Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Presidential History"
Say to Mr. Lincoln from me that I shall at any time be pleased to receive proposals for peace on the basis of our [Confederate] Independence. It will be useless to approach me with any other.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis, to Northern emissaries during the Civil War, July 1864.
He was not executive in his talents — not original, not firm, not a moral force. He leaned on others — could not face a frowning world; his habits suffered from Washington life. His course at various times when trouble came betrayed weakness.
Rutherford B. Hayes, on his successor, James Garfield, 1883.
Simple question: do you think LBJ would've won in 1968? I think he could have despite the turbulence surrounding his presidency simply because people knew he was a leader. And also, the war in Vietnam hadn't quite hit it's peak though it was close. I think that Americans would rather want the devil they know than the one they don't, especially in wartime. Anyways, what's your opinion?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I agree — I think LBJ would have won in ‘68 if he had run. First of all, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, of all people, almost pulled off the victory over Richard Nixon in 1968. Humphrey lost the popular vote by a margin of just over 500,000 votes — in an election where George Wallace won nearly 10 million votes. Despite his Civil Rights accomplishments, I think Johnson would have neutralized Wallace in some of those Southern states. In fact, it’s very possible that a heavyweight like LBJ in the race would have kept George Wallace from launching a bid as serious as he actually did in 1968. Wallace won 46 Electoral votes (all of them being states of the Deep South) and I don’t think that would have happened with LBJ in the race.

Wallace was a big factor in the race, but another big factor was the battle for the Democratic nomination and the turbulence surrounding the primaries, RFK’s assassination, and the battles between Chicago police and anti-war protesters outside of the Democratic National Convention. If LBJ had been the candidate, there would have been no primary fight, and the DNC would have been much more disciplined. There definitely still would have been anti-war protests, but instead of seeming to add to the chaos of the Democrats’ nomination process, it would have come across differently.

And the biggest difference would have been the difference between Lyndon Baines Johnson on the campaign trail and Hubert H. Humphrey on the campaign trail. On television, LBJ often came across wooden and uninspiring, but he was something altogether different while campaigning. More importantly, LBJ wouldn’t have rolled over and just let Nixon get away with any Nixonian dirty tricks. LBJ could play just as dirty, and he would have if it meant the difference between four more years and a forced retirement. LBJ was the incumbent President of the United States and the head of the Democratic Party; he controlled the party apparatus would have known who to use the power of his office and his power of the Democratic Party to propel him to victory if it was kept close.

It definitely would have been closer than the 1964 election; LBJ wouldn’t have cruised to a landslide over Nixon in 1968 like he did over Barry Goldwater four years earlier, but I do think LBJ would have beat Nixon. In the election that we did get — a three-way race between Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace — the Electoral College results were Nixon 301, Humphrey 191, Wallace 46 (270 votes needed to win). Nixon won the popular vote in 1968 over Humphrey by only a few hundred thousand more votes than Kennedy beat him in 1960 (one of the narrowest victories in American history) and George Wallace claimed 9.9 million votes. As I said, in my opinion, if LBJ had run in ‘68, Wallace either wouldn’t have run or he wouldn’t have been able to get ballot access in all 50 states. Either way, he wouldn’t have won 9.9 million votes and I don’t think he would have won any of the five states that he did actually win in ‘68 (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi). LBJ would have built a powerful voter registration and get out the vote organization in those Southern states with large African-American populations whose right to vote was signed into law and protected three years earlier by LBJ. I think that those new voters, in addition to the Democrats who remained Democratic voters in the South despite LBJ’s Civil Rights policy, would have put those states in the Democratic column. Wallace also won one of North Carolina’s 13 Electoral votes in ‘68.

