Tuesday 5 December 2017

These Are the Smartest and Dumbest U.S. Presidents and How Donald Trump Compares

Donald Trump definitely thinks he’s one of the smartest people to ever sit in the Oval Office. He’s also obsessed with the idea of IQ scores. (He even refers to them in his insults!) Researchers measure a person’s IQ, short for intelligence quotient, with standardized tests. Those tests yield a score that supposedly reflects the person’s intelligence. So plenty of people wonder which presidents have had the highest and lowest IQ scores. (And who makes the list of the smartest presidents or the dumbest presidents.)
Because many presidents died before the advent of IQ testing, we don’t have real IQ scores for most of them. But in a 2006 study, University of California psychologist Dean Keith Simonton attempted to estimate an IQ for every president. Simonton used variables that correlate with IQ. This historiometric approach looked at factors including each president’s academic performance, writings, and other evidence.
Read on to discover which presidents Simonton labeled as the smartest and the dumbest. Barack Obama isn’t included in the study. But even though neither Obama nor Donald Trump had yet taken office when Simonton’s study took place in 2006, we’ll still take a look at where Donald Trump likely stands.

Smartest presidents

To rank all the presidents in Simonton’s study — both the smartest and the dumbest — U.S. News averaged the four estimated IQ scores shared in the research. Ahead, we’ll take a look at the most intelligent presidents to have served in the Oval Office through American history.

9. James Garfield

  • 20th president of the United States
  • Party: Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 141.5
James Garfield numbers among the smartest presidents. But he doesn’t make the list of the best presidents. As History reports, Garfield swore the oath of office in March 1881. Then, he died in September 1881 from an assassin’s bullet. He served too briefly to make much of an impact. But by contrast, he suffered a long and drawn-out death.
He lay in the White House, near death, for almost three months as doctors failed to locate the bullet in his back. Even inventor Alexander Graham-Bell tried unsuccessfully to find it with a metal detector. So Garfield died politically untested, without having done much governing from the White House.
Interesting fact: Garfield joined the Union army during the Civil War. He represented his home state of Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives only after Abraham Lincoln convinced him to leave the military. 

8. Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
He’s known as the first modern president. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • 26th president of the United States
  • Party: Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 142.275
Theodore Roosevelt entered the White House as William McKinley’s vice president. Then, he became the 26th president after McKinley’s assassination. Want some proof of his intelligence? As president, Roosevelt promoted the novel idea that the government should mediate between conflicting forces: capital and labor, isolationism and expansionism, conservation and development.
The Miller Center characterizes Roosevelt as the first modern president. He made the presidency the center of American politics with his bold personality and his aggressive use of executive action. Roosevelt wanted to make society more fair and equitable. Additionally, he “believed that the government had the right and the responsibility to regulate big business so that its actions did not negatively affect the general public.”
Interesting fact: One of the smartest presidents, Roosevelt introduced charisma into the political equation. By winning a second term, he became the first president elected more on his character than his party affiliation. 

7. John Adams

President John Adams
The second president was politically isolated. | Wikimedia Commons
  • 2nd president of the United States
  • Party: Federalist
  • Estimated IQ: 142.5
A Harvard-educated lawyer, John Adams became a vocal critic of Great Britain’s power in colonial America. During the Revolutionary War, he traveled to Paris to secure aid for the colonists’ cause. Later, he helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris. (That treaty ended hostilities between America and Britain.) Adams then became the first vice president of the United States. And later, he assumed office as the nation’s second president.
Though he ranks among the smartest presidents, scholars report that Adams’ independence left him politically isolated. (Even his own cabinet opposed many of his policies.) But according to the Miller Center, that’s at least partly because Adams believed the executive branch of the government should stand above politics. He refused to enter into political conflict. In fact, he characterized conflict and anarchy as the biggest dangers to American society.
Interesting fact: As a delegate in the Continental Congress, Adams nominated George Washington to serve as commander of the colonial forces in the American Revolutionary War. And he later nominated Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. 

6. Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter promised honesty and transparency in government. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • 39th president of the United States
  • Party: Democrat
  • Estimated IQ: 145.1
Jimmy Carter campaigned for the presidency by promising a return to honesty and the elimination of secrecy in the American government. As History reports, Carter built a constituency — at a time when Americans felt disillusioned with the executive branch of the government after Watergate — by marketing himself as an outsider to D.C. politics.
As president, he tried to portray himself as a man of the people. He also represented himself as a new type of Democrat. But the Miller Center reports that Carter’s stubborn independence, which helped him on his path to the White House, became his downfall once he attained office. He refused to engage in give-and-take with Congress. And he didn’t respond flexibly in dealings with either friends or foes, which curtailed his effectiveness.
Interesting fact: Carter, though one of the smartest presidents, enjoys much higher regard today than when he lost his bid for re-election. He has an active and “exemplary” post-presidency to thank for that. 

5. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson is the only president with a doctorate. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
  • 28th president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic
  • Estimated IQ: 145.1
Woodrow Wilson consistently ranks as one of the nation’s greatest presidents. He numbers among the smartest presidents, too. History reports that Wilson advocated for democracy and world peace. As president, he tried to keep the U.S. neutral during World War I. But he eventually called on Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917. After the war, he helped negotiate a peace treaty that included a plan for the League of Nations.
Wilson himself didn’t see his vision realized. But the Miller Center reports that “there can be no doubt that his ideal inspired many Americans and that it shaped much of American foreign policy for the remainder of the twentieth century.” At home, he enacted banking reform, tariff reduction, and federal regulation of business. He also established support for labor and collective bargaining, and federal aid for education and agriculture.
Interesting fact: Wilson remains the only U.S. president to have a doctorate degree. He studied at Princeton University as an undergraduate and at the University of Virginia as a law student. Then, he earned a Ph.D. in political science at Johns Hopkins University. 

4. Bill Clinton

President William J. Clinton
Clinton managed some impressive achievements despite his private actions overshadowing his presidency. | Wikimedia Commons
  • 42nd president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic
  • Estimated IQ: 148.8
Some people would feel surprised to see a president who was impeached on the list of the most intelligent commanders-in-chief. But Simonton reports that Bill Clinton numbers among the smartest presidents in U.S. history. Upon his inauguration in 1993 at age 46, he became the third-youngest U.S. president in history up to that time.
Scholars are just beginning to identify the parts of Clinton’s administration that will likely be historically significant. For instance, he overhauled the operations of the Democratic Party while retaining its traditional commitments to providing for the disadvantaged, regulating the excesses of the private marketplace, supporting minorities and women, and stimulating economic growth. Clinton also eliminated the federal deficit. And he oversaw the strongest economy in recent memory.
Interesting fact: As a high school student, Clinton shook hands with President John Kennedy at the White House. He later said that event inspired him to pursue a career in public service.
Next: This president was born into one of America’s wealthiest families. 

3. John F. Kennedy

He is one of the most beloved presidents in history. | National Archive/Newsmakers
  • 35th president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic
  • Estimated IQ: 150.65
John F. Kennedy numbers among the most beloved and smartest presidents in American history. He served in the Navy. After his older brother was killed on a secret mission, Kennedy decided to fulfill the destiny his father once intended for Joe Jr. He aspired to become the first Catholic president of the United States. He successfully ran for Congress in 1946 and for the Senate in 1952.
The Miller Center reports that as president, Kennedy never had the chance to follow through on his many promises. Assessments of his presidency have varied widely. But according to the Miller Center, “Kennedy still commands fascination as a compelling, charismatic leader during a period of immense challenge to the American body politic.”
Interesting fact: As a student at Harvard University, Kennedy wrote a senior thesis — about the British government’s unpreparedness for World War II — that was later published as an acclaimed book, Why England Slept.
Next: This president articulated principles such as “all men are created equal.”

2. Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
The founding father had a very high IQ. | Wikimedia Commons
  • 3rd president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic-Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 153.75
It should surprise few people that Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, numbers among the smartest presidents. History reports that Jefferson thought that the government should play a limited role in citizens’ lives. Yet even though Jefferson promoted individual liberty, he owned slaves.
The Miller Center predicts that Jefferson will always be celebrated for articulating America’s “fundamental and universal principles of self-government.” But some of those principles, such as “all men are created equal,” have been turned against him. He, just like many of his contemporaries, struggled to reconcile conflicting claims such as nation-building and natural rights, power and liberty, or slavery and freedom.
Interesting fact: The purchase of the Louisiana territory goes down as one of the biggest achievements of Jefferson’s administration. Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the territory and the area beyond, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Next: This president, though incredibly intelligent, failed because he hated politics.

1. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams
Despite his intelligence, he didn’t make a great president. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
  • 6th president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic-Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 168.75
The most intelligent president of all? John Quincy Adams. Adams lands at the top of the ranks of the smartest presidents. But he doesn’t number among the most effective. History characterizes Adams as an outspoken criticof slavery and supporter of free speech. He became James Monroe’s secretary of state and served as the chief architect of the Monroe Doctrine to prevent European colonization in Latin America. Then, he won a contentious presidential race.
As a study by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight concluded, an obvious correlation exists between estimated presidential IQ and success as president. In general, smarter presidents perform better. But Adams proves the exception. The Miller Center reports that Adams failed as a president because he abhorred party politics. He was a poor politician just as politics began to matter more.
Interesting fact: Adams studied at European universities and became fluent in seven languages. You don’t see that skill in the Oval Office anymore! 

