When historians get together and rate the best US presidents, the usual names appear:
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt (TR and FDR), etc.
But Dr. Ivan Eland looks at presidents from a different perspective than most conventional historians.
The Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty as part of the Independent Institute considers many of America’s presidential icons as overrated executives who have taken the Office of the Presidency far away from its original, Constitutional intent.
Rather than saluting Presidents who embarked on ambitious domestic and foreign policy goals, Eland has amassed a presidential ranking system that rewards such qualities as:
- commitment to small government
- faith in a limited role for the executive branch
- ability to avoid war
- yielding power to Congress
Eland takes all these factors and has written a book — Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty — that is sure to generate debate.
For example, Eland ranks Jimmy Carter fairly highly. Yep.
And his Top Five?
1. John Tyler
2. Grover Cleveland
3. Martin Van Buren
4. Rutherford B. Hayes
5. Chester A. Arthur
Not exactly guys you would expect David McCullough to write lengthy biographies of.
And the worst?
Eland is an intelligent guy and he appeared at a Rio Grande Foundation luncheon Nov. 10 in Albuquerque and talked about his criteria to Capitol Report New Mexico. Here’s the entire four-minute interview:
Eland says the largest factor that contributes to big government is war. Therefore, presidents (such as Lincoln and Polk) whose terms were consumed by war and other chief executives — such as George W. Bush and FDR — who saw the nation fight two wars during their respective presidencies score low on the Eland scale.
For what it’s worth, I object to Tyler being ranked No. 1 simply because in his later years he joined the Confederacy, getting elected to the Confederate House of Representatives, although he died before serving his term. It’s a bit strange to rank a man as the best US President when he spurned the very Union he swore to uphold.
But that’s what makes Eland’s book so provocative and armchair political and Presidential experts can spend hours debating it.
You can buy Eland’s book here. It’s also very reasonably priced.
(Full disclosure: The Rio Grande Foundation owns and publishes Capitol Report New Mexico.)