Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 20, 2017
Every few years on President’s Day, somebody conducts a survey of history professors to determine the rankings of Presidents. Lincoln always wins and Washington is always second. The two Roosevelts follow behind.
There hasn’t been much movement in these top ranks. James Buchanan has been ranked at the bottom of this poll. The reason, of course, is that he presided over the years in which the United States slid into the Civil War.
There is no question that Buchanan provided very little leadership during this critical time. However, it is doubtful that Buchanan or anyone else could have prevented the Civil War. While his administration had few accomplishments, there are many others that could claim the prize for least accomplished. On the other hand, Buchanan had an excellent resume — he had held many high offices, including Secretary of State.
Despite all of that, there are a handful of Presidents who accomplished even less in office. William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia in the Inaugural Parade and died shortly afterward. James A. Garfield was assassinated relatively early in his administration and never had an opportunity to exercise leadership.
The Vice Presidents who succeeded these two were not, very frankly, Presidential timber — Tyler and Arthur. And then there was Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln. All three of these ex-Vice Presidents were unprepared for the challenge and had very little political power. They were swept aside by strong leaders in Congress and left almost no legacy.
Benjamin, the other Harrison, hated being President. He belongs in a trio of mediocres, including Filmore and Harding.
So who is the worst? It depends on what you value most in a President.
Here’s my ranking. Not the same as the C-Span Rankings. Politics shouldn’t play any role in these rankings. Leadership should be the chief criterion.
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Lyndon Johnson
- George H W Bush
- John Quincy Adams
- Van Buren
- George W Bush
- Benjamin Harrison
- Andrew Johnson
- William Henry Harrison