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January 05, 2005

The Smartest President We Ever Had Poll

Here's the final results for the poll. Not much i can say except that there is something wrong with the way we teach American history in this country.


The reason i came up with this poll was because i've heard more than once from Clinton admirers that he's "the smartest president we ever had." That's just silly.

Sure, Bill Clinton is a smart guy. But i was trying to make a point by putting him on the list just above Thomas Jefferson. Besides having written the most important founding document in the history of the world, TJ was also an architect, naturalist, founder of the University of Virginia and designer of its campus and curriculum, Latin and Greek literate, etc. etc. etc.

Yet, inexplicably, 15% of voters thought Thomas Jefferson was not as smart as Bill Clinton. How is that possible? And what about the other presidents whom those 15% also rank lower?

Theodore Roosevelt wrote a four volume history of the American West, a history of the Naval War of 1812, biographies of two American statesmen, and many other books. What has Clinton written? A memoir.

Woodrow Wilson wrote a five volume history of the American people, a biography of George Washington, and an important work on congressional government among many other books. Besides his law degree, he had a Ph.D. in history and political science.

James Madison? Father of the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln? Self-taught, and have you ever read the Lincoln-Douglas debates? Could you imagine language like that coming out of Clinton's mouth?

Who's the smartest president? That's a subject for legitimate debate. But given the competition, Clinton shouldn't make anyone's cut.

Posted by annika, Jan. 5, 2005 |
Rubric: History


I am really surprized that Richard Nixion is consided smarter than Kennedy considering the intellectual Aurora spread by the MSM.

Posted by: Chuck on Jan. 5, 2005

Unclench your buttocks my dear. Perhaps the results were skewed by an improper question? Should it not have been, "Who was the most intellectually bankrupt"? You've got too many smart guys there who dilute the vote, with only a couple bonafide shitheads.

Posted by: Casca on Jan. 5, 2005

Excellent points, annika. If I'm not mistaken, wasn't Clinton a Rhodes Scholar? If so--I think those who voted for The Impeached One were swayed by that.

Posted by: Victor on Jan. 6, 2005

People could watch Clinton on TV, but could perceive Jefferson et al onl through their writings. For those who are not particularly reading-oriented, the more direct experience of TV probably makes a difference.

Herbert Hoover translated books from Latin to English for fun.

Posted by: David Foster on Jan. 6, 2005

These types of polls become name recognition polls because of the way US history is taught in schools today-not.

Posted by: Jake on Jan. 6, 2005

I think "smart" is very hard to judge. Raw intelligence is not the same thing as being well-educated, nor is it the same thing as having a huge diversity of interests. Jefferson was surely a titan of the enlightenment, a renaissance man; Lincoln a master of rhetoric and of the law (and, if some of his hagiography can be believed, of construction work.)

Did Jefferson have a wider range of interests than Clinton? Undoubtably. Did he have a more original mind? Probably. But was he smarter? I don't know if I can go there.

On the other hand, I've always been partial to Woodrow Wilson myself -- I was one of the five who voted for him. After all, who could be smarter than the only history prof ever to be president?

Posted by: Hugo on Jan. 6, 2005

Polls about Presidents never include James K. Polk. I find that so depressing.

Oh, and I have absolutely no idea who the smartest President was.

Posted by: other Annika on Jan. 6, 2005

I respect Jefferson for his ideas. His actions didn't always live up to them but his ability to reason is something I admire. However in general terms I had to go with JQA as "smartest".

Some of the others - well wilson may have been learned in a sense, but his actions in regards to foreign policy & domestic race relations lead me ot think that his emotions clouded his judgement too much for him to win any intellectual prizes. The idea of picking lincoln is difficult as for someone who was supposed to be intelligent he was damn near constitutionally illiterate. But my fav of all the rejects for the title - clinton.

I don't care what his i.q. is or how many degrees he has there's a word to describe any man who tries to claim that a blowjob isn't sex - asshat. I've seen what happens to people (in my old neighborhood) that tried that. It wasn't pretty. Most women in the south could possibly forgive cheating, but using such a weak ass excuse to try to weasel your way out of it? No, that alone disqualifies him from winning any intelligence contests.

