Ranking All U.S. Presidents By Temperament, From George Washington To Barack Obama

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 25: (L-R) U.S. President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush, and former President Bill Clinton attend the opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Center April 25, 2013 in Dallas, Texas. The Bush library, which is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University, with more than 70 million pages of paper records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails and four million digital photographs, will be opened to the public on May 1, 2013. The library is the 13th presidential library in the National Archives and Records Administration system. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With Election Day upon us, responsible voters are considering every question on their ballots from local elections to ballot propositions to municipal code adjustments, and more. But, as a human with internet, you know that it’s the 2016 presidential election that’s really on everyone’s minds, and while there’s been all kinds of back and forth between candidates on issues like immigration, unemployment, and climate change, there’s been just as much talk about general presidential temperament — what exactly does it take to be president?

I decided to take a look back at the 44 notches on America’s presidential bedpost to retroactively rank American presidents by the temperament they exuded before and during their time in office — you know, just to see how they all stack up. Full disclosure: I’m in no way a historian. But, being the social media-savvy Millennial that I am, I did create a point scale. Any president who owned slaves at any point in his life got docked 10 points right off the bat. 

Andrew Jackson has a couple of line items all to himself; first, I docked him an extra 10 points for being a slave trader (he’s the only president that pulled that particular stunt), and he lost another 10 points for actually killing a guy in an on-the-record duel. Presidents also were penalized for major political scandals (minus five points), international missteps (minus 10 points), and presidents who finished in the bottom 50 percent of the aggregate of all notable historian polls lost another five points.

Likewise, presidents who finished in the top 50 percent of historian polls were awarded with five points. I gave Abraham Lincoln 10 points for emancipating the slaves. Each Roosevelt presidency was awarded with five points — the first for breaking up monopolies, the second for saving the tanking economy with the New Deal. Modern presidents who finished their terms in office with a greater than 50 percent approval rating also got five points for surviving the modern era in style (this includes Barack Obama who at the time of publication has a 54 percent approval rating).

It’s important to note that this scale is purely mine — actual historians (and public opinion, for that matter) might rank these presidents differently. And yes, it might be an overly simplified way to merit our history's presidents, but then again if you ask me, basing a president's ability to lead based solely on "temperament" is a pretty oversimplified way of doing things, too.

Check out each president's point tally in the infographic below, and keep reading to find out exactly why a president scored the way he did.  In instances where presidents had the same score, I listed them in chronological order.


From worst temperament to best temperament, here's a more in-depth breakdown for each president:

Presidents With The Worst Temperaments:

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Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837: 60 points

  • -10 points for owning slaves
  • -10 for trading slaves 
  • -10 for dueling 
  • -10 for war crimes against Native Americans in the War of 1812

Andrew Jackson basically blew it in the temperament department. He lost a ton of points for buying and selling slaves, some more points for killing another man in an on-the-record duel, and some more points for being a wantonly violent racist against Native Americans. He’ll probably try to haunt me now, knowing this guy.

Andrew Johnson, 1865-1869: 75 points

  • -10 for owning slaves 
  • -5 for poorly handling reconstruction and openly stifling the progress of black Americans 
  • -5 for being the first president to be impeached and for routinely firing political officials without the approval of Congress 
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

People were understandably skeptical of Andrew Johnson and his policies when he took over after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He frequently disregarded the role of Congress and hired and fired political officials without their approval, which helped lead to his impeachment.

Ulysses S. Grant, 1869-1877: 75 points

  • -10 for scandals all having to do with corruption under his watch
  •  -10 for owning slaves 
  • - 5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Ever heard of the Whiskey Ring or the Black Friday scandals? If so, these are the shady dealings of the Grant presidency. While Grant did accomplish some useful things during his presidency (like prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan), the productivity of his two terms were overshadowed by the many corruption dealings associated with Grant and his time in office.

Richard Milhous Nixon, 1969-1974: 80 points

  • -5 for Watergate scandal
  • -5 for controversy handling Vietnam War 
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • -5 for having a bad approval rating

Richard Nixon, to the surprise of approximately no one, finished his term with a less than stellar approval rating. He resigned before his second term would have concluded. After it was revealed that he was involved in the Watergate conspiracy to break into the DNC headquarters, Nixon didn't get much love for his presidency, then or now.

Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841: 85 points

  • -10 for owning slaves
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

History hasn’t looked very fondly on Martin Van Buren, and not just because of his hair. He unironically announced upon his election that he intended to “follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor,” Andrew Jackson. He oversaw the removal of thousands of Native Americans from their homes, owned slaves, and stood by policies that  upheld the South’s slave-based economy.

William Henry Harrison, 1841: 85 points

  • -10 for owning slaves
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

William Henry Harrison is most remembered for dying in office from complications of pneumonia just one month after being inaugurated, but his legacy is a questionable one filled with the displacement of Native Americans and some ill-advised economic ideas.

John Tyler, 1841-1845: 85 points

  • -10 for owning slaves
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

John Tyler’s legacy sits firmly on the wrong side of history. He was a big believer in the states’ rights to make decisions on slavery. He was from Virginia and was a slave owner, which makes the picture a little clearer. He also was an advocate of strengthening the still-young United States through territorial expansion. Oh, and he wasn’t elected, but rather rose to power after the death of William Henry Harrison.

Zachary Taylor, 1849-1850: 85 points

  • -10 for owning slaves
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Zachary Taylor died relatively quickly from some intestinal distress after being inaugurated. Taylor was the last president to own slaves while in office. He is not believed to have been a terribly effective president, even considering his short time in office.

George Walker Bush, 2001-2009: 85 points

  • -5 for the whole Iran has WMDs situation 
  • -10 for scandal surrounding the questionable legality of enhanced interrogation methods used at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq and Afghanistan

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 would expose the cracks in anyone’s temperament, but the handling of the situation in the Middle East and the insistence that weapons of mass destruction were an imminent danger from Iraq was a messy and expensive mistake that history will blame on George W. Bush.

Presidents With Average Temperaments:

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James Madison, 1809-1817: 90 points

  • -10 for owning slaves 
  • -5 for the Three-Fifths Compromise 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

James Madison, like many of his predecessors, owned slaves. He also proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted each free black citizen as three-fifths of a person when calculating the population to decide how many representatives a state would have in the House. He is renowned by historians for penning the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution and The Bill of Rights.

James Knox Polk, 1845-1849: 90 points

  • -5 for encouraging manifest destiny, which pushed Native Americans off their land without a second thought and onto tiny reservations
  •  -10 for owning slaves 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

If you’re thinking, “who??” you’re not alone. Even James Polk’s contemporaries described him as being plucked from well-deserved obscurity — which is a classic 19th-century burn.

James Buchanan, 1857-1861: 90 points

  • -5 for corruption scandal surrounding Supreme Court justice Robert Grier, who was the deciding vote that helped prolong the institution of slavery 
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

The Dred Scott decision stated that Congress had no constitutional power to exclude slavery in the territories. The problem with the Dred Scott case was that the pro-slavery verdict would have never come down just two days after Buchanan’s inauguration if it weren’t for Buchanan’s communication with one of the justices (a fellow Pennsylvanian) imploring him to stand on the side of slavery… which is basically the definition of corruption.

James Abram Garfield, 1881: 90 points

James A. Garfield was the second of four presidents to be assassinated. He spent most of his time in office attempting to recover from the attack that eventually killed him. He believed in education as a way to move civil rights forward for all Americans, but was also caught up in the Credit Mobilier Scandal during his short term, so who really knows what he would’ve done.

Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1921-1923: 90 points

  • -5 for Teapot Dome scandal 
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Harding has an interesting story. He spent two years as president before his death, and was one of the most popular presidents in American history when he died. After his death, scandals like the Teapot Dome and letters from his longtime mistress were uncovered.

James Earl Carter, Jr., 1977-1981: 90 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • -5 for having a less than 50 percent approval rating

Jimmy Carter only served one term in office during an extended period of inflation and recession. He was defeated in a landslide when seeking reelection in 1980.

James Monroe, 1817-1825: 95 points

  • -10 for owning slaves 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

Slave ownership strikes again with James Monroe, who oversaw the westward expansion of the United States. He is also famous for the Monroe Doctrine, which warned European nations that further attempts at colonizing the Western Hemisphere would result in retaliation.