If it was just LBJ vs. Nixon, I think LBJ would have won all of the states that Humphrey won (Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) as well as the states that Wallace won (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi). I also think that LBJ would have won 11 of the 32 states that Nixon won majorities in over Humphrey (Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia). In many of the 32 states that Nixon won in the actual 1968 election, his margin of victory was slim and Wallace’s removal from the equation likely would have swung more votes into the Democratic column than the Republican, resulting in a swing of those 11 states. The popular vote margin would still be pretty close, but LBJ would win majorities in most of the major states (those with the most Electoral College votes). In a straight LBJ vs. Nixon matchup in 1968, I think the Electoral College result would be: LBJ 381, Nixon 157.

And, yes, this question motivated me to actually go back and re-figure the 1968 Presidential election’s Electoral College map state-by-state. Don’t say I never did anything for you guys.

Asker bbkld Asks:
This is kind of a wide open question: In your opinion, when was the single most difficult day of the American Presidency? There's the days a President decides to send American youth to war, for instance. For me, it may be the day LBJ became POTUS with his predecessor's widow standing next to him.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

That is such a GREAT question because the answer can go so many different ways and spur some fantastic debate. The Presidency is a difficult and terribly exhausting job every day and most Presidents have faced a lot of adversity throughout their terms simply because of the very nature of the position and its responsibilities. There are dozens of individual days that are hard to argue with if they are suggested by someone to be the most difficult single day faced by a President over the 225 years that the job has been in service.

I think that the day you suggested is undoubtedly near the top of the list, as are any of the days when a Vice President assumes the office upon the assassination or death from natural causes of the incumbent President, and November 22, 1963 was, of course, one of the darkest days in the nation’s history. The emotions and thoughts possessed by the people on Air Force One as LBJ took the oath office and they prepared to fly back to Washington, D.C. with JFK in a casket just a couple of hours after he arrived in Dallas on that same airplane very much alive are unimaginable. There are just no words for a tragedy of that magnitude, and, as you mentioned, the presence of a newly-widowed Jackie Kennedy, clearly in shock and standing in the crowded cabin of the plane with her husband’s blood and brain matter staining her clothing, adds a whole different dimension to the tragic day and was a hell of a way for someone to begin their Presidency. There was also the fact that nobody knew the scope of the assassination and whether there might be something even more sinister — an international conspiracy or a plot to decapitate the entire federal government — going on. Plus, LBJ was the only President to actually witness his predecessor’s assassination. As if a Presidential assassination isn’t shocking and traumatic enough, Johnson was only a couple of cars back in the motorcade. He saw what happened and he was taken to Parkland Hospital right behind JFK; LBJ caught a glimpse of the scene inside JFK’s limousine as the Secret Service past the vehicle in order to keep him protected inside the hospital; Johnson was in the building when Kennedy was officially pronounced dead. I’ve always thought that one of the strangest feelings ever experienced by a President had to have been when an aide entered the room where LBJ was being held inside Parkland Hospital and addressed him as “Mr. President” — the moment he realized that JFK was dead and that he was now President. Imagine that.

And yet, even with everything mentioned above, I think there are two other more difficult days faced by Presidents. One is April 12, 1945 — another day in which a President died in office and was succeeded by his Vice President. In this case, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died suddenly at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, and was succeeded by Harry S Truman.

FDR was clearly dying when he won an unprecedented fourth term as President in 1944, and his health was declining noticeably. When he took the oath of office for his fourth term in January 1945, FDR was sworn in on the South Portico of the White House instead of at the U.S. Capitol. It was said that the inaugural festivities were scaled back because of World War II and that certainly played a part, but FDR’s failing health was also a factor. At just 557 words, Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address was the second-shortest in American history — only George Washington’s second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1793), which was 135 words long, was shorter than FDR’s fourth. After the physically taxing trip and summit with Stalin and Churchill at Yalta and meetings with other Allied leaders in February 1945 — a journey which would have been punishing for even a healthy person — FDR gave a report on the agreements to a Joint Session of Congress. At Yalta, officials from the other Allied delegations were alarmed by FDR’s appearance and when FDR gave his speech to Congress he did so from a seated position, apologizing for his “unusual posture” and noted that it was “easier for me not to have to carry about ten pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs.” The reference to the leg braces he had worn since contracting polio in 1921 was the first time Roosevelt had ever publicly acknowledged his physical disability, and members of Congress now saw what those at the Yalta Conference had seen — FDR was gravely ill.

