Rank the Presidents and compare

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Rank the Presidents and compare

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Mar 19, 2009, 10:10pm

We have been seeing the historians ranking the presidents. I thought it might be fun to rank them ourselves as we go along. So create a message on this thread and update it as you finish reading, putting the presidents in the order of how you think they did. You have to read their bio first.

Editado: Out 10, 2012, 8:59pm

Chèli's Rankings - I've only read these so far. I figure I better make some notes as to why I ranked them the way I did. Auntmarge made a point about what we take into consideration when we are making our personal rankings.

For me, I consider:
1. his overall contribution to the nation, not just his years in office
2. his effectiveness in his stewardship of the nation
3. political agendas- whether or not he placed politics above all else
4. honesty

1. Abraham Lincoln - never allowed his feelings rule his head, always doing what was best for the entire nation; wasn't anxious for war but not afraid of it either; master negotiator;
2. George Washington - tried to do what was best for the nation , no political leanings
3. John Adams - anxious to preserve the fledgling nation and prevent war
4. James K. Polk - reduced the tariff, created an independent federal Treasury, annexed Texas and brought in Oregon and California ; vetoed pork barrel spending
5. James Monroe - tried to bridge the gaps of the parties
6. John Quincy Adams - not a politician, wanted what was best for the nation
7. Ulysses S. Grant - not a politician, protected the surrender terms after Lincoln's assassination, stabalized the currency, anti- KKK, freedman Bureau
8. Millard Fillmore - no personal Agenda, worked tirelessly to maintain peace between North & South even though against his personal feelings (Compromise of 1850) industrial development and prosperity during his tenure
9. Andrew Jackson - truly interested in what was best for the nation but personally unable to always put his private agendas aside
10. Rutherford B. Hayes - not really a politician, more a statesman, interested in what was best for the nation, very dedicated to equality for all, education especially
11. Martin Van Buren - Very dedicated to the nation, New York state in particular, while serving under Jackson, kept him under control
12. James Garfield - short presidency but plans were for the betterment of the country, not Political gain. Didn't want the presidency but accepted for party.
13. James Madison - short-sighted as to what was better for the nation
14. John Tyler - stubborn yet managed to negotiate the border for Maine
15. Thomas Jefferson - too self-centered - his political views were more important to him than what was best for the nation; faint-hearted
16. Zachary Taylor - didn't do much - delegated many of his responsibilities - not a statesman
17. Andrew Johnson - tried to protect the Southern States after the war
18. Franklin Pierce - no leadership qualities apparent; indecisive
19. James Buchanan - elected at a very volitale stage of history; more a diplomat than an executive leader; uncooperative congress; his do-nothing atittude, IMO, led directly to the CW
20. William Henry Harrison - short lived in office, very political frequently looking for favors from other politicans, not a great military presence

Editado: Nov 20, 2009, 12:59pm

So far I have only read seven but I'm going to try to re-rank as I read and the presidents are still fresh in my mind.

1) FDR - completely changed the role of government in the lives of Americans, overcame the Great Depression to win WWII against great odds, created Social Security and GI Bill, and helped create a new class of Americans (the middle class)

2) Washington - helped the country get started, US may never have become cohesive nation without him, great character (other than owning slaves, although he did free them in his will)

3) Lincoln - also had great character, kept the country together (could easily rank as #2 - maybe when I read more books about him)

4) Jefferson - helped establish the two-party system, created opposition/Republican party as one that focused on the needs of the many rather than the few, wrote about lofty ideals but didn't necessarily live up to them in his personal life (holding slaves)

5) Clinton - the 90s were a good time, left with highest approval rating of any president since FDR, great success internationally, also had personal problems and could have done more to help about Rwandan holocaust

6) Madison - apparently a popular President during his time; greatest contribution as President was being the first wartime President and protecting civil liberties during this time period (following Constitution); definitely had his share of deficiencies, mostly not being a strong leader (trying to compromise with his Cabinet), getting us into a war for imperialistic and political reasons, and views on slavery

7) Adams - like Clinton, oversaw a peaceful and prosperous period, but only had one term; showed great moral courage in keeping us out of war with France; Alien and Sedition Acts major strike against

8) Obama - obviously hasn't done anything yet; for symbolic reasons only, is pretty much guaranteed to end up in the top 10 of any presidential poll; his political organization skills are already legendary

