NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 6, 2009

No matter what party partisans say, no American president is perfect.  But when historians rank our greatest presidents, the top spots invariably go to the usual suspects -- Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and the Roosevelts.  However, Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at The Independent Institute begs to differ.

In his book, "Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty," Eland doesn't rank our presidents according to how many wars they won or how many new federal government social or regulatory agencies they fathered.  He ranks them on how well they adhered to the principles of limited government as put down in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers.

He based his analysis off of a 60-point scale: 20 for peace, 20 for prosperity and 20 for liberty.  His ranking is as follows:

  • Coming in at number 1 is John Tyler (1841-1845) who was almost impeached by his own party because he stuck up for a limited government, a restrained foreign policy and a limited chief executive.
  • At number 2 is Grover Cleveland (1884-1888 and 1894-1898) because he was for limited government, a limited president and for the most part a restrained foreign policy..
  • Beloved Ronald Reagan was 34th in the rankings because he increased government spending, which goes against the perceived Republican beliefs; in fact, the two presidents who reduced government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) are Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and those are Democrats.
  • Other notable rankings include, Warren Harding (6th), Jimmy Carter (8th), Abe Lincoln (29th), FDR (31st) and Woodrow Wilson (dead last).

Being a great president depends upon how one deals with peace, prosperity and liberty, says Eland.  These are goals we strive for and ones that should stay within the Constitution.  Yet, our "greatest" presidents have drastically expanded their powers, he continues, so we really don't have the government the Founders created.

Source: Bill Steigerwald, "Rushmore Redo -- An Interview,", March 2, 2009.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues