BECK index

Evaluating US Presidents

Volume 1

Washington to Lincoln 1789-1865

by Sanderson Beck


      My chapters on the first sixteen Presidents of the United States in this volume are based on my chapters in my “Ethics of Civilization” series in the three volumes that cover the history of the United States up to 1865. Now this work describes the presidencies and the consequences of the decisions and policies in ethical terms as to how they affected the people of the United States and the world. The effort is not to judge the persons but to evaluate their presidencies. My rankings are based on ethical values as to whether the presidential decisions and policies were beneficial or harmful. William Henry Harrison was President for only one month, and he had very little influence for good or evil. On my list the names above his in my opinion did more good than harm while those below him on balance had a negative influence on the nation and the world.
      My treatment of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency is sure to be the most controversial because most “presidential historians” rank him as the best president. Yet I rank him as the worst President of the United States because of the terrible Civil War that filled up most of his four years and six weeks in the office. Even worse was Jefferson Davis who was elected by men from the eleven states that formed the Confederate States of America during the same period. I have included Davis because his presidency of the Confederacy influenced the people in those states and others. Lincoln’s fascinating story is a real tragedy because he had so many wonderful qualities in his character in addition to his speaking ability. Unfortunately he followed the example of Andrew Jackson in 1832 when he sent troops to curtail the secession of South Carolina. Many people including Lincoln believed that the war would be short, and they paid the price for not having counted the possible cost and consequences of using violence to force the Confederate states to return to the Union.
      Also most presidential historians rank James Buchanan as the worst president. I find that ironic because I believe he wisely avoided starting a war against the seceding states. Having studied and written about the ethics of civilization up to this time period, I learned that almost every colony or state that had slavery eventually abolished the evil institution without a massive war with the exception of Haiti which had a successful revolution led by former slaves. In March 1861 Tsar Alexander II decreed the emancipation of more than 23 million serfs in Russia.
      Many newspaper editors and people believed that states had the right to secede just as the thirteen colonies had the right to leave the British empire by establishing a democratic government. Although the South had a bad motivation in trying to preserve and extend slavery, they did use democratic conventions to vote on whether each state would secede. They established a republican constitution, and they elected a president, a vice president, and a congress.
      In my Nonviolent Action Handbook I wrote a chapter on “Liberation from Seven Deadly -isms” of sexism, racism, imperialism, militarism, materialism, dogmatism, and egotism. All of these problems can be found in this period of American history. General Ulysses S. Grant called the Mexican War “the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation.” During the United States Civil War he rose to become the top Union general. Later Grant came to believe that the Civil War punished the United States for the “immoral” Mexican War. My top three US Presidents are Jefferson, Washington, and Monroe. Jefferson and John Adams avoided a major war, but Madison did not. Washington in his “Farewell Address” warned the nation against getting involved in “entangling alliances,” and Monroe with help from John Quincy Adams established a foreign policy that warned Europeans not to interfere with independent nations in the western hemisphere while he also promised that the United States would not intervene in European conflicts.

I have included the 2021 list compiled by the television network C-SPAN based on rankings in ten categories of “leadership characteristics” by 142 historians and professional observers. Their rankings are also shown next to mine for each president.

Sanderson Beck’s List    C-SPAN#

  1. Woodrow Wilson          13
  2. Thomas Jefferson           7
  3. George Washington       2
  4. Theodore Roosevelt      4
  5. James Monroe                12
  6. John Quincy Adams      17
  7. John Adams                   15
  8. Ulysses S. Grant            20
  9. Rutherford B. Hayes     33
  10. Grover Cleveland         25
  11. Jimmy Carter                 26
  12. John F. Kennedy            8
  13. Franklin D. Roosevelt    3
  14. Calvin Coolidge             24
  15. Dwight D. Eisenhower   5
  16. William Howard Taft    23
  17. Chester A. Arthur          30
  18. Millard Fillmore             38
  19. Zachary Taylor              35
  20. James Buchanan             44
  21. William J. Clinton          19
  22. Barack Obama               10
  23. Benjamin Harrison       32
  24. Herbert Hoover              36
  25. Warren G. Harding        37
  26. Gerald R. Ford                28
  27. James A. Garfield         27
  28. William H. Harrison      40
  29. Franklin Pierce               42
  30. John Tyler                      39
  31. James Madison              16
  32. Andrew Johnson           43
  33. Andrew Jackson            22
  34. Martin Van Buren          34
  35. George H. W. Bush        21
  36. William McKinley        14
  37. Ronald Reagan              9
  38. Donald Trump               41
  39. Lyndon B. Johnson        11
  40. Richard M. Nixon          31
  41. George W. Bush             29
  42. Harry S. Truman            6
  43. James K. Polk                 18
  44. Abraham Lincoln           1
  45. Jefferson Davis 


