Ever since Richard Nixon got busted for the whole Watergate affair, presidential scandals have become depressingly normalized. Reagan had Iran-Contra. Clinton had his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Biden plagiarized, and Trump seemed to commit an impeachable offense every 48 hours for four years straight, and that wasn’t even counting the guy’s personal life. But in all the chaos, multiple other historical affairs involving US presidents have been forgotten or swept under the rug. Let’s take a look at a few long-lost presidential affairs from yesteryear…
10. The Petticoat Affair
The Petticoat Affair, also known as the Peggy Eaton Affair, was a serious social and political scandal during Andrew Jackson’s administration in the early 1830s. At its core was the marriage of Peggy Eaton, a young widow, to John Henry Eaton, a prominent politician and close friend of the President.
The scandal erupted due to the social snubbing Peggy received from Washington’s elite. Many of the cabinet members’ wives, led by Floride Calhoun (wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun), ostracized Peggy Eaton because of rumors about her allegedly improper conduct before her first husband’s death.
President Jackson, empathizing with Peggy’s predicament and drawing from his own experiences with his late wife Rachel, staunchly supported the Eatons. The scandal led to a reshuffling of Jackson’s cabinet, known as the “Kitchen Cabinet,” as several members, notably Vice President Calhoun, resigned over the issue.
9. The Teapot Dome Scandal
The Teapot Dome Scandal was another serious political scandal that unfolded in the early 1920s, during Warren G. Harding’s presidency. This one centered on the secret leasing of federal oil reserves, including the Teapot Dome in Wyoming and other locations in California, to private oil companies without competitive bidding.
Albert B. Fall, the Secretary of the Interior, played a central role in the scandal. He accepted bribes and loans from private oil companies in exchange for granting them lucrative leases to exploit the reserves. Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny were prominent figures involved in this scandal, representing Sinclair Oil Corporation and Pan American Petroleum respectively.
The scandal came to light as investigations were conducted, revealing the corruption and bribery that had taken place. Fall became the first Cabinet member in US history to be imprisoned for crimes committed while in office. The Teapot Dome Scandal tarnished Harding’s administration and eroded public trust in the government, emphasizing the need for transparency and ethics in public office.
8. The Credit Mobilier Scandal
The Credit Mobilier scandal was a classic case of 19th-century American corruption, featuring intrigue, kickbacks, and even a railroad or two. Back in the late 1860s, during the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad, the Credit Mobilier construction company was formed. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, not quite.
See, the insiders of Credit Mobilier were also high-ranking officials of the Union Pacific Railroad, which was awarded the contract for building the eastern portion of the railroad. Here comes the twist: Credit Mobilier drastically overcharged the government for the construction, making huge profits while Uncle Sam footed the bill. To keep things hush-hush, they generously greased the palms of various politicians with company stock at a bargain. A bribe disguised as a stock option — now that’s an innovative financial maneuver.
Predictably, this cozy arrangement didn’t remain a secret forever. Journalists got wind of it and blew the case wide open, leading to congressional investigations (among those investigated, but ultimately absolved, was Schuyler Colfax, the Vice President to Ulysses S. Grant) and a fair share of public outrage.
7. The Whiskey Ring Scandal
Ulysses S. Grant was a great general and created the Justice Department to fight the KKK. But as President, he did oversee a lot of corruption. The Whiskey Ring scandal in particular was like a plot twist in a 19th-century political drama, blending tax evasion, bribery, and the allure of whiskey. During the post-Civil War period, the federal government imposed a hefty tax on distilled spirits, a significant source of revenue. However, some distillers and government officials had a different recipe in mind.
In the early 1870s, a group of distillers and government agents conspired to evade taxes by underreporting their whiskey production. The plan was audacious but effective: pocket the tax money that should have gone to the government and ensure friendly faces were placed in key positions to facilitate this scheme. President Ulysses S. Grant’s own private secretary, Orville Babcock, was allegedly implicated in the ring.
The party came to an end when an honest Treasury Department clerk, John McDonald, blew the whistle. The subsequent investigations exposed the ring’s operations, leading to numerous indictments and convictions, including Babcock’s. This scandal not only shed light on the pervasive corruption in the Grant administration but also highlighted the importance of enforcing tax laws and maintaining integrity within government ranks.
6. Nixon’s Secret Bombing of Cambodia
In the tumultuous era of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon added a controversial chapter by secretly ordering the bombing of Cambodia. This covert operation, known as the Cambodian Incursion, commenced in 1969. The rationale behind it was to target North Vietnamese supply routes (the Ho Chi Minh Trail) and base areas that extended into Cambodia.