Dumbest presidents

Not every president could land at the top of the chart. But not all was lost for the presidents with lower intelligence. In fact, not everybody believes that a higher IQ means a better president. As Scientific American reports, “There are three basic views on the relationship between IQ and success in the Oval Office.” The first view holds that the smarter the president, the better. The second view argues that you only have to be smart enough to succeed as president. And the third view contends that someone can actually be too smart for the presidency.

9. William Howard Taft

William Taft
He didn’t have much talent for leadership. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
  • 27th president of the United States
  • Party: Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 126.9
William Howard Taft starts our list of the dumbest presidents. History reports that Taft proved more successful as an administrator than as a politician. According to the Miller Center, “Taft had a challenging task as President: living up to the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.” Taft had limited political experience and skills. And he felt naturally critical of his own abilities, which only hindered him further.
Historians agree that Taft’s kind and judicial temperament undermined his success as a president. He had little talent for leadership. Plus, he often failed to take initiative. He responded indecisively, and thus produced few accomplishments during his term as president.
Interesting fact: As president, Taft typically ate a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, and mounds of pancakes for breakfast. Such an unhealthily large breakfast reportedly left him sluggish for most of the morning.
Next: This president was the father of the Democratic party.

8. Andrew Jackson

President Andrew Jackson
Jackson is a favorite of President Trump. | Wikimedia Commons
  • 7th president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic
  • Estimated IQ: 126.25
History reports that Andrew Jackson’s leadership in the American Revolutionary War made him “America’s most influential — and polarizing — political figure during the 1820s and 1830s.” As America’s new political party system developed, Jackson shaped the Democratic party. He supported states’ rights and the extension of slavery into the new western territories.
Jackson received little formal schooling. (That probably explains his place among America’s dumbest presidents.) But he still made an impact. As the Miller Center puts it, “The Democratic party was Jackson’s child; the national two-party system was his legacy.” He defined himself not by enacting a legislative agenda, but by thwarting one. During his two terms, Congress passed only one major law at his behest. He also vetoed 12 bills, more than his six predecessors combined.
Interesting fact: Jackson played a role in forcing the relocation of Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi, a major source of modern criticism.
Next: This man remains the only U.S. president who never married.

7. James Buchanan

James Buchanan
He failed to take a stand on slavery. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
  • 15th president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic
  • Estimated IQ: 125.925
James Buchanan numbers among the dumbest presidents. He proved no match for a nation on the brink of civil war. History reports that during Buchanan’s tenure as president, seven southern states seceded from the Union. Buchanan felt morally opposed to slavery. But he also believed the U.S. Constitution protected it. As president, he tried to maintain peace between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions.
However, Buchanan has become notorious for failing to take a stand on either side of the issue of slavery. Strong presidential leadership might have prevented civil war. Yet Buchanan remained passive. In fact, historians cite his passivity as a major contributing factor to the advent of the Civil War.
Interesting fact: Buchanan remains the only U.S. president who never married. His niece, Harriet Lane, assumed the social duties of First Lady while he held office.
Next: If he’d lived longer, this president might have been able to prevent the Civil War.

6. Zachary Taylor

President Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor did his best to hold the nation together. | National Archive/Getty Images
  • 12th president of the United States
  • Party: Whig
  • Estimated IQ: 125.65
Zachary Taylor, who preceded Buchanan, also tried to hold the nation together despite the major rift between the north and the south. Nonetheless, the Miller Center posits that had Taylor lived to run for a second term, we might not have had a Compromise of 1850 or even a Civil War. “The question remains: If Taylor had survived, would he have been able to stamp out the most burning issue that faced the nation in 1850 — the expansion of slavery westward?”
The Miller Center characterizes Taylor’s presidency as “too short-lived to have substantially impacted the office or the nation.” He assumed office in 1848 and died suddenly in 1850. Nobody remembers Taylor as a great president. And most historians think he was too non-political to enact much change.
Interesting fact: Taylor received only a rudimentary education as a child, likely the reason he numbers among the nation’s dumbest presidents.
Next: This president never attended school as a child, and later learned math from his wife.

5. Andrew Johnson

Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson
He believed it was a guaranteed right to own slaves. | Library of Congress/Handout/Getty Images
  • 17th president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic
  • Estimated IQ: 125.65
Andrew Johnson, whom Simonton ranks as one of the dumbest presidents, believed strongly in the Constitution and thought that it guaranteed the right to own slaves. He continued to believe in the right to slave ownership. But he advocated for the preservation of the Union as southern leaders began to call for secession. However, Johnson proved unable to compromise and incapable of dealing with congressional challenges.
Johnson assumed office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The Miller Center reports that “historians view Andrew Johnson as the worst possible person to have served as President at the end of the American Civil War.” He committed to obstructing political and civil rights for black Americans. So historians characterize him as “principally responsible for the failure of Reconstruction to solve the race problem in the South and perhaps in America as well.”
Interesting fact: Johnson never attended school. He was apprenticed to a tailor by his early teens. So his wife helped him improve his reading and writing skills, and she tutored him in math. .

