15. Bill Clinton makes not-so-secret pit stops at McDonald’s

Clinton with McDonald's cup
Shutterstock

Although the most obvious example of Bill Clinton’s bad behavior was his highly publicized affair with 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the former president also cheated on his diet.

Bubba was famous for his love of fast food. He insisted on jogging outside the White House grounds to stay in shape and connect with voters — much to the chagrin of his security detail — but on more than one occasion he was caught diverting his route to a nearby McDonald’s.

SNL parodied the contrast in a 1992 sketch that sees Clinton hit up Mickey D’s after running just three blocks, stealing fries and breakfast sandwiches from every platter as he chews his way through the issues.

The president continued to eat poorly, even after Hillary got doctors involved and ordered changes to the White House menu. Clinton’s unhealthy habits eventually caught up to him; in 2004 he underwent a quadruple bypass surgery, followed by another heart surgery in 2010 to unclog a blocked artery.

After his second surgery Bubba went vegan, and he hasn’t looked back since.

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14. Lyndon B. Johnson holds court from the throne

LBJ
Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Lyndon Johnson was known for his brash, shoot-from-the-hip demeanor while in office from 1963 to 1969. He was never afraid to speak his mind — even if he was in the middle of a bowel movement.

LBJ hated to break his train of thought while engaged in discussion and would urge his staff to come in and chat while he sat on the toilet.

He also developed a reputation for striking up conversations while using the Capitol building’s urinals and was known to relieve himself in the congressional parking lot.

That’s really just the beginning of Johnson’s barnyard mannerisms, but you’ve probably heard enough.

13. Franklin D. Roosevelt serves wieners to the king and queen

FDR
Kharbine-Tapabor / Shutterstock

Donald Trump was scorned in the media for serving fast food feasts to champion athletes, but he might have been paying tribute to one of his illustrious predecessors.

In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt had the honor of hosting the British monarchy for the first time in American history. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II received a formal State Dinner at the White House — but the menu changed completely when they later dined at Roosevelt’s home.

Instead of a high-class banquet fit for a royal visit, FDR threw them a backyard BBQ, complete with hot dogs, soft drinks and strawberry shortcake for dessert. The man was a multimillionaire, so he certainly wasn't running low on cash.

While Queen Elizabeth was reportedly hesitant to sample the local cuisine, the king was a big fan: He went back for seconds and washed down his dogs with a frosty mug of beer.

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12. Ulysses S. Grant gets arrested for speeding

Grant
Mathew Brady / Wikimedia Commons

To date, Ulysses S. Grant remains the only U.S. president placed under arrest during his term — but it wasn’t for any of the numerous scandals that plagued his administration.

No, Grant was arrested for speeding on the streets of Washington, D.C. — in a horse-drawn carriage, of course. (It was 1872.)

The president was known to be a bit of a speed demon, and one day while he was tearing through the nation’s capital he was flagged down by a police officer named William H. West.

West let the 18th president off with a warning, but then spotted Grant speeding through Georgetown again the very next day.

This time West placed an embarrassed Grant under arrest and took him to the local police station. The other officers were unsure whether they could charge a sitting president who had not been impeached and wound up letting him off with a $20 fine.

11. Andrew Jackson raises a foul-mouthed parrot

Jackson
Ralph E. W. Earl / Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Jackson earned his nickname, Old Hickory, for being tough as nails and for never backing down from a fight. He participated in at least five duels during his life, though some estimates place that number as high as 100.

Consistent with his tough-guy persona, Jackson was fond of using strong language — a love that he apparently passed down to his pet parrot, Polly.

Polly’s potty-mouth famously emerged at an extremely inopportune time: during Jackson’s 1845 funeral at his home.

According to William Menefee Norment, a reverend who attended the service, Polly “commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people, and had to be carried from the house.”

There are no records of what exactly Polly said during the funeral, but whatever it was, we get it; grief can take many forms.

10. John Quincy Adams takes daily dips in the buff

John Quincy Adams
George Peter Alexander Healy / Wikimedia Commons

These days, if a president appeared nude in public, the internet would explode. But during the 1820s, John Quincy Adams could be spotted in his birthday suit every single morning.

