The Intersection

All The President Men

Yesterday, C-SPAN released the Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership. Below are the results based on ten attributes of leadership. [Click here to compare this list with scores from 2000].

I’m interested to find out whether readers agree with these rankings, and if not, who would you move and why?

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Harry S. Truman
6. John F. Kennedy
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. Dwight D. Eisenhower
9. Woodrow Wilson
10. Ronald Reagan
11. Lyndon B. Johnson
12. James K. Polk
13. Andrew Jackson
14. James Monroe
15. Bill Clinton
16. William McKinley
17. John Adams
18. George H.W. Bush
19. John Quincy Adams
20. James Madison
21. Grover Cleveland
22. Gerald R. Ford
23. Ulysses S. Grant
24. William Howard Taft
25. Jimmy Carter
26. Calvin Coolidge
27. Richard M. Nixon
28. James A. Garfield
29. Zachary Taylor
30. Benjamin Harrison
31. Martin Van Buren
32. Chester A. Arthur
33. Rutherford B. Hayes
34. Herbert Hoover
35. John Tyler
36. George W. Bush
37. Millard Fillmore
38. Warren G. Harding
39. William Henry Harrison
40. Franklin D. Pierce
41. Andrew Johnson
42. James Buchanan


  1. #1 J-Dog
    February 17, 2009

    40. Ford
    41. Nixon
    42. G. W. Bush

    Lies, and the Lying Liars That Tell Them.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    February 17, 2009

    40. Ford
    41. Nixon
    42. G. W. Bush

    Lies, and the Lying Liars That Tell Them.

  3. #3 Ashutosh
    February 17, 2009

    I would probably put FDR at no. 1 and W at 41. or 42. Big, steaming heaps of lies as the above commentator mentioned.

  4. #4 chezjake
    February 17, 2009

    I think I’d go pretty much with the 2000 rankings rather than the current ones — FDR ahead of Washington, Jefferson ahead of Kennedy, Wilson ranked higher — but also would put Eisenhower down closer to the middle of the pack and Reagan lower than that. LBJ definitely should outrank both Eisenhower and Reagan. GW Bush belongs at the very bottom for allowing the neocons and big business to actively damage the nation’s status in the world, the middle class, the environment, and the economy.

  5. #5 CMSMW
    February 17, 2009

    Since William Henry Harrison didn’t really have time to do anything, I would think that anyone who, by and large, helped the country should be ranked higher than him and anyone who left it worse off should be lower. He seems to be in about the right place, but I’d drop G.W. Bush down near the bottom, lower than W.H. Harrison.

    I disagree with J-Dog about Gerald Ford. Ford is a reminder to me that there are good Republicans out there with whom I might disagree on a number of issues but who are good and decent people. I generally agree with the C-SPAN rankings, although I do think that Reagan is a bit high, as is perhaps Polk, given that his greatest accomplishment was probably an imperialistic war against Mexico.

  6. #6 Eric Lund
    February 17, 2009

    Agree with CMSMW that the historians are being unfairly harsh on W. H. Harrison. Because he did not have time to implement any policies, he should be ranked ahead of presidents like Hoover (let alone G. W. Bush) whose policies are reasonably considered to have been harmful for the nation overall. That would bump him up to the low 30s. (The historians are really down on the 1841-1869 period: of the nine presidents from that era, six are in the bottom eight.)

    I definitely agree that G. W. Bush should rank somewhere in the 40s. I’ll entertain arguments that Pierce or Buchanan were worse, but no other president comes close to the harm G. W. Bush did.

    Other rankings I disagree with: Eisenhower (should be in the mid teens, comparable to Clinton and McKinley), Reagan (should be in the low to mid 20s, comparable to Ford and Grant), G. H. W. Bush (should be in the mid 20s, comparable to Coolidge), and Nixon (should be in the upper 30s, comparable to Harding).

  7. #7 Southern Fried Scientist
    February 17, 2009

    I think it deserves to be noted that the worst president in history is immediately followed by the best. Those arguing that G. W. Bush needs to be lower are forgetting quite how bad Buchanan really was. I mean, Bush was bad, very very bad, but The United States of America dissolved under Buchanan’s rule.

    Before Buchanan, federal documents used the phrase “The United States of America ARE…” after Lincoln, it was “The United States of America IS…”

    I’d put Washington lower too. As a president he didn’t do nearly as much as he did when he was a general. I think we tend to glorify his entire history.

  8. #8 Charlie Tall
    February 17, 2009

    There should have been a category for “Fulfills the Oath of Office.”

    It would have been goodbye Abe and FDR it there had been.

  9. #9 natural cynic
    February 17, 2009

    Let me say a few words in praise of Tricky Dick: China, OSHA & EPA. And his misuse of power was not as bad as W. But 27 is a little too high, put him somewhere around 35. Ford was not nearly bad enough to put him at the bottom of the list. And knock Reagan down at least 20 places for his anti-government attitude that has resulted in so much harm, regressive tax policies and for acting like a clueless SOB later in his misrule.

  10. #10 vanderleun
    February 18, 2009

    Let’s plunk in #43 for Obama now. It might take him four more years, but he’ll get there.

  11. #11 Matt Springer
    February 18, 2009

    42. Woodrow Wilson

    What, nobody agrees? Pop quiz: which president imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people for criticizing his war policy, shut down newspapers, created an extra-governmental secret police authorized to search and question without warrants, instituted a draft, involved the US in a bloody, useless, and counterproductive war, seriously damaged the economy in his second term, and institutionalized racism in the government?

    Hint: it’s not W.

  12. #12 unknown
    February 18, 2009

    why isn’t there any thing about these presidents?

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