One person who did not realize how badly the President was ailing was the Vice President, Harry Truman. In 1944, President Roosevelt had dumped his Vice President, Henry Wallace, from the ticket, and seemingly put the decision of his running mate largely in the hands of the Democratic National Convention. In reality, Roosevelt was virtually positive that he would not survive his fourth term and he wasn’t simply choosing a Vice President — he was choosing a successor. Vice President Wallace didn’t cut it as a successor (not to FDR and definitely not to the leaders of the Democratic Party), and Truman steered the Convention towards Truman, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, and James F. Byrnes, a former Congressman, former Senator, former Supreme Court Justice, a longtime advisor-without-portfolio to FDR and the ultra-powerful director of the War Mobilization Board.

Roosevelt eventually decided that Truman was the guy he wanted and worked behind-the-scenes to get him nominated at the Convention despite a floor fight by passionate supporters of Wallace who wanted to keep him on the ticket and by Truman’s own reluctance to leave the Senate, a job he loved more than anything he had ever done in his life, for the Vice Presidency, which was powerless and boring and lacked even a hint of influence within Presidential Administrations at that point in history. Once elected and sworn in as Vice President, Truman was no different than any of the previous Vice Presidents — he had nothing to do, wasn’t included in on decisions or discussions of policy, and had almost no personal or professional relationship with President Roosevelt. The only thing of note that Truman did during his Vice Presidency was cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to help his predecessor in the Vice Presidency, Henry Wallace, get confirmed as Secretary of Commerce. Truman spent most of his days on Capitol Hill, and was at having drinks with a small group of Congressmen and Senator in the office of House Speaker Sam Rayburn on April 12, 1945 when he got a call summoning him to the White House ASAP.

Truman wasn’t sure what was going on, but Allied troops were quickly closing in on Berlin that month from the west and the east, so it could have been just about anything. When he arrived at the White House, it was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who told him, quite bluntly, “Harry, the President is dead.” Despite FDR’s poor health, Truman was stunned. “Is there anything I can do for you?”, the new President asked Eleanor Roosevelt, and the new widow responded, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

That wasn’t an exaggeration. World War II was coming to a close in Europe and still raging in the Pacific. Within two-and-a-half weeks of Truman’s succession to the Presidency, Mussolini was captured and killed by his own people in Italy, Berlin fell to the Soviets, Hitler killed himself in his bunker, Germany surrendered, and the war ended in Europe. And, at some point shortly after Truman was sworn into office, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson briefed him on the work being done to build an atomic bomb. Truman — the only President to order a nuclear strike — was completely in the dark about the Manhattan Project and the goal of building a nuclear weapon until after he became President. With all of that to come, everything going in on the world, and the fact that he had suddenly succeeded the longest-serving President in American history — a man whose image was hanging in the houses of millions Americans next to an image of Jesus — in the midst of the bloodiest war in the history of the world is why Truman’s April 12, 1945 was a more difficult day than LBJ’s November 22, 1963. The day after he was sworn into office, Truman said to reporters, “I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”

The other day that I would consider one of the single most difficult days experienced by a President doesn’t require much of an explanation because most of us remember it well. We lived through it and it’s tragically memorable in the same way that older generations remember November 22, 1963 or another day that was very difficult for a President, December 7, 1941 (the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor). No matter how I voted, or how I felt about George W. Bush when it came to other issues and his Presidency overall, I will never forget his poise during the days after September 11, 2001, which was without a doubt one of the toughest days any President has ever experienced. He was a bit unsteady on the day of the attacks, at least in his statements early in the day, but we were all unsteady. We didn’t know what the hell was going on, and the President was in the frustrating position of not being allowed by the Secret Service to return to Washington, D.C. until later in the evening. He was removed from the situation, forced to remain in the air aboard Air Force One as it flew across the country, protected by fighter jets, to a secure location in Nebraska. President Bush began to find his footing with his address to the nation that night from the Oval Office once he finally ordered to be taken home to Washington, and he was fantastic throughout the rest of that week, especially at the National Prayer Service and when he visited with the family members of victims and with rescue workers at Ground Zero.

