In politics, we expect those with power and authority to be icons of triumph and wisdom. Sadly, many of our leaders who had sky-high IQ scores lacked the wit and sensibility to avoid terrible political blunders. At least their antics – involving corruption, adultery, suspicious policies, and clandestine gun deals – can now serve as popular (though controversial) dinner-party topics.
Our curiosity for controversy has led us into a massive rabbit hole of historical research, as we questioned how intelligent these leaders really were? Instead of getting engrossed in the current media circus of the White House, we’re taking a break to pave the way for a fascinating examination of the IQs of America’s presidents. If you think it would take Albert Einstein’s caliber to rule one of the most powerful nations in the world, think twice. Think what you will of President Trump, but the man certainly isn’t an Einstein-level genius. But the big question is – how does Trump’s IQ compare to leaders’ past? Read on to find out.
It seems men with high IQs have a proclivity for infidelity. Bill Clinton demonstrated this in one of the White House’s biggest scandals ever. Despite having an IQ of 159, he couldn’t be saved him from the noise of the media and the public. He denied his secret affair with Monica Lewinsky by saying: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
However, even Clinton’s extremely high IQ couldn’t help him lie effectively. Aside from committing adultery, he lost the nuclear launch codes for a few months. We’re out of words.
Warren G. Harding – 29th president
Warren Harding was one of the most popular presidents in American history. However, his involvement in ‘The Teapot Dome’ scandal damaged his bright reputation. By granting private oil companies juicy rights to extract oil and gas in Wyoming, money was funneled through the White House, and obviously, he savored every bit of the spoils.
Needless to say, this scandal burned up his good reputation. What happened to his IQ score of 139.9? Harding envisioned an America in which the economy was king, and the rich became richer. He strengthened the economy and lessened public debt, but the scandal and other suspicious incidents in the Oval Office made him infamous.
John F. Kennedy
One of the smartest presidents in American history, JFK’s legacy and his sky-high IQ of 159.8 are beyond impressive. Aside from making one of history’s greatest speeches, he was also rumored to be a ladies’ man. His most famous loves include Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O.
When asked about his role as president, JFK quipped, “the pay is good, and I can walk to work.” The man is best remembered for his brilliant philosophical quotes and speeches.
Jimmy Carter Jr.
Joining our list of the smartest US presidents is a Nobel Peace Prize winner – James Earl Carter, Jr. With an IQ of 156.8, his dreams of making the nation competent and compassionate were commendable, yet somewhat unrealistic at the time.
He championed human rights and we salute him for doing so. However, his extreme intelligence could be a tad outlandish at times. He claimed to have seen UFOs after a 1976 conference in Georgia. What do you think – could his sighting have been real?
Ulysses S. Grant – 18th president
Before we start judging, note that the average Intelligence Quotient (IQ) ranges from 85 to 115. With that in mind, Grant’s IQ of 130 is quite respectable. However, it apparently didn’t help him sniff out the Whiskey Ring affair, concealed tax revenue, and other controversies that went down under his leadership.
Let’s not forget that he became the 18th President of the United States of America, and the commander-in-chief of the Union army during the American Civil War. Despite scoring an above-average IQ score, he wasn’t the best judge of character.
James Monroe – 5th president
One of the founding fathers, James Monroe governed America during a time when domestic issues were of great concern. Despite his modest IQ score of 138.6, political scientist Fred Greenstein contended that Monroe was a better leader than some of his technically more intelligent predecessors, like John Adams.
The Monroe administration resolved a lot of issues, assisting the Missouri Compromise and building strength within the nation. Back in 1820, Monroe headlined an incredible landslide victory against New-Yorker Rufus King, with a vote of 183-34. Indeed, he was a president who actually fueled positive change for the welfare of his people.
George W. Bush
Unfortunately, Bush earned a reputation for being one of the most unintelligent presidents of America. He did not live up to his 138.5 IQ at all. Though we hear he can be quite the wordsmith, he lacked public speaking skills, and many of his statements didn’t make sense at all.
He may not have had excellent grades during his high school years, but he did do a stellar job of socializing. Did you know that he had a stint as a head cheerleader? Can you imagine George W. Bush with pom-poms?