** I base my rankings mostly on how I see the president making a contribution to the lives of ordinary Americans. I try mostly to consider the Presidency but can't entirely overlook someone's pre- and post-career. Obviously, political bias does come into play as well :)

Jul 29, 2009, 8:54pm

OK, with appropriate grains of salt, here's my list of the bottom of the pack:


1. James Buchanan – Not nearly as indecisive as many historians have suggested, Buchanan actually seems to have been behind much of the decision-making process in his administration, he just simply consistently made the wrong decisions and was the mouthpiece for all of the wrong messages to the American people during his Presidency. His handling of the delicate Kansas territory-to-statehood crisis was one of the direct causes of the Civil War. When several states seceded after Lincoln’s election as Buchanan’s successor, he stood by and did nothing as the country was undone. Interestingly, Buchanan’s resume was such that he boasted more experience than perhaps any other man to achieve the office of the Presidency until Herbert Hoover in the next century, demonstrating that experience in itself is absolutely no predictor in performance in the executive office.
2. George W. Bush – ideology, incompetence, ignorance, idiocy. Tens of thousands of people died needlessly in his ineffectual, bungling campaigns to pursue a foreign policy agenda that did not even play to our own Machiavellian self-interest but rather often delivered unexpected victories to our enemies, who were both strengthened and glorified by the almost unbelievable stupidity in our actions and reactions. Since generations are likely to suffer for his transgressions at home and abroad, future historians will almost certainly condemn him for his cavalier use of American power and lack of clarity as to how to achieve favorable results. His response to Katrina, his championing of torture and domestic spying, as well as his famous comment about teaching intelligent design in public school science classes to the effect that “the kids deserve to hear both sides” should make his reputation, but there is just so much more material that space constraints do not permit even a summary of all of his faults as president and human being. Presiding over the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression, largely as a result of his policies of de-regulation and repeal of depression era safeguards such as the net capital act, only further underscore his failure. Ultimately, a kind of darkly comic sketch of how not to be a president
3. James K. Polk – Tyler paved the way but Polk actually presided over the annexation of Texas, which by extension paved the way for the Mexican War which paved the way for the Civil War; later, Texas was responsible for two future chief executives who wreaked havoc on our nation during their respective tenures: Lyndon Johnson & George W. Bush. Polk did drive the bus on the Mexican War, which was perhaps our very first completely unjustified imperialist war. Some of us have difficulty condemning Polk, because without him the United States might not have obtained California and much of the west in addition to Texas, but contemporary statesmen and men of letters, people like Lincoln and Thoreau, were appropriately horrified by Polk’s aggression. It was, of course, the south’s conviction that they had an absolute right to extend slavery into these newly acquired territories that was the prima facie cause of the Civil War some years after Polk’s term.
4. Woodrow Wilson—Ego and arrogance combined to create a kind of condescension that informed him that he knew what was best for all, at home and abroad. Missing the critical moment to intervene (as Theodore Roosevelt urged) at the outset of the Great War, when he finally took the country into the stalemated horror of the European war, it was too late to alter the tenor of the conflict. Worse was Wilson’s misuse of executive power to crush dissent and curtail civil liberties, which ignominiously included the imprisonment of former presidential candidate Eugene Debs. Wilson has been lauded for his “League of Nations” concept, but in fact his arrogant and inept participation in the Treaty of Versailles deliberations only exacerbated the tensions that led to the final, flawed document, which in fact formed the root issue of the Second World War to follow.
5. Herbert Hoover—Widely considered the most brilliant man in America, armed with a successful resume and impeccable credentials, Hoover presided over the start of the Great Depression and the shameful repression of the Bonus Marchers (with Douglas C. Niedermeyer protype Douglas McArthur wielding a sword on horseback crushing “dissent”). There have been many attempts to rehabilitate Hoover’s reputation because the events that led to the Depression were not his responsibility. However, Hoover’s failure to take a moral stand and to “lead,” as well as his resistance to any government intervention in the coming economic calamity that would be at odds with his ideological commitment to free markets cements his place on the list of bad presidents. By the end of his term, America was in a far worse place than when he assumed office and he did little to mitigate the downward spiral.
