. The Credit Mobilier Scandal

The Credit Mobilier scandal was the first major corruption scandal in the wake of the Civil War. Starting in 1867, several high-ranking Republican congressmen (all close supporters of soon to be President Ulysses S. Grant), were given and/or purchased at below market prices stock in the Credit Mobilier of America company, which was involved in the funding and construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Congressmen then proceeded to grant a number of public subsidies and other gifts to the company to help line their own pockets. Another of the major players was another future President: James A. Garfield.

Jubilee Jim: From Circus Traveler to Wall Street Rogue: The Remarkable Life of Colonel James Fisk, Jr.

6. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson's alleged relationship with Sally Hemings was the first presidential sex scandal in the United States and prompted a discussion that continues to this day. In 1802 Jefferson was charged with having an affair with his slave, Sally Hemings, and in fact fathering a child. Jefferson denied the charges and remained as president for another 7 years, however the debate about the truth of the matter continued until 1998 when DNA testing proved that Jefferson more than likely fathered at least one of Sally Heming's children.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings : An American Controversy
In Defense of Thomas Jefferson : The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal
The Hemingses of Monticello : An American Family

5. The Whiskey Ring

Ulysses S. Grant's presidency is often considered to be one of the most corrupt in history, and with good reason, as two major scandals took place during his presidency. The second was the Whiskey Ring scandal, involving a bribery and tax evasion scandal among many high ranking members of his cabinet (and even his own private secretary) and whiskey distillers. It resulted in the impeachment of his secretary of war, William Belknap, although he resigned before he could be convicted.

Secrets of the Great Whiskey Ring
The secrets of internal revenue

4. Iran-Contra

Iran-Contra is one of the biggest scandals to rock the presidency in modern times. When news that the Reagan administration was not only selling arms to Iran but using the profits to secretly fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, whom Congress had forbid the President from giving assistance too, the story caused a firestorm throughout the country. Admiral John M. Poindexter and Lt. Colonel Oliver North became the major targets of the scandal and became embroiled in lengthy trials and originally convicted for their roles although these convictions were later released on appeal, among fourteen other persons charged criminally in the whole affair. The scandal continues to be a black mark upon the Reagan presidency for many.

Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion

3. Teapot Dome

The Teapot Dome scandal of the Warren G. Harding administration has long been one of the poster boys of the world of presidential scandals. Harding transferred control of naval oil reserve lands over to the Department of the Interior in 1921 (although it was later reversed by the Supreme
Court, who ruled the move illegal). Then Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall used his new power for personal gain, giving rights to the Teapot Dome Reserve in Wyoming to the Mammoth Oil company in return for bribes. When the scandal broke in 1924 he was found to have accumulated over $100,000 worth of bribes from the Mammoth Oil Company, among others. Although Harding had already died in office prior to the scandal breaking, it became a hot topic of controversy for years after his death and continues to plague his now infamous legacy.

Teapot Dome Scandal : How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country

2. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky/ Whitewater

Perhaps no other scandal in presidential history can equal the Monica Lewinsky affair for pure sensationalism and absurdity. President Bill Clinton's sexual affair with an intern ultimately led to the second presidential impeachment in the history of the country (the first was that of Andrew Johnson in 1868). Although Clinton was ultimately acquitted of any crime, the affair became a laughing stock around the world and led to one of the most unusual documents in political history: the Starr Report, which intimately and often graphically described Clinton's entire sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Affair of State
From Watergate to Whitewater : The Public Integrity War

Editado: Set 11, 2009, 10:07 am

Did No 1 get cut off? I certainly hope it's going to be Watergate, not because I consider that to be no 1, but because it certainly is a scandal that belongs on the list. Just out of curiosity, where did you come up with this list?

Set 11, 2009, 9:29 am

The Teapot Dome Scandal was an ok book. It definitely lays out the scandal, but I was disappointed that it didn't really get into the Harding Administration as much as I hoped and it also was pretty gossipy and not as scholarly as I would have liked.

