The Rushmore Report: America’s 12 Smartest Presidents

The University of California at Davis has produced a fascinating list. Psychology professor Dean Simonton completed a comprehensive study examining the “intellectual brilliance of our presidents.” When available, IQs were considered. Other traits such as “wise,” “inventive,” and “insightful” went into the mix. Here’s your list – America’s smartest presidents.

12. Franklin D. Roosevelt

With an estimated IQ of 146, Roosevelt attended Harvard University and Columbia Law School. Though diagnosed with polio in 1921, he went on to win the White House in 1932, and then three more times. He is best remembered for the New Deal, a comprehensive economic overhaul.

11. Abraham Lincoln

The son of a Kentucky frontiersman, Lincoln worked on a farm and split rails for fences while teaching himself to read and write. He had an IQ of 148 and was the only president to have a patent after inventing a device to free steamboats that ran aground.

10. Chester Arthur

The 21st president succeeded James Garfield after he was assassinated in 1881. He had a reported IQ of 148. A graduate of Union College, he practiced law in New York City before being elected Vice President. He distinguished himself as a reformer, overhauling the civil service.

9. James Garfield

Though serving less than one year, Garfield had a major impact. He re-energized the Navy, did away with corruption in the Post Office Department, and appointed several African-Americans to prominent federal positions. He was killed 200 days into office.

8. Theodore Roosevelt

Elected the youngest President to date, the 43-year-old maverick was a graduate of Harvard. Famous for his statement, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” Roosevelt was recognized as a great leader. His IQ was 149.

7. Woodrow Wilson

The leader of the Progressive Movement had an IQ of 152. Wilson served as President of Princeton University before being elected Governor of New Jersey. His famous speech, “14 Points,” is credited for laying the groundwork for the United Nations.

6. Jimmy Carter

Winner of the Noble Peace Prize for his work in advancing human rights around the world, Carter was a graduate of the Naval Academy. His successes as the 39th president include a national energy policy and civil service reform.

5. James Madison

With an estimated IQ of 155, Madison was a graduate of Princeton and a co-author of the Bill of Rights. He served as Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State for eight years before being elected President.

4. Bill Clinton

The 42nd president has an IQ of 156. After graduating from Georgetown, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford and earned a law degree from Yale. He was elected Governor of Arkansas five times. As President, he brokered peace in Ireland and the Balkans.

3. John F. Kennedy

With an IQ of 158, Kennedy was a Harvard graduate and member of the U.S. Navy in World War II. He offered one of the most memorable inaugural addresses, saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Under his leadership, the U.S. economy expanded and civil rights legislation was written.

2. Thomas Jefferson

The third President’s estimated IQ was 160. A graduate of William and Mary, Jefferson studied law. Though a poor speaker, he was brilliant. His opposition to a strong centralized government set the template that would separate America from other emerging countries.

1. John Adams

Serving as our second President from 1797 to 1801, after serving as George Washington’s Vice President, Adams had an estimated IQ of 173. He studied law at Harvard and was an early supporter of the movement for U.S. independence from the British. Ambitious and intellectual – if not a little vain – he frequently complained to his wife that the office of Vice President was insignificant. He may be best remembered for his skills in diplomacy, helping to negotiate a peace treaty during the Revolutionary War and avoiding a war with France during his Presidency.


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