None of our least successful presidents displayed the self-deprecatory humor of Lincoln or the sunny dispositions that powered the Roosevelts (Theodore and Franklin) and Ronald Reagan. A visitor described the Pierce White House as a “cold and cheerless place,” noting the isolation of the invalid first lady, in deep mourning for three dead sons.

When Buchanan welcomed successor Lincoln, he plaintively declared: “My dear, sir, if you are as happy on entering the White House as I on leaving, you are a very happy man indeed.”

The result of the depressing and erratic leadership of our six most conspicuous presidential failures is that all managed to estrange a once-admiring electorate within the space of a single term. Tyler,Pierce, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan all earned rejection by their own party, failed to win their own party’s nominations, entering retirement as discredited figures. Hoover and Carter appeared on national tickets and campaigned vigorously but got wiped out in historic landslides, with each incumbent carrying a mere six states.