Ranking the First 27 US Presidents in Order of Power Moves
By Noah Stern
Over the years, the oval office has been inhabited by quite the cast of characters. Some were strong, able men who were willing to do what it takes to help the American people. Others were John Quincy Adams. In this article, we will be ranking all of the pre-Depression era presidents in order of how many power moves they made. You may be asking, “why specifically does this list start at number 27?” Well, attentive reader, that’s all we at the Milking Cat have covered so far in AP US History. We would also like to preface this list by saying that before you get mad at us for placing Andrew Jackson so high, please remember that all of the following men were very, very racist as well. We really mean all of them. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.
#27 John Quincy Adams
First of all, his father, John not-Quincy Adams, was a terrible president. Second, the election of 1824 was a 3-way tie and he only won through the so-called “Corrupt Bargain” in which Henry Clay stood before Congress, closed his eyes, and threw a dart at a picture of the nominees. Total nerd, zero power moves made.
#26 Millard Filmore
Next on the list of presidents who got bitched around by Henry Clay is Millard Filmore, who took office after Zachary Taylor died. Clay, who was trying to get the Compromise of 1850 wrapped up, dangled a dog biscuit in front of Filmore’s face then threw it across the room. As Filmore dove over the oval office desk to retrieve his treat, Clay forged his signature and passed the bill.
#25 James Buchanan
Waited around for the Civil War to start then passed the hot potato to Abe Lincoln.
#24 Rutherford B. Hayes
Post-Civil War Republicans told the Democrats that they would end Reconstruction if they let Hayes into office. So really all our boy Rutherford ever did was begin the perpetual chain of unfair treatment toward African Americans that persists to this day. Also, he signed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Good lord.
#23 James A. Garfield
Won the award for “second dumbest reason for a president to be assassinated” when he was shot while standing alone on a train platform by a guy who just really liked the vice president.
#22 Benjamin Harrison
Beat incumbent president Grover Cleveland in the election of 1888, goofed around with tariffs, lost the election of 1892 to Grover Cleveland.
#21 James Madison
Madison is one of the several presidents we refer to as “disappointing apprentices” or DA’s. Several times in US history a well-liked president (Thomas Jefferson in this case) will have completed their two terms in the White House and will strongly recommend a hand-groomed successor. This process never works. Madison was not only Congress’s lapdog, but also got owned by Napoleon, which led to us getting geeked by Britain in the War of 1812.
#20 Franklin Pierce
Tried to buy Cuba, failed. Tried to ease tensions over slavery between the North and South, see: attempted Cuba purchase
#19 Martin Van Buren
The DA of Andrew Jackson, wasn’t as cool or edgy as the real thing. He was the mastermind of Jackson’s original campaign as the champion of the common man, but when he tried it again in his bid for reelection, the Whigs used his own strategy to elect grandpa William Henry Harrison. The American people agreed that Harrison was the kind of guy you could just sit in a log cabin with and drink some hard cider.
#18 Ulysses S. Grant
A fine general but a complete idiot politically. Was originally born Hiram Ulysses Grant but was too timid to correct West Point when they listed his name wrong. Accepted his new life as a Beta male that would color his presidency.
#17 William Henry Harrison
Finally, at number 18 we have arrived at our first veritable power move. WHH’s big play was, of course, dying 31 days into his term. The absolute madman refused to wear a coat to his inauguration so as not to appear weak, then promptly caught pneumonia and died. Legendary.
#16 Andrew Johnson
Andy J is responsible for one of the most historic power moves in the history of the executive branch, which was being the first president to get impeached. Basically he was jerked around by Congress for his whole term to the point where they were pretty much overruling his
vetoes on a daily basis. Then he just started breaking the laws that Congress passed, which is such a baller play.
#15 John Tyler
Became president after Harrison caught the sniffles and died. Was part of the Whig party but vibed more with the Democrats and just became one in the middle of his term.
#14 Chester A. Arthur
On that same note, we have Chester A. Arthur. For those paying attention: he’s the guy who was so likable that James Garfield got assassinated. Basically everyone knew that Chester thought if you win office you should give jobs to the people you like, even if they’re not good at the jobs. But when he won he just...didn’t do that. All his friends got so mad at him, but he earned our respect
#13. William Howard Taft
The DA of Teddy Roosevelt who lowkey busted more trusts than Teddy ever did but Teddy ended up with the nickname. He was America’s largest president in terms of mass and everyone knows the story about the bathtub which we’re counting as a power move.
#12. James Monroe
Issued the Monroe Doctrine, which basically said that Europe should never interfere in the Western Hemisphere ever again. The only problem with that was that at this time, the US had all the military might of a medium-sized schnauzer meanwhile the European powers were routinely shitting on everyone and everything. The wildest part of the Monroe Doctrine is that it worked. There was no real threat attached to it at all. If they really wanted to, a country like Britain or France could have just sailed over and killed all of us. But the raw, irrational confidence of James Monroe guarded our shores for 100 years.