6. Lyndon Johnson – a troubled, vainglorious man driven almost solely by his ego and a pursuit of power, LBJ tried to take his revenge on the Kennedy’s that shunned him by co-opting John Kennedy’s unfinished business and launching the “Great Society,” a government initiative to one-up his idol FDR’s New Deal largesse with a multitude of social programs that were poorly planned out and even more poorly executed. A master politician during his legislative career, Johnson as President managed to pass bills – including critical and laudable civil rights legislation -- and to get Congress behind his initiatives, yet failed in implementation in almost every sense. He used the big stick that TR simply carried, intervening in the Dominican Republic and then taking Americas into a land war in Asia that Congressman from both parties warned him away from. He presided over riots in the streets, huge anti-government protests, an unwinnable war and was the author of government bloat that failed to properly assist those it set out to support. Ironically, LBJ was never a liberal until he became President, at which point he ultimately destroyed in the eyes of its citizens the great American liberal tradition that stretched back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Era, to the degree that later a Grade B movie actor with reactionary ideals and a mediocre mind could poke fun at “liberals” and make people laugh as he stepped into the Oval Office. Thousands went to their unnecessary deaths because of Johnson, who also splintered the Democratic Party, squandered the 1964 mandate and gave us, to our horror, Richard Nixon in 1968. And we will always wonder if somehow, behind the scenes, LBJ didn’t manage to orchestrate the Dallas assassination that gave him the job he had long coveted.
7. Richard Nixon – was most probably insane throughout his presidency. Nixon was also a brilliant man who understood and executed Machiavellian realpolitik without missing a beat. Kissinger is often given credit for their foreign policy triumphs, but Nixon was the master, Kissinger the under-study at best. At the same time, Nixon was responsible for tens of thousands of lives lost, perhaps millions, during the latter stages of the Vietnam War. Nixon privately acknowledged upon taking office that the war was essentially lost and the key was to exit without losing face. His failure to promptly extricate with this in mind makes him especially culpable for the loss of life, and his expansion of the war into Cambodia simply further destabilized the region and paved the way for catastrophe and genocide throughout Southeast Asia. So Watergate was not his only criminal conspiracy. At the same time, none of his “goodfellas” style leadership, especially Watergate, should ever be minimized by those trying to burnish his reputation.
8. John Tyler – the first “accidental” president who ascended to the office upon the death of the first president to die in office, William Henry Harrison. Tyler was not taken seriously through much of his presidency and accomplished little with the exception of the annexation of Texas, which was his baby although it did not come to official fruition until his successor, James K. Polk, assumed office. Texas was to lead to the near undoing of the United States in the Civil War. In the early stages of that conflict, Tyler was actually elected to the Confederate Congress (although he died before he assumed office) making him – in addition to a bad president – a traitor to his country in his retirement.
9. Ronald Reagan – A dotted line can clearly be traced from the current near-catastrophic economic downturn and the flawed supply-side economic policies of Ronald Reagan, a grade B actor who at best was a grade B- President. It was Bush Sr. who awarded supply-side the “voodoo economics” tag that has rightly stuck, for supply-side is mythical and farcical and cannot exist without huge deficits and dreadful economic crashes. Reagan came to believe that he heralded back to an era that never existed for him or for America but was a creature of Frank Capra movies that he personally lacked the talent to win the starring roles in. Reagan’s economic policies gave us the deregulation that destroyed the airline industry, permitted the rise of competing cell phone companies with incompatible standards that deliver us the worst cell service on the planet, turned Wall Street into the master of Main St. and gave us Wall-Mart. Reagan has often been erroneously credited with a foreign policy that ended the cold war, but only because these policies didn’t lead to an Armageddon-style nuclear war, which might have occurred if – defying all of our functionally retarded CIA intelligence – the Soviet Union didn’t suddenly close up shop and go out of business. Reagan’s backing of death squad politicos in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the name of resurgent cold war anti-communism was egregious as best, criminal at worst. In his favor, Reagan did play the FDR role not just as “great communicator” but great inspiration to the country after a string of bad presidents, the devastating Vietnam War, riots in the streets, Watergate, the Iran Hostage Crisis, crippling inflation, and a decade or more of a national infatuation with whiskey and cocaine that were a loud snapshot out of a gritty Martin Scorsese film. Moreover, he was a solid citizen with a great deal of integrity. His achievements were far overshadowed by his role as “first idiot,” desperately attempting to fit his personal convictions and ideology coherently into a world that defied both his simplicity in execution and lack of depth in analysis.
10. Jimmy Carter – perhaps the best ex-President, in office he was everything his critics tagged him with: weak, vacillating, indecisive, uncertain, stumbling. He couldn’t even figure out what side to part his hair on. He did have accomplishments in his Middle East foreign policy that were overshadowed by the Iran Hostage Crisis, which along with the faltering economy was to be the undoing of his administration. The challenge to his re-nomination by Ted Kennedy and the candidacy of John Anderson were to lead to his defeat for re-election and the unfortunate and fateful presidency of Ronald Reagan, who would perhaps have never come to the Executive Office except through this unlikely concatenation of events.

NOTE: Gerald Ford was originally on the list, but when I shrunk it from 12 to 10 he fell off. Still, for fun, I’ll include my commentary from the original list.

BONUS ROUND: Gerald Ford – a complete idiot who accidentally became President and failed to learn anything along the way. Like Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, Chevy Chase’s Gerald Ford captured his “essence” better than any biographical study. In Ford’s autobiography, he tells this anecdote about parking his beloved first car in his barn in the winter and laying a blanket over the hot engine to keep it from freezing. The predictable result – a fire that burned the barn down – should have warned us all away. It also makes you wonder if Lyndon Johnson had his reasons for manipulating Ford into taking an assignment on the Warren Commission. Overall, Ford rates low not for damage done but just for embarrassing us, as in: “Jesus, this is our President?!!”

Jul 31, 2009, 1:36pm

Garp, I curious to see your top ten and why.

Jul 31, 2009, 5:03pm


Have you read about these Presidents previously, I'm curious as to how you know so much if you haven't?

Jul 31, 2009, 5:20pm

Garp, I'm glad you've articulated so well the things that give us heartburn about some of these guys, though I am still rather fond of Ford. You may also want to throw in on Wilson that what little post-Civil War integration had been obtained in the civil service and postal service was undone by him because he was such a racist.

Ago 1, 2009, 12:14am

I've been reading US Presidents biographies for twenty-five years, on and off, as well as a lot of American history where Presidents have played a significant role.

I own the entire leather bound Easton Press Library of the Presidents, which features a bio of each guy, although I have to say some of their selections are far from stellar, despite the nice bindings. I am working my way through the series, albeit slowly.

My most recent American history read was Stampp's America in 1857 which was not a Presidential biogeaphy per se, but features Buchanan as a central player to the degree that I gained a far greater understanding of his administration than I had previously.

I can't say as I have a top ten list, but if a gun were held to my head I suppose I would come up with:

1. Lincoln
2. Washington
3. FDR
4. Jefferson (for the Louisiana Purchase, despite the other black marks)
5. Kennedy (for saving us from annihilation in the Cuban Missile Crisis)
6. Truman (for the Marshall Plan & NATO, despite the other black marks)
7. Theodore Roosevelt

There are Presidents I remain conflicted about, which is why Andrew Jackson shows up on neither my bad nor my good list. It would be easier to expand on the bad list (Grant, Hayes, Pierce, Harding, Coolidge) than it would the good list.

Ago 1, 2009, 12:29am

I agree with your rankings, pretty much, except that I might put Truman a little lower, and TR a lot lower.

I also understand why itʻs only "if a gun were held to (your) head." I donʻt like, in choosing, say a top 10, to indicate who is 1st, 5th or 10th; rather have you take them en masse. Itʻs hard enough including into and ex cluding from the masse.

Ago 8, 2009, 6:45pm

Ten Ways to Judge a President - Knowledge@Wharton (July 22, 2009)

Editado: Ago 9, 2009, 9:47am

#10 -- Unfortunately, the point of view of the historian featured in this article -- Richard Norton Smith -- is so biased towards the Republican Party and the conservative view that his commentary sacrifices authenticity.

Here's an interesting article that focuses upon how historians rank the presidents and then breaks that apart by ideological bias:


Ago 10, 2009, 3:25pm

I've enjoyed reading these rankings and articles - thanks to everyone who has shared them. I look forward to more of the same.

However, I want to remind some of the folks who have joined recently about something that the group discussed in the early days. Even though we exist in this group to read and learn and discuss the various men who have been president of our country, this is not a political group. Ideally, in my mind at least, no one ought to be able to tell what your political leanings are from your discussions about the acheivements and actions of the various office-holders as presented in the different biographies.