The nation’s sixth president would start each day with a brisk walk, followed by a naked swim in the Potomac River. That said, back then skinny dipping was considered more practical and less taboo than it is today.

Adams’ morning ritual did land him in hot water once, according to a popular (though unverified) tale. As the story goes, a columnist by the name of Anne Royall snatched up his clothes and sat on them until he agreed to answer her questions, making her the first woman to ever interview a sitting (or, in this case, swimming) president.

9. Theodore Roosevelt engages in fisticuffs at the White House

Teddy Roosevelt
Universal History Archive / UIG / Shutterstock

Teddy Roosevelt was a man of many hobbies, including combat sports like wrestling. He was especially fond of boxing and brought his passion for the sweet science to the White House, where he held regular sparring matches with young military aides.

Unfortunately, his passion for pugilism dealt him a serious blow in 1908, near the end of his second term. He took a hard jab to the left eye that caused a detached retina, leaving him partially blind for the rest of his life. (For those of us who aren't eccentric millionaires, this is why disability insurance exists.)

Teddy was a good sport about the incident, though. He kept his visual impairment secret from all but a few close friends — mainly to protect the identity of his hard-hitting opponent. Although he was forced to give up boxing and wrestling, he could still shoot using his right eye and switched to the safer combat sport of jiu jitsu.

8. James Monroe splurges on furniture, then asks for a refund

James Monroe
Samuel F. B. Morse / Wikimedia Commons

James Monroe ushered in the “Era of Good Feelings,” a time of great national unity following the War of 1812. While he was beloved by the American people, Monroe did have his faults.

The fifth president loved spending money, even when he couldn’t afford it. He drained his bank account to help refurnish the White House after the British burned it down, splashing out on gilded furniture, silverware and fancy French art.

Naturally, he wound up in serious debt after leaving office.

He eventually owed so much that he asked Congress to reimburse him for the cash he spent upgrading the presidential abode. In 1826, they relented and gave him $30,000 — the equivalent of $790,000 today.

However, that wasn’t enough. Almost immediately after his first payment, he returned to Congress with additional claims, and they paid him another $30,000 in 1831 — a sum that still somehow left Monroe feeling unsatisfied.

If you've run up a sizable debt of your own, don't go crying to Congress — just use a consolidation loan like everybody else.

7. James Madison rewrites history

James Madison
John Vanderlyn / Wikimedia Commons

You’d think that being one of the Founding Fathers would be a solid enough legacy to leave behind, but some historians say James Madison was paranoid about how history would remember him.

As he grew older, Little Jemmy — a less-than-flattering nickname derived from his five-foot-four height — began to revise his copies of various letters and documents, seemingly to paint himself in a better light. His notes are the only surviving records of some important meetings carried out behind closed doors.

Historians say he even went so far as to forge the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson to mask his changes in one piece of correspondence, in which Madison makes a snide remark about the Marquis de Lafayette.

In case you’re curious, here’s the sick burn that Madison cut out: “In a word, I take him to be as amiable a man as his vanity will admit.” Ouch.

6. John F. Kennedy repeatedly steps out on Jackie O

JFK
Underwood Archives / UIG / Shutterstock

Lucky for JFK, TMZ didn’t exist back in the 1960s.

By most accounts, John F. Kennedy was a serial philanderer. In addition to rumored trysts with famous actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Anita Ekberg, Kennedy reportedly had dalliances with White House secretaries, call-girls, a mob moll and even a supposed Soviet spy.

Even though his affairs were well-known among the press, the president’s dirty laundry was not something most journalists considered newsworthy at the time.

In fact, many Americans didn’t realize that JFK was unfaithful to Jackie until the name of one of his mistresses came out in a congressional hearing — more than a decade after his death.

5. Warren G. Harding runs with the wrong crowd

Warren G. Harding
Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons

Check out any number of lists ranking the presidents, and you’ll find “Wobbly Warren” usually comes out near the bottom.