That clinton got almost 5 times the votes that JQA did boggles the mind. I can see some of the other picks getting as many or more votes but clinton the superior of JQA? Only in a twillight zone created by government schools is this possible.

Still; interesting poll. Thanks for posting about it miss Annika.

Posted by: Publicola on Jan. 6, 2005

During a visit of an esteemed group (Nobel laureates, I think), John F. Kennedy said the following:

"I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House-with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

I don't know that we've necessarily had any dumb Presidents of late. Even the Presidents that are reputed as "dumb" - Gerald Ford and George W Bush - are Ivy League graduates who have been able to admirably respond to adversity.

How does one define "smart" when dealing with a 200+ year period in which the educational system has changed dramatically? My 13 year old daughter has more formal education than Abraham Lincoln, but he was apparently able to function in society and make a living. Lincoln did not have the leisure to pursue a "wide range of interests," but I don't believe he was a dunce.

Clinton is not the only "smart" President to have made a dumb mistake. Nixon neglected to burn the tapes. Wilson was too obstinate to compromise on the League of Nations - perhaps the loss of millions of lives could have been prevented if he had been more flexible. Jefferson himself suffered financial losses late in life.

Posted by: Ontario Emperor on Jan. 6, 2005

Actually Kennedy said that it was the greatest collection of intellect since John Quincy Adams dined alone.

& Other Annika - I'm a Tarheel & I feel your pain.

Posted by: Publicola on Jan. 6, 2005


Are you aware that the state of California requires that ballots randomly mix up the names so that each candidate has his or her name at the top of the ballot on an equal number of ballots?

Now, why do you suppose that is done? Perhaps this might explain why enough folks picked the top name to skew the result.

For me, a guy too stupid to know that you can't get away with that stuff in the White House doesn't even deserve to be on the list.

If you had used the yardstick of "best candidate" or "most clever bullshitter" maybe I'd have voted for the guy, but "smartest", in light of the competition, is insulting to the others, all of whom deserved to be there, including Nixon, who, although demented, was a brilliant scholar, especially in foreign relations. He just had the Kerry disease of not being very likeable.

Posted by: shelly on Jan. 7, 2005

Publicola - no, it was TJ.

I read the first few paragraphs of Clinton's autobiography somewhere, I think on Amazon. It was so poorly written - a collection of run-on sentences and unrelated thoughts. It felt like it was dictated.

Posted by: Yaron on Jan. 7, 2005

If I am correct, James A. Garfield was able to use both his hands and write in two languages at once. His only downfall was that he was assasignated early in his presidency, therefore, it is unknown on what he may have been able to achieve. Also, my own commentary, a President may be intelligent, but if he is in active or allows to be controlled by his emotions, then he will be a poor leader. Futhermore, a great leader does what is right for the country even though he may disagree with it.

Posted by: Gwayneb on Mar. 10, 2005

In my personal opinion, it would be a tie between TJ and JQA. I can't believe JQA only received 5%, obviously not enough people have read any biographies about him. BC might have had the best formal education so far, and I can understand why BC received 15% votes.

Posted by: DavidKnows on Jul. 2, 2005

Actually, Gwayneb, it was Thomas Jefferson who was able to write in two different languages with two different hands, at the same time.

And Kennedy's quote was concerning Thomas Jefferson.

However, I feel that JQA was the smartest president.

A lot of what we consider intelligence in the presidency is gathered by how their term went, and how their education measures up to our education system of today. In terms of Bill Clinton, more people lived in his administration as compared to JQA's or TJ's. It is more of a poll of recognition. However, when people claim that TJ had so many great accomplishments in his term, it not only due to his intelligence but also because Congress was in support of him. When JQA served as president twenty years later, the Congress was not very supportive of his ideas and therefore he got little done.

Posted by: Caesara on Oct. 23, 2005