C-SPAN List  2021

Abraham Lincoln                     1
George Washington                  2
Franklin D. Roosevelt               3
Theodore Roosevelt                  4
Dwight D. Eisenhower             5
Harry S. Truman                      6
Thomas Jefferson                      7
John F. Kennedy                       8
Ronald Reagan                         9
Barack Obama                          10
Lyndon B. Johnson                   11
James Monroe                          12
Woodrow Wilson                     13
William McKinley                    14
John Adams                             15
James Madison                         16
John Quincy Adams                 17
James K. Polk                           18
William J. Clinton                     19
Ulysses S. Grant                       20
George H. W. Bush                   21
Andrew Jackson                       22
William Howard Taft               23
Calvin Coolidge                       24
Grover Cleveland                     25
Jimmy Carter                            26
James A. Garfield                     27
Gerald R. Ford                          28
George W. Bush                       29
Chester A. Arthur                     30
Richard M. Nixon                     31
Benjamin Harrison                   32
Rutherford B. Hayes                 33
Martin Van Buren                     34
Zachary Taylor                         35
Herbert Hoover                         36
Warren G. Harding                  37
Millard Fillmore                        38
John Tyler                                 39
William Henry Harrison           40
Donald J. Trump                      41
Franklin Pierce                         42
Andrew Johnson                      43
James Buchanan                       44


Evaluating US Presidents Volume 1: Washington to Lincoln 1789-1865 has been published.
For ordering information, please click here.

Summary & Evaluation 1789-1865

George Washington 1789-97 
John Adams 1797-1801
Thomas Jefferson 1801-09 
James Madison 1809-17 
James Monroe 1817-25 
John Quincy Adams 1825-29 
Andrew Jackson 1829-37 
Martin Van Buren 1837-1841
William Henry Harrison 1841 
John Tyler 1841-45  
James Polk 1845-49  
Zachary Taylor 1849-50  
Millard Fillmore 1850-53  
Franklin Pierce 1853-57  
James Buchanan 1857-61  
Abraham Lincoln 1861-65  
Jefferson Davis & CSA 1861-65


Below are links to the longer chapters in the Ethics of Civilization from which the presidential chapters were drawn:

United States & Washington 1789-97

America’s New Government 1789-90
Washington & Hamilton’s Bank 1790
Washington & Hamilton’s Bank 1791
Washington & Hamilton’s Bank 1792
America & the French Revolution 1793-94
Whiskey Rebellion
Washington & Peace 1795
Washington & Peace in 1796
American Frontier 1789-96

United States & John Adams 1797-1800

Adams Administration in 1797
Adams & the Quasi-War in 1798
Adams & the Election 1799-1800

Jeffersonian Democracy 1801-1809

Jefferson Before His Presidency
Jefferson Inauguration & Peace Policy 1801
Jefferson Administration 1801-02
America’s Naval War in North Africa
Louisiana Purchase & Exploration
Jefferson & Indian Issues
Jefferson Administration in 1803
Jefferson Administration in 1804
Jefferson Administration 1805-06
Burr Conspiracy & Trial
Jefferson & the Embargo 1807-09

Madison & the War of 1812

Madison Administration in 1809
Madison Administration in 1810-11
Madison Takes US into War in 1812
American-British War in 1813
American-British War in 1814
Madison Administration in 1815
Madison Administration 1816-17

