Participate in Some Polls

Presidents: Approve and disapprove of the performance of every president from Washington to Obama

NFL: Select every quarterback in league history (and today) you would call a great quarterback.

You will be able to see the results after your vote. Thanks for participating!


Franklin Delano Roosevelt – #1 President?

If you missed the last post, catch up here:
I have decided to begin by reviewing the ranking of a couple presidents.
When you’re ready, let’s hit the jump.

The first president I am looking at is Franklin Roosevelt (FDR), who the British poll placed at #1. This placement is not unusual. As you can see on Wikipedia (at this link), he has been named #1 six times. However, closer examination reveals that the other five have all been awarded by the same organization, Siena College. Outside of their polls, either Lincoln or Washington has always been ranked first.

Until now.

It actually makes sense, I find, that the British would identify FDR as the top President. Although the U.S. did not join World War II until late 1941 (despite Churchill’s wishes), the Lend-Lease program was of great assistance to the British in the years prior. Of course, it doesn’t immediately follow that because a Roosevelt program helped the British, that he should be named the best president in U.S. history. However, the survey named FDR the top president in foreign policy leadership, defined by the USPC in the question, “was the president an effective leader in promoting US foreign policy interests and upholding national security?” Given the assistance the Roosevelt administration gave to the British during World War II, before and after the mutual declarations of war by Germany and the U.S., it makes sense that a British poll would consider winning World War II the strongest foreign policy achievement by any U.S. president.

FDR was also named number 1 in Vision and Agenda Setting as well as Domestic Policy. While there is some controversy in the United States as to the nature of FDR’s domestic agenda, it should be expected for there to be less controversy about it in the U.K.

Overall, considering that FDR was ranked first in both domestic and foreign policy, it is no surprise that he achieved the number 1 ranking. Trying to put myself as best I can in the shoes of a British scholar, even a British scholar of the American presidency, I can understand the ranking. Although, as you might have surmised by this point, I would not have Roosevelt quite so high. Since I am only trying to analyze (or analyse, if we’re getting in the British spirit) the survey in and of itself, however, it should be for the best that I stop there.

Look for another president on Friday, and then a wrap up on Monday.

Brits and the Presidents

Since Arthur Schlesinger Sr. headed the first one in 1948, presidential ranking surveys have been an American pastime. The Wall Street Journal, C-SPAN, Siena College, and others have held multiple surveys of historians (and political scientists and economists) to help identify the best and worst presidents. Unsurprisingly, however, such studies have been limited to organizations in the United States.

This changed in 2011. I had no idea that such a thing even existed, but within the U.K.’s “Institute for the Study of the Americas” is the “United States Presidency Centre.” And more than 60 years since Schlesinger’s first survey, the U.K. has gone Teddy and Taft on the American monopoly on presidential rankings. (Okay, those guys were more closely tied to the term “trust” rather than monopoly, and obviously nobody in the U.S. has actively suppressed British attempts at such surveys, but hopefully you can cut me some rhetorical slack.)

These ranking activities have always fascinated me. I’ve picked up the Ridings-McIver book on the subject and actually purchased–and even reviewed on Amazon–the relatively recent Felzenberg work on the subject. Wikipedia has a handy article that I occasionally check to see if there has been a recent study. (You may have surmised as such, but Wikipedia is where I learned of this 2011 study.)

The whole thing is ultimately unimportant but imminently interesting and compelling. Where does President Doe rank? Why is he ranked there? Do I agree or disagree with the rankings in general?

These are questions that I will attempt to answer in the coming days or weeks, specifically as related to this new survey from across the pond.

For now, here is the site of their results:

Another Presidential Review

I have a great interest in the American presidents: I’ve written about Chester Arthur, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover on this very blog. I have even published my rankings of them here. Today, I will look at a president who is far more famous for his accomplishments prior to the office. This man, the “Father of the Constitution,” served as the fourth president, from 1809-1817. Three of these years, 1812-1814, were quite traumatic to the young nation.

