Past Presidents Talking Trash: Top 10 POTUS Insults

Very Free Speech, from Thomas Jefferson to Lyndon Johnson

If you think the, um, unpleasantness in recent presidential campaigns has reached an all-time low, well, then you don’t know the previous presidents.

We meet them pretty often on our virtual scavenger hunts and online games, particularly at the National Portrait Gallery* in Washington, D.C. Here are a few of the choice words U.S. presidents have historically had for each other.

Harsh Words

  • Teddy RooseveltTeddy Roosevelt on President William McKinley:
    “No more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” Sweet burn, Teddy.
  • Perhaps T.R. was inspired by Ulysses S. Grant’s comment on James A. Garfield:
    “[He] is not possessed of the backbone of an angleworm.” No backbone = bad president, got it, OK.
  • Lyndon Johnson on Gerald Ford:
    “Jerry Ford is so dumb that he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.” That is very dumb, if true.
  • Woodrow Wilson on Warren G. Harding:
    “He has a bungalow mind.” Does he mean…is that small? Like, a small mind? Because bungalows are kind of small for houses? It doesn’t seem to have been a common expression, so we can only guess.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, when asked if his veep, Richard Nixon, had contributed any major ideas to Ike’s presidency:
    “If you give me a week, I might think of one.” He was not yet a crook.
  • Herbert Hoover on Franklin D. Roosevelt:
    “[A] chameleon on plaid.” A colorful comparison if we’ve ever heard one.

  • Calvin Coolidge on Herbert Hoover:
    “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.” They weren’t even running against each other, folks. Coolidge wasn’t seeking re-election, and Hoover was his own party’s popular pick to replace him. Also, that’s a picture of Calvin Coolidge right there, in case you had absolutely no idea what a Calvin Coolidge looked like.
  • Thomas Jefferson on John Adams:
    “A blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Thomas Jefferson was not a good guy.
  • John’s son John Quincy Adams on Thomas Jefferson:
    “A slur upon the moral government of the world.” See?
  • And one more from the saltiest president, LBJ, on Nixon:
    “I may not know much, but I know chicken sh*t from chicken salad.” Bok bok!

*The museum and its “America’s Presidents” are filled with fascinating facts that we’ve incorporated into our team building scavenger hunts there. For example, we learned that Benjamin Harrison was nicknamed The Human Iceberg, that Congress refused to pay for the official portrait of James Buchanan, and that after Buchanan lived for 15 years with a senator, Andrew Jackson dubbed them “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.” We dub Andrew Jackson “Jerk.”

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Photo credits: Lead photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash;  Theodore Roosevelt photo via the National Portrait Gallery; Calvin Coolidge photo in the public domain