Andrew Johnson – 17th president
The successor of Abraham Lincoln helped the Union but was not so supportive of allowing freed slaves their right to vote. Johnson was the first president to be impeached following his authorization to pursue “black codes” which oppressed newly freed slaves. He intently rejected legislation which was created to protect these people. Tsk.
For someone with a relatively high IQ of 138.9, Johnson’s thinking was still immensely backward and racist. Disappointing. Despite the efforts of the White House to impeach him, they failed in removing him from office. His four-year-service as a president (1865-1869) fostered dissatisfaction and disillusionment among the people.
Zachary Taylor – 12th president
Cherries are a rich source of Vitamin C, but sometimes having too much of a good thing is dangerous. Take it from Zachary Taylor whose term in office was cut short after he stuffed himself on the little red fruits at a 4th of July celebration in 1850.
It seems gluttony truly is a sin – one that meant death for Taylor just 16 months into his presidency. His legacy includes his heroism in the Mexican-American War, but neither his above-average IQ of 139.8 nor his heroic acts could save him from the evils of too many cherries.
James Buchanan – 15th president
James Buchanan apparently had an IQ of 139.6, yet this score did not help him during his presidency. He lacked the perception and understanding crucial to ending the rift over slavery. While his assistance of Dred Scott impressed the Southerners, the Northerners were furious, resulting in a snowball effect that escalated to the point that he divided members of his own party.
The 15th President of the United States is known for leading the Civil War. Unfortunately, Buchanan was a loser in love, remaining the only lifelong bachelor to serve as the most powerful leader of the country.
Andrew Jackson – 7th president
Andrew Jackson, with an IQ of 145, believed in the “common man” to “arrive at the right decision.” The old proverb “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger” definitely rings true for Jackson, who suffered an injury after being shot in the chest during a duel.
To put his IQ to use, Jackson spent a lot of time teaching his pet parrot Polly to swear. He trained the bird so well that it had to be removed from its master’s funeral because of its potty mouth.
William Howard Taft – 27th president
Meet the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft, who had an IQ of 139.5. Aside from serving as president, he also took the role of the Chief Justice and remains the only person to have held both offices.
This amazing lived up to his IQ in politics; he also brought his creativity to life by creating a custom-made bathtub that accommodated four average-sized people. However, Taft just wasn’t overly excited about his presidential responsibilities. “I don’t remember that I ever was President,” he wrote.
Gerald Ford – 38th president
Ford was the 38th president of the United States and had an IQ of 140.4. After Nixon stepped down due to the disgrace of Watergate, Ford was hailed as the first unelected president in American history. Whilst his regime is viewed with disinterest, he did work to revive the confidence of the American people after the Watergate scandal.
Aside from his laudable wisdom, Ford was one of the most celebrated athletes to serve in the Oval office. Years of playing football and skiing kept him energetic and flexible.
Calvin Coolidge – 30th president
Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of America and had an IQ of 141.6. Despite being largely quiet, he did make a remarkable impact on the United States. After the disastrous presidency of Harding, Coolidge became the “repairman” and the champion of the middle class, restoring public confidence in the government.
Coolidge cleaned up a lot of messes in his time, ending his presidency with significant popularity. A man of few words, he was given the moniker “Silent Cal.” According to a circulated story, a matron who sat beside C.C. at a dinner party remarked, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” Coolidge calmly replied, “You lose.” Smooth.
Harry S. Truman – 33rd president
The aggressive Harry S.Truman held office during two major conflicts – World War II and the start of the Cold War. He only spent weeks as Vice President of the United States before assuming the top job following Roosevelt’s demise. Truman once told reporters that he felt “like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
During his term, Truman put his 139.8 IQ to work solving problems in the development of the A-bomb and growing challenges with the Soviets. One of the most defining moments in American history was made when Truman authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Lyndon B. Johnson – 36th president
A successor to JFK, Lyndon B. Johnson obviously had large shoes to fill. He may not have filled them as well as many people hoped, but he certainly left a controversial mark on America’s presidential history. His IQ of 140.6 was undoubtedly involved in his decision to increase America’s military presence in Vietnam. Perhaps, he should’ve asked for Woodrow Wilson’s advice before signing off on that one.
