by Allen Butler for

10. Woodrow Wilson’s Engagement

Sex has long played a role in the world of presidential sex scandals. Woodrow Wilson, famed for his role in the progressive movement and World War I, was not without scandal. His sin, however, was not sex per se but simply an engagement. His first wife, Ellen Louise Axson, died in August of 1914. The next spring Wilson met Edith Galt and by May they were engaged. This was seen as scandalous at the time, rumors began to fly about the President including that he had even murdered his first wife in order to marry Galt (although they had not met until after Ellen had died).

9. Grover Cleveland’s Illegitimate Son

Grover Cleveland is best known as the only president in history to be elected for two non-sequential terms. During his first electoral campaign in 1884 information was released that he had fathered an illegitimate child ten years before. Unusual for a candidate mired in such a scandal Cleveland admitted guilt in the matter. Chants of “Ma, ma, where’s my pa? Off to the White House, ha ha ha!” became popular throughout the country, but it did not stop Cleveland from getting elected (and elected again in 1892).

8. The Petticoat Affair

This is an often forgotten but at the time major scandal under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, one of the most famous presidents in United States history. It began with the marriage of Jackson’s secretary of war, John Henry Eaton, to recently widowed Margaret Timberlake, whose husband had committed suicide. The marriage proved a great scandal in American high society, with rumors that Eaton had been having an affair with Timberlake which led to her first husband’s suicide. Most of Jackson’s cabinet turned against Eaton but Jackson supported him, and the controversy led to such a conflict that almost Jackson’s entire cabinet resigned over the issue. It also led to Jackson’s vice president, John C. Calhoun, falling from favor and being replaced by Martin Van Buren in Jackson’s second election campaign. Van Buren had been the only cabinet member to support the Eatons and thus had gained Jackson’s favor.

7. The Credit Mobilier Scandal

The Credit Mobilier scandal was the first major corruption scandal in the wake of the Civil War. Starting in 1867, several high-ranking Republican congressmen (all close supporters of soon to be President Ulysses S. Grant), were given and/or purchased at below market prices stock in the Credit Mobilier of America company, which was involved in the funding and construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Congressmen then proceeded to grant a number of public subsidies and other gifts to the company to help line their own pockets. Another of the major players was another future President: James A. Garfield.

6. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings

Thomas Jefferson’s alleged relationship with Sally Hemmings was the first presidential sex scandal in the United States and prompted a discussion that continues to this day. In 1802 Jefferson was charged with having an affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings, and in fact fathering a child. Jefferson denied the charges and remained as president for another 7 years, however the debate about the truth of the matter continued until 1998 when DNA testing proved that Jefferson more than likely fathered at least one of Sally Hemming’s children.

5. The Whiskey Ring

Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency is often considered to be one of the most corrupt in history, and with good reason, as two major scandals took place during his presidency. The second was the Whiskey Ring scandal, involving a bribery and tax evasion scandal among many high ranking members of his cabinet (and even his own private secretary) and whiskey distillers. It resulted in the impeachment of his secretary of war, William Belknap, although he resigned before he could be convicted.

4. Iran-Contra

Iran-Contra is one of the biggest scandals to rock the presidency in modern times. When news that the Reagan administration was not only selling arms to Iran but using the profits to secretly fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, whom Congress had forbid the President from giving assistance too, the story caused a firestorm throughout the country. Admiral John M. Poindexter and Lt. Colonel Oliver North became the major targets of the scandal and became embroiled in lengthy trials and originally convicted for their roles although these convictions were later released on appeal, among fourteen other persons charged criminally in the whole affair. The scandal continues to be a black mark upon the Reagan presidency for many.

3. Teapot Dome

The Teapot Dome scandal of the Warren G. Harding administration has long been one of the poster boys of the world of presidential scandals. Harding transferred control of naval oil reserve lands over to the Department of the Interior in 1921 (although it was later reversed by the Supreme Court, who ruled the move illegal). Then Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall used his new power for personal gain, giving rights to the Teapot Dome Reserve in Wyoming to the Mammoth Oil company in return for bribes. When the scandal broke in 1924 he was found to have accumulated over $100,000 worth of bribes from the Mammoth Oil Company, among others. Although Harding had already died in office prior to the scandal breaking, it became a hot topic of controversy for years after his death and continues to plague his now infamous legacy.

2. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky

Perhaps no other scandal in presidential history can equal the Monica Lewinsky affair for pure sensationalism and absurdity. President Bill Clinton’s sexual affair with an intern ultimately led to the second presidential impeachment in the history of the country (the first was that of Andrew Johnson in 1868). Although Clinton was ultimately acquitted of any crime, the affair became a laughing stock around the world and led to one of the most unusual documents in political history: the Starr Report, which intimately and often graphically described Clinton’s entire sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsy.

1. Watergate

There may be many scandals in the annals of United States presidential history, but none can compare for sheer impact with that of the Watergate scandal under the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Beginning with a break-in at the Democratic headquarters stationed in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. by five members of Nixon’s re-election campaign. Although not initially involved Nixon found out about the break-in and did everything he did to cover up the scandal. When he was ultimately found out the news shocked the nation and led to a grand disillusionment with the American political system. It has also led to just about every subsequent presidential scandal, both large and small, gaining the suffix “gate.” (I.E. Whitewatergate, Monicagate, Plamegate, etc.)

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