American Presidents of the 19th-Century

Posted by Nick Efstathiadis in ,


By Kathryn Hadley | Posted 24th November 2011, 12:13

Thomas JeffersonTwenty-three American presidents succeeded one another in the 19th century. Some of the most famous American presidents took office in the 19th century including Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln. Others are less well-known, sometimes because a tragic turn of events brought their term to an unexpected end.


William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), for example, caught pneumonia at his inauguration and died a month later. He was the first American president to die in office. James Garfield (1831-81) was also in office for less than a year. He was elected president by a slim margin and quickly alienated Roscoe Conkling and the stalwart faction of the Republican Party. He was shot, on July 2nd, 1881, by Charles Guiteau, an admirer of the Stalwarts. Garfield was mortally wounded and lay in the White House for weeks. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried unsuccessfully to find the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device which he had designed. Garfield died, however, on September 19th, 1881, from an infection and internal haemorrhage.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the third president of the United States and the first to take office in the nineteenth century, in 1801. Jefferson described himself on his tombstone as the ‘author of the Declaration of American Independence [,] of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia, because by these, as testimonials that I have lived I wish most to be remembered’. Although Jefferson’s work was central to the founding and development of the new American republic, he was a contentious figure and few historians, admirers or critics have accepted this self-assessment. How should we view Thomas Jefferson? Colon Bonwick offers an assessment of America’s third president in Thomas Jefferson: Pragmatist or Visionary? .

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was the sixth president of the United States. He was the son of John Adams, the second president of the USA, and began his career in politics at a remarkably young age: aged 14, he became private secretary to the US envoy in St Petersburg. John Quincy Adams was a polymath and as gifted intellectually as Jefferson. In John Quincy Adams, Maldwyn A. Jones explains how although his presidency was short, frustrating and ‘an unmitigated disaster’, his contribution to American political life was outstanding. ‘His career as a whole produced a solid record of achievement that few presidents have since been able to match’.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) succeeded John Buchanan (interestingly the only American president who never married) as the sixteenth president of the United States. He took office on March 4th, 1861. In The Union Lincoln Made, Joshua Kleinfeld explores Lincoln’s attitudes towards the constitution and civil liberty during the Civil War, and finds their impact still reverberating in the US today.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) was inaugurated as the eighteenth president of the United States in 1869. He served for two terms. In the last days of his life, he sat on the porch of his home at Mount McGregor writing the story of his life. As William S. McFeely explains in The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, it was thus the president perhaps least known for his intellectual powers who wrote the most famous book we have by a president about his own life.

William McKinley (1843-1901) was the last president to take office in the nineteenth century. He too suffered a tragic fate when, less than a year into his second term, he was shot by an anarchist, Leon F. Czolgosz, in Buffalo, New York. 

Here is the full list of 19th-century American presidents:

Thomas Jefferson: 1801-09

James Madison: 1809-17

James Monroe: 1817-25

John Quincy Adams: 1825-29

Andrew Jackson: 1829-37

Martin Van Buren: 1837-41

William Henry Harrison: 1841

John Tyler: 1841-45

James K. Polk: 1845-49

Zachary Taylor: 1849-50

Millard Fillmore 1850-53

Franklin Pierce: 1853-57

James Buchanan: 1857-61

Abraham Lincoln: 1861-65

Andrew Johnson: 1865-69

Ulysses S. Grant: 1869-77

Rutherford B. Hayes: 1877-81

James Garfield: 1881

Chester A. Arthur: 1881-85

Grover Cleveland: 1885-89

Benjamin Harrison: 1889-93

Grover Cleveland: 1893-97

William McKinley: 1897-1901

For further information, the website of the White House provides informative biographies of each of the presidents of the United States.  



American Presidents of the 19th-Century | History Today

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