Warren G. Harding was accused of cronyism after giving high-ranking cabinet jobs to his politico friends from Ohio, who were disparagingly referred to as the “Ohio Gang.”

Harding knew their limitations but liked to drink, smoke and play poker with them; he once gambled away an entire White House china set on a single hand.

One member of this group, Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall, triggered the “Teapot Dome” scandal after taking bribes in exchange for oil contracts in Wyoming and California.

Whether Harding was directly involved or not, he died in 1923 before he could face any legal repercussions. However, several members of the Ohio Gang wound up in jail for crimes they committed while he was president.

4. Donald Trump allegedly profits from the presidency

Trump and Abe
Donald J. Trump / Wikimedia Commons

The history books on Donald Trump’s presidency are still being written; it may take years for the public to have a full account of his actions in office.

Among the many, many scandals of his term, The Donald was accused of violating the Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause,” which prohibits the president from accepting payments from domestic or foreign officials.

Unlike most of his predecessors, Trump retained ownership interests in his family business during his time in office. His critics say that means he profited — directly or indirectly — every time he hosted a government official at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., or the “Winter White House” at Mar-a-Lago.

The former president defended his venue choices by pointing to how much more comfortable Trump properties are.

Fortunately for Don, he won't have to defend that argument. The Supreme Court recently dismissed the two emoluments cases against him because he is no longer in office. A third lawsuit, brought by Democratic members of Congress, was dismissed back in February 2020.

3. Ronald Reagan’s administration sells missiles to fund rebels

Reagan and aides
White House Photographic Collection / Wikimedia Commons

Before Ronald Reagan took over as commander in chief, his predecessor Jimmy Carter dealt with a 444-day hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Once the situation was resolved, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Iran.

In 1985, The Gipper was confronted with his own hostage crisis, perpetrated by a paramilitary group backed by Iran.

Reagan’s administration secretly defied the embargo and sold more than 1,500 missiles to Iran without informing Congress. After the sale, the paramilitary group gradually released three of the seven American hostages — although it soon took three more.

When details of the deal eventually came out, an investigation revealed that a large portion of the profits from the sale had been used to bankroll the Contras — right-wing military groups in Nicaragua that Congress had forbidden the Reagan administration from supporting.

Reagan initially denied his involvement in the arms deal, then retracted his statement a week later. Although Dutch himself was never charged — it was hard to prove how much he knew — 14 others were.

2. Richard Nixon tries to cover up a sabotage scheme

Nixon peace sign
Everett / Shutterstock

When most people think about presidential scandals, Richard Nixon’s Watergate debacle is usually the first that comes to mind.

In 1972, five men were arrested after breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., stealing documents and wiretapping the phones.

It came to light that the perpetrators were connected to Nixon’s re-election campaign staff, and so Tricky Dick conspired to cover up his connection to the burglary. However, some intrepid reporting proved that the Watergate break-in was part of a grander scheme to spy on and sabotage Nixon’s political rivals.

The scandal implicated members of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA and the White House staff, and 69 government officials were eventually indicted. Rather than face impeachment, Nixon left office in 1974, making him the only president in history to resign the post.

1. Andrew Johnson fires whomever he darn well pleases

Andrew Johnson
Everett / Shutterstock

Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, vice president Andrew Johnson took over the country’s top job.

Although Johnson had supported the Union during the Civil War, his roots were in the south. He frequently tried to thwart the efforts of the Radical Republicans who controlled Congress, as they wanted to grant citizenship to freed slaves and prevent former rebels from taking back power in state governments.

After Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act of 1867, which prevented the president from dismissing government officials without the Senate’s approval, Johnson openly defied the new law and sent the secretary of war packing.

Three days later, Johnson was impeached, and he wound up escaping removal from office by just one vote.

In what likely came as a shock to no one, Johnson lost the election later that year to Ulysses S. Grant, the Radical Republican candidate.

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About the Author

Shane Murphy

Shane Murphy

Reporter

Shane is a reporter for MoneyWise. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from Western University and is a graduate of the Algonquin College Scriptwriting program.

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