On a lighter note, Johnson was known for his unapologetic ‘bathroom interviews,’ refusing to allow journalists to get between him and his time on the throne. He also famously urinated in the parking lot of the White House.
Herbert Hoover – 31st president
Herbert Hoover’s term took place during the ruinous stock-market crash of 1929. Even with an IQ of 141.6, it was a difficult time to be managing the country. He was a hated individual by the end of the decade as millions of Americans had lost their jobs and homes.
America desperately needed a leader who could help them out of the Depression, but they were left with a man of no worth. Hoover was responsible for denying aid to suffering Americans, all in the name of capitalism. For many Americans, Hoover’s presidency was a dark age of disappointment and hardship.
Ronald Reagan – 40th president
Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, served two terms. He was an actor before he took the top job and with an IQ of 141.9. This makes him of average intelligence in the presidential terms. His famous slogan “peace through strength,” set expectations among the people that he would fulfill his pledge of restoring the “confident roar of American progress and growth.”
However, the Iran Contraband Affair of the 1980s was a stain on his good name. Although he denied having made any sort of deal, he later admitted that he indeed sold missiles to Iran in exchange for the freedom of American hostages. We cannot fathom how he overlooked the welfare of innocent civilians by selling arms to a terrorist group.
George H.W. Bush
If the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, then how would George H.W. Bush explain his son’s leadership? The first Bush may not be the sharpest tool in the White House, but his record was remarkable. With an IQ of 143, his management style was directed towards making the United States a “kinder and gentler nation.”
Bush also demonstrated his power by overcoming a series of challenges. Most notable of these were Saddam Hussein’s assault of Kuwait and violence in Cuba. But his methods were not enough to save him from being removed from the White House.
Joining our list is the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley. This man earns our respect thanks to his respectable IQ of 143.4. With his strong support on the gold standard, McKinley’s election into office breathed new life into the US economy. Industry progressed rapidly under his leadership and the Depression of the 1890s was finally brought to a close.
McKinley was the third American president to be assassinated and his tragic death was the final blow, with Congress submitting legislation to charge the Secret Service with the obligation of protecting the president.
James K. Polk
James K. Polk tied with McKinley’s IQ score at 143.4. Polk was considered one of the more efficient presidents of the pre-Civil-War era. Though he was known as the “dark horse” candidate in his presidential run, Polk was a good choice, making real changes in America with developments in territorial disputes, fiscal policy, and banking.
He expanded American borders, preserved peace with the UK, and emerged triumphant from the Mexican-American War. Polk followed through on his campaign promise to be a one-term president as the stress of leadership left him in poor health. Indeed, a high IQ doesn’t mean a high tolerance for extreme stress and pressure.
One of the most interesting guys to occupy the White House was Grover Cleveland. Though he had an impressive IQ of 144, it was still a remarkable feat that he was elected twice. But, Cleveland did not serve without controversy. Can anyone explain why IQ and controversy seem so closely correlated?
Would you marry your daughter? If you’re answer was a quick and resounding “no,” we’re right with you. However, Cleveland didn’t see it as a big deal. He married his 21-year-old daughter, whom he adopted since when she was 11 years old. She became the youngest first lady in history.
One of the most controversial presidents of America was Richard Nixon. Whilst his IQ of 142.9 is fairly high, he serves as further proof that being smart does not necessarily translate to a job well done in the Oval Office. Nixon attempted to assassinate a journalist intent on revealing his involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal by exposing him to copious amounts of LSD.
Following an investigation on the Watergate scandal, it was discovered that the burglars were indeed connected to Nixon. Consequently, 69 government officials were charged, and many of Nixon’s most trusted people were taken down. And the man himself? He did what he had to do to avoid impeachment, resigning from office in 1974.
Dwight Eisenhower served as the 34th president of America and was one of the most popular presidents in US History. Scoring an IQ of 145.1, Eisenhower’s portfolio of achievements will make you adore him even more. From the creation of NASA to interstate highways, his intelligence was truly put into good use.