US Era of Monroe & J. Q. Adams 1817-29

Monroe Era of Good Feeling 1817-18
General Jackson & Florida 1817-22
US Banking Crisis & Depression 1818-19
Missouri-Maine Compromise 1819-21
Monroe’s Foreign Policy 1822-23
United States Elections in 1824
United States under John Q. Adams 1825-27
United States Elections in 1828

Native Tribes, Removal & the West

Jackson, Creeks & Seminoles in Florida 1817-21
Cherokees & Laws 1817-29
Evarts & Opposition to Cherokee Removal
Cherokees & Removal West 1830-43
Choctaws & Chickasaws
Creeks & Removal West 1825-44
Black Hawk War
Second Seminole War 1835-43
Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho & Kiowa
Texas Revolution in Mexico 1817-36
Texas Republic 1836-44
Americans in New Mexico & Oregon

Jacksonian Democracy 1829-37

Jackson’s Democratic Presidency in 1829
Jacksonian Democracy 1830-31
Jackson & the US Bank
Jackson, Tariff & Nullification in 1832
Jacksonian Democracy & Whigs in 1833-34
Jacksonian Democrats & Whigs in 1835
Jacksonian Democracy in 1836-37

US Depression, Van Buren & Tyler 1837-44

Van Buren & the Panic of 1837
Van Buren & Depression 1838-39
Elections in 1840 & Harrison
Whig Government & Tyler in 1841
Tyler Administration in 1842
Tyler Administration 1843-44
Umited States Elections in 1844
De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Polk & the US-Mexican War 1845-49

Polk, Texas & Manifest Destiny in 1845
Polk Begins War Against Mexico in 1846
US Conquest of California & New Mexico 1846-49
Polk’s War Against Mexico in 1847
Mexican Cession & the 1848 US Election

US of Taylor, Clay & Fillmore 1849-52

Whigs & Taylor in 1849
Whigs & Taylor in 1850
Fillmore & Clay’s Compromise of 1850
United States Elections & Census of 1850
Fillmore Maintains the Union 1851-53

US of Pierce & Kansas Conflicts 1853-56

Pierce Administration in 1853
Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854
Kansas Conflict in 1855
Kansas Conflict Resolved in 1856
United States Politics & Elections of 1856

United States & Buchanan 1857-59

Buchanan, Dred Scott & Panic in 1857
Kansas & Conflicts over Slavery 1857-58
Lincoln & the Douglas Debates
Buchanan & Elections in 1858
United States in 1859
John Brown’s Crusade Against Slavery

United States Dividing 1860-61

United States in 1860
United States Elections in 1860
United States & Secession in Late 1860
United States & Secession in Early 1861

Lincoln’s War for Union in 1861

Lincoln’s Inauguration in March 1861
North & South War Begins in April 1861
Confederate Congress on April 29
North & South Mobilization in May 1861
US Civil War June-July 1861
US Civil War August-October 1861
US Civil War November-December 1861

Lincoln’s War for Union in 1862

US Civil War January-February 1862
US Civil War March-May 1862
US Civil War June-July 1862
US Civil War August-October 1862
US Civil War November-December 1862

Lincoln’s War for Emancipation in 1863

US Civil War January-February 1863
US Civil War March-April 1863
US Civil War May-July 1863
US Civil War August-October 1863
US Civil War November-December 1863

Lincoln’s War for Emancipation in 1864

US Civil War January-February 1864
US Civil War March-April 1864
US Civil War May-June 1864
US Civil War July-August 1864
US Civil War September-October 1864
US Civil War November-December 1864

United States Victory in 1865

US Civil War January-February 1865
US Civil War March 1865
United States Victory in April-May 1865

Preventing United States Civil War

How Lincoln Could Have Prevented Civil War
US Civil War Atrocities
How US History Might Have Been Better


Evaluating US Presidents Volume 1: Washington to Lincoln 1789-1865 has been published.
For ordering information, please click here.

Volume 2: Andrew Johnson to Taft 1865-1913
Volume 3: Wilson, Harding & Coolidge 1913-1929

Evaluating US Presidents Ranking and Index

History of Peace Volume 1
History of Peace Volume 2

World Chronology
Chronology of America

BECK index