Survey of the
Presidents of the United States

The Survey

Franklin’s Opus asked a panel of experts to rate each President of the United States by evaluating his performance in three categories, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, as to how well they each:

  1. faithfully executed the laws and obeyed the Constitution;
  2. promoted liberty and prosperity;
  3. exercised good leadership.

Each president’s overall score was attained by adding together his points in each category and then dividing that total by the number of experts.

The presidents are ranked below from highest to lowest score. The score represents a scale of 3 to 30, with 30 being the highest score. Please note that William Henry Harrison, who served barely more than a month in office, and James A. Garfield, who served 200 days, are not included in the rankings. Also not included is the current occupant of the office, Barack Obama.

The Results

Slide the red line below to reveal the results!

According to our evaluation, Mount Rushmore ought to look like this:

Before
After

 

The complete rankings of the survey are as follows:

Rank President Score
1. George Washington 25.23
2. Grover Cleveland 25.18
3. Calvin Coolidge 23.77
4. James Monroe 22.58
5. Ronald Reagan 22.38
6. John Tyler 21.36
7. Thomas Jefferson 21.15
8. James K. Polk 20.91
9. Dwight D. Eisenhower 20.85
10. Martin Van Buren 20.73
11. James Madison 19.08
12. Franklin Pierce 18.42
13. Warren G. Harding 18.27
14. William McKinley 17.90
Rank President Score
15. Andrew Jackson 17.54
16. Chester A. Arthur 17.40
17. Rutherford B. Hayes 17.30
18. William Howard Taft 17.25
19. John F. Kennedy 17.23
20. John Quincy Adams 17.00
21. Zachary Taylor 17.00
22. John Adams 16.77
23. Theodore Roosevelt 16.31
24. George H.W. Bush 15.31
25. Benjamin Harrison 15.20
26. James Buchanan 15.00
27. Andrew Johnson 14.45
28. Gerald R. Ford 14.42
Rank President Score
29. Harry S. Truman 14.23
30. Abraham Lincoln 14.00
31. Ulysses S. Grant 13.75
32. Millard Fillmore 13.70
33. Bill Clinton 13.62
34. Herbert Hoover 13.58
35. Franklin D. Roosevelt 13.54
36. Jimmy Carter 12.46
37. George W. Bush 12.08
38. Richard M. Nixon 11.23
39. Woodrow Wilson 10.31
40. Lyndon B. Johnson 10.23
41. William Henry Harrison N/R
42. James A. Garfield N/R

The views on this survey do not necessarily reflect the views of Franklin’s Opus or the Executive Team.

Comments from the Panel

#1: George Washington

“Simply the indispensable man. There would be no presidency at all without him. He held the nation together, bringing our factions all into the government and giving the new system a chance to gel.” –Dr. Gary Gregg

“George III was right to call George Washington ‘the greatest man in the world,’ and for the right reason: because he retired from the presidency. Not only did Washington take this freak step, he also succeeded completely in establishing the principle that the American military is subordinate to the civilian leadership. These two feats remain the chief underpinning of the American constitutional order.” –Dr. Kevin Gutzman

#2: Grover Cleveland

“He stood for the gold standard against inflationist advocates of silver, he wrung a reduction of the tariff from the Congress, he flouted the Tenure of Office Act (basis of the Republicans’ unfounded impeachment of Andrew Johnson), and he repeatedly vetoed unconstitutional expenditures. Cleveland also refused to play the spoils game, leaving opposition Republicans in many positions traditionally filled by the party winning the presidential election.” –Dr. Kevin Gutzman

“He waged a war on the corrupt and monopoly-supporting protective tariff system. He slowed and temporarily countered the growing imperialist overtures of the United States in the Pacific and Caribbean. He probably comes closest of any president to upholding his professed adherence to the classical liberal principles of limited government, spending restraint, sound money, and non-intervention abroad.” –Dr. Phillip Magness

#3: Calvin Coolidge

“He understood not only the constitutional limits of the presidency and of the central government, but adhered to a strong policy of fiscal discipline and also understood the cultural underpinnings that made free government in America possible.” –Dr. Gary Gregg

