The Good, the Bad and the Presidential

7 Jul

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.

11 Responses to “The Good, the Bad and the Presidential”

  1. Andrew Petcher July 7, 2012 at 03:58 #

    Interesting list, I like the way that you can make such emphatic judgements. I would say that perhaps it is a little unfair to include people on the list when they didn’t get time to complete the job, especially the poor job who died after only one month!

    • surroundedbyimbeciles July 7, 2012 at 04:38 #

      You are right about that. It is hard to judge someone who didn’t have a chance. But, I gave myself a rule that I wouldn’t leave anyone out. I will say that William Henry Harrison ran one of the best and most interesting campaigns ever. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment.

      I’m looking for other opinions, so if you have any others let me know.

      • Andrew Petcher July 7, 2012 at 09:09 #

        Some thoughts from across the pond: We don’t know a great deal about the earlier Presidents but a popular pub quiz question over here is ‘name the 4 at Mount Rushmore: FDR good for committing to the fight against European Nazism (eventually): We continue to be fascinated by anything to do with JFK: Being used to corrupt politicians we probably don’t regard Nixon in quite such a poor light as you: We used to think Regan was a joke but with hindsight we probably agree with your assessment now: Like the Australian movie Bad Bush and if there was a sequel Bad Bush 2!

      • surroundedbyimbeciles July 7, 2012 at 17:25 #

        If you ever make it to South Dakota, then you should see Mt Rushmore. It’s an impressive monument. I think Nixon did some good things as president, but Watergate was such a disaster that it overwhelms everything else. I believe history will judge him more kindly.

        JFK, I believe, has been seen in a better light because of the idea of something lost.

  2. John S July 7, 2012 at 13:50 #

    Interesting that by your estimation seven of last ten have been bad.

    • surroundedbyimbeciles July 7, 2012 at 17:20 #

      Which could be why we find ourselves in tough times. I’ve picked up from history that it takes more than one administration to cause problems.

  3. Madame Weebles July 10, 2012 at 02:44 #

    I think your ratings are great. You might be the only person besides me who doesn’t like Andrew Jackson. Although I do think that LBJ gets a bad rap, he did a lot of good for the civil rights movement, and it’s a shame that the escalation of the war in Vietnam ruined him. Same with Nixon–opening up relations with China was a pretty big deal but Watergate was a much bigger deal.

    • surroundedbyimbeciles July 10, 2012 at 02:49 #

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Living a few miles from the Hermitage, I hear about Andy all of the time. In fact, I worked with two Jacksonian’s before one of them retired.

      LBJ did a lot of good, but, as you say, the war brought him down.

      I agree with Nixon, People fail to realize his accomplishments because of Watergate. But, it happened, and it was his fault.


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