Saturday, March 07, 2009

Best/Worst Presidents

Here is the 2009 version of C-Span's Top 10 US Presidents:

10) Ronald Reagan
9) Woodrow Wilson
8) Dwight D. Eisenhower
7) Thomas Jefferson
6) John F. Kennedy
5) Harry S. Truman
4) Theodore Roosevelt
3) Franklin D. Roosevelt
2) George Washington
1) Abraham Lincoln

The task of ranking presidents is inherently flawed (here's another list with similar results). Presidents who do a lot are praised. Presidents who do little are seen as ineffective. But what if we don't want anything done? A blog I check every so often, Citizen Economists, also came out with their own list of the worst Presidents, but this time from a freedom perspective. Here is their list and their reasoning:

10) Theodore Roosevelt

was obsessed with war and killing. He was the first president who totally eschewed the foreign policy of Washington and Jefferson and said that the U.S. needed to be the world’s policeman — he even warned of the “menace of peace.” He imposed price controls and unprecedented regulation, and championed “progressive” reforms that came into being with the 16th (income tax) and 17th (direct election of senators) amendments.

9) Ronald Reagan

Although the Gipper mouthed libertarian rhetoric, the facts are that he imposed one of the greatest tax increases in U.S. history (taking away many tax deductions and raising the payroll tax), ramped up the disastrous War on Drugs, and accumulated more debt than all of the previous 39 presidents combined.

8) George W. Bush

a president who began his second term by trying to privatize Social Security and ended it by socializing the banking sector. Bush’s two terms were characterized by massive federal-government growth, huge deficits, expensive and immoral wars, the Medicare prescription drug benefit (which is bigger than Social Security and will eventually bankrupt the nation), the loss of civil liberties (i.e., the Patriot Act), and the nationalization of “education” (No Child Left Behind).

7) George Washington

it was he who appointed the initial federal judiciary, and he stocked it with Federalists to the exclusion of his political adversaries. This meant that anyone who was skeptical of the new Constitution — which increased central power over the states from the original Articles of Confederation — was automatically disqualified. In practice, this led to a judicial monopoly of monarchists and nationalists that lasted well into the long Jeffersonian reign of 1800-1860. Also, Washington signed the (unconstitutional) first Bank of the United States into law, and led an army against his own citizens to crush the Whiskey Rebellion.

6) Richard Nixon

In addition to his well-known criminality, lying, and illegal warring, Nixon truly deserves our ire for his imposition of price and wage controls and “closing of the gold window” — making the U.S. dollar into a pure fiat currency. In fact, it was in protest to these things that the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971.

5) Lyndon B. Johnson

In addition to the pointless death and destruction of Vietnam, Johnson’s “Great Society” also caused irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and the American family. Even his “civil rights” initiatives, for which conservatives give him begrudging praise, are condemned by libertarians. The Civil Rights Act, for example, amounted to the nationalization of private property and ushered in Affirmative Action, which arguably exacerbated racism.

4) Harry S. Truman

The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed tens of thousands of innocent women and children — and it was all unnecessary. Although we’re not taught this in our government-funded schools, Japan had already offered a conditional surrender, but the U.S. demanded unconditional surrender. The Japanese were worried that the U.S. would kill or humiliate their Emperor, a religious figure, if their surrender was “unconditional.” Truman used this as an excuse to display the U.S.’s horrible military might — and put the Soviets on notice, igniting the Cold War.

3) Franklin D. Roosevelt

No executive has ever assumed more absolute power than FDR. One of his first actions as president was to dictatorially close U.S. banks. Shortly thereafter — in an episode that has been censored from our history books — he made it illegal to own gold, which then backed the U.S. dollar, and sent government agents into the homes and businesses of gold “hoarders” to confiscate the precious metal. Once all the gold had been turned in or seized, FDR revalued the dollar from 1/20 an ounce of gold, to 1/35 — an outright theft.

We are taught in government schools that FDR “lifted us out of the Depression.” Numerous economists have shown this to be false. In fact, FDR’s New Deal policies made the Depression longer and more painful. For example: to keep food prices from dropping (as if that would have been a bad thing), FDR ordered millions of pounds of crops to be destroyed — while much of the nation went hungry. Later, unemployment did drop precipitously, but only after FDR had drafted a huge portion of the American work force into war.