Knowing how difficult 9/11 was for regular Americans like me, far removed from the horror in Manhattan, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, I can’t imagine how hard that day was to the actual victims of the attacks, or those people connected to the victims. And it’s impossible to understand how hard September 11, 2001 was for the President of the United States, from the moment Andy Card whispered the news to him in that classroom in Sarasota, Florida until he finally went to sleep that night after a day of attacks on the country unlike any that any other President has ever faced. Like I said at the beginning of this answer (approximately 90,000 words ago), this is a great question because it has so many possible answers and opens up a very interesting debate. But in my opinion, no President had a more difficult single day than George W. Bush on September 11, 2001.

He has done more than any other President to degrade the character of Cabinet officers by choosing them on the model of the military staff, because of their pleasant personal relation to him and not because of their national reputation and the public needs…His imperturbability is amazing. I am in doubt whether to call it greatness or stupidity.
James Garfield, criticizing Ulysses S. Grant for his poor judgment of the quality of many of the officials of his Administration which was ravaged by scandals despite President Grant’s personal honesty and lack of complicity, 1874.

Alright, the 2014 Presidential Rankings are complete. Thanks for checking them out and following along. I’ll be sending out free PDF copies of my book to anybody who guessed my Top 15 correctly.

I look forward to all of the people who are outraged and want to either debate all 43 rankings and/or just call me an idiot even though I’ve said on many occasions that ranking Presidents is completely subjective and any version of Presidential Rankings is totally arbitrary.

As I’m weeding through all of those messages into my inbox over the next few weeks, here is a list of the complete rankings for 2014 (with links to each individual entry):

43. James Buchanan (43rd in 2012 [↔])
42. William Henry Harrison (42nd in 2012 [↔])
41. Andrew Johnson (41st in 2012 [↔])
40. Franklin Pierce (40th in 2012 [↔])
39. James Garfield (38th in 2012 [↓1])
38. Millard Fillmore (37th in 2012 [↓1])
37. Warren G. Harding (39th in 2012 [↑2])
36. George W. Bush (36th in 2012 [↔])
35. Jimmy Carter (34th in 2012 [↓1])
34. Herbert Hoover (33rd in 2012 [↓1])
33. Zachary Taylor (32nd in 2012 [↓1])
32. Benjamin Harrison (35th in 2012 [↑3])
31. Rutherford B. Hayes (27th in 2012 [↓4])
30. Barack Obama (28th in 2012 [↓2])
29. Martin Van Buren (29th in 2012 [↔])
28. Ulysses S. Grant (30th in 2012 [↑2])
27. William Howard Taft (31st in 2012 [↑4])
26. John Quincy Adams (26th in 2012 [↔])
25. Calvin Coolidge (25th in 2012 [↔])
24. Richard Nixon (24th in 2012 [↔])
23. Chester A. Arthur (23rd in 2012 [↔])
22. Grover Cleveland (22nd in 2012 [↔])
21. John Tyler (19th in 2012 [↓2])
20. Woodrow Wilson (20th in 2012 [↔])
19. Andrew Jackson (17th in 2012 [↓2])
18. Gerald Ford (21st in 2012 [↑3])
17. Ronald Reagan (15th in 2012 [↓2])
16. John F. Kennedy (14th in 2012 [↓2])
15. James Madison (12th in 2012 [↓3])
14. Thomas Jefferson (11th in 2012 [↓3])
13. John Adams (16th in 2012 [↑3])
12. William McKinley (18th in 2012 [↑6])
11. George H.W. Bush (13th in 2012 [↑2])
10. Harry S Truman (8th in 2012 [↓2])
9. Bill Clinton (10th in 2012 [↑1])
8. Dwight D. Eisenhower (9th in 2012 [↑1])
7. James K. Polk (7th in 2012 [↔])
6. Theodore Roosevelt (5th in 2012 [↓1])
5. Lyndon B. Johnson (6th in 2012 [↑1])
4. James Monroe (4th in 2012 [↔])
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt (3rd in 2012 [↔])
2. George Washington (2nd in 2012 [↔])
1. Abraham Lincoln (1st in 2012 [↔])