4. George W. Bush

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush
George W. Bush was mocked for his intelligence throughout his presidency. | TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
  • 43rd president of the United States
  • Party: Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 124.875
George W. Bush served from 2001 to 2009. So your reaction to seeing him on the list of the dumbest presidents probably depends on your politics. History reports that Bush’s time in office was shaped by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In response to those attacks, Bush declared a global war on terrorism. He also established the Department of Homeland Security and authorized wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Miller Center reports that Bush’s legacy remains a source of controversy. An objective evaluation likely won’t happen for years. Bush entered office as one of only a few presidents to lose the popular vote. Nonetheless, he became the most popular president in the history of polling, reaching a 90% approval rating, after September 11.
Interesting fact: Many historians think Bush’s initial response to 9/11 will go down in history as his greatest moment as president. 

3. Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding
He was one of the worst presidents in history. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
  • 29th president of the United States
  • Party: Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 124.3
Warren G. Harding makes the top three dumbest presidents in U.S. history. So we can’t say we feel surprised to learn that most historians rank him as the worst president of all. History reports that Harding served just two years (from 1921 to 1923) before dying of an apparent heart attack. His cabinet members and other government officials became involved in criminal activities that overshadowed his short-lived presidency.
The Miller Center notes that historians do give Harding some credit for bridging the gap “between Wilsonian idealism and the business prosperity of the Coolidge and Hoover years.” But Harding failed to make a big impact because he viewed the office of the president as largely ceremonial. He avoided issues as much as possible. And he had no message to communicate to Congress or to the American people.
Interesting fact: Though he opposed Woodrow Wilson’s plan for the League of Nations, Harding took few strong stands on political issues. 

2. James Monroe

James Monroe
His IQ may have been relatively low, but he was highly qualified. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
  • 5th president of the United States
  • Party: Democratic-Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 124.125
James Monroe, though one of the dumbest presidents according to Simonton’s research, entered office as one of the most qualified men to ever assume the presidency. As the Miller Center explains, “His success as a politician was the result of hard work and a steady and thoughtful manner. He was noted for his integrity, frankness, and affable personality, and he impressed those whom he met with his lack of pretension.”
History reports that as president, Monroe acquired Florida. He also dealt with the issue of slavery in new states that joined the Union through the 1820 Missouri Compromise.
Interesting fact: During the American Revolutionary War, Monroe was with George Washington and his troops at Valley Forge. In his time with the army, Monroe also became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia. 

1. Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant
He weakened the American presidency. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
  • 18th president of the United States
  • Party: Republican
  • Estimated IQ: 120
Though he ranks as the dumbest president in American history (at least so far), Ulysses S. Grant enjoys at least a little bit of fame as the victorious commanding general of the Union Army during the Civil War. History characterizes Grant as an aggressive and determined leader who became a national hero after the war.
However, the Miller Center notes that Grant hasn’t gone down in history as a great president. “He came into office wanting to serve all the American people and was determined to avoid party politics. At the same time, he did not really understand politics, which hindered his effectiveness as President.” He weakened the American presidency. But he did fight to protect the rights of African-Americans more than any other 19th-century President.
Interesting fact: Grant supported pardons for former Confederate leaders, but also worked to protect the civil rights of freed slaves.

What we don’t know about Donald Trump’s IQ 

How about Donald Trump? We don’t have an actual IQ score. But let’s start with what we know. As The Washington Post explains, Donald Trump attended Fordham University before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied economics for two years. He took undergraduate classes at the university’s famed Wharton School of Business, a school known for its graduate program. And he graduated in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
As for what we don’t know? Newsweek reports that despite the long and storied history of Donald Trump’s “weird obsession with IQ,” we don’t have any evidence that Trump has taken any of the standardized tests that measure IQ. (The BBC notes that there is no single “IQ test.” In fact, Mensa accepts results from more than 200 tests.) According to Newsweek, “Trump’s IQ score, then, is a mystery, and it could be that he’s never actually had it calculated.”

Snopes recently debunked a chart purportedly showing Donald Trump’s IQ. The chart itself was based on Simonton’s research. But its claims about Donald Trump’s IQ score did not come from a real study. Rumors that Donald Trump has an IQ score of 156 have circulated since at least August 2015. They apparently stem from an article that Snopes characterizes as “full of logical missteps and factual inaccuracies.”

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