April Freeman Banner 2014


American Presidents: The Tops and the Bottoms



President’s Day, besides being a day off work, is a day when Americans supposedly reflect on two men—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—about whom most could tell you pitifully little. The assumption (not mine) is that the country’s first and 16th Presidents were our best.

I’m reluctant to rank any President as “the best” because the makeup of my own list of the better ones fluctuates a lot. Same with my list of “the worst.” For any lover of liberty, all these guys must be graded on the curve by the very nature of the job. So in an effort to be both unconventional and faithful to my principles, I suggest three “tops” and three “bottoms.” Simply consider them as “among the best” and “among the worst” and in no particular order. For more detail, I recommend the 2009 book by Ivan Eland, “Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity and Liberty.” I share some, but not all, of the author’s assessments.

The Tops:

Grover Cleveland – A man of impeccable character who actually meant it when he swore to uphold the Constitution and protect our liberties.

John Tyler – Exercised restraint in all areas of federal power, opposed big government for all the right reasons, and endured exile from his party because of it.

Martin Van Buren – A sound money man who resisted every attempt to raid the federal treasury even in the midst of a central bank-induced depression.

The Bottoms:

Woodrow Wilson – Ugh. Wrong on everything except when he was accidentally right, which I think was on a Tuesday. Repressive at home, interventionist abroad, statist to the core.

Theodore Roosevelt – The bully in a Progressive pulpit, he was admirable in his personal life but arrogant, superficial, and power-hungry in his public life. His ego gave us Woodrow Wilson in 1912.

Franklin Roosevelt – Promised one thing, gave us quite another. Prolonged the Depression by at least seven years and bequeathed us a government that’s too big to succeed.

Of parties and Presidents, my late friend and political humorist from Tennessee, Tom Anderson, quipped that “Switching from one to the next is too often like leaving a spoiled diaper on a baby and just changing the safety pin.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor the good deeds of the best ones, but on this President’s Day, I’m likely to think less of men of power and more about it being a day off from all of that.



Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s. Prior to becoming FEE’s president, he served for 20 years as president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. He also taught economics full-time from 1977 to 1984 at Northwood University in Michigan and chaired its department of economics from 1982 to 1984.

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April 2014

Around the world, people are struggling to throw off authoritarianism, with deeply mixed results. From Egypt to Venezuela, determined people build networks to overthrow their regimes, but as yet we have not learned to live without Leviathan. In this issue, Michael Malice and Gary Dudney discuss their glimpses inside totalitarian regimes, while Sarah Skwire and Michael Nolan look at how totalitarian regimes grind down the individual--and how individuals fight back. Plus, Jeffrey Tucker identifies a strain in libertarianism that, left unchecked, could reduce even our vibrant movement to something that is analogous to the grim aesthetic of architectural brutalism. The struggle for our lives and freedom is a struggle for beauty; it begins inside each of us.
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