So if, for example, you read something written from a conservative POV, I'd like to read your thoughts about why a conservative would say the things they did, or what a liberal might have said instead. But I don't want to read about how they are right or wrong for saying what they did, unless there is an issue of historical accuracy at stake. However, that is just my opinion.

Now, please, more interesting comments and articles about presidential rankings.

Editado: Mar 16, 2013, 3:22pm

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

Ago 10, 2009, 8:35pm

# 12 -- After this, I will make no further comments that can be construed as political with this regard. I did not know there were restrictions on political discourse in this thread. I would suggest that most (but not all!) Presidents would vehemently oppose such guidelines.

In any event, I think it is very difficult if not impossible to rank the Presidents without political bias, especially because today's movement conservatives have openly usurped objectivity in a way a previous generation of liberals or conservatives would have been appalled by.

Today's conservatives, for instance, try to transform the Founders, including the Founders who became Presidents, into deeply religious Christian men who were moved most by their faith in their political philosophy, which is not only a distortion but a blatant lie -- the majority of the Founders were creatures of the Enlightenment who looked ever to reason over faith; many -- including Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison -- were Deists, the "clockmaker religion" which envisioned a Creator who set the world in motion only to take a disinterested seat in its course. The most religious was John Adams, a Unitarian who would be appalled by the efforts of right-wing evangelicals to inject their morality into government, and one who certainly endorsed the omission of the mention of God from the Constitution. The absolute separation of church and state was essential to their common political philosophy.

Conservatives treat the modern era with perhaps greater distortion, recently claiming that FDR -- selected by a plurality of historians (on the right and left) as one of the three greatest Presidents -- was actually an anti-American socialist who created the Depression through his reckless policies. Many also decry Lincoln's role in usurping state rights by opposing Douglas' flawed "popular sovereignty" doctrine of the 1850's and thereby provoking the Civil War.

Some of this may be construed as heresy at best, but most simply present lies as facts in order to convert an otherwise ignorant polity to their benighted political philosophy. This is also the same group who deny evolution and global warming. I find this especially intriguing because the right has long attacked the best of modern Presidential biography as "revisionist" because it takes into account not only the accomplishments of the various men of the office, but also their more negative aspects -- Jefferson & Slavery, Jackson & Indian Removal, T.R. & jingoism & imperialism.

I look to history and biography to truly illuminate the character of the individual, not to distort it to suit a certain agenda. We can celebrate the brilliance and the accomplishments of Jefferson (author of the Declaration, the Louisiana Purchase, for example) while we can recognize the crime of his slaveholding (which he knew very well was immoral) and his use of his slave women as concubines.

That is objective history. That is what I seek. That is what I celebrate when I read these biographies. My rankings include men of both parties because there were great men of both parties and terrible leaders in both parties. That is incontrovertible fact.

#13 – no comment

Ago 10, 2009, 9:02pm

I made some notes as to why I ranked the first six the way I did; one of the big strikes for me are those that are very political rather than thinking of the nation as a whole. That's why Madison and Jefferson are low on my scale. I used to really admire both of them but I've learned too much about their shortcomings.

Editado: Abr 2, 2010, 11:30am

Esta mensagem foi removida pelo seu autor.

Editado: Ago 10, 2009, 9:26pm

We've had numerous discussions for the political/ non-political aspects and decided this:

We resolved to avoid displaying a pro or con stand on the actions of specific presidents (especially the recent ones). We will limit ourselves to learning about the issues each man faced and how he handled them, and gaining an understanding of how those actions affected the nation and the world - and stay away from labeling any actions right or wrong.

I have added it to the group description so that there can be no further misconceptions. My apologies for not including this decision in our "constitution" earlier.

That said, there is no prohibition to discussion of what ifs and how maybe events could have happened differently.

Editado: Ago 10, 2009, 10:03pm

#16 no comment

#17 anti-democratic at best but I will of course abide by it; it is interesting that you permit yourself the slander of calling Jefferson "cowardly" but then deny the pronouncements of others. In any event, it's your group, I respectfully back away

Ago 10, 2009, 10:02pm

I don't think Garp is creepy!

Editado: Ago 10, 2009, 11:51pm

I justify my "cowardly" by his vacating the Virginia capitol "just in time" before the British arrived. He did not stand to fight. Many times he left a confrontation rather than standing his ground. IMHO he was cowardly.