Aside from politics, Eisenhower was a keen golfer and a prolific artist who created at least 250 artworks in his lifetime. His only problem in the White House grounds was with the resident squirrels. He was so frustrated with these creatures that he insisted on having them killed. However, the Secret Service set up a covert partnership with the groundskeepers to trap and release the squirrels at Rock Creek Park.
Nicknamed “Little Ben” due to his short stature, Benjamin Harrison was America’s 23rd President. Don’t be fooled by his height – Harrison was a pivotal figure in shaping US foreign policy. However, this intelligent man had a strange phobia. It was electricity which made Mr. Harrison a tad jumpy.
Despite his fears, his presidential term paved the way for developments in electrical conduction. Harrison himself proposed the installation of electric lighting in the White House. Ironically, he refused to turn on the lights due to a fear of the electricity surging through them.
Presenting Sir George Washington, the first President of the United States, and a man who possessed an IQ of 140. His most notable achievements include his military accomplishments and his unique skill in dancing up a storm. Washington also managed one of the biggest distilleries in America at the time.
Following the conclusion of his presidential term, Washington found pottering around his mansion at Mount Vernon quite boring, so he decided to try his hand at the liquor business, producing 11, 000 gallons of un-aged whiskey. We never knew he had such impressive alcohol skills!
Martin Van Buren
Van Buren was the 8th President of the United States. He is remembered for being the founder of the Democratic Party. His IQ of 146 would make anyone expect extraordinary policies and great leadership, but unfortunately, he didn’t contribute much.
Nicknamed “Martin Van Ruin” (we hope the message is clear), he was succeeded by William Henry Harrison and neither of their terms ended well. These men may have possessed enviable IQs, but apart from that, Van Buren and Harrison were big disappointments to the country and its people.
Rutherford B. Hayes
Another “dark horse” candidate is Rutherford B. Hayes who is remembered more for his election than his term in office. Why on Earth didn’t he do more with his IQ of 146.3? The year 1876 witnessed Hayes prevailing as a Civil War hero. With votes in favor of Democrat Samuel Tilden, Hayes came up short in the electoral ballot. But thanks to a flaw in the Constitution, Hayes was elected to office on a technicality.
Whilst he is barely mentioned in the US, he is a national hero in Paraguay. The Paraguayans owe him a big debt thanks to his sideline deal regarding a border dispute between Argentina and Paraguay. Hayes’ intervention resulted in 60 percent of their land being returned.
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison was 67 when elected, making him the oldest man to serve at the time, and the first American president to die in office. When considering his achievements, the latter is sadly the most memorable. He served 31 days before dying of pneumonia.
Funnily enough, the president with the shortest term in the White House delivered the longest inaugural address. Yes, Harrison delivered a one hour and 45-minute speech on a freezing morning in March 1841. It was believed that the cold he caught that day progressed into the chronic case of pneumonia that killed him.
Franklin Pierce’s above-average IQ of 147.4 did not make him an extraordinary president. In fact, he has been described as a politician of “limited ability.” This stained image was brought about by his encouragement of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that sparked the commencement of the Civil War.
Once again, it’s made clear that an above-average IQ does not correlate with a stellar performance in the White House. The United States did not need his backward political ideas, especially at such a crucial point in its history.
James A. Garfield
Despite boasting an IQ of 152.3, James Garfield was forcibly removed from office. The former US President did not forge a memorable legacy and made no remarkable improvements during his term. The only thing his IQ proved was that he would have been capable of ruling a nation, if only he was allowed to do so.
Garfield only served America for a total of 6 months and 15 days. He was still a part of the nation’s history, but we can’t help wondering what might have been if his IQ had been put to better use.
The 10th President of the United States, John Tyler, had an IQ of 148. He took the top job after Harrison’s brief and deadly stint. Tyler was known as “His Accidency” due to the fact that no successor had been chosen when Harrison died. Opportunist that he was, cheeky Tyler found a judge to swear him in as president.
His extension of Texas and linkage of Florida to the Union movement raised the curtain on the brewing civil unrest. In the end, all Tyler proved was that he was one of those “smart” men who had a penchant for war.
John Adams is best known as a remarkable political philosopher. He served as the second president of America. One of the founding fathers, he put into good use his 155 IQ by drafting the Constitution and shaping US history by ending the Revolutionary War.
