(Re-)Ranking the Presidents, Part 3

In the final post of the week, we get to the top (he’ll be at the bottom) of our presidential rankings. If you missed them, check out Monday’s and Wednesday’s posts to see how we got here and who might be left. On with the show!

15. James Madison (1809-1817) (Previous Rank: 14th) – Madison slides down a spot thanks to a move up of the next president on the list. Madison, as president, continued the policies of his mentor and predecessor Thomas Jefferson. On the domestic front, he continued to wage war against the (First) Bank of the United States, vetoing a bill that would have renewed the charter, thus making the funding of the War of 1812 more difficult. Trade and diplomatic issues with the British led the U.S. into the War of 1812. This “second war of independence” was critical to the survival of the young country, but ultimately Madison’s legacy is graded more by what he did prior to ascending to the presidency, which is why he isn’t ranked a little higher.

14. Barack Obama (2009-2017) (Previous: 16th) – It is still a little early to judge the presidency of Barack Obama, and he will ultimately be judged based on how much of his legacy remains intact by current and future presidents. The Affordable Care Act, in spite of its numerous flaws, provided healthcare to millions of Americans that had previously fallen through the cracks. He negotiated a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and generally restored the image of the U.S. abroad after the presidency of George W. Bush.

He is elevated here slightly due to the six years of obstruction he faced at the hands of Mitch McConnell, including not even getting a hearing on a nominee to the Supreme Court and other legislative priorities. Nevertheless, it’s hard to view Obama’s presidency in a completely positive light no matter how you might personally feel about him. From the use of drone strikes to eavesdropping on foreign allies and U.S. citizens, there were some things that Obama did that leave even me uncomfortable.

13. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) (Previous: 11th) – My dad’s favorite president, Reagan followed Jimmy Carter into the White House and immediately began to make a positive impression. The former actor and California governor was popular, and had been trying to be president since the ’70s. He told folks to tear down walls, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later. He overhauled the tax code in 1986, reducing the tax burden for millions of Americans and left office with the nation feeling prosperous and peaceful. For all the good that Reagan did as president – and going toe to toe with the Soviets should be praised – he also failed to say anything about the AIDS crisis despite being a “compassionate conservative” and allowed for members of his National Security team to fund Contras in South America illegally. Finally, his “trickle-down economics” led to decades of massive wealth growth… for the wealthy, who hoarded their wealth instead of losing it to taxes because of those same 1986 tax changes.

12. James Monroe (1817-1825) (Previous: 14th) – The last “Founding Father” president, Monroe followed Madison into the White House and continued many of the same Jeffersonian ideals about the presidency. Madison did a “victory tour” of sorts after winning the election in 1816, and was easily reelected in 1820 practically unopposed. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 – which stated that the admission of a free state must be matched by a slave state – was probably his lasting domestic legacy (at least until it was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act 34 years later), while his Monroe Doctrine – protecting Latin America from recolonization of Europe – became the standard bearer for foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere.

11. James K. Polk (1845-1849) (Previous: 12th) – Polk was a strong president in a string of relatively weak pre-Civil War presidents (the fact that most of the presidents of his era show up in Part 1 of this series indicates that). He was responsible for the annexation of Texas from Mexico, as well as the expansion of the northern border to the Pacific Ocean. Also, after being rebuffed in his attempt to purchase California from Mexico for $20 million, he started the Mexican-American War and won the territory outright. He didn’t seek reelection due to ill health, and died shortly after his term ended, but Polk is lauded for his expansion of the United States beyond its borders while president.

10. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) (Previous: 10th) – Thomas Jefferson was the man principally responsible for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. But even that was not enough for him to be immediately elected president, something that seems to have irritated him. He finally became president in 1801, completed the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and generally spearheaded the young country forward. He should be commended for keeping us out of the European wars so early in our country’s life, but he should also be held accountable for causing some of the early political divisiveness of our country, bringing about the political parties that George Washington had warned about.

9. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) (Previous: 8th) – Kennedy seems to be slightly overrated, especially considering his short time in office because of his assassination. Nevertheless, he accomplished a lot of good things in his brief time as president, even if a lot of the victories would be felt by other presidents. He challenged Americans to get to the moon, and focused on funding those explorations. He stared down the aggression of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis, achieving victory without firing a single bullet. His legacy will largely remain one of hope for what would have happened and buoyed the presidencies of later presidents by what he was able to accomplish in a little more than 1,000 days in office.

8. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) (Previous: 9th) – Wilson was elected on the promise of keeping the U.S. out of World War I. He ultimately acquiesced and joined the fight, ensuring victory for the Allied powers and peace in the world (for a little while at least). He was the leader of the early progressive movement, a movement that FDR would greatly expand a decade later in response to the Great Depression. One of these progressive policies was the nation’s first income tax, finally giving another source of revenue to the government. Other laws limiting child labor and the length of the work day followed. Still, he did nothing about the “Jim Crow” laws of the south, and was hobbled by a stroke the past few years of his presidency.

7. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) (Previous: 5th) – After leading the Allies to victory in World War II, Eisenhower ascended to the White House and brought the same level of success to the Oval Office. He brought about peace in the short-lived Korean conflict, an armistice that remains in place to this day. He challenged Russia about nuclear weapons, and continually pushed for peace across the globe after World War II and Korea. On the domestic front, he was responsible for the Interstate Highway System, enable commerce and travel around the country in a more efficient manner. Upon leaving office in 1961, he warned of the growing “military-industrial complex,” a warning that has seemed to go unheeded. But he was also primarily responsible for turning the Republican Party into a party focused on “cultural issues,” which ultimately led it down the path of embracing outright hostility towards “progressive” ideals in the country.

6. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) (Previous: 7th) – Truman took over as president after the death of FDR, and was responsible for the decision to drop two nuclear weapons in Japan to end World War II. He held an ambitious post-war Soviet Russia in check via the Truman Doctrine, and also implemented a plan for post-war Europe deemed the Marshall Plan. These actions helped secure reelection in 1948, and domestically, he continued many of FDR’s New Deal policies, proposing the “Fair Deal” before a joint session of Congress in January 1949. However, he left office almost universally despised due to perceived corruption in his administration and the stalemate in Korea, and decided to retire to Missouri instead of seeking reelection in 1952.

5. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) (Previous: 6th) – Johnson became president after the very public assassination of John F. Kennedy, and set out to provide “A Great Society” for all Americans. No longer content to wait for change in the American South, he continued the work of Kennedy in getting the Civil Rights Act passed, immediately undoing many of the racially based laws in the South, though at the same time causing more unrest. He provided healthcare to millions of elderly people, adding Medicare protection to the Social Security Act. On the negative side, he failed to prevent escalation of the action in Vietnam, and while the war was mostly fought by his successors, his legacy is tarnished by the U.S. involvement and ultimate loss in the country.

4. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) (Previous: 4th) – Teddy Roosevelt expanded on the popularity of the man he replaced – William McKinley – and took the progressive movement by the horns in the early part of the 20th Century. He pushed for the construction of the Panama Canal, quickening the trade between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. He subscribed to a favorite proverb regarding diplomacy – “speak softly and carry a big stick” – and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work ending tensions between Russia and Japan in 1906. Domestically, he was the first president to consider the conservation of America’s natural beauty, forming the US Forest Service and declaring multiple national parks, monuments, and sanctuary areas using the American Antiquities Act. All in all, he protected over 230 million acres of public land during his presidency. He also broke up trusts like Standard Oil, though the impact from that was not as far-reaching as it probably needed to be.

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) (Previous: 3rd) – A distant cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR also pursued progressive politics, though from the opposite party. He was elected in the midst of the Great Depression and set about to get America back on track immediately, starting massive public works projects employing millions of people. Among the work completed was running power lines across much of the west, providing stable electricity to people that lived far outside of populated cities.

To aid in the recovery from the Great Depression, FDR instituted the New Deal, a plan for the American people that included a safety net for everyone in many aspects of their daily life. He also vowed to keep the U.S. out of the wars in Europe, only entering the fray when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on “a date which will live in infamy.” For his strength at leading the nation in two different trying times in U.S. history, FDR is elevated to this lofty position in these rankings.

2. George Washington (1789-1797) (Previous: 2nd) – The first president of our nation is always properly given credit for the great things that he did. If not for Lincoln, he would most likely be rated as the top president ever. He resisted two different factions within his cabinet calling for the young nation’s entry into conflict between France and Britain, preserving the country’s young independence. His lasting legacy will always be his quiet and resolute strength as the nation’s first executive, and that alone is enough to rank him this high. Nobody had ever been “president” before, and only a handful of men since could claim to challenge his success. Like Eisenhower, he left office warning of something that nobody listened to him about, with the country splitting into multiple factions and parties before he had even retired to Mount Vernon.

1. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) (Previous: 1st) – The life, and story, of Lincoln has been told many times, and I’m not going to go into much depth in this post because I could write thousands of words on him separately. The Emancipation Proclamation, a big thing that happened and that was depicted in the film Lincoln, was but one legacy of his presidency. One of the greatest unanswerable questions in our nation’s history is what would have happened had Lincoln not been felled by that assassin’s bullet in 1865. The post-Civil War era in America was not in line with the views of President Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth’s bullet helped to define the nation for long after the actual shot. Lincoln is the best for his strength through the Civil War, and to me, it’s really no question.

And there you have it. All 45 presidents ranked, and it only took about 6,000 words total to do so. Someday I’ll write the post about why Lincoln should stop being held as some Republican hero, but that day is not today.

Thanks for reading. Until next time…

(Re-)Ranking the Presidents, Part 2

This week, I’m re-ranking the presidents. If you missed it, take a look at Monday’s post to see who we’ve taken off the list thus far. Without further delay, let’s see who cracks the list at #30:

30. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) (Previous Rank: 28th) – Richard Nixon had a promising political career, undone completely by his own hubris. After serving as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Vice President, Nixon thought he could waltz into the Oval Office because of the popularity of Ike. It was not to be, as Nixon was undone by both the new medium of television and a young Senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy. After losing one of the closest elections (at least based on popular vote) in history, Nixon lost the 1962 California gubernatorial election and moved to the political sidelines until 1968. Nixon was finally a victor in another close presidential election in 1968 and finally ascended to the Oval Office.

He did some good things while in office: he was the first president to visit China and also began to thaw the country’s relationship with the USSR. Also, after a decade of focus on space exploration, the U.S. beat all other nations to landing a man on the moon in 1969. After winning reelection in one of the largest electoral landslides in history – both based on popular vote and Electoral College – it seemed that Nixon was well on his way to being one of the best presidents ever… if not for that pesky paranoia and a late night break-in at a Washington, D.C. hotel. Fearing impeachment, Nixon resigned in shame in 1974 and a lot of the good that he did was undone.

29. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) (Previous: 31st) – Moving up a bit primarily because two others came down, Van Buren was mostly a dud as president. A capable senior administration official during the presidency of his predecessor Andrew Jackson, Van Buren was undone by the Panic of 1837 early in his presidency and failed to recover and compete with the surging Whig Party. He is better remembered for his service to the Democratic Party and not much that he actually did as president.

28. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) (Previous: 30th) – Another beneficiary of the slide of two “modern” presidents, Taylor rode his success as a general in the Mexican-American War to the White House in 1848. He avoided the question of slavery with the territories won from Mexico by admitting California directly as a state, which was experiencing a population boom due to the California Gold Rush. He urged the same for settlers in New Mexico, angering the South because neither state joined the Union as slave states. He started down the road to compromise, however, but unfortunately died suddenly before seeing anything formal come to fruition. The Compromise of 1850 was agreed to shortly after his death.

27. Gerald Ford (1974-1977) (Previous: 24th) – Gerald Ford might be the man most singularly responsible for the corruption of Donald Trump. By almost immediately pardoning Nixon for Watergate, he not only doomed his presidency, but also made accountability a hard thing to come by for the rogue executive. He still had some accomplishments while in office though. The Vietnam War limped to an end nine months into his presidency, and the Helsinki Accords moved the Cold War ever closer to its end. However, some of the economic woes at home that ended up affecting the presidency of Jimmy Carter started under Ford, and he was just unable to garner enough support for reelection. He remains the only man to serve as President and Vice President without being on a ballot for either position.

26. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) (Previous: 26th) – Coolidge benefits, and is in this group, mainly because of how he compared to the man he replaced. “Silent Cal” became president upon the death of Warren G. Harding, whose once popular run as president was eroded after his death by the scandals that rocked his administration. His presidency wasn’t really known for much other than making the office of the presidency respectable again, and getting out of the way of the very popular Herbert Hoover for the election of 1928.

25. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) (Previous: 27th) – Grant turned the tide in the Civil War, and rode his post-war popularity to the White House after the disastrous administration of Andrew Johnson. He was a stabilizing force during the Reconstruction period, and grew the strength of his Republican Party in the South by ensuring that the new laws regarding civil and voting rights were enforced and embracing the new African American voters. He faced some corruption by people within his administration, but he also voraciously attacked those using public office for personal gain. A fairly average president, I personally think that U.S. Grant is underrated, and it appears that presidential historians might be beginning to feel the same way.

24. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) (Previous: 25th) – A humble peanut farmer from Georgia, Carter ascended to the White House as a counter to the policies of Nixon and Gerald Ford. On his second day in office, he pardoned all the “draft dodgers” of the Vietnam War and generally set out to help Americans get beyond that terrible war. However, his presidency was mostly undone by the Iran hostage crisis, energy issues, and rampant inflation. He was challenged in the Democratic primary in 1980, and lost his reelection bid in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. Nevertheless, Carter didn’t really get in the way while president, and has spent his post-presidential life doing great things, earning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

23. William Howard Taft (1909-1913) (Previous: 23rd) – All Taft ever wanted to do was be a Supreme Court justice. Maybe he felt the black robes would flatter his figure or something. But his wife had different ambitions for her husband, and Taft reluctantly became the heir apparent for the policies of Theodore Roosevelt. He focused his policies towards Asia rather than Europe, but was ultimately did in by warring factions within his Republican Party, losing to the progressive wing when his former boss Roosevelt ran against him in the 1912 election as a third-party candidate, giving the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He finally achieved his goal of reaching the Supreme Court, being appointed by Warren G. Harding as Chief Justice in 1921, and remains the only man to serve as president and Supreme Court justice.

22. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) (Previous: 22nd)- John Quincy Adams won a hotly contested election that was ultimately decided in the House of Representatives, which stained his presidency from the beginning.  As with many presidents of his era, his accomplishments as president were often overshadowed by what else he did in his life, but his goals as president included a focus on the arts and education, as well as infrastructure improvements in the form of roads and canals. He also managed to pay off the bulk of the remaining national debt. An able Congressman and diplomat, he returned to the House of Representatives after losing his reelection bid in 1828, fighting against slavery until he collapsed on the floor of the House from a stroke in 1848.

21. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897) (Previous: 21st) – The 22nd and 24th president, Grover Cleveland is unique in that he is the only president to ever return to the White House after losing an election, playing personal bookends to the presidency of Benjamin Harrison in the late 19th Century. He was the first Democrat elected after the Civil War, and the first man to win three popular votes for president. Sounds like he was a pretty respected guy for the most part. He was able to stay in the middle of the political spectrum, pissing off Republicans and Democrats alike with his policies, but is most likely remembered best for his quirky electoral history. His second administration was tarnished by the Panic of 1893, which lasted his entire second term and most likely led to the return of Republicans in power until Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1912.

20. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) (Previous: 20th) – Andrew Jackson was one of the founders of the Democratic Party, and after losing the tightly contested election of 1824, he came back with a vengeance in defeating John Quincy Adams in 1828. He was beloved as a “people’s president” despite being a large plantation owner, and went away from the spoils system in appointing many executive branch offices. He fought against the Second National Bank, saying that he was defending “the people” from the bankers, and ultimately won reelection in 1832 because of it. Nevertheless, the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears should be his lasting legacy, where he took native people off of their lands simply because “white people” needed it more.

19. George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) (Previous: 19th) – George H.W. Bush was ultimately doomed by his promise of “no new taxes,” a statement that helped win the election in 1988 but hurt him against Bill Clinton four years later. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a successful president, despite only serving one term. He was the steward of our country when the USSR finally collapsed in 1991, and he was quick to react when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Unfortunately, record deficits inherited from his predecessor Ronald Reagan forced Bush to go back on his famous tax pledge and cost him the election in 1992.

18. Bill Clinton (1993-2001) (Previous: 18th) – Bill Clinton rose to prominence as governor of Arkansas and defeated George H.W. Bush in the election of 1992. Though the last few years of his presidency was marred by his near impeachment, he led the country during a time of great prosperity by completely undoing the failed economic policies of Reagan and Bush. He raised taxes on the wealthy and submitted budgets that dramatically reduced the deficit, resulting in a budget surplus. He attempted – but failed – to reform the healthcare system, though his wife was instrumental in passing legislation providing health insurance for children. However, the impeachment – though acquitted – and his signature on the Defense of Marriage Act, were negatives of his tenure as president, though history seems to have judged Clinton much better than most of his contemporaries.