1st President of the United States (1789-1797)

Full Name: George Washington
Born: February 22, 1732, Pope’s Creek, Westmoreland County, Virginia
Political Party: Federalist
State Represented: Virginia
Term: April 30, 1789-March 4, 1797
Age at Inauguration: 57 years, 67 days
Administration: 1st and 2nd
Congresses: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th
Vice President: John Adams (1789-1797)
Died: December 14, 1799, Mount Vernon, Virginia
Age at Death: 67 years, 295 days
Buried: Mount Vernon, Virginia

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 2 of 43 [↔]

I can be talked into switching George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but I don’t understand how anyone can rank Washington lower than #3, and, the more I think about it, I think he definitely deserves to be at #2.  I’ve talked before about the “Precedent Presidents” who set so many of the precedents that were a foundation of the Presidency.  EVERYTHING that Washington did was being done for the first time.  Nobody shaped the office of the Presidency, from its functions to the formalities and informalities that surround it, in every conceivable way, more than George Washington.  That required more than great leadership, but also incredible vision.  Even seemingly unimportant things like the way the President is addressed, or how he enters a room, required Washington’s touch.  The Presidency is what it is because of George Washington.  He could have turned it into a completely different position, but he made it into the office that we recognize.  And perhaps the most important thing that Washington did as President was retiring to Mount Vernon after two terms and transitioning the job to John Adams.  That really set the Presidency apart from other executive offices or ruling positions in history.  Washington’s greatness is rarely doubted, but we should recognize his role as an incredible visionary, as well.

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  2 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  2 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  3 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  4 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  2 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  3 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  2 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  1 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  2 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  4 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  3 of 40


36th President of the United States (1963-1969)

Full Name: Lyndon Baines Johnson
Born: August 27, 1908, near Stonewall, Texas
Political Party: Democratic
State Represented: Texas
Term: November 22, 1963-January 20, 1969 (Assumed the Presidency upon the death of John F. Kennedy)
Age at Inauguration: 55 years, 87 days
Administration: 44th (Completed the term of President Kennedy) and 45th
Congresses: 88th, 89th and 90th
Vice President: None (1963-1965) and Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. (1965-1969)
Died: January 22, 1973, LBJ Ranch, near Johnson City, Texas
Age at Death: 64 years, 148 days
Buried: LBJ Ranch, near Johnson City, Texas

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 5 of 43 [↑1]

