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Who Is the Worst President?

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 20, 2017

No. 1,307

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.

  1. Lincoln
  2. Washington
  3. FDR
  4. Jefferson
  5. Theodore Roosevelt
  6. Eisenhower
  7. Lyndon Johnson
  8. Madison
  9. Monroe
  10. Polk
  11. Reagan
  12. Truman
  13. Clinton
  14. Jackson
  15. JohnAdams
  16. George H W Bush
  17. Obama
  18. Nixon
  19. Cleveland
  20. Taft
  21. Carter
  22. Wilson
  23. John Quincy Adams
  24. Hoover
  25. McKinley
  26. Kennedy
  27. Van Buren
  28. Taylor
  29. George W Bush
  30. Ford
  31. Coolidge
  32. Pierce
  33. Hayes
  34. Arthur
  35. Benjamin Harrison
  36. Fillmore
  37. Tyler
  38. Harding
  39. Buchanan
  40. Andrew Johnson
  41. William Henry Harrison


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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