There are so many parallels to the Bush administration, and I think the author missed the opportunity to compare the two and come up with important conclusions about the role of special interests in government. I would have liked to have seen the author at least pose the question of what lessons could be learned from the Teapot Dome scandal? Particularly, the point that, even with the widespread corruption, the American public was completely indifferent and kept Harding's successor in office, and nobody even had to pay the price politically for what happened.

Regardless, though, if you read that book, you will become a cynic of how the government really works!

Editado: Set 11, 2009, 5:14 pm

Yes it got cut off.

#1 is.......

1. Watergate

There may be many scandals in the annals of United States presidential history, but none can compare for sheer impact with that of the Watergate scandal under the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Beginning with a break-in at the Democratic headquarters stationed in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. by five members of Nixon's re-election campaign. Although not initially involved Nixon found out about the break-in and did everything he did to cover up the scandal. When he was ultimately found out the news shocked the nation and led to a grand disillusionment with the American political system. It has also led to just about every subsequent presidential scandal, both large and small, gaining the suffix "gate." (I.E. Whitewatergate, Monicagate, Plamegate, etc.)

All the Presidents Men

Found at

Set 11, 2009, 5:16 pm

I starting looking when I picked up the book on the Petticoat Affair for Andrew Jackson. This seemed to be the most comprehensive list that I could find.

Nov 9, 2009, 1:52 pm

I think of all the background books that I've read so far, this one was the most related to the presidency so far. I thought it hghly educational as to the personality of Andrew Jackson.

THE PETTICOAT AFFAIR: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House
Author: John F. Marszalek
Read: Nov 3 - 9
Source: Public Library
Category: History
Pages: 304

Andrew Jackson was a man of deep moral principles and unfailing loyalty to his friends. When his wife Rachel, who had been much maligned during her marriage to Jackson, died before his inauguration, Jackson transferred his emotional support to his friend John Eaton and his wife Margaret Timberlake Eaton when her reputation was manipulated by the scandal of her marriage to Eaton before the required mourning period for her first husband had ended. The rules of mourning at that time required the widow to wear black for at least 2 years, not leave the house except for church, attend no social events. The widow wasn't even supposed to do any sewing because if she did she was not showing the proper amount of regard at loosing her spouse.
Margaret Timberlake lived with her family who ran a hotel and helped entertain the guests so she was constantly in view and socializing with men. For this fact, after her marriage to John Eaton (less than a year into her widowhood) Margaret Eaton was not considered by the other Washington wives as welcome into the polite society.
John Eaton had been a friend of Andrew Jackson's for more than 20 years and Jackson had selected him to be the Secretary of War. The other cabinet member wives refused to invite Margaret Eaton and her husband to social events and noticeably snubbed her at events held at the White House. Jackson took offense and through the first two years of his presidency tried to resolve the issues but was unable to. His solution was to start his cabinet over.
"The dissolution of the Jackson's cabinet, the only such event in American history, demonstrated the depth of the president's determination to have his way in the matter of Margaret Eaton."
"Andrew Jackson could never understand it, but it was he, not John C Calhoun, who made the snubbing of Margaret Eaton into the political cataclysm it became."

I found this book highly interesting showing that scandal and politics are not new bedfellows of the 20th century. I was also very surprised by the detail of the book since the 1000 page biography I had previously read about Jackson had very little about the Eaton Affair. I'm definitely glad that I took the time to read it.

Out 19, 2016, 5:16 am

Also, besides the Teapot Dome scandal of the Harding administration was the multiple affairs of Harding of which one resulted in a love child. Also, historians are divided on whether Mrs. Harding was complicit in his death.

Jul 17, 2019, 11:21 am

Just reading through this thread again, and I was thinking that Scott McClellan's book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception would count as a book about scandal in terms of the Iraq War and also how Hurricane Katrina was handled.