Abraham Lincoln developed a reputation for being a politician with integrity, honor, and ethics, which is why he was nicknamed Honest Abe. He was also called The Great Emancipator, for his role in ending slavery. Another example: John F. Kennedy was known simply as JFK, after the initials in his name. It was basic, but instantly recognizable and memorable.
The point is that, even when you are President of the United States, you don’t always get addressed with the esteem that your position should include. Sure, some nicknames are meant to be jovial, even loving, but plenty of others are belittling or just plain weird.
We’ve all heard of Tricky Dick and The Gipper, but here are the stories behind 10 other bizarre presidential nicknames.
10. The Last Cocked Hat
Fashion can be a fickle mistress, even when you are the commander-in-chief. That’s the lesson that James Monroe, fifth President of the United States, learned when he became known as “the Last Cocked Hat.”
This moniker referenced Monroe’s outdated sartorial choices. Even though he was in office during the 1820s, he still dressed in the manner common during the American Revolution: knee-breeches, white, powdered wigs, and the tricorn hat. The presidents who followed him adopted more modern fashion choices, which is why Monroe was called “the last cocked hat.”
This nickname followed him around for the rest of his life and, although we don’t know how Monroe felt about it, we can at least say that the epithet was still an affectionate one and was never intended to be used in a derogatory manner, which is definitely not the case for all the entries on this list. Speaking of which…
9. Ten-Cent Jimmy
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
This little gaffe from George W. Bush taught him that when you are President of the United States, everything you say is scrutinized and your political opponents are more than happy to criticize you whenever you put your foot in your mouth. This is especially true during an election when just one flub could cost you the race, as James Buchanan almost found out to his own detriment.
During the 1856 presidential election, Democratic Party candidate James Buchanan drew the ire of the working classes when he said that he thought that ten cents a day represented a fair wage for manual laborers. The Republicans pounced on the opportunity and mockingly referred to Buchanan as “Ten-Cent Jimmy,” a nickname that followed him at rallies throughout the election campaign.
This could have cost Buchanan the election, but he played the slavery card, claiming that each state should decide on its own if slavery should be outlawed or not, whereas his Republican opponent, John C. Frémont, wanted the practice abolished in the entire country. This secured Buchanan the southern vote and won him the election, despite his “Ten-Cent Jimmy” gaffe.
8. Uncle Jumbo
There were quite a few presidents who were well-known for their voracious appetites and prodigious girths. One of them was Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, best remembered for being the only one in American history to serve two non-consecutive terms. In fact, weighing between 260 and 280 pounds during his political career, Cleveland was the second-heaviest US President in history, behind only William Taft. (But, more on him later.)
It is no surprise, then, that Cleveland had gained the moniker “Uncle Jumbo.” However, it seems that the nickname at least came from a place of affection, starting with his nieces and nephews and then extending to his friends and family. Cleveland embraced the name and used it to paint this picture of himself as the friendly, caring uncle, which resonated with the voters and helped him get elected.
7. The Human Iceberg
“The Human Iceberg” sounds like a nickname you would give to an NFL player, or maybe a supervillain, but instead it went to the 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison.
Allegedly, this sobriquet was due to his private character, which was frigid, quiet, and stiff, in stark contrast to his lively and engaging public persona. Put Harrison in front of a crowd of 30,000 and he would have no problem capturing and captivating their attention, but place him in a room with just a handful of people and he would struggle to string words together for longer than two minutes.
Critics of Harrison believed the “human iceberg” moniker also suited his presidency since he slowly lumbered through it without any events of note.
6. Big Lub
As we previously mentioned, Grover Cleveland was the second-heaviest president after William Howard Taft, who weighed up to 350 pounds during his time in office. Nowadays, Taft is most famous for being so fat that he once got stuck inside the bathtub of the White House, although that story is likely an urban legend that doesn’t really hold water.
Even so, it is true that Taft was mocked in his time for his size and appetite, often being referred to as “Big Lub.” While you may say that that didn’t sound worse than “Uncle Jumbo,” it was the maliciousness behind the words that made the difference. While “Uncle Jumbo” was a term of endearment for Cleveland from his family, “Big Lub” was a nickname that Taft picked up during his school years and it haunted him all his life, even when he became President of the United States.
At least his wife Nellie had a more affectionate moniker for the portly president. She called him “Sleeping Beauty” because Taft often nodded off at parties.
5. Uncle Corn Pone
While we are discussing hurtful nicknames, we have to include “Uncle Corn Pone,” a moniker reserved for the 36th President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson. In this case, “corn pone” refers to a rural, unsophisticated person, thus ridiculing LBJ’s southern roots since he was born in Texas.