“A man of supreme integrity and humility, ‘Silent Cal’ believed not only that the ‘business of the American people is business’ but also, as he said in the same speech, that peace, honor, and charity were the higher things of life. A fiscal conservative, he understood that the limitation of government was the foundation of individual liberty.” –Dr. Stephen Klugewicz

#4: James Monroe

“As the last of the founding generation to occupy the executive office, Monroe was the final hedge in executive abuse. He vetoed unconstitutional legislation relating to federally funded internal improvements and properly sided with the citizens of Missouri during the crisis over statehood. His position was one of constitutional restraint.” –Dr. Brion McClanahan

“As to adherence to Constitution, he received generally good scores for enforcing the laws and for not passing significant measures in violation of the document. On personal liberty, he received a good score for stopping the Baldwin Tariff in 1820. His highest score was in leadership, primarily for his efforts in foreign affairs. His commissioners got the US favorable resolutions to disputes concerning Great Lakes, the northern border of the LA Purchase, and Oregon. His unilateral announcement of the Monroe Doctrine walled off the Western Hemisphere from European influence for a century.” –Dr. David Schroeder

#5: Ronald Reagan

“He inspired Americans to believe in their country again, revived the American economy, and brought down the Soviet Empire.” –Dr. Stephen Klugewicz

“He reawakened America to her potential after two decades of war, riots, scandal, and malaise. He used his rhetoric to teach about the foundations of our republic and celebrate the founding fathers. Oh, and, of course, he helped defeat the Soviet Union.” –Dr. Gary Gregg

#6: John Tyler

“Arguably one of the most underrated presidents. Tyler was the last ‘Old Republican’ president, whose dedication to principle cost him notoriety and political friendship. But with the help of Secretary of State, John Calhoun, he brought Texas into the Union, sabotaged nationalists demands for a quasi-central bank, and put Henry Clay in his place.” –Dr. Carey Roberts

“Tyler bravely took on the party that had elected him vice president in vetoing several bills he adjudged unconstitutional. Thrown out of that party, he succeeded in bringing Texas into the Union and opening American relations with the Kingdom of Hawaii.” –Dr. Kevin Gutzman

#7: Thomas Jefferson

“Like Washington, Jefferson understood that the President was not the American king. He symbolically downgraded the office, signed legislation reducing taxes and the public debt, and finalized the Louisiana Purchase, even going so far as to draft a constitutional amendment which would have nixed the debate on the issue. Listening to Madison too much slightly reduced his score, most importantly his advocacy of the infamous Embargo Acts.” –Dr. Brion McClanahan

#8: James K. Polk

“Polk was probably the most successful of any American president. He accomplished all of his campaign promises, paid cash for the war against Mexico (or at least, as close as we ever got for any war), undermined nationalist pressure for boondoggle transportation projects, lowered taxes on imports, and above all, eliminated the federal government’s control over the country’s monetary system with the Independent Treasury Plan.” –Dr. Carey Roberts

“He added San Francisco to the Union, brought Tyler’s Texas project to completion, pushed through a significant tariff reduction, and permanently resolved the dispute with Britain over America’s northwestern boundary.” –Dr. Kevin Gutzman

#30: Abraham Lincoln

“I credited Lincoln for 1) taking action to end slavery and 2) leadership insofar as he possessed masterful articulation of the principles of self-government. But I also knocked him for not always living up to those principles, for his overly zealous willingness to compromise civil liberties during the Civil War, and for his sometimes blunderous and deadly strategies in pursuing that war.” –Dr. Phillip Magness

“Lincoln was careful to stay within Constitutional restraints much more than modern presidents would, especially during a rebellion. He did suspend Habeas Corpus, but did so in a limited manner when Union troops were being attacked in Maryland in April 1865 and when Congress was out of session. He did have Congress approve his actions once they returned to session. He believed he was acting well within his Constitutional powers as Commander and Chief, during a time of rebellion. The Constitution said that the writ could be suspended in “Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” The Founders surely would not have wanted a President to wait until Congress could be summoned into session, to react to a treat to public safety. He also freed slaves in areas still in rebellion, with the Emancipation Proclamation, but knew he needed a constitutional amendment to legally end slavery in all states. That’s why he worked so hard to get the 13th amendment passed before the end of the war. Liberty: Whether some may argue that he wanted to colonize blacks elsewhere, he freed over 4 million individuals with the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. Leadership: He held the factions of the northern states together after a number of defeats and ultimately was able to crush a rebellion.” –Dr. Kevin T. Brady