17. William McKinley (1897-1901) (Previous: 17th) – McKinley led America through the Spanish-American War, raised tariffs to allow for U.S. industry to thrive, and stuck doggedly to the gold standard to hedge off the risk of further panics. He was reelected in 1900 on a populist yet progressive ticket, but was unfortunately assassinated six months into his second term by Leon Czolgosz. He was a generally popular and successful president, though he is often overshadowed by his larger-than-life successor Theodore Roosevelt.

16. John Adams (1791-1801) (Previous: 15th) – Adams had a lot to live up to, following George Washington as the second president of a new country. He was a capable captain of the new ship called America while president, managing to avoid getting entangled in the war between France and Britain. However, he famously clashed with the Jeffersonian Republicans, which led to his defeat in the election of 1800, and was ultimately defeated more by the politics of the time and not for any actual failures as president. A solid president whose legacy is partly defined by his appointment of John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Any surprises thus far? Do you think someone has been ranked too low or too high? Come back on Friday to see the top 15, which includes some of the best presidents in our history (obviously).

Until next time…

(Re-)Ranking the Presidents, Part 1

A lot has happened since I last sat down and ranked the presidents for Presidents Day 2017. As I write this, the former president was just acquitted in his second impeachment, albeit with seven of his fellow Republicans joining all the Democrats to vote him guilty of inciting the insurrection on the US Capitol of January 6, 2021. Despite their best efforts, the House impeachment managers just couldn’t get it across the goal line, though it’s more a failing on the 43 eyewitnesses to the events of January 6th that had to bend themselves into knots to justify their “not guilty” votes. An old man without his all-powerful Twitter account is still so scary to them that they couldn’t cross him to actually do what was right.


There has been a bit of shuffling among the rankings, though most of it is simply cosmetic at this point. There really isn’t a huge consensus about these rankings anyway; depending on your political leanings, conservative presidents will likely rank higher on your list than mine, and vice versa. And as presidents and their behavior gets further in the past, it’s harder to say that the impact the had isn’t worse or better than more recent presidents.

In keeping with my publishing schedule (#content), I’m going to break the list into thirds. And like I did four years ago I’m going to start at the bottom and work my way up. Now that we have had 45 presidents – though Joe Biden is technically #46, Grover Cleveland had two non-consecutive terms and messed up the counting a bit – this will break down into three nice lists of 15 presidents each. And, unlike last time, I’m going to rank them all, from #42 to #1, and throw in the actual rankings from last time too!

That said, this entry will be the three “incomplete” presidencies, then move on to the 12 worst presidents. We’ll go on from there, so without further ado, let’s talk briefly about three presidents currently grading out at incomplete:

William H. Harrison – Served in 1841 for about 30 days after famously contracting pneumonia while nor wearing a coat during his inaugural speech. Historians tend to rank him in the high 30s, so if you are one of the presidents below him on those types of lists, you know that you really were a terrible president. The man that succeeded him – John Tyler – is one of those presidents.

James A. Garfield – Served in 1881 until he died from blood poisoning after being shot by Charles Guiteau. Was only actually president for about 4 months, though he did have Robert Todd Lincoln around as Secretary of War. The man that succeeded Garfield after the assassination – Chester A. Arthur – will also be making an appearance later in this post.

Joseph R. Biden, Jr. – #46 has officially been president for 25 days as I write this, and he’s been mostly focusing on resolving the immediate issues of his predecessor. Though it’s early, he seems to be on the right path, though if he doesn’t start to coerce the Senate into killing the filibuster, he may end up as a one-term president that failed to get anything major accomplished.

Now the bottom tier of presidents (12 total in this group):

42. Donald J. Trump (2017-2021) (Previous Rank: N/A) – The Trump presidency started with mass protests at airports due to his Muslim ban, and ended with an attack on the US Capitol at his urging that led to his second impeachment. Over four years of chaos, including mishandling a major pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, the only real legislative accomplishment was a large tax cut that primarily benefited the wealthiest people in the country. He also, with the aide of Mitch McConnell in the Senate, appointed more federal judges than any prior one-term president, including three Supreme Court justices. Finally, despite being impeached (but not removed) twice during his presidency, he’s threatening a run in 2024, which would be… less than ideal.

41. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) (Previous: 40th) – Thanks to Donald Trump, Andrew Johnson will no longer be the worst president ever to a lot of people, though it probably still pretty close to a toss-up between the three worst presidents. Johnson became president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and pretty much ruined any chance that the country would recover quickly from the Civil War. He served what would have been the remainder of Lincoln’s second term and survived an impeachment attempt that came about when he continued to try to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton after Congress had passed a law restricting his ability to do so. He beat impeachment by one vote in the Senate, and returned to Tennessee a bitter man.

40. James Buchanan (1857-1861) (Previous: 41st) – In my previous rankings, I had Buchanan rated as the worst, but I’ve moved him up a peg because Andrew Johnson was just a little more terrible. Buchanan may have influenced the Dred Scott decision, keeping slavery alive in the South through the courts, which won him no friends in the north despite being from Pennsylvania. He tried to force a fraudulent Kansas constitution that would have admitted the territory as a slave state. He sent federal troops to Utah Territory to deal with pesky Mormon terrorists. Though the election of Lincoln in 1860 was the final straw in South Carolina’s secession and the Civil War, Buchanan’s weak leadership and support of slavery leading up to the election surely contributed to the belligerent feelings between North and South.

39. Franklin Pierce(1853-1857) (Previous: 39th) – Another  Northern president that did nothing to stop the spread of slavery, Pierce was the 14th president and viewed the abolitionist movement as a threat to the United States. His biggest error was his signature of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, undoing the Compromise of 1850 and angering abolitionists. Pro-slavery settlers flooded into the Kansas Territory, leading to Bleeding Kansas. Northern Democrats abandoned Pierce in the election of 1856 and he returned to New Hampshire and died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1869.

38. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) (Previous: 38th) – Perhaps the most corrupt president before Donald Trump, Harding was generally well-regarded and popular when he died unexpectedly in 1923. However, the worst of his scandals were revealed after his death, which has led to his fall down the presidential rankings over the past century. Teapot Dome was perhaps the most famous. It was a scandal involving oil leases in Wyoming, with the Secretary of the Interior accepting bribes from oil companies to extract oil. The Teapot Dome was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Harding’s scandals, unfortunately, and is a great illustration of why there should be a truth commission for the Trump administration to see what exactly we might have missed over the past four years.

37. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) (Previous: 37th) – Fillmore was the second president to serve that did not win election; he ascended to the position upon the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850. He was the last Whig to be president, and failed to be nominated again by that party in 1852. Didn’t really have any huge conflicts, but didn’t really do much to set himself apart from some of the other presidents of his era.

36. John Tyler (1841-1845) (Previous: 36th) – Tyler was the first “accidental president”, and a constitutional crisis met him when he took over after the death of William Henry Harrison. You see, no president had ever died in office and the issue of presidential succession wasn’t really addressed (though it was later clarified by the 25th Amendment). Nevertheless, Tyler hit the ground running and immediately became a horrible president, turning against his party’s leadership – eventually leaving the Whig Party altogether – and failing to get much accomplished. He wanted to continue the idea of Manifest Destiny and add territory, seeking to annex Texas to grow the nation, something that came to fruition under his successor James K. Polk. He might be more famous for having a grandchild recently die, 175 years after the end of his presidency.

35. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) (Previous: 35th) – Though he eventually went on to do some good things after his presidency, the presidential legacy of Herbert Hoover was defined by the Great Depression. He tried super hard to fix things, even doing some of the same things (public works projects) the later worked for FDR, but he also made some bad decisions that did not help the situation. Worldwide economic crises do not help a president be successful, and Hoover was most likely just in the wrong place and the wrong time. Opposing Prohibition didn’t help either.

34. Benjamin Harrison(1889-1893) (Previous: 34th) – A mostly forgettable president – in a string of them – Harrison didn’t have much in the way of accomplishments. But he passed an aggressive tariff, which led to increased spending, leading to the defeat of the Republicans during the midterm elections in 1890. The power of his party eroded, he lost reelection in 1892. Again, he didn’t really do bad things, but he didn’t really do anything exceptionally well either.

33. Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) (Previous: 33rd) – Another president that kind of just fell into the role after the death of his predecessor – in this case, after the assassination of James Garfield – Arthur didn’t really do much to set himself apart from his other contemporaries. When you are best known for reforming civil service, you really didn’t do much else. Taking over for an assassinated president must be hard, though the next two to do so actually did really well, so it’s really a 50/50 proposition in that regard.

32. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) (Previous: 32nd) – The election of Hayes was contentious enough, needing Congress to step in after the popular vote had some discrepancies. This didn’t make it easy for Hayes to govern, as he had to overcome the stigma of not being popularly elected and all that, and he didn’t really do much to make a name for himself. He restored some luster back to the presidency after some failures coming out of the Civil War, though the corrupt bargain that placed him in office accelerated the end of Reconstruction and led to the Jim Crow South. Not 100% his fault, but not a good legacy either.

31. George W. Bush (2001-2009) (Previous: 29th) – Another close election established “W” in the White House, and he’s the lowest ranked president on my list to serve two terms. Nevertheless, his presidency, and our country, changed on the morning for September 11, 2001. I will always give President Bush credit for the way he handled himself in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, and the goodwill he earned for his leadership led to his reelection in 2004. However, all was not rosy during his time in the White House, which is why he ends up on this list and not on a subsequent one. Among other things, his justification for the invasion of Iraq based on faulty intelligence and the PATRIOT Act was enough for me to place him on this list and not another.

That concludes the first third. Not much movement around the bottom of the list, as it is particularly hard to split hairs between the ones that really didn’t do all that much. Be sure to check in on Wednesday to see the next 15!

Until next time…

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

March 4, 1865.

We swore in presidents much later back in the day. With the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1933, the inauguration of the president moved from March 4th to January 20th. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first president to be sworn in at on the earlier date, when he was sworn in on this date in 1937.

The Election of 1864 was not a close election for Abraham Lincoln. We were in the midst of the Civil War, and therefore nine Confederate states – Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas – did not participate. Lincoln defeated the Democratic nominee, his former general George B. McClellan, 212 to 21, and also won two former Confederate states – Tennessee and Louisiana – which were not included in the count.

This was much different than Lincoln’s first electoral victory in 1860. In that election, with slavery on everyone’s mind after the disastrous presidency of James Buchanan, Lincoln won a four-man race for the presidency, winning only 39.8% of the popular vote, but 180 of the 303 (59.4%) Electoral College votes. He was sworn in on March 4, 1861; just over a month later, the Battle of Fort Sumter started the Civil War.

Therefore, Lincoln spent nearly his entire first term, and ultimately his presidency, waging the Civil War. He began the war hoping for a quick resolution that would prevent mass death on both sides. Instead, the two sides fought a bloody was of “brother against brother,” with over 1 million total casualties.

Many times during the war, Lincoln thought the Union was going to fail. That the Confederacy would prevail, at least to the point of being able to sue for peace and become an independent nation. A slave-holding nation. But after several missteps at the top – including by McClellan – Lincoln plucked Ulysses Grant from the Western Campaigns and pressed the battle, and finally emerged victorious.

As the war was winding down, he stepped up to deliver his second inaugural address. The peace at Appomattox Courthouse would not come until April 9th. Nevertheless, the Union had prevailed and it was time to try and heal the country.

The speech was brief; accounts state the the weary president delivered it in less than eight minutes. He was not happy the war was at an end, and his melancholy echoed through the words he spoke. He quoted liberally from the Bible, and it is worth reading the whole thing if you never have. But I want to focus on the final paragraph:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

He was ready to reconcile with the former Confederacy, but it wasn’t going to be a “forgive and forget” situation. Reconstruction was coming to hold those to account for the damage wrought, and to the states that had decided to secede. Unfortunately, Lincoln didn’t get to see Reconstruction through; he was assassinated on April 15, 1865 and replaced by Andrew Johnson, a terrible president who wanted to see Reconstruction fail.

Had we had a real lasting Reconstruction of the insurrectionist states, the “nation’s wounds” would have (likely) been “bound up,” instead of festering for the past 150 years and leading to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol of January 6, 2021. It’s hard to say that one man’s actions had such a large impact, but John Wilkes Booth’s bullet that ended Lincoln’s life was probably a turning point in this nation’s history from which we are still trying to recover.

Joe Biden is set to be sworn in as the 46th president in a little less than four hours from when this post goes live. I’m willing to bet the he quotes Lincoln in his speech from the front of the same Capitol that just two weeks ago was trespassed upon by people trying to prevent his speech from happening. But we must not simply forget the sins of the 45th president, and not attempt to “bind up” these long festering wounds with words and reconciliation.

We should have learned our lesson on March 4, 1865. Can we learn from our history this time? If not, the latest insurrection might be the first event in the ending of our republic once and for all.