We need to remember that our rankings are our personal opinions from what we have read. So, possibly the book that was read by someone, gives the impression that is different than the book someone else has read. If you disagree with someone's ranking, then go to that President's thread and start the discussion as to the different viewpoints of the books.

Mar 26, 2010, 9:38am

In the Clinton book I just read, there was an interesting discussion on ranking the presidents. When Clinton was preparing for his second term, he had a discussion with his political advisor Dick Morris about how the presidents ranked and how he could improve his own standing.

Morris had ranked the previous 40 presidents and found 18 that were considered outstanding. Of these, only five were "first tier" -- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR. Clinton was basically in the third-tier and asked what he could do to get to the first tier, and Morris said that was beyond his control - i.e., there would have to be a war or some kind of disaster. He could, though, get in the second tier through smaller measures like a fight against terrorism or smoking or something like that.

Clinton also loved to read biographies on presidents. A few are mentioned - A First-Class Temperament about FDR; August Heckscher on Woodrow Wilson; and Benjamin P. Thomas on Abraham Lincoln. They said he also enjoyed the biographies on the obscure presidents, but unfortunately those titles weren't mentioned.

Mar 26, 2010, 8:04pm


First "tier": (All this is RPʻs opinion, only)
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FD Roosevelt,

2nd tier: Monroe, Polk, Cleveland, Wilson, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton

3rd tier: The other 19* who are not in 1,2, 4 or "unranked".

4th tier: Pierce, Buchanan, Grant, McKinley, Harding, Coolidge,

Unranked, due to shortness of tenure:
WH Harrison, Taylor, A. Johnson, Garfield, Obama

* 19: Yes, and Iʻm not arguing the result of any election: Only 43 men have been inaugurated
president, all media assertions of 44 notwithstanding.

Abr 2, 2010, 11:30am

Washington and Lincoln at the top, and then downhill from there.

Abr 4, 2010, 11:56am

Lincoln, Washington, FDR at the top in descending order

Others I would rank relatively high: T.R., Kennedy,

Mixed rankings-- both very good and very bad: Jefferson, LBJ, Truman, John Adams

Bush Jr., Buchanan, Wilson at the bottom in ascending order

Other bad ones: Grant, Andrew Johnson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Jackson, Polk

Abr 4, 2010, 5:10pm

TO garp83:

I agree with your 1st two sentences (except that I consider TR a little over-rated; Iʻd be more inclined to put him in your "both very good and very bad" category. And as for LBJ being in that category, it
has struck me that many historians overlook his having a very good domestic policy. Truman, on the other hand is remembered only for his "good" qualilties -- by the "children and grandchildren" of the people that hated and despised him (I wasnʻt one of those).

We did know when I was high school age during HSTʻs nearly 2 term tenure that Grant was one of the "other bad ones", second only to Harding
Today, if you started to argue about how good or bad Grant was, people would assume you were questioning his MILITARY aptitudes (Oh--was he a president, too?)

Polk, agree with him or not, is probably, as HST noted about him, very UNDER-rated. Except for Jeffersonʻs Louisiana Purchase, Polk -- the
president, not the Confederate general -- added more territory to the U.S. than any other president.

There have been many half-hearted attempts at a vindication of Hoover -- the president, not the FBI Director -- but his predecessor and former boss Calvin Coolidge wasnʻt among those revisionists. CC said of HCH: "That man has been giving me unsollcited advice for the past 6 years -- all of it bad! And, if you dislike politicians (I generally like them) remember that the only two in the 20th century who entered the presidency with NO political experience were Dwight D. eisenhower -- and Herbert Hoover!

Editado: Abr 18, 2010, 3:26pm

to rolandperkins:

question? Except for Jeffersonʻs Louisiana Purchase, Polk added more territory to the U.S. than any other president.

Is the addition of land a good criteria for deciding whether someone was a good President or not? The only reason Napoleon sold Louisana then was that he needed money. Polk basically started the War with Mexico, so how does that make him a great President - just because we were militarily superior and made a good settlement, so weren't they just in the right place at the right time? Wouldn't it be better to judge their ability to keep peace or industrial development or improvement for the masses or societal improvements?