Millard Fillmore, 1850-1853: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Millard Fillmore was an anti-slavery moderate, which meant he sat staunchly on the fence, refusing to support abolitionist bans on slavery in territory gained from the Mexican-American War, and controversially signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. He eventually denounced the secession of southern states during the Civil War, but it was too late for Fillmore in the eyes of many northerners.

Franklin Pierce, 1853-1857: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Franklin Pierce’s presidency began with the death of his 11-year-old son, who was killed in a train accident. Pierce struggled with depression through those four years, but he did view the abolitionist movement as a threat to the nation, which doesn’t sit well with many historians.

Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877-1881: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Hayes doesn’t have much of a legacy. During his one term in office, he sought to heal the wounds left behind from the Civil War, but is remembered most vividly as a supporter of temperance and prohibition.

Chester Alan Arthur, 1881-1885: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

The centerpiece of the Arthur presidency was the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which attempted to turn political appointments into a sort of meritocracy where people would be given appointments not because of their political affiliation, but because they were qualified for the position. A lot of good that one did.

Grover Cleveland, 1885-1889: 95 points

  • -10 for allegedly having a rough reputation with women long before he was president
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

Grover Cleveland was selected as his party’s nominee because of his impeccable reputation, but eventually a rumor of an illegitimate child and whispers of his roughness with women surfaced. Politically, he was seen as an opponent to corruption, and he viewed himself as a watchdog over Congress. He was also elected to a second term, so people approved of Cleveland as president.

Benjamin Harrison, 1889-1893: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

The grandson of William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison was closely scrutinized by the Democratic party but left his second term with his reputation firmly intact. Harrison signed the Sherman Antitrust Act, but was not seen as an otherwise super-effective president. Temperamentally speaking, Benjamin Harrison was a sound guy.

William Howard Taft, 1909-1913: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

William Howard Taft falls in the middle of this list. He was a slow-moving president, which contrasted starkly with the flashier Theodore Roosevelt. He also served as a Supreme Court justice after he was president, so that sheds some light on his temperament to be a man of the law rather than a politician.

Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Historians are split in their opinions of Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was a small-government conservative with a reverence for the free market. But then there was the whole stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression that hit the country a few months after Coolidge left office. He wasn't a part of any major scandals, and people at the time of the Depression wholeheartedly blamed Hoover for the economic disaster despite his negligible time in office.

Herbert Clark Hoover, 1929-1933: 95 points

  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Hoover took office six months before the bottom fell out of the world economy. During his first days in office, he made the mistake of suggesting that the country was approaching a post-poverty era, which just made the stock market crash that much more disappointing to the people who believed him.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-1945: 95 points

  • -5 for Japanese internment camps 
  • -10 for missteps in the Pacific theater during WWII  
  • +5 for New Deal
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

The majority opinion on FDR is that he had a ridiculously cool head in one of history's messiest situations. He had his fair share of missteps, though, and people still debate whether holding a third term was an overreach. Overall, I think he made the best of a weird 12 years in office.

Harry S. Truman, 1945-1953: 95 points

  • -10 for the atomic bomb 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

Harry Truman approved the plan to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a few months after assuming the presidency after the death of FDR. He also helped establish the United Nations.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-1969: 95 points

  • -10 for advocating the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

With a strong economy and no major foreign policy issues to distract from domestic issues, LBJ was able to focus on issues on the home-front. He worked with Martin Luther King Jr., and signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Presidents With Best Temperaments:

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George Washington, 1789-1797: 100 points

  • -10 for owning slaves 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +5 for being first president

George Washington owned slaves, as most of the land-owning elite did in the 18th century. But as far as being our nation’s first president? By most historians’ standards, he did a pretty impressive job considering he was forced to make up the job as he went.

Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809: 100 points

  • -10 for owning slaves 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +5 for writing the Declaration of Independence

Jefferson owned slaves, as most wealthy Southerners during his lifetime did, so he lost some points for that. He eventually freed his slaves. Everyone knows that Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, but as president, Jefferson oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, which opened the gates to the west.