However, Nixon’s decision to conduct these bombings without the approval or even knowledge of the U.S. Congress triggered a storm of legal and moral debates. The executive branch had overstepped its constitutional authority, bypassing the checks and balances system. The lack of transparency only fueled public distrust in the government, already exacerbated by the ongoing anti-war movement.
Furthermore, the Cambodian Incursion escalated the conflict geographically and extended the duration of the war. The bombings also had devastating consequences for Cambodia, destabilizing the region and contributing to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, which later plunged Cambodia into the horrors of the genocide.
5. Grover Cleveland’s Illegitimate Child
Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, found himself entangled in a scandal involving allegations of fathering an illegitimate child. In 1874, while he was a bachelor and a lawyer in Buffalo, New York, Cleveland supposedly had a relationship with Maria Halpin, a widow. The relationship ended, and Halpin gave birth to a son, Oscar Folsom Cleveland, in 1874. Cleveland, upon learning of the child, took responsibility and provided financial support.
This matter surfaced during the 1884 presidential campaign when Cleveland was the Democratic nominee. His opponents sought to tarnish his image by highlighting this scandal. Instead of denying the paternity allegations, Cleveland admitted to paying child support and acknowledged the possibility of being the father. He managed to weather the storm by being forthright and transparent about the situation, which helped to mitigate the scandal’s impact on his electoral prospects.
In a surprising twist, Cleveland was elected as the 22nd President of the United States. His handling of the scandal showcased his honesty and directness, qualities that appealed to the public.
4. Warren G. Harding’s Extramarital Affairs
Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, was involved in a scandalous series of extramarital affairs during his time in office. The guy was known for his charisma and affable demeanor, and clearly used that for some ill-gotten romantic gains. He soon became embroiled in several romantic relationships outside of his marriage to Florence Kling Harding. Notably, he was linked to women such as Nan Britton and Carrie Fulton Phillips.
One of the most infamous affairs was with Nan Britton, which began before Harding assumed the presidency. Britton claimed to have had a long-standing relationship with Harding, resulting in the birth of a daughter named Elizabeth Ann in 1919. Despite the affair’s scandalous nature, it came to light after Harding’s death, tarnishing his posthumous reputation.
Harding’s affairs were a poorly kept secret in political and social circles, but their full extent only came to light years later, helping him survive politically.
3. Andrew Johnson’s Drunkenness
Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States, was known for his struggles with alcohol and instances of public intoxication. His fondness for getting wasted was embarrassingly evident during his time in the public eye, both before and during his presidency. Johnson’s behavior was often erratic and at times embarrassing, which raised concerns about his ability to govern effectively.
Reports of Johnson’s drinking habits date back to his years in Tennessee politics, where his penchant for alcohol was pretty well-known. This carried into his Presidency, and he was observed inebriated on several occasions during important events.
Johnson’s alcohol consumption during a time of great national significance fueled criticism and speculation about his fitness for office. But honestly, given how awful he was as President, maybe this shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise.
2. Nixon’s Enemies List
Yeah, Nixon had more scandals than just Watergate. During his presidency, there emerged an infamous “Enemies List,” officially titled the “Opponents List.” This list was compiled by aides in the Nixon administration to track individuals whom they perceived as political adversaries or critics of the president and his policies. The list included politicians, journalists, activists, and various public figures who were seen as detrimental to Nixon’s administration.
The list was revealed during the Watergate scandal, which engulfed Nixon’s presidency. It became public knowledge after it was disclosed by Dean Butterfield, a former White House counsel, during Senate hearings on the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up. The revelation shocked the nation, as it indicated a systematic effort to undermine political opponents.
The existence of this list proved how psychotically paranoid Nixon was, and how far he was willing to go to suppress dissent and opposition.
1. Andrew Jackson’s Duels
Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, was involved in several duels during his lifetime. Maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising, since the guy was also known for his fiery temperament and unwillingness to let bygones be bygones in his personal life.
One of the most infamous duels involving Andrew Jackson took place in 1806 with Charles Dickinson. Dickinson had insulted Jackson’s wife, Rachel, in a published letter. In their duel, Dickinson shot Jackson first, hitting him in the chest near the heart. Jackson, determined to defend his honor, took aim and fired, killing Dickinson. The bullet that struck Jackson remained lodged near his heart for the rest of his life.
Another notable duel was with Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton in 1813. In this duel, both men fired shots but missed, and they subsequently reconciled, forming a lifelong friendship. So that’s nice, we guess. But there really are better ways to make a pal than by failing to murder each other over petty grievances.
Jackson’s willingness to defend his honor through dueling was a reflection of the societal norms and attitudes of his time, where pers