Despite his extremely high IQ, it was his son, John Quincy Adams who proved that he had bigger and better brains and brawns than his father. Meanwhile, John Adams Senior died at the amazing old age of 90.
With an IQ of 149, Millard Filmore became a slave to his physical needs. He was so enchanted by Abigail Powers that he proposed marriage, which she accepted. However, it seems that his focus was more on love than the welfare of the nation, with his presidential term dropping the country into the Civil War.
Just like other presidents with high IQs, Fillmore is remembered as one of America’s worst presidents. Do we need to open a bigger can of worms?
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Arguably, Franklin D. Roosevelt is one of America’s most celebrated presidents. The nation owed him big time for serving four astonishing terms, filled with exemplary achievements like his “New Deal” reforms, social programs, and World War II leadership. With a high IQ of 150.5 and a host of great deeds to his name, FDR truly left an impressive legacy in his wake.
But, he did not skip all controversy. In fact, he headlined one major scandal – his wife’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer, was too enchanting for him to refuse an extra-marital affair.
Abraham Lincoln was another top contender with an IQ of 150. He was as famous as he was intelligent. During a time when education was elusive, Lincoln’s personal struggle and rise to public office were truly remarkable. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which led to freedom for many slaves.
His impressive IQ can be observed in his Second Inaugural Address (also engraved on the Lincoln Memorial in DC) that reads: “with malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in…”
With an IQ of 152.3, Chester Arthur is known as one of the smartest presidents of the United States. His high IQ score was put to great use during his time as a lawyer and a politician. Arthur took the top position following James Garfield’s assassination.
However, Arthur’s presidency was not as inspiring as everyone at the time hoped it would be. It seems that he is more known for his earlier career highlights than his time as president.
After William McKinley’s assassination, then 42-year-old Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest president in American history. Roosevelt’s strong policies and enthusiasm made him a force to be reckoned with. Considering he had an IQ of 153, would you be brave enough to challenge his brain cells?
This one’s interesting: At Harvard University, Theodore Roosevelt tried his hands at boxing and enjoyed this activity so much that he continued it throughout his service at the White House. A high IQ and a fit body. How about that?
Meet Woodrow Wilson, a central figure who led the US through the biggest war the world has ever witnessed. Wilson, whose IQ was an amazing 155.2, served from 1913 to 1921. He was an advocate for world peace and is still considered one of America’s greatest presidents.
His “Fourteen Points” peace settlement and his crucial role in negotiating the Treaty of Versailles were recognized in the history books. Indeed, his great intellect served him well with his forward thinking, skill, and utilitarian approach.
We cannot deny James Madison a place on this list. With a whopping IQ of 160, Madison is recognized as the Father of the Constitution. He also served as secretary of state under Jefferson and defined the history of the United States with his great contributions.
Unlike his successors, Madison was humble enough to state that the Constitution was not plainly “the offspring of a single brain,” but “the work of many heads and many hands.” We cannot thank you enough, sir.
Responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was one of the highest-ranked American presidents IQ-wise, with a score of160. He was such a fan of French cuisine that following a visit to France as Foreign Minister, he asked his then 19-year-old chef to learn the art of French cooking.
Jefferson hosted lavish dinner parties, always filled with French dishes, of course. Apart from his taste for fine food, Jefferson thankfully broke the mold and used his high IQ to do a lot of good during his time as president.
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams bagged the top spot as the smartest President in US history. With a spectacular IQ of 175, Adams had what it took to make significant changes. We should always remember his forward-thinking on the subjects of slavery and free speech. Still, even the eminent Adams was not as effective as he could have been.
Despite his proficiency in seven languages and the great capacity of his mind, Adams prioritized daily skinny-dipping sessions over paying attention to the needs of the nation.
While Obama’s IQ remains unknown, his 8-year presidential term was filled with relevant changes. The first African American to be elected to the Oval Office, Barack Obama’s aggressiveness and sensibility resulted in the deaths of merciless terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Obama was single-minded in his quest for world peace and the safety and security of his nation.
For the people, Obama was a breath of fresh air after the string of presidents who preceded him. He came across as a genuine American with a middle-class upbringing. All of this made him an effective leader, regardless of his IQ.