In 2012, many of my longtime readers were surprised that I had LBJ ranked #6 instead of #3, or even #1 as some people suspected I might put him due to my unabashed appreciation and frequent praise of his leadership. I noted then — as I am also noting now — that the distance between the Presidents ranked #4, #5, and #6 is almost non-existent. You can basically consider all three of those Presidents as tied for fourth place, but I couldn’t conceivably have a tie in my own personal rankings. There are no specific statistics or metrics or any sort of processes in determining my Presidential Rankings that would lead to a tie, so including one just because the Presidents ranked 4th, 5th, and 6th are basically interchangeable in my opinion would be a cop-out or just plain lazy. (With that said, while the Presidents ranked #4, #5, and #6 are separated by an almost imperceptible distance, the difference between those three Presidents and the President ranked #7 is pretty significant.) LBJ is a great President because of his domestic accomplishments and Civil Rights, even with the turmoil of the last few years of his Presidency and the drag that Vietnam places on his legacy. I am adamant that the passage of true, effective Civil Rights legislation during LBJ’s Presidency — legislation that was shepherded and piloted through Congress by Lyndon Johnson — is one of the great accomplishments in all of American History. I believe that LBJ did more for Civil Rights than anyone in American History — including Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. His leadership when it came to getting legislation passed through Congress so that he could sign it never receives the full appreciation that I feel it deserves, so I’ll continue fighting my own battle for it. With this year’s 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and next year’s 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Johnson’s legacy has received an infusion of attention, and that attention has led to a greater appreciation of LBJ’s leadership. The escalation of the Vietnam War undoubtedly casts shadows over Johnson’s accomplishments, but I believe Civil Rights will ultimately dominate discussion of LBJ’s overall legacy. The increase in attention and admiration due to the anniversaries of the Civil Rights legislation is why I have LBJ at #5 this year instead of #6, but again, I think the Presidents that I have ranked #4, #5, and #6 are interchangeable.

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  12 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  15 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  14 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  10 of 41
2000: Public Opinion Poll:  19 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  18 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  11 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  16 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  11 of 40


26th President of the United States (1901-1909)

Full Name: Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Born: October 27, 1858, 28 East 20th Street, New York City, New York
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: New York
Term: September 14, 1901-March 4, 1901 (Assumed the office upon the death of William McKinley)
Age at Inauguration: 42 years, 322 days
Administration: 29th (Completed the term of President McKinley) and 30th
Congresses: 57th, 58th, 59th, and 60th
Vice President: Charles Warren Fairbanks (1905-1909)
Died: January 6, 1919, Sagamore Hill estate, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York
Buried: Young’s Memorial Cemetery, Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 5 of 43 [↓1]

Theodore Roosevelt is one of those Presidents that you know is great, but very few people can name specific accomplishments that occurred during the Roosevelt Administration.  TR, despite being a bombastic leader, guided the country through a relatively peaceful, prosperous time and helped calm the country in the wake of President McKinley’s assassination even though he was the youngest President in history.  Because of his personality, Roosevelt helped expand American influence and power, and was something like a promoter for the American brand as this country became the great power of the 20th Century.  TR’s Progressive shift modernized industry, politics, civil rights, and immediately made the 20th Century seem like an advanced time, even in comparison to the 1890s.  Building the Panama Canal and mediating the peace talks between Japan and Russia (which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize) expanded American influence just as much as the Great White Fleet.  Where would TR be on this list if he had never made the pledge not to run in 1908?  It would have changed a lot of things, and possibly put TR in office as World War I broke out rather than Woodrow Wilson, which would have been good for the war effort and might have even improved his already-impressive position in the rankings..

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  7 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  7 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  4 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  5 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  6 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  4 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  3 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  5 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  4 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  2 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  5 of 40


34th President of the United States (1953-1961)

Full Name: Dwight David Eisenhower (Born: David Dwight Eisenhower)
Full Name: October 14, 1890, Denison, Texas
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: New York (1st term: When running for President in 1952, Eisenhower was stationed in Paris as NATO Secretary-General and New York was his official residence) and Kansas (2nd term: During his Presidency, Eisenhower switched his official residency back to Kansas)
Term: January 20, 1953-January 20, 1961
Age at Inauguration: 62 years, 98 days
Administration: 42nd and 43rd
Congresses: 83rd, 84th, 85th, and 86th
Vice President: Richard Milhous Nixon (1953-1961)
Died: March 28, 1969, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 78 years, 165 days
Buried: Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 9 of 43 [↑1]