Editado: Abr 15, 2010, 8:35pm

Iʻm not a fan of Pres. Polk, though I did up him from my sort of catch-all Tier 3, to Tier 2 --because of his importance, as I see it, not his greatness. Yes, he was "in the right place (for himself and the Southern Establishment) at the
right time". So was Jefferson, but Jeffersonʻs
experience with France was such that it would be logical for him to expect to get a good deal from a French administration. If Napoleon was doing "the right deed (for us) for the wrong reason", as T.S. Eliot calls it, why should that bother "us"?*

I agree with another Southerner, Harry Truman, who called Polk "under-rated". Another of his ideas of an under-rated president was Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. I donʻt admire Hayes at all, and I think that, if anything, conventional "History" has treated him undeservedly well. He abruptly ended Reconstruction in the South, which was exactly what Truman approved in him, but I donʻt.

* by "us" of course I mean not you and me, but
the U.S. government of the time weʻre talking about.

Editado: Abr 17, 2010, 8:36pm

Chèli -- You & I share similar values, but the issue with rating a President is often that there are so many pieces and these large fragments often contain essentially positive nuggets as well as elements that are down right offensive. I very much admire Jefferson on so many levels, yet he is so terribly flawed as well that there are portions of his character that I find appalling. And so too his Presidency! We have to balance the Revolution of 1800 and the Louisiana Purchase with the long slow debacle that was his second term in office.

Also, we could choose to rate our presidents based solely upon whether their presidencies were extremely impactful for the American political landscape and/or whether their presidencies can be characterized as "successful." With that criteria, Polk and Lyndon Johnson could be called "great" Presidents -- as would Ronald Reagan.

PS Roland, I very much enjoy your thoughtful, articulate contributions. Please keep posting.

Editado: Maio 16, 2010, 9:27am

Well, I was trying to catch up with my rankings today (had to add Pierce and Buchanan) and realized that the more men I have to rate, the harder this is going to get. Each man had issues that related to his time that could have been handled - for better or for worse - in different manners. What I have noticed is that the Presidents haven't always had favorable support from the Congresses of the time and I guess I'm taking that into consideration as well because maybe they had an agenda that may have moved things forward in a better way, but Congress didn't pass it.

Is anyone else taking into account hostility from the legislative branch?

Maio 16, 2010, 1:42pm

Confrontation with the legislative branch is a given and a President cannot be given a pass because the legislature was hostile to his agenda.

Maio 19, 2010, 2:22am

I suppose Garp is correct and I suppose a biographer with no personal knowledge of his subject will punch up the negatives that he divines from his delving because that will normally give him best effect for his words.
But I do feel that Cheli has picked up on the same thing I picked up on. There were some nasty personalities in congress and in the media back in the years after Monroe and up until TR. Yes, some strong personalities in the White House were able to suppress and/or manipulate the fractious, but not many Presidents could do it. I particularly cringed at the political and media mistreatments of Rachel Jackson, John Tyler and Andrew Johnson, people who I perceived to be, for the most part, honorable.
We still see difficulties in the relationships between the legislative and executive branches but I think that these days elected representatives use far less venom and much better manners than they did before "the big stick". Partisanship is a different animal than the one I think Cheli refers to and, although it can be obstructionist, it isn't really mean and nasty or personal the way people with names like Calhoun, Weed and Stevens could be.

Maio 23, 2010, 12:00am

". . .John Tyler and Andrew Johnson. . .I perceived to be for the most part, honorable." (31)

I would say Johnson: Yes. Tyler: No -- not in the matter of choosing to whom he should be loyal in the Secession Crisis. Johnson, a proletarian, was able to choose the Union because he knew that the slave-owning establishment were contemptuous of his class--more so even than anyone in Washington. But he enjoyed having those defeated slave owners come to him hat-in hand to negotiate-- a process which acquired for him a new set of enemies in the North, the so-called "radical" Republicans, who were mostly pretty conservative on all issues except Reconstruction.
Robert E. Lee, an aristocrat, was offered command of the Union Armies and considered it a tough call. Tyler, something of an aristocrat, though not a Lee or a Randolph, probably didnʻt even think he was confronted with any decision. If there had been polls which told him that only a minority, though a large minority, of White Southerners wanted to secede, (as many historians believe was the case) he probably would have ignored the majority.
He upheld the Constitution when it made him a "Real" president, not an "acting" or interim" one as Senators Clay (W KY) and Webster (W NH) urged him to be; but not when it told him his first loyalties were to the Union, not to Virginia or to the Confederacy of which VA. was one of the two founders and the main power.