“Abraham Lincoln ignored the Constitution en route to forcing 11 seceded southern states into an involuntary national union of precisely the type that Federalists of ratification days told people they would not be getting if they ratified the Constitution. Along the way, 750,000 soldiers were killed, half of southern property was destroyed, and untold additional people were maimed, widowed, orphaned, and otherwise scarred by the conflict. Yes, he freed the slaves, grudgingly, but with the intention of deporting them to Central America, Africa, or someplace else outside the United States.” –Dr. Kevin Gutzman

#35: Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Most serious economists and economic historians agree that Roosevelt’s New Deal prolonged a serious correction to the splurging 1920s into one of the country’s worst depressions.” –Dr. Carey Roberts

“I rank Franklin D. Roosevelt at the bottom of my list on account of his aggressive and corruption-laden attempts to nationalize the U.S. economy during the Great Depression, and for his openly racist and outwardly fascistic policy of forcibly imprisoning over 100,000 Japanese Americans during the World War II by executive fiat. Though he is ranked a successful wartime president, even Roosevelt’s legacy in this area is overshadowed of the disastrous naivety he showed to Joseph Stalin in the partitioning of post-war Europe.” –Dr. Phillip Magness

FDR was a tough one to rate according to these categories. Of course he took the commerce clause to ridiculous limits, but as a Progressive, he really did not believe in any real Constitutional restraint as evidenced by his attempt to pack the Court. He used law to his political benefit by having the IRS silence dissent. Regarding Liberty, as stated, he did silence dissent; he also used Hugh Johnson’s Blue Eagle and his strong-arm tactics to enforce the National Recovery Act. In addition, he did intern Japanese Americans on the West Coast, along with a good number of German and Italian nationals who had lived in the U.S. prior to the outbreak of hostilities. FDR used the government to control the economy and never really ended the Depression until World War II, nearly 8 years after he had been inaugurated. Nevertheless, he did help liberate all of those people under German and Japanese tyranny. He has to get credit for that in the Liberty category. Also, he has to get high marks as a leader. Americans elected him four times. Also, he led the Allies to victory in the bloodiest war in human history. – Dr. Kevin T. Brady

#36: Jimmy Carter

“Carter bungled through high inflation, high energy prices, and a stagnant economy. His foreign policy helped contribute to problems in the Middle East (Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), and the American public was in a state of ‘malaise’ during his administration. His four years in office are worth forgetting.” –Dr. Brion McClanahan

#37. George W. Bush

“His pursuit of the Iraq war plunged us into a deadly and costly military enterprise abroad on faulty if not fabricated intelligence, and for which we are still paying the price. His wanton and reckless embrace and expansion of wiretapping, surveillance, the bloated federal “homeland security” apparatus, and the erosion of habeas corpus and due process provided a direct and dangerous precedent.” –Dr. Phillip Magness

#38: Richard M. Nixon

“He was a crook, a liar, and a fine example of the imperial president. Nixon is perhaps the most conspicuous proponent of executive secrecy, but not the only man to attempt it.” –Dr. Brion McClanahan

#39: Woodrow Wilson

“Wilson ranks poorly in my ratings due to his aggressive promotion of a misguided and dangerous philosophy of “scientific” progressive internationalism. His wartime policies gave rise to a vicious and sometimes violent suppression of civil liberties and the establishment of the overreaching Espionage Act. His record on race is similarly abysmal, and includes the introduction of formalized segregation into several federal agencies and tacit acquiescence to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan during his term.” –Dr. Phillip Magness

“No president inflicted more misery on the American people than Wilson. His policies set the stage for the exponential growth in the American Leviathan in the 20th century and his foreign policy led to World War II and the interventionism of the modern age.” –Dr. Brion McClanahan

#40: Lyndon B. Johnson

“He was ranked low on his obedience to the Constitution, primarily for engaging in a war without a declaration of war from Congress. Also, the War on Poverty was an unconstitutional redistribution of wealth as well as an attack on individualism. He also scored poorly on leadership. In spite of large Democrat majorities in both houses of Congress, he failed to produce party unity on civil rights legislation and then failed to unify his own party heading into the 1968 election, ultimately forcing him from the race.” –Dr. David Schroeder


Franklin’s Opus’ Panel of Experts


Dr. Kevin T. Brady is founder and president of the American Institute for History Education and CICERO Systems™, whose mission is to provide substantive, engaging historical content and activities for K-12 teachers. Dr. Brady has served as a historical consultant to numerous organizations, including the New Jersey Amistad Commission, as well as on the board of the New Jersey Council for History Education.