2) Woodrow Wilson

Cindy Sheehan might have been unfairly ridiculed by Bush’s proxies in the right-wing media, but she wasn’t thrown in jail. Thousands of World War I critics, however, were. Among them, Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who gathered nearly 6 percent of the vote against Wilson (and T.R. and Taft) in 1912, and then ran for president from a jail cell — thanks to Wilson — in 1920.

Wilson, a former Klansman, re-segregated the Capitol, which had been integrated under President Grant. He gave us the Federal Reserve Act, the income tax, the direct election of senators (which entirely crushed “states’ rights”), and lied us into the completely counterproductive World War I — which led the way to the rise of Hitler and World War II.

1) Abraham Lincoln

For merely the monetary expense of the Civil War, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of lives, the North could have purchased the freedom of every slave and given him or her 40 acres and a mule. The real motivator behind the Civil War was economic mercantilism. Lincoln believed ardently in protectionism and corporate welfare, and the states that would comprise the Confederacy were for free trade.

But what makes Lincoln the worst president ever? Well, he literally destroyed the founders’ republic, which was a federation of independent states — a voluntary union. Lincoln made it an involuntary one and abolished state sovereignty. He also imposed the first income tax, conscripted men into the army and paid them with fiat money (another first), illegally suspended habeas corpus, shut down opposition newspapers, imprisoned political opponents in the North, and ultimately forced his Hamiltonian agenda — which had lost for sixty years at the ballot box


  1. Dude, this is some of the worst stuff I've ever read.

    I completely agree with a lot of it. TR, GW, Nixon, Johnson... sure. But you can't sit there and tell me that people who saved this country from complete destruction (Lincoln, Wilson, Washington, FDR) were the absolute worst at protecting our freedom. What a bunch of crap.

    The paragraph on Lincoln is enough to make me never listen to another libertarian again. States rights and free trade are more important than human rights? We should have let the market work out slavery?! I'd like to meet these people at the Citizen Economist so I can tell them where to shove it. It is not the American people who need a lesson on what freedom is, it is them.

    There is more I could say but I'm so angry right now I need to stop.

  2. Sorry sir, your argument against Abraham Lincoln is historically inept, biased and utterly, utterly false. Economists (especially Southern ones) love to make this argument and, going into my Civil War class, I was prepared to argue it. Then my teacher (a non-Lincoln lover like myself) presented innumerable historical quotes and evidence that if the war was about anything, it was about slavery. We shall take your points one by one.
    1) With the money spent on the war AND 150 years of hindsight, Lincoln could have freed that slaves through purchase. Both sides thought the war would last the duration of one decisive battle and a victorious march through the opponent's capital. Please read an account of the first battle of Bull Run for details.
    2) Lincoln didn't give a damn about economic mercantilism, you do. His sole goal was to avoid Civil War to preserve the union until no compromise regarding slavery worked any more. Please note that all other major nations had abolished slavery decades before, but in the U.S. the problem could not be solved through legislative means--this necessitated war. You think Lincoln started a war over "corporate welfare?" Are you shitting me? Lincoln believed that a union could not exist while two sides disagreed--not necessarily in practice but in name--on an issue of human rights. You're telling me Missouri bushwackers and Kansas Jayhawkers were worried about "protectionism" and states rights?
    3) Was Lincoln a Constitution basher? Absolutely. It's a Civil War! At Fort Pillow Bedford Forrest massacred all black women and children and you're concerned about income tax and habeas corpus? Read The Prince. It will do you some good and show you that Lincoln was pretty mild when it came to war.
    4) This war was fought between two sides, one that supported slavery and one that did not. From a government point of view, that's all that matters. No, Lincoln might not have been the greatest president ever, but try asking a black person if they would prefer he had used some soft-arm tactics to solve the issue. It would have been like using a pop gun against Japan in WWII.

