Quick Thoughts on Every President

To celebrate Washington’s Birthday (despite it having been bastardized into “Presidents’ Day to honor his mediocre successors), here are some notes about each president. This is not an exhaustive biography of every president and his place in history, merely some quick thoughts:

George Washington: “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.” He set the standard by which all future presidents are judged, and still stands alone.

John Adams: Principled to a fault. Would have enjoyed the VP position more in its 21st century form.

Thomas Jefferson: His idealism sometimes failed (as when he supported the French Revolution) but it also motivated him to expand our horizons.

James Madison: Wrote the Constitution and gave us the Bill of Rights. Much of what is good about America is due to his work.

James Monroe: Known for his eponymous Doctrine, and for being the only president to have a foreign capital named after him. Only president besides Washington to run essentially unopposed, in 1820.

John Quincy Adams: As principled as his father. The last of the old guard revolutionary elites. Benefited from the “Corrupt Bargain” in the election of 1824.

Andrew Jackson: The first populist president. He spoke directly to the people and acted on their behalf, no matter what the bureaucracy wanted.

Martin van Buren: Last president until George H.W. Bush in 1988 to win the White House as sitting VP.

William Henry Harrison: The anti-war Whig party got their first win by running a war hero general. Too bad he died not six weeks into his term.

John Tyler: First VP to succeed to the presidency. Made enemies on both sides by doing so. Later supported the Confederacy.

James K. Polk: Was not even a candidate until the divided Convention. Made three promises. Achieved all three then retired. A good model to follow.

Zachary Taylor: The Whigs win again with another war hero. They lose again when he dies in office. Bad luck.

Millard Fillmore: The last Whig president. That’s all I have.

Franklin Pierce: The Whigs tried their luck a third time with a war-hero general, running Winfield Scott in 1852. Pierce won easily. America probably wanted a refund after the fact.

James Buchanan: Didn’t do anything about the growing divide in America over slavery.

Abraham Lincoln: Revered today for keeping the Union together, yet he was the one who chose to start a war to do it. Bad on civil liberties too.

Andrew Johnson: A Southern loyalist Democrat unexpectedly has to deal with a Republican Congress that wants to annihilate the South. Gets impeached for standing up to them.

Ulysses Grant: Great general. Not so good president. First president to explicitly write his memoirs after office.

Rutherford Hayes: Actually lost the election, but the South switched their electoral votes to him in exchange for withdrawing Federal troops.

James Garfield: Exemplified the late 1800s presidency – quietly running the government and rooting out corruption. Shot just four months into his term.

Chester Arthur: Another late-1800s president. Failing health kept him from doing too much.

Grover Cleveland: Everyone knows he served two nonconsecutive terms. Think about that though – his successor messed up so much that the people went back for a second look.

Benjamin Harrison: Grandson of former President Harrison. Lasted longer in office. The last president to wear a glorious beard.

William McKinley: Proved that populism was still not a golden ticket by defeating the indefatigable and popular William Jennings Bryan twice. Pressured into starting a war based on faulty intel. Hmm.

Theodore Roosevelt: Maybe the most larger-than-life president of all time. Unabashedly pro-American.

William Taft: If Teddy was larger-than-life, Taft was simply large. Should have won in 1912 if Teddy’s ego didn’t ruin it.

Woodrow Wilson: Maybe the worst president. Income tax, Federal Reserve, direct election of Senators, expanded suffrage, war, civil rights restrictions. The seeds of everything wrong with America today.

Warren Harding: Super corrupt. Might have been legitimately impeached had he not conveniently died. His best decision, besides dying, was his VP.

Calvin Coolidge: Humble and soft-spoken. Understood that the best government is one that gets out of our way. One of the best.

Herbert Hoover: Not the laissez-faire leader our textbooks claim. An engineer by trade, he rebuilt Europe after WWI, and figured he could rebuild the economy with the right tools.

Franklin Roosevelt: I wonder if voters knew in 1932 that they were electing a president for life? Not quite the dictator that Germany, Russia, and Italy had in the same era, but cut from the same cloth.

Harry Truman: Humble, yet stuck with the choice to use nukes in his first month in office.

Dwight Eisenhower: Great president, great general, great man. Highest-ranking general since Washington, yet in two terms he did not start any wars.

John Kennedy: The last Democrat to be stridently anti-Communist. He was more useful to the Democrats dead than alive.

Lyndon Johnson: Third coming of Wilson, after FDR. Massively expanded government. Won greatest landslide in history in 1964, but so unpopular by 1968 he dropped out of his own primary.

Richard Nixon: Master politician. Got in trouble because suddenly doing what all presidents did was now wrong. Huge victory in 1972 belies conventional wisdom about the 60s generation.

Gerald Ford: Pardoning Nixon killed him politically, but it was the right thing to do.

Jimmy Carter: His win in 1976 was the only Democratic victory between 1968 and 1992.

Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator. Boldly spoke directly to the people. His 1986 amnesty still haunts us today though.

George H.W. Bush: Seemed very humble and soft-spoken, but must have been different behind the scenes. Former head of the CIA, involved in Iran-Contra, and who knows what else.

Bill Clinton: Master politician like Nixon. Started the trend of replacing actual policy with cliched platitudes. 1994 triangulation was masterful but forgotten by modern Democrats.

George W. Bush: His 2004 reelection is the only time since 1988 that a Republican has won the popular vote.

Barack Obama: Most of his accomplishments have already been erased. Will be an historical footnote – “The first black president.”

Donald Trump: A true outsider – the first president to win election despite no electoral, military, or governmental experience. Faces opposition like no president in history, yet has been so-far successful in reshaping the executive branch and judiciary.

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