#11. Grover Cleveland
Breaks a 28-year straight run of Republicans. Looks at a treasury surplus and says ‘no sir, we need to lose all that money.’ Proceeds to lose all that money. Loses the next election, chills, then wins the next time around. Ladies and gentlemen, president number 22 and 24, Grover Cleveland.
#10. James K. Polk
Just sits back and watches as the entire territory of Texas is overrun by a bunch of American hooligans. Mexico gets so mad and sets a clear, irrefutable border for the Texas republic. Waltzes the US army waaaay past the line and says ‘no actually the border is here.’ When Mexico gets upset he declares war and wins it handily.
#9. William McKinley
Speaking of unnecessarily provoking war with Hispanic people, mans blew up his own warship in a Cuban harbor just to start beef with Spain. Kicked Spain’s ass in 3 months, taking Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Says he’ll give the Cubans independence; governs them worse than Spain did. Gets shot by an anarchist who just wanted to see what would happen if he shot William McKinley.
#8. Thomas Jefferson
Sent negotiators to France so he can buy the city of New Orleans for $10 million. Ends up buying the entire middle third of the continent for a cool $15 million. Also, when everyone used to send ships through the Mediterranean, they all bent over like punks and paid tribute to North African pirates for safe passage. But Tommy Jeff, in a real goofy move, forgot to pay the bills and ended up getting a ton of sailors enslaved. So the man just invented the Marine Corps and liberated all the sailors while simultaneously destroying the pirates’ entire operation.
#7. Woodrow Wilson
Everyone has been complaining about the US banking system since before it was even a country. Woodrow says “guys shut up, for the love of God just shut up I got it” and solves it within his first year in office. He then supports the labor unions against corrupt bosses, which is nice. As WWI starts, almost nobody wants to intervene, but Woodrow begins the ultimate guilt trip propaganda campaign and convinces everyone that we do actually want to go to war now that you mention it. Unfortunately, he lost control of Congress so even though he created the League of Nations, America never joined it and then blah blah blah, Treaty of Versailles, blah blah blah, Hitler comes to power, etc.
#6. George Washington
Saw a bunch of poor Pennsylvania farmers revolting against him for fairer taxes (sound familiar?) and decided to personally lead a militia regiment to shoot at them until they stop yelling so damn loud. Also gave a fat middle finger to France in their time of need even though they helped us during our revolution. Left office by saying we should never help any foreign nations ever. We kept that policy for about 100 years.
#5. Abraham Lincoln
During the Civil War he just completely suspended civil rights. Low-key had almost unchecked power but relinquished it all when the North won. Also told Southern states they can take their time coming back to the Union but stationed armed soldiers at every polling station. Freed the slaves.
#4. Zachary Taylor
Nickname: ‘Ole Rough and Ready. Hell yeah. Never even voted for the president, gets elected to be the president. Hell yeah. Looks like Jeffrey Epstein.
#3. John Adams
Sent diplomats to France, French minister asked for a bribe, said no, convinced every single American that we should go to war with France. Then, as France was defecating in their pantelon, he brokered a really nice peace treaty. Also deported any immigrants who didn’t like him and made it legal to put people in jail if they said mean things about him (read: huge violation of the first amendment). Signed in a bunch of presidential appointees who hated Thomas Jefferson the midnight before Thomas Jefferson became president.
#2. Andrew Jackson
In 1828, signed a tariff bill that South Carolina hated so much they almost seceded from the Union. Threatened to personally lead an army into South Carolina and individually hang every single person who didn’t acknowledge the tariff. Kills Hamilton’s Bank of the United States, a system that was working for half a century, mostly because Henry Clay told him he couldn’t. Fired his entire cabinet because their wives weren’t being nice. Nickname: Old Hickory. Hell yeah.
#1. Theodore Roosevelt
Nicknamed the “Trust Buster” because he was the only person to actually decide unchecked monopolies were a bad idea. First president to ever side with Union workers in a labor dispute. Made the Monroe Doctrine scarier by saying if a Latin American country messes up, we will punish them so Europe doesn’t have to. Swore he wouldn’t run again but when he saw how bad of a president Taft was, he ran for a third term just to go back and fix everything. Subsequently the most successful third-party candidate in US history. Invited the best boxers in the military to go a few rounds in the garage, became blind in one eye for the rest of his life. Survived a point-blank shot to the chest from a would-be assassin by keeping his long-ass speech wadded up in his breast pocket. Took a quick breather, then delivered the speech. Sent a huge fleet of completely white battleships around the entire globe purely as a flex. Dug a hole so big it connected two oceans. Badass.