As I am beginning Dr. Adler's political science class on The Presidency, I have decided to rank the presidents and at the end of his class I shall compare my rankings after I have learned about the executive office and the individual presidents. For the moment I contend that Lincoln was the best wartime president, Nixon or Johnson the worst wartime presidents, FDR the best social reform president, Hoover the worst social reform president (maybe next to Taft), I can't really place a #1 on any one man for best overall president, but can certainly place a #1 on the overall worst president--Warren G. Harding.
First I will rank the presidents, not by number, but by greatness and then I will copy and paste a poll by Murray/Blessing (1994) and you can compare my rankings versus the rankings of the presidential experts.
Rankings of the Presidents
Great-- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR
Near Great-- Monroe, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman
Above Average-- Reagan, Adams (John Quincy and John Adams), Polk, Madison, Kennedy, Clinton, McKinley
Average-- Lyndon Johnson, Hayes, Carter, Ford, Benjamin Harrison, Arthur, Garfield, Cleveland, George H.W. Bush
Below Average-- Coolidge, Eisenhower, **William Henry Harrison, Fillmore, Tyler, Hoover, *Bush
Failures-- Nixon, Grant, Buchannan, Pierce, Taylor, Harding, A. Johnson, Taft
*I would rather not rank George W. Bush until his term is over, but for the moment this is where, based on his policies, I would rank him.
**William Henry Harrison did not serve long enough in office to officially rank his administration (he caught pneumonia at his inaugural address and died shortly after). Because of his party and the time in which he served, I would prematurely rank him with no evidence with his contemporaries.
Presidential Experts Rank the Presidents
Great-- Lincoln, FDR, Washington, Jefferson
Near Great-- Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Jackson, Truman
Above Average-- Adams (both John Quincy and John Adams), L. Johnson, Eisenhower, Polk, Kennedy, Monroe, Madison, Cleveland
Average-- McKinley, Taft, Van Buren, Hoover, Hayes, Arthur, Ford, Carter, Benjamin Harrison
Below Average-- Taylor, Tyler, Reagan, Fillmore, Coolidge, Pierce
Failures-- Harding, Grant, Nixon, A. Johnson, Buchannan
*This poll does not include George H.W. Bush, Clinton, or George W. Bush.
Of the Murray/Blessing Poll I was most surprised by where they placed Reagan and Eisenhower. I was kind to Eisenhower (he was an amazing general, I'll give him that, but his executive administrative powers were lacking) and I really do feel that Reagen is one of greater conservative presidents this country has seen. I am also always surprised by the ranking of Lyndon B. Johnson. He had the potential...his Great Society mirrored the ideals and ambitions of FDR's New Deal, but his social/domestic reforms were severely defeated by the ongoing war in Vietnam. His ranking is negatively impacted by Vietnam just as Nixon's ranking is negatively reflected in Watergate.
Of my own rankings I think I prematurely ranked a few of the presidents, I can't know everything about every president! Those whom I know less about and admire the least have a lower ranking. Taylor, Tyler, and Pierce fall into that category...those whom I know the least about. Nixon, Harding, Hoover, and Taft...those I like the least.
After this class I hope to have learned the significance of the formation of the executive office and the development of the office over time and through the world wars. Maybe with a greater understanding of the office I will gain an appreciation for the men (and hopefully eventually the women) who have held and will hold that office. We'll see what my rankings reflect after the 23rd of June.