(Do you like historical rankings like this one? Then you’ll love my book! Maybe. I can’t make any promises. Anyway, the book ranks the 30 most influential figures in the history of Western civilization. Interesting, right? Buy it today!)
Months ago, I scheduled my ninth most influential figure in Western history post for today. That scheduling, however, was before I realized that today was Presidents’ Day! I don’t think the entry for the next person on the Top 30 list belongs on such a hallowed American holiday. Coincidentally, a day later this week coincides with the anniversary of one of #9’s most important publications. Therefore, I’m pushing back that entry to mid-week.
Still, my readers expect a Monday post! And a Monday post you shall have. Here is a Presidents’ Day presidential ranking.
Two quick notes on what you’re about to read:
- I’m not including any presidents from the last 50 years. I want to avoid recency bias, and I think it takes about 50 years until we have proper context for presidents. For the more recent presidents, people tend to compliment or criticize them because of their party and ideology, not more fundamental presidential characteristics. Therefore, the most recent president listed is Lyndon Johnson, who left office on January 20, 1969, and the earliest president not listed is Richard Nixon, who assumed the office on that day and proceeded to have two terms without any controversy. That leaves 35 presidents for today’s list. (Even though Lyndon Johnson is the 36th president, Grover Cleveland’s annoying non-concurrent terms made him the 22nd and 24th president, so Johnson was only the 35th person to hold the office.)
- I’m not going to have many details and examples. I don’t want to step on the toes of any future posts on presidents. Considering the content of this website, a more in depth look at these guys feels inevitable. Plus, it’s a holiday, right? You don’t want to spend a half hour reading a post. That’s what a work day is for.
To the list! Happy Presidents’ Day!
Tier 6: The Net Losses — They left America worse than they found it
35. James Buchanan (Almost always listed last, surviving extended family are probably actively rooting against Donald Trump)
34. Andrew Johnson
33. Franklin Pierce (The terms of Pierce, Buchanan, and Johnson surrounded Lincoln’s tenure. Does that mean we’re comparing them to him unfairly, or that Lincoln is all the more incredible for being great in a difficult time to be great? I lean toward the latter.)
32. Warren G. Harding (Top 32? That’s a win for him.)
31. Herbert Hoover
30. James Madison (Great job drafting much of our Constitution two decades earlier, but he’s our most overrated president. The capital literally burned!)
Tier 5: The Neutrals — With a single relatively ineffective term or less, they didn’t have time to screw things up too much, and some even did a bit of good.
29. William Henry Harrison (His one-month in office is the shortest presidential tenure.)
28. Millard Fillmore (finished Taylor’s term)
27. Zachary Taylor (term was finished by Fillmore)
26. James Garfield (second shortest tenure — less than seven months)
25. Chester Alan Arthur (finished Garfield’s term)
24. Benjamin Harrison
23. Martin Van Buren
22. Rutherford B. Hayes (Speaking further to the point made next to Pierce, we’ve now had 14 presidents listed, and all but three came between 1837 and 1893. That’s a rough stretch.)
21. William Howard Taft
Tier 4: The Divisive Two-Termers — They had plenty of time to do some good… and some not so good.
20. Ulysses S. Grant
19. Grover Cleveland (demerits for non-concurrent terms that have thrown off our counting of presidents)
18. Andrew Jackson (the most divisive nineteenth century president)
17. Woodrow Wilson (the most divisive of any pre-Nixon twentieth century president)
Tier 3: The Net Gains — On balance, I like what they did.
16. John Quincy Adams (Like Jefferson and Madison, his strong reputation mostly comes from his pre-president days.)
15. John Tyler (The first VP to ascend to the office in the middle of a term, he handled it well and set important precedents.)
14. Calvin Coolidge (“Silent Cal” sounds really nice right about now)
13. William McKinley
12. Lyndon B. Johnson
11. John Adams (mea culpa: ridiculous amount of bias here. I love the guy.)
Tier 2: The Top 10 — Some Excellent Presidents
10. John F. Kennedy (man I wish he had more time)
9. James Monroe (besides Washington, never was the country more united behind a president)
8. Thomas Jefferson (not just an excellent president, but the 24th most influential figure in Western history)
7. James K. Polk (Our greatest single-term president, he said he needed just four years to accomplish his goals and then he left, just like he promised. I’ve predicted Joe Biden’s emulates this approach in his campaign.)
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower
5. Harry S Truman
Tier 1: The Mount Rushmore of Presidents — Three of Whom are on the Actual Mount Rushmore
4. Theodore Roosevelt
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
2. George Washington (the 14th most influential figure in Western history!)
1. Abraham Lincoln (so great that both liberals and Republicans embrace him as one of their own)
(And don’t forget about my book. Buy it today!)