  3. Great stuff, Paul.

  4. I'm pretty ticked off that Carter did not make the list. He did have some pretty amazing accomplishments during his single term, such as:

    1) Camp David (Middle East peace) accords - recognized as a huge achievement by historians
    2)Reduced the number of departments and employees in the federal government
    3)Cut defense spending by $6 billion.
    4)The opening of relations with the USSR
    which led to...
    5) SALT II treaty with the USSR- SALT refers to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. SALT II helped the U.S. to discourage the Soviets from arming their third generation missiles equipped with anywhere from 10 to 38 thermonuclear warheads each. Additionally, the Soviets secretly agreed to reduce Tu-22M production to thirty aircraft per year and not to give them an intercontinental range. It was particularly important for the US to limit Soviet efforts in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) rearmament area. The SALT II Treaty banned new missile programs (a new missile defined as one with any key parameter 5% better than in currently deployed missiles).
    6) Most dearest and nearest to my heart, He legalized home brewing! In 30 odd years since ,we’ve seen the American beer scene rise from the depths of homogeneity to become one of the most vibrant beer-making countries in the world. Not as good as Belgian beer but someday..
    7) He promoted alternative energy and added solar panels to the WHITE HOUSE!!

    Since his presidency Carter's work with Habitat for Humanity, his continued efforts towards peace in the Middle East, efforts around the world to fight disease and install toilets in Africa, best-selling books, and his many awards have bolstered his image and the image of the United States around the world.

    Sure, strategically he made some political mistakes, yet he was certainly principled,honest and morally intact; something we have very rarely seen in our presidents since the likes of Lincoln or Washington.

  5. Glad to see this has sparked some debate, but let me try and untangle some stuff. First, I'll admit that the list should have been called "These presidents aren't as great as you think" instead of the worst ever. However, each of them took major steps away from constitutional individual liberty. As for Lincoln I think there may have been some misunderstanding about what the writer meant:

    The debate over protectionism and free trade had little to do with slavery. The United States had banned the importation of slaves 50 years before the war even began. The debate over free trade was more a disagreement between the industrialized North and the agrarian South. The South wanted to buy cheap industrial goods from Britain and the rest of the world. The North wanted to keep prices high, distorting the market and increasing their profits at expense of consumers.

    And although Lincoln was the eventual freer of slaves, that was not his intent until more than halfway through the war. What the writer proposed was that America deal with slavery like Britain, by bribing the South (Ron Paul thinks so too:

    As for Paul's comment about both sides expecting a short war, I don't necessarily think that's important. The fact is over half a million Americans killed each other in the worlds first modern war. Lincoln's miscalculation doesn't excuse him from that fact. Your excusing his blatant disregard for liberty as simply as part of war is scary. Isn't that one of the main complaints against Bush?

    And finally, saying the Civil War was North (slave lovers) vs. South (slave haters) is just false. Lincoln even supported the Corwin Amendment (almost the 13th Amendment) protecting Southern slavery.

    And yeah Joy, although not a Carter fan myself, I don't dislike him as much as the average American. I think he'd be remembered differently if the Iran hostage crisis had never happened.

    Once thing that shocked me about the responses was that no one stuck up for Washington. Of all them I don't think he deserved to be on that list.

  6. I agree - Washington is another reason this article is total crap.

  7. I guess it's obvious but I completely disagree with your interpretation of civil war history. The south said it would secede if Congress voted against the expansion of slavery. Congress voted to do it, and the South seceded. The Confederates attacked Fort Sumter and the war began. It is undisputed fact from everything Lincoln wrote that he HATED slavery and wanted it abolished, but he did not believe he had the power to do it. When the war began, he suddenly did. He wrote the emancipation proclamation and the Gettysburg address, won the war, saved the union, and freed the slaves.

    Did he suspend civil liberties? Yes. Do I think this was ok? No. But I think you have to weigh that against the basic civil liberties and HUMAN RIGHTS he gave to 1/3 of the US population, and come to the conclusion that he wasn't perfect, but there's no way in hell he was the worst President ever in terms of protecting freedom.

    Also, I think your statement about the Corwin amendment is misleading. I think Lincoln's "support" of it amounted to what I said before - he wanted slavery gone but didn't think it was possible for him to do. See here:

    I really am sorry for the belligerent language, I can't help getting fired up over this.

  8. So lemme get this straight.
    We are arguing FOR individual constitutional liberty and condemning Lincoln for his policies directed AGAINST slavery? I could only justify this with a 3/5's compromise.

    Thanks Justin.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.