These years, of course, covered an aptly-named war in which the United States fought to reinforce its independence: the War of 1812. The United States was able to fight off an offense from the British. The war itself was necessary, as Madison realized: the British had essentially been abducting American sailors. The way in which it was fought was ignominious. The U.S. was ill prepared to enter the war, and was only able to hold off the British long enough that they grew weary of the war too. In the process, the ill prepared Americans allowed the British to march straight through Washington, DC, as the Madisons fled the White House just before it burned.

The British were held off, but Madison had failed in his role as Commander in Chief. When Madison’s administration is analyzed, his actions prior to 1809 must be ignored, which marks President Madison as average at best.

My Ranking of the Presidents

A long, long time ago, I had a blog. The purpose of this blog was to survey people and achieve a ranking of the presidents. That fell by the wayside, at least in the rather inefficient method of a blog. I achieved my goal in other ways, but I will postpone the publishing of that. Here are the rankings I developed by first grading each, then ranking them all within the grades. Only the rankings appear here.

  1. George Washington
  2. Abraham Lincoln
  3. Theodore Roosevelt
  4. Ronald Reagan
  5. James Polk
  6. Dwight Eisenhower
  7. Harry Truman
  8. James Monroe
  9. Thomas Jefferson
  10. Andrew Jackson
  11. Franklin Roosevelt
  12. John Adams
  13. Chester Arthur
  14. William McKinley
  15. Calvin Coolidge
  16. Grover Cleveland
  17. William Taft
  18. George H. W. Bush
  19. John Q. Adams
  20. Rutherford Hayes
  21. John Kennedy
  22. James Madison
  23. Richard Nixon
  24. Zachary Taylor
  25. John Tyler
  26. Woodrow Wilson
  27. Lyndon Johnson
  28. Gerald Ford
  29. Benjamin Harrison
  30. Herbert Hoover
  31. Andrew Johnson
  32. George W. Bush
  33. Bill Clinton
  34. Ulysses Grant
  35. Martin Van Buren
  36. Millard Fillmore
  37. Warren Harding
  38. Jimmy Carter
  39. James Buchanan
  40. Franklin Pierce

Exceeding Expectations: Chester Alan Arthur

On July 2, 1881, tragedy struck the United States as Charles Giteau, 39, shot President James Garfield, 49. Seventy-nine days later, on September 19, the president was dead from his wounds.

During this time, a man who had been prominent in politics for the past ten years slipped quietly away from the public view, not wanting to draw attention to himself as the president suffered. This man was the vice president, Chester Alan Arthur, 51.

Arthur was almost vice president by mistake. A political follower of prominent New York Senator Roscoe Conkling, Arthur became Collector of the Port of New York in 1871, a well paying position. However, his association with Conkling would lose him his job seven years later. Two years after that, in 1880, the Republicans needed to nominate a president. They chose Garfield, an unpopular decision with Conkling and his followers, known as the Stalwarts. To appease the Stalwarts, the Republicans wanted their vice presidential nominee to be one of them. Although Arthur was not their first choice, he accepted when the position was offered. The Garfield-Arthur ticket would go on to win the 1880 presidential election. Ten months after the election, Arthur was president.

The Stalwarts were the last remaining supporters of the idea of a spoils system, where rather than selecting qualified candidates, party bosses would pick those politically helpful to them. Arthur himself had supported the concept prior to obtaining the presidency. However, once in office, his attitude changed, and on January 16, 1883, he signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act. Federal employees were to be chosen on merit, not political grounds, or any other attribute of a candidate besides his merit for the job.

Arthur’s term was also marked by the somewhat unfortunate Chinese Exclusion Act, but Arthur vetoed the original version which demanded a 20-year ban on Chinese immigration, and it had been reduced to 10 on the copy which he signed.

A final event of Arthur’s term was the beginning of a buildup of the American Navy, as Arthur proposed appropriations which would begin its expansion.

Overall, Chester Arthur’s term was a success, especially considering the lack of any positive expectations for his term. He could have easily opposed a bill which basically fixed the broken way in which federal employees were selected; his efforts reduced the effects of a racist bill; and he recommended an expansion of naval appropriations. The years after the assassination of President Garfield could easily have turned disastrous, but under Arthur’s guiding hand, those years were rather serene and improved the functioning of the American government. He is one of our most underrated presidents.