William McKinley, 1897-1901: 100 points

  • -5 for ordering the occupation of the Philippines after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

William McKinley was assassinated six months into his second term, but before his death, he raised tariffs to promote American industry, maintained the gold standard, and spoke out against lynching. He also appointed African-Americans to government positions, but disappointed some with the low-level positions.

John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963: 100 points

  • -5 for Marilyn Monroe scandal 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

Kennedy had an alleged wandering eye, which became a matter of public scrutiny in the two years JFK served as president before his assassination. But he expertly handled the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis, promising never to invade Cuba and finding a diplomatic solution to the Soviet Union building nuclear weapons within miles of the Florida coast.

Gerald Rudolph Ford, 1974-1977: 100 points

  • +5 for having a greater than 50 percent approval rating 
  • -5 for being in the bottom 50 percent in notable historian polls

Poor Gerald Ford never asked to be anywhere near the White House. He was appointed to both the vice presidency and, subsequently, the office of president after everyone resigned over the Watergate scandal. Needless to say, Ford was a little lost, politically during his three awkward years as president.

Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1981-1989: 100 points

  • -5 for Iran-Contra Affair
  • -5 for seemingly ignoring AIDS crisis 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +5 for having a greater than 50 percent approval rating

Ronald Reagan had a genteel and likable demeanor in the public eye. He finished his term with a greater than 50 percent approval rating, and ranks in the top half of presidents, according to historians. However, many believe he also sat idly by while thousands of Americans died during the AIDS crisis, because it was seen as a special interest issue.

John Adams, 1797-1801: 105 points

  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

John Adams was often seen as a contrarian during his years in Congress, because he was so adamant that America deserved a shot at becoming its own nation. But that's the kind of temperament it took to get the startup country off the ground.

John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829: 105 points

  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

John Quincy Adams was a master negotiator. During his years as Secretary of State under James Monroe, he negotiated key treaties like the one that ended the War of 1812. He never owned slaves, and was not particularly fond of the wining and dining aspects of the president’s responsibilities. Some believe he had the highest I.Q. of any U.S. president.

Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921: 105 points

  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

Woodrow Wilson got a lot of stuff done when he was in office. He signed the laws that created the Federal Reserve, introduced the income tax, lowered tariffs, and even supported labor laws that prevented overworking. He had no major scandals or issues with his legacy, and lands near the top of this list.

Dwight David Eisenhower, 1953-1961: 105 points

  • -5 for scandal surrounding the sanctioned overthrowing of Iran 
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +5 for having a greater than 50 percent approval rating

Eisenhower threatened to use the atomic bomb in an effort to end the Korean War, but chose not to. Because he had a wonderful memory, Ike also loved to play poker.

Bill Clinton, 1993-2001: 105 points

  • -5 for Monica Lewinsky scandal
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +5 for having a greater than 50 percent approval rating

Bill Clinton was ridiculously well-liked as president prior to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Historians already look kindly on his policy, citing the overwhelmingly upward direction of the economy during the Clinton administration.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909: 110 points

  • +5 for breaking up monopolies
  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls

Teddy Roosevelt has a reputation to this day of being someone with high moral integrity. His trust-busting, misconduct-prosecuting, food-safety-act-passing ways land him near the top of this list.

George Herbert Walker Bush, 1989-1993: 110 points

  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +5 for having a greater than 50 percent approval rating

Early in the first Bush presidency, the Berlin Wall came down followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. He ended his term with an over 60 percent approval rating.

Barack Obama, 2009-2017: 110 points

  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +5 for having a greater than 50 percent approval rating

Obama wears his love and respect for his wife and family on his sleeve. He's smart and undeniably funny, and, love him or hate him, it's gonna be a while before we have another president with such spot-on comedic timing. At the time of publication, he had a more than 50 percent approval rating.

Abraham Lincoln, 1861-1865: 115 points

  • +5 for being in the top 50 percent in notable historian polls
  • +10 for freeing American slaves
Abraham Lincoln held it together when the rest of the country was fraying at the seams. As you probably know, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freed the slaves, and saw the nation through the heat of the American Civil War — all in less than one presidential term, before being assassinated. 

Images: Vasilisa Barsukova/Bustle; Giphy

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