A few posts ago, I stuck my foot in my blog and said that I once made a list of which presidents were good and which were bad. Now, I have gotten a couple of requests to put that list here. I guess I will do it. More than likely, the list will be different that anyone else’s and will probably stir a debate. Hell, it will probably stir someone to say, “How in the world did you come up with that?”
Before creating the list, there are a few things to go over.
1. Presidential terms are complex and can’t be defined with strict parameters. All presidents make good decisions and bad decisions. That’s the nature of the office. With that being said, I will try to determine which they did the most of.
2. The nature of decisions and policies change through time. Our sensibilities are different from the sensibilities of people in the 1800s. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I will use it.
3. This is the opinion of one teacher of American history, and opinions are a dime a dozen. Guess what, most people have a pocket full of them.
So, the list.
George Washington set the precedence for presidents. GOOD
John Adams got caught up in the political battle with Thomas Jefferson, his vice president. BAD
Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory and increased the size of the nation. GOOD
James Madison got the country into a war with Great Britain but won it. GOOD
James Monroe served during the Era of Good Feelings. GOOD
John Quincy Adams was elected by the Corrupt Bargain and didn’t recover. BAD
Andrew Jackson, a hometown boy, prevented secession by South Carolina but pushed for Indian Removal. BAD
Martin Van Buren was swallowed up by an economic crisis early on. BAD
William Henry Harrison died a month after taking office. BAD
John Tyler was the first to take office upon a death, and some had a hard time accepting. BAD
James K. Polk got the country into a war with Mexico but won it. The result: California. GOOD
Zachary Taylor died after a year in office and before his policies could take full effect. BAD
Millard Fillmore got caught in the Compromise of 1850 and the splintering ideals of the nation. BAD
Franklin Pierce gor caught in the Kansas issue and the splintering ideals of the nation. BAD
James Buchanan came to office during a national tailspin and couldn’t pull it out. BAD
Abraham Lincoln brought the nation through its darkest hour. GOOD
Andrew Johnson led a nation that needed to be brought back together but lacked the ability to do it. BAD
Ulysses S. Grant had an administration full of scandals hindering his works at Reconstruction. BAD
Rutherford B. Hayes won despite receiving the least popular votes and enlarged the reservation system. BAD
James Garfield was assassinated a few months after taking office. BAD
Chester A. Arthur attempted reform in many areas, including civil service, voting rights and Indian relations. GOOD
Grover Cleveland tried to unravel the reforms of Arthur. BAD
Benjamin Harrison served longer than his grandfather but he approved policies that created economic problems. BAD
Grover Cleveland returned to only get caught up in an economic panic. BAD
William McKinley got us into a war with Spain but won it. GOOD
Theodore Roosevelt was reform-minded and strengthened the nation, both domestically and internationally. GOOD
William Howard Taft could not break out of the shadow of his predecessor. BAD
Woodrow Wilson oversaw the creation of the income tax and Prohibition and failed in his post-World War I peace efforts. BAD
Warren G. Harding had an administration with every scandal imaginable. Two words: Teapot Dome. BAD
Calvin Coolidge brought trust of government back into the American psyche. GOOD
Herbert Hoover saw the stock market collapse a few months after taking office and never recovered. BAD
Franklin D. Roosevelt was a great war-time president but is overrated where the economy is concerned. GOOD
Harry S. Truman got the nation involved in Korea. BAD
Dwight Eisenhower pushed the interstate system and used the national guard to force integration. GOOD
John F. Kennedy died before his policies could take hold but not before the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. BAD
Lyndon Johnson was destroyed by the escalation of Vietnam. BAD
Richard Nixon was destroyed by Watergate. BAD
Gerald Ford attempted to get the nation past the issues of the past but was defeated for it. GOOD
Jimmy Carter was completely overwhelmed by the position. BAD
Ronald Reagan succeeded in making the nation feel good about itself and get past the issues of the past. GOOD
George H.W. Bush should not have said, “Read my lips!” BAD
Bill Clinton had personal issues but oversaw a robust time in the United States. GOOD
George W. Bush won a controversial election and faced the tragedy of 9/11 but could not lead the nation into fruitful times. BAD
Barack Obama faced tough conditions upon entering office but has not improved upon those conditions. BAD
Now, some analysis.
According to my opinion, the United States has had 15 “good” presidents and 29 “bad” presidents. The best string of “good” presidents came early when with three in a row. The longest row of “bad” presidents was five.
It seems to me that the United States has survived many years of less-than-stellar leadership. How did this happen? It happened because the American people made it happen. Perhaps, we are more important than our leaders. Perhaps, they should get out of our way and let us fix things.
There you go. My opinion. Now, let the debate begin.