Mike Church is the host of the Mike Church Show on Sirius XM Radio, the longest running show in the history of Satellite Radio. He is the author of a book on Patrick Henry, the CEO of Founding Father Films, and a frequent speaker for scholarly organizations.

Dr. Marc Gallicchio is a Professor of History at Villanova University, specializing in Modern United States History as well as Military History and United States Foreign Relations. He has written extensively on American relations in East Asia and has twice served as a J. William Fulbright Lecturer in Japan.

Dr. Paul Gottfried is a political philosopher, intellectual historian, columnist, and former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, as well as a Guggenheim recipient. He is currently an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Dr. Gary L. Gregg, II, a senior fellow at Franklin’s Opus, holds the Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership at the University of Louisville and is director of the McConnell Center. He is the author or editor of ten books.

Dr. Kevin R.C. Gutzman is a Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University and a New York Times best-selling author of four books on the Constitution and early American history, including most recently James Madison and the Making of America. He is also a faculty member at LibertyClassroom.com.

Dr. Stephen M. Klugewicz is president of Franklin’s Opus, which seeks to foster the study of history and government among teachers, students, and the public. He is the co-editor of History, On Proper Principles: Essays in Honor of Forrest McDonald and Founders and the Constitution: In Their Own Words and is a senior contributor to The Imaginative Conservative.

Dr. Phillip Magness is a historian based in Washington, D.C., and is Academic Program Director at the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. He is the co-author of Colonization After Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement.

Dr. Brion McClanahan is the author or co-author of four books, including The Founding Fathers’ Guide to the Constitution, and a faculty member at Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom.  He has appeared on dozens of radio shows and has spoken across the Southeast on the Founding Fathers and the founding principles of the United States.

Dr. Walter A. McDougall, a senior fellow at Franklin’s Opus, is Professor of History and the Alloy-Ansin Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1986 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age.

Carey M. Roberts is Professor and Chair of History at Liberty University. He is co-editor of The Patrick Henry-Onslow Debate: Liberty and Republicanism in American Political Thought.

Dr. David Schroeder earned his doctorate from The University of Alabama in 1999 in Southern History, concentrating on the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina.  For the past fourteen years, he has taught history classes at Bevill State Community College, The University of Alabama, and the University of North Alabama.

Dr. Jill D. Zahniser has a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from The University of Iowa and taught at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. She is the author of a forthcoming book on suffragist Alice Paul and is a frequent lecturer for the American Institute for History Education.

6 Comments
  1. Jeff Johnson

    I was slightly surprised that Thomas Jefferson finished lower than I expected and Monroe performed better than I thought. Monroe really upon more thought was definitely a top five performer. GW and GC were in my top five, so I definitely expected them to do well. Enjoyed this exercise thoroughly.

  2. Kerry

    I thought William Henry Harrison would have been ranked higher than some of the others, since he was only in office 2 months and therefore didn’t have a negative impact, other than leaving a Vice President.

  3. DenBen

    Andrew Jackson is #15??!!??
    Did you see the second qualification that you were using??
    He is the only president to pay off the national debt.
    THE ONLY ONE!!
    If that doesn’t promote both liberty and prosperity for those alive during his presidency and in the future, nothing does.
    You all missed the big point!

  4. The bottom four are mostly on point. While I think W was the best choice at the time, the errors cited on the international side were matched by errors on the domestic side including Part D Medicare and other expansions of federal authority. However, the problem with any of these ratings is that they can often be unidimensional. Lincoln is a good example, The problems raised by the reviewers are indeed accurate and yet the underestimate the complexity of dealing with secession.

    One other contrast that was interesting for me. The more I read about Cleveland, the more I think he was a leader beyond his time. The more I read about Wilson my opinion continues to diminish – his hubris about the flexibility of the Constitution and his commitment to the goals mentioned in the comments section which extend well beyond the international side.

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