Ulysses S. Grant is on American currency because of his successes as a Union General during the Civil War, not because of anything he did as President of the United States.  For decades, the first thing that Dwight D. Eisenhower has been remembered for is his leadership as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II.  Perhaps that will never change, and maybe it shouldn’t since he was the successful commander of the largest, the most intricate, and possibly even the most important amphibious invasion in the history of the world. But as the years pass and the Eisenhower and we are able to compare him to others, it is clear that Eisenhower was a great President as well as a great soldier.  Eisenhower was an incredibly clever and able politician, and he modernized the way the Executive Branch works and is organized.  Eisenhower brought the military-type of chief of staff position to the White House and it changed the way that Presidential power was used and protected.  The eight years of the Eisenhower Administration were prosperous and peaceful, and despite his age and his supposed “inexperience” with politics, Eisenhower was hands-on and directed every aspect of his Presidency.  That made for a strong Presidency and a country that was steered into the 1960’s by President, not General, Eisenhower. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a career soldier who spent decades training to be a warrior and preparing to wage war, but after World War II, few citizens worked harder at “waging peace”. As Ike said while reflecting on his Presidency, “The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground during my Administration. We kept the peace. People ask how it happened — by God, it didn’t just happen!”

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  22 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  9 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  12 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  10 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  9 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  8 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  8 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  8 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  10 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  10 of 40


42nd President of the United States (1993-2001)

Full Name: William Jefferson Clinton (Born: William Jefferson Blythe III)
Born: August 19, 1946, Julia Chester Hospital, Hope, Arkansas
Political Party: Democratic
State Represented: Arkansas
Term: January 20, 1993-January 20, 2001
Age at Inauguration: 46 years, 149 days
Administration: 52nd and 53rd
Congresses: 103rd, 104th, 105th, and 106th
Vice President: Albert Arnold “Al” Gore, Jr.
Age at Death:

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 10 of 43 [↑1]

Ask many of those Republicans who called for Bill Clinton’s impeachment or fought against so many of the Clinton Administration’s achievements whether they miss Bill Clinton today and I think they’ll tell you “Yes!”.  Were we better off during the Clinton Administration?  Absolutely.  Was Bill Clinton a talented political leader?  Definitely.  If not for the Twenty-Second Amendment would Bill Clinton either still be President or running for President today?  I would hope so, and considering Clinton’s reputation for being endlessly energetic, I can’t imagine him sitting on the sidelines if he could be in the game.  Many Americans in 2014 would have to look up the definition of a “budget surplus” to understand what it is.  We enjoyed three straight budget surpluses during the Clinton Administration.  Even when he was being impeached and on trial in the Senate, his approval ratings were high, and no President’s approval ratings were higher upon leaving office.  A decade without Clinton in the White House has done more than anything to make us miss having Clinton in the White House. After the 2016 election, we very may well have another Clinton in the Oval Office — and an exceedingly brilliant and capable one — if finally Hillary shatters that glass ceiling and wins the Presidency. But no matter how good Hillary might be (and I believe she’ll be fantastic if elected), she might not even be the best President sleeping in her bedroom because, as the years pass and she is in the midst of building her own legacy (if elected), Bill Clinton’s Presidency will continue to be remembered as a time of prosperity that millions of Americans remain nostalgic for. Bill Clinton’s personal failures and flaws may have been embarrassing to him, humiliating to his family, and uncomfortable for the American people, but the fact that Americans crave a leader like him in the White House is a testament to his skill as a politician and the strength of his Administration’s achievements.

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  Not Ranked
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  Not Ranked
1990: Siena Institute:  Not Ranked
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  20 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  21 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  36 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  22 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  15 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  13 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  19 of 40


33rd President of the United States (1945-1953)

Full Name: Harry S Truman
Born: May 8, 1884, Lamar, Missouri
Political Party: Democratic
State Represented: Missouri
Term: April 12, 1945-March 4, 1953 (Assumed office upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt)
Age at Inauguration: 60 years, 337 days
Administration: 40th (Completed the 4th term of President Roosevelt) and 41st
Congresses: 79th, 80th, 81st, and 82nd
Vice President: None (1st term: 1945-1949) and Alben William Barkley (2nd term: 1949-1953)
Died: December 26, 1972, Research Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri
Age at Death: 88 years, 232 days
Buried: Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 8 of 43 [↓2]

