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Robert McNamara

Forgettable Presidents

By February 18, 2013

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As we pause to observe Presidents' Day, we mostly think of two great presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. We tend to overlook the more obscure ones, like the presidents during the two decades before the Civil War.

One reason they are difficult to remember is because seven men lived — including two who died — in the White House between 1841 and 1861. And even people who know a lot about history would have trouble naming all seven of them in order. Try it!

The not-so-magnificent seven are best known for avoiding issues. Or, at best, simply struggling to hold the country together as the sectional split over slavery became more intense.

Yet, despite the lackluster reputations, those presidents were an interesting set of characters. Some had held practically every office in government while some had little interest in politics until events put them into office. And some managed to defeat candidates who seemed to have everything going for them. Yet none of them, after reaching the White House, could be elected to a second term.

Can you name those seven presidents? Here they are:

That presidential era came to an end when Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861. The country was coming apart, as slave states were seceding from the Union in reaction to Lincoln's election. James Buchanan, who couldn't wait to leave town, reportedly said to Lincoln, "If you are as happy entering the presidency as I am leaving it, then you are a very happy man."

More: Presidents of the 1840s-1850s

Illustration: William Henry Harrison, whose one-month term in the White House launched a rough period for the presidency/Library of Congress

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