Feelings about the current Commander in Chief aside, America has a long and storied history of employing some seriously fucking righteous men to lead us. From dueling mud-slinging reporters to beating up would-be assassins and keeping alligators in the White House, it’s not difficult to understand why America rose to such esteemed prominence on the world stage so early on in its infancy—we were all fucking crazy, and we made sure the whole world knew it. Here are the stories behind some of America’s craziest presidents.
1. Andrew Jackson Beat Would-Be Assassin With His Walking Cane: For all intents and purposes, Andrew Jackson was a pretty shitty human being. He was a plantation owner. He made his fortune in the slave trade. He signed the Indian Removal Act, which single-handedly brought about the now-infamous Trail of Tears. He was a notorious hothead. But, politics aside, he was actually a really, really bad mamma jamma. On January 30, 1835, Jackson was leaving a congressional funeral (ironic, no?) when a man approached him, drew a pistol and pulled the trigger. The pistol misfired and Jackson, 67 years old and completely unperturbed by the fuckery, immediately confronted his would-be assassin and proceeded to beat the guy’s ass with his walking cane. The assassin drew down on Jackson with another pistol, which also somehow managed to misfire. After a thorough flogging, Jackson’s security dragged him away.
2. JFK Fought in WWII With a Bad Back: It’s no secret that several health issues plagued John F. Kennedy throughout his life—most notably, a very bad back and Addison’s disease. Consequently, his physical disabilities prevented him from being able to serve in the military while we were out there kicking Nazi ass all over Europe. Frustrated and unwilling to not fight, JFK asked his father to pull some strings for him and, long story short, he did. Kennedy wound up the captain of a naval torpedo vessel and, in 1943, after his ship was attacked and literally cut in half by a Japanese destroyer, he and his crew swam three miles to a small island where they regrouped. The most badass part? Kennedy towed a badly burned crewman to the island with a life jacket strap clenched between his God damn teeth! For his heroic actions, Kennedy was eventually awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with three stars) and the World War II Victory Medal.
3. John Quincy Adams Kept Alligator in the White House: When John Quincy Adams wasn’t proposing America’s highway system or helping to secure the purchase of the entire state of Florida, he was also giving the White House “some extra pizzazz.” And by “some extra pizzazz” I actually mean “a fucking alligator.” To be fair, the gator was a gift from Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette upon his visit to the White House. The Marquis de Lafayette was a celebrity, having served on the battlefield alongside George Washington and fought bravely in multiple important battles; he was given the alligator while on the road in the U.S. When he arrived at the White House, he re-gifted the gator to Jackson, who famously kept it and frequently show it to baffled and terrified guests.
4. Andrew Jackson Dueled Reporter for Talking Shit: Listen… I know I already put Jackson on here once, but this guy was just too damn good. I could probably write a roundup of badass stuff that he and he alone did throughout his flaming trashcan of a life, but that’s another story for another day. It has been reported that, throughout his life, Jackson engaged in over 100 duels. One such duel came on May 30, 1806, when Jackson squared off with Charles Dickinson, a rival horse breeder and plantation owner who’d insulted Jackson’s wife, Rachel, by calling her a bigamist (and calling Jackson a coward and a scoundrel). Jackson said the presidential equivalent of “Nah, fuck that, fam” and formally challenged Dickinson to a duel. The two met at Harrison’s Mill over the border in Kentucky (where dueling is still legal), and got to it. Dickinson shot first, hitting Jackson square in the chest. Jackson, ignoring the fact that he’d just been shot in the fucking chest, drew down on Dickinson, firing a bullet that proved fatal. Jackson somehow survived his brush with death, although he never removed the bullet and dealt with the obvious complications of being shot in the chest for the rest of his life. But, hey, no one calls his wife a whore and gets away with it!
5. Thomas Jefferson Was a Crackshot: Thomas Jefferson is one of America’s most storied founding fathers. Aside from being one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence, he was also a big proponent of fighting to achieve change. At 25, Jefferson took home first place at a shooting competition, and he also claimed his aim with his favorite Turkish pistols was so good, he could down a squirrel from 25 meters out. That, coupled with the fact that he was also famous for this quote, makes him one of the hands-down most bad ass patriots to ever step foot in the Oval Office. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Hot damn, Jeffy!
6. George Washington Was a Savage on the Battlefield: When America’s war for independence was over, George Washington had established himself as the obvious pick for the burgeoning nation’s inaugural presidency. And through his levelheaded politics, people often forget that he was an absolute fucking savage on the battlefield. Aside from famously sneak attacking the Hessians on Christmas, he was also not-as-famously a total war hero. For instance, during the battle of Princeton in 1777, after the American regiment had already been thoroughly ass-whooped by the British, Washington arrived on the scene. After rallying the badly beaten fleeing troops, Washington allegedly yelled out, “Parade with us, my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy, and we will have them directly!” He marched them straight to the British, at a distance of just 30 yards, before instructing his men to fire. When the smoke finally cleared and Washington wasn’t dead, he discovered that his men were able to turn the tables and force the British into retreat.
7. Teddy Roosevelt Continued His Speech After Being Shot: While out on the campaign trail in 1912, Teddy Roosevelt arrived in Milwaukee to give a speech. He was outside the venue greeting members of the public when he was shot in the chest at near point blank range by disgruntled saloonkeeper, John Schrank. Rather than doing what a normal person would and get the hell out of there, Roosevelt took the stage and delivered the 80-minute speech. After announcing to the shocked auditorium what had just happened, Roosevelt calmed them down and jokingly said, “You see, it takes more than one bullet to kill a bull moose.” There are a ton of things that make Teddy Roosevelt one of the most badass presidents of all time, but this is probably the most punk rock of them all.
8. FDR Won the Heart of a Nation—and Repealed Prohibition: Franklin Delano Roosevelt wasn’t a classic badass. He didn’t beat anybody with a cane; he didn’t fill the White House with dangerous reptiles; he never dueled anyone. However, there’s a reason why he was the nation’s longest-serving president. He single-handedly brought the U.S. to the world stage, introduced the legislation that laid the foundation that broke us from the Great Depression, and he even got us through an otherwise disastrous world war—all while having Polio. He was a brilliant patriot who was able to create a sense of trust and empathy with average Americans, and it’s hard to say whether we’ll ever know a leader like FDR again.