When Harry Truman left office, he had one of the lowest approval ratings in American History.  As the years passed — as we frequently see happen — Americans and historians began to remember him more fondly.  They looked at his style of leadership and his decisive manner and recognized that Truman was a straight-shooter, confident in his ability, his power, and with the decisions that he made.  We don’t have many politicians like Harry Truman anymore.  That’s why he’s a favorite of leaders from both sides of the aisle — George W. Bush was a big fan of Truman (and has often mentioned the rehabilitation of Truman’s legacy when asked about his own low approval ratings).  Truman wasn’t cool and unemotional like FDR was in private or calm and collected like Eisenhower was in public, but he was decisive and he never second-guessed himself.  Truman doesn’t have a list of accomplishments that propel him to the top of the rankings, but his personality and his decisive leadership make him one of the greats.

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  Not Ranked
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  9 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  8 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  7 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  8 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  5 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  7 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  7 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  5 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  9 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  7 of 40


25th President of the United States (1897-1901)

Full Name: William McKinley, Jr.
Born: January 29, 1843, Niles, Ohio
Political Party: Republican
State Represented: Ohio
Term: March 4, 1897-September 14, 1901 (Assassinated)
Age at Inauguration: 54 years, 34 days
Administrations: 28th and 29th
Congresses: 55th, 56th, and 57th
Vice Presidents: Garret Augustus Hobart (1st term: 1897-1899; Died in office) and Theodore Roosevelt (2nd term: Assumed the Presidency upon McKinley’s assassination)
Died: September 14, 1901, John G. Milburn Residence, 1168 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, New York
Age at Death: 58 years, 228 days
Buried: McKinley National Memorial, Canton, Ohio

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 18 of 43 [↑6]

Photos of William McKinley, with his heavy eyebrows, tend to portray him as a brooding figure, which is the exact opposite of who he was.  McKinley, to put it simply, was a sweetheart who made almost no political enemies.  Even the man who murdered him had nothing personal against the President, he was just an anarchist.  McKinley was killed in the beginning months of a second term that had been won on the popularity gained from the lightning quick victory of the U.S. over Spain in the Spanish-American War and was hoping to shift his party and his country from what could be seen as imperialist aggression into the progressive accomplishments that Americans would credit to his successor, Theodore Roosevelt.  McKinley was a good man and, at the time of his death, a very popular President — even beloved by many Americans. No President’s ranking from 2012 changed more dramatically than McKinley’s, with the 25th President jumping six spots higher than I ranked him two years ago. The difference-maker is that since I first ranked the Presidents in July 2012, I have read H. Wayne Morgan’s definitive biography of McKinley, William McKinley and His America (BOOK | KINDLE), and have gained a deeper understanding of how truly promising the McKinley Administration was as it took our nation into the 20th Century. Historians frequently debate which election was the first “modern election” and who was the first “modern President”, and it seems like both of those questions have dozens of different answers. But, in my opinion, the first modern President was clearly McKinley because his Administration set the tone for many of his successors about how Presidents govern. McKinley’s Executive Branch was organized more closely to how the Presidential Administrations of living memory function. McKinley was even the first President to give his Vice President — his first term Vice President, Garret Hobart, who died in office — real influence in his Administration. After a string of post-Civil War Presidents who were weak, unpopular, and allowed Congress to dominate the national political agenda, McKinley began regaining power for the Presidency and it was his groundwork which assisted his 20th Century successors in expanding Presidential power. His assassination took place just six months into his second term, so it’s impossible to determine where he would have landed had he lived and been able to finish his work. But if I were to guess, I think he could have possibly broken into the top ten.

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  18 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  15 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  10 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  19 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  16 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  15 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  18 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  14 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  16 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  21 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  17 of 40