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Who Are the Most Overrated U.S. Presidents in History?

Posted on Feb 18, 2013

The annual Presidents Day holiday usually gives American history scholars a chance to intellectually fight it out over over which U.S. presidents are the best and the worst.

But Think Progress went a different route this year and instead ranked the five most overrated ones, those “who routinely rank far above what their performance in office deserves in surveys considering presidential performance.” It’s basically the one presidential list this year on which the names “Abraham Lincoln,” “Franklin Delano Roosevelt” and “George W. Bush” will not be popping up. 

According to the progressive site’s tally, the most overrated presidents in U.S. history, in order from 1 to 5, are Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Below is a sampling of the arguments Think Progress made on why each man made the cut.

Jackson: “Beyond his indefensible treatment of Native Americans, it is ironic that Jackson’s face is now featured on the $20 bill, because he proved such a poor steward of the nation’s economy. Jackson waged war against the Second Bank of the United States, an early predecessor to the modern Federal Reserve, and he required federal land sales to be conducted in gold or silver. Historians disagree somewhat about the role Jackson’s retrograde monetary policy played in triggering the economic depression that began shortly after he left office. But there’s little doubt that, by taking away America’s ability to centrally manage its money supply, Jackson deprived his nation of a key tool it would need to fight off the looming depression.”

Reagan: “President Reagan ushered in the misguided era of massive deficits, bloated military spending and tax cuts for the very rich that America still struggles to this day to put to an end. Yet Reagan wrongly receives credit for the economic boom that began a few years into his presidency due to events entirely outside of his control.”

Wilson: “For all of his accomplishments, Wilson belongs on this list because of his inexcusable record on civil liberties. Wilson’s Espionage Act criminalized the mere act of presenting conscripted men with arguments regarding why they should avoid the draft. And his Sedition Act went even further, banning ‘disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language’ about the U.S. government, military or flag. Wilson was a racist who signed laws banning interracial marriage in the District of Columbia and segregating DC’s streetcars.”

To read the the full critiques on Jackson, Reagan and Wilson, and to see why Jefferson and Madison made the list, click here.

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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