But the most upsetting thing about the nickname was who came up with it – none other than the Kennedys. While Johnson served as vice president, JFK and his brothers mocked him by calling him either “Uncle Corn Pone” or “Rufus Corn Pone.” But perhaps even more hurtful was their name for LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson, whom they referred to as “Uncle Corn Pone’s little pork chop.”
4. The Madman from Massachusetts
Again, the “Madman from Massachusetts” sounds like the kind of nickname that you would use for someone making their way to the ring at Wrestlemania, but instead, it was the moniker given to the sixth President of the United States, John Quincy Adams.
What did Adams do that got him branded as a madman? Well, he dared question the value of slavery. Initially, Adams deemed slavery immoral, but necessary in order to continue the Union. As the years went on, he blossomed into a full-blown abolitionist who believed that either the South would abolish slavery, or there would be civil war.
As you might imagine, such ideas earned him plenty of enemies, especially south of the Mason-Dixon Line. He narrowly avoided an official motion to be censured for his antislavery agitation back in 1842, when he was still a member of the House of Representatives. He garnered plenty of snubs and even threats on his life for his actions so, in retrospect, being called the “Madman from Massachusetts” was far from the worst thing he had to endure.
3. The Sphinx
Weirdly enough, there were two American presidents who were called “The Sphinx.” The first one is pretty straightforward. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, was renowned as a man of few words, so he earned quite a few nicknames that referenced his taciturn demeanor – Silent Cal, Cautious Cal, and, strangest of all, the Sphinx of the Potomac.
The story behind the second nickname is a bit more interesting and it concerns Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only American president to serve three terms, even though he actually won four. The nickname actually has to do with his third, elusive presidential term. In 1939, FDR appeared ready to hang up his boots once his second term would end in 1940, following the presidential tradition of retiring after two turns as commander-in-chief. However, once World War II broke out, there was a lot of speculation that Roosevelt might run for a third term to guide the country through this crisis.
On this issue, FDR kept his cards close to his vest and said very little in the lead-up to the election. This prompted several newspapers to publish cartoons depicting Roosevelt as the Great Sphinx of Giza, unwilling to share the answer to the “third term question” with anyone else.
Then, on the evening of December 9, 1939, FDR attended the Gridiron Club’s winter dinner as the guest of honor. It included Washington journalists doing skits and poking fun at politicians, and the highlight of the night involved them bringing out an 8-foot-tall statue out of papier-mâché, with Roosevelt as the Sphinx. FDR loved it so much that he asked to keep it after the night was over, and it still sits at a place of honor inside the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.
2. His Fraudulency, “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes
We have another twofer here, except this one involves two nicknames for the same president instead of the other way around.
When Rutherford B. Hayes became the 19th President of the United States, he did so under a cloud of controversy. The 1876 election was fraught with dissension because Hayes’s opponent, Samuel J. Tilden, actually won the popular vote. He was leading in the electoral vote, as well, but the race was so close in three states that both parties claimed the win. A special commission was set up by Congress to determine the winner and they declared the election in favor of Hayes, 185 electoral votes to 184.
After Hayes took office, his fiercest critics accused him of striking a “corrupt bargain” to win the presidency and gave him two nicknames to remind him of his undeserving win: “His Fraudulency” and “Rutherfraud B. Hayes.”
1. The Dude President
Without a doubt, the coolest presidential nickname goes to Chester A. Arthur, who was known as “The Dude President.” It’s a little weird how a man who constantly ranks among the most forgettable presidents got such a snazzy sobriquet, but it makes sense since the word had a slightly different meaning back then.
Arthur didn’t become known as “The Dude” because he put a rug in the Oval Office that really tied the room together. Instead, he gained it due to his love of fashion, fripperies, and the finer things in life. Back then, a “dude” basically meant a “dandy” – a young man completely devoted to the latest styles and fads.
And Chester A. Arthur was one such man. Tales of his expensive habits became common during his stay in office. He spent over $30,000 in 1880 money just to redecorate the White House and make it more glamorous for his parties. He had a wardrobe full of silk top hats and expensive clothes and shoes imported from Europe that would put any contemporary heiress or fashionista to shame.
Arthur also wasn’t exactly what you would call a workaholic. He was definitely a man who cherished his free time. Unsurprisingly, the “dude” nickname was used derogatorily in his own time, but Arthur didn’t seem to mind too much because he understood the golden rule…the Dude abides.