The most underrated (and overrated) presidents!

February 21, 2013

In honor of President's Day earlier this week, we asked Fixistas to give us their nominees for the most underrated and overrated presidents in history -- and why.


James Monroe, underrated president.

Yes, as with anything that touches on politics these days, there was plenty of partisanship in your responses -- with tons of people nominating President Obama or former President George W. Bush as the most overrated.

But amid the partisanship there were also lots of great nominations and explanations why. (We got almost 600 comments!) We've excerpted a handful of our favorites -- all nominations from Fix commenters -- below. Who did we miss?

Most underrated presidents

*James Monroe: From "HistoryJonah" --  "His average standing in opinion and scholar polls is 14th. However, Monroe deserves a much higher ranking than that: He created a bipartisan cabinet, with pro-slavery Southerner Calhoun as Secretary of War, and the Northern anti-slavery diplomatic genius John Q. Adams as Secretary of State. Monroe acquired Florida, and admitted five states to the Union. In addition, his actions following the Panic of 1819 stopped the economy from completely spiraling and his Missouri Compromise helped stave off disunion for decades"

* James Polk: From "mountainwestBob" --  "He said he'd do four things when he came to office, he accomplished them, left office after a single term, retired and died within about 6 months. His four things? Extended the southwestern U.S. to the coast (New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada), 'fixed' the northwestern boundary of the lower 48 with Canada (without war), 'fixed' the question or Florida's status, and established a new national bank that stood until the 20th century."

* William McKinley: From "Greg Tatro" -- "The country had been hashing and rehashing fights over currency (Greenbacks! Silver!) and the Tariff. William Jennings Bryan was nominated on a silver platform to run against McKinley’s gold standard platform. The early 1890’s are filled with riots, Coxey’s March on Washington, and depression. Many people have lost hope, especially the farmers in the West.
Four years after his election however, the economy that he campaigned to fix was booming. The currency question that defined politics of the past has been left behind in the hustle and bustle of this new era."

* Lyndon Johnson: From "risejugger" -- "Southern Democrat, took a courageous stand in pushing through Congress (Something JFK failed to do) and signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, etc. although he knew it would cost he and his party, politically, by doing so. It is unfortunate that the Vietnam fiasco overshadowed the wealth of domestic achievements of the LBJ administration; however, he even made a principled decision about Vietnam; choosing not to run for re-election."

* John Tyler: From "SpyralJD" : "His actions helped ensure an orderly transition of power upon the death of President Harrison and set the precedent for similar transfers of power in the future. He governed in (what he perceived to be) the national interest and refused to be beholden to special interests or the Whig Party (i.e. Henry Clay). He may not have achieved as much as some other presidents but he prevented a damaging free-for-all following Harrison's death."

Most overrated presidents

* George Washington: From "lmeert" -- "It pains to say this but I'm going to go with Washington. He's a deified figure and surely that's a bit much for any president. I understand why we love him, just not sure his record warrants to be right at the top."

* Thomas Jefferson: From "Thomas Alan" -- "By far, the most overrated of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson could only get off his butt long enough to destroy Hamilton. He managed to win the political battle, but his economic and foreign policies were awful. Having the Louisiana Purchase fall into his lap does not make for a great president."

* Andrew Jackson: From "JonathanNH" -- "He is glorified as the great democrat, but this ignores his record of racism, especially towards native Americans. He ignored the Supreme Court and deported the Cherokee Indians to Oklahoma. He abolished the Second Bank of the United States which help undermine financial instability and exacerbated recessions for the rest of the 19th century. He elevated Roger Taney to Chief Justice for his work in eliminating the Bank. Taney when on to preside over the Dred Scott decision."

* Franklin Roosevelt: From "acre00" --  "I would have to say that FDR is the most overrated president. His New Deal did little to help the Great Depression, and he was a major contributor to the current spending problem that we have today. That being said, I also don't think he was a bad president. He was a good leader, keeping the American People optimistic through the Great Depression and motivated through WW2."

* Ronald Reagan/John Kennedy: From "nyclefty" -- "JFK was a novice and had 2 fairly awful years loaded with foreign policy blunders and rookie mistakes on domestic policy- he finally started to get it together and was killed. He was, however, inspirational. Reagan gets credit for all kinds of things, from the dissolution of the USSR -- which would have happened faster without him -- to the economic prosperity that was simply cyclical -- and was likely a result of a tax-policy that he stood against but was forced to swallow."

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Aaron Blake · February 21, 2013