Jun 9, 2010, 2:58pm

I've just finished reading Star-Spangled Men by Nathan Miller. Here are my thoughts for what they are worth.
I like Nathan Miller's political writing. His bio of Theodore Roosevelt is one of my favorite Presidential Biographies. This book was interesting as "one man's opinion" and his thoughts and reasoning were well presented. This is Nathan's list of the county's 10 worst Presidents: from 10th to worst - Jimmy Carter, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Harrison, Calvin Coolidge, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pearce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding, Richard M. Nixon. From all the reading I have done I would change out a couple of these: remove Jimmy Carter and Andrew Johnson from my list and add Zachary Taylor and George W. Bush. Admittedly, William Henry Harrison didn't get to serve long enough to do anything and Nathan had passed away before he might have updated his list after the 1998 publication date, so his own "history" stands.
He added a chapter at the end which I found interesting in which he briefly discusses his assessment of two Presidents that he calls the "most over-rated": Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.
It is clearly stated that his assessments are based on their time in office and each individual's achievements either side of those times are only considered in as much as they moulded the thinking and actions of the men.
This is not a heavy read. Nathan Miller was a political journalist for the Baltimore Sun. It is an enjoyable and thoughtful discussion document. Book Clubs might enjoy the post-read discussions that would be engendered.

Jun 9, 2010, 3:42pm

On 33:

Agree with him , or not,Nathan Miller sounds, from you account, as if he has done a very interesting work. I immediately put him on my Wish List, on the grounds of your description.

Yes, his "Ten Worst" list is emendable. And I agree with your taking A. Johnson and Carter out of the 10 Worst, and including Bush II. (Taylor I put in a separate category of "Not Long enough Tenure to Evaluate")

Jun 14, 2010, 11:33am

I'm sure you'll enjoy him, Roland.
He may be hard to find, I got mine through my daughter in DC who knew him before he passed away.
www.abebooks.com might be worth a try.
Good luck, Dusty

Ago 7, 2010, 11:03am

You state that you consider Thomas Jefferson cowardly because he fled Richmond prior to being captured by the British. I do not see any cowardice in this act. The British were advancing with the goal of capturing Jefferson. This would have have been a huge, moral if nothing else, victory. It would have had a demoralizing effect on the American troops. Jefferson was not a warrior. He was not in the military. His strength was in the use of his pen to communicate. A capture of him would have yielded no benefits, and potentially would have been extremely disheartening. Likewise, Jefferson staying to "fight" would have been reckless and would have been helpful in no way to the American cause.
That being said, Jefferson did have a desire to avoid conflict. He was somewhat sensitive, and would rather have made concessions than stand against opponents. He was brilliant, and had great tenancity when he was backed, but he also had timidity when he stood alone.
I do not believe that Jefferson was cowardly. I believe that he desired approval, and was more comfortable arguing via pen and paper than in person.

Ago 7, 2010, 9:28pm

Well put, torrey.

Ago 8, 2010, 12:58pm

One little add-on to my earlier post: I would find it difficult to condemn anyone as a coward who was willing to put everything on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence, much less by writing it.

Ago 8, 2010, 4:59pm

Yes -- they agreed to all hang together lest they all hang separately. Much courage was indeed required in that.

Ago 8, 2010, 9:30pm

Fascinating discussion. What I wonder is how these men were perceived during their lifetime? And how laater events (civil rights movement, the de-glorification of war, changing economic policies ect.) changed that perception over the years. It is really too soon to have a definate conclusion on Reagan, Carter, Clinton, Bush 1 & Bush 2. We are still too concerned with the events that surrounded them than with the men themselves. Yet with Bush 2, his decision to invade Iraq & toss away the good will & support other nations had given us after the 9/11 attacks certainly point to a bad mark for Bush 2.
BTW I am studying the election of 1876 when the presidency was handed to Rutherford B. Hayes in return for the removal of troops from the south & a few other things. Tilden, who won the election & should have been president is also an interesting character.

Jan 3, 2013, 8:10pm

I just read a recently published book, Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians by Robert W. Merry. He has an interesting algorithm for ranking the presidents according to the voters (was he re-elected, was he succeeded by his own party, etc.), and he compares rankings from several historian rankings over the years, showing how some of them move up and down the scale, and others stay put. I found it fascinating!