Following a great President can be a mixed bag, with one
By Bob Simpson (Writer)
Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about some of our less popular, or completely unknown, Presidents. I’ve made a lot of references to recent studies ranking Presidential performance, and those poor fellas that consistently wound up on the bottom.
Let’s stray a little off topic, though, and spend a moment looking at the Presidents that sit at the top of the list. We’ve already talked about one, James K. Polk, that usually ranks around 10th, but let’s go even higher than that.
So, according to an aggregate ranking, who are the 10 greatest Presidents in our history?
- Abraham Lincoln
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
- George Washington
- Thomas Jefferson
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Woodrow Wilson
- Harry S. Truman
- Andrew Jackson
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
- James K. Polk
So, first of all, it’s pretty awesome being a Roosevelt, eh?
- Abraham Lincoln – Succeeded by Andrew Johnson (Aggregate Ranking – 41)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt – Succeeded by Harry S. Truman (Aggregate Ranking – 7)
- George Washington – Succeeded by John Adams (Aggregate Ranking – 12)
- Thomas Jefferson – Succeeded by James Madison (Aggregate Ranking – 13)
- Theodore Roosevelt – Succeeded by William Howard Taft (Aggregate Ranking – 22)
- Woodrow Wilson – Succeeded by Warren Harding (Aggregate Ranking – 43)
- Harry S. Truman – Succeeded by Dwight D. Eisenhower (Aggregate Ranking – 9)
- Andrew Jackson – Succeeded by Martin Van Buren (Aggregate Ranking – 24)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower – Succeeded by John F. Kennedy (Aggregate Ranking – 11)
- James K. Polk – Succeeded by Zachary Taylor (Aggregate Ranking – 35)
Notice a pattern here? If you were told by a psychic that one day you would be President, you better hope against hope that the guy before you was crappy, because according to these rankings, not a single excellent President was outdone by his successor.
Now, as you can see, not all the successors were bad. In fact, some successors were placed within the top 10 (Truman and Eisenhower), and several were within the top 15 (Adams, Madison, and Kennedy). On the other hand, there are examples of successors falling within the third quartile (Taft and Van Buren) and even the fourth quartile (Johnson, Harding and Taylor), with Warren Harding consistently ranked as the worst President in American history. If you’re wondering why I didn’t cover Harding in this series, it’s because you can watch Boardwalk Empire and get a pretty good idea about the guy’s administration (SPOILER ALERT: it was a little corrupt).
So, the one guarantee you have as the successor to an excellent President is that history may remember you kindly, but you’ll never surpass your predecessor.
Case in point, let’s look at one particularly bad President, Andrew Johnson, and his predecessor, a towering figure you may know as Abraham “Burt” Lincoln (bonus: if you recognize what TV show that joke was from, you get a prize, which is a smiley face on the comment board below).
Here’s a list of Abraham Lincoln’s accomplishments:
- He ended slavery
- He won the freaking Civil War
- He was enormous
Now here’s a list of Andrew Johnson’s accomplishments:
- He found a nickel on his birthday one time
Okay, that wasn’t much of a list. Let’s look at the horrible crap he did instead:
- He destroyed Reconstruction and was overly lenient to former Confederate states
- He failed to protect the rights of newly freed slaves
- He was the first President to be impeached (can you name the second?), and was acquitted in the Senate by a single vote
- He bought Alaska
Yikes. That was a rough four years, but let’s be fair: sure, Johnson was a terrible President and historian Eric Foner claims he was a white supremacist, but can you imagine having to follow Lincoln’s act? Of any President in our history, except for Washington, Lincoln has been elevated, nay, deified, by historians. What could you possibly do as Lincoln’s successor to top that?! Buy Alaska?! Oh wait, he tried that. Um…buy Canada?!
It was a foregone conclusion that Johnson wouldn’t equal Lincoln’s level of greatness, but the truly shocking aspect of Johnson’s administration was how epically his administration failed to do anything right at all. It was a no-win situation for Johnson going in to the White House, and he took the ball, ran with it, and then set an orphanage on fire (not historically accurate).
I’ve had fun writing this series, and I hope you’ve had fun reading it. If you haven’t, well, the election is in a week, so you’ll never have to see these again.
is a writer and lives in Los Angeles, where he works for an
entertainment company that he'd prefer to keep anonymous, should he
accidentally diss something they made. www.bobsimpsonblog.blogspot.com
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