Comparing the Presidents of the United States to Understand the Evolution of American Politics

We list the U.S. Presidents, their political parties, and their political ideologies alongside descriptions of their Presidency to examine U.S. history.

We also compare other key figures when necessary, as is the case with Hamilton, Clay, and Bryan for instance. The goal will be to tell the history of the political parties and ideologies throughout American history by focusing on the Commander-in-Chief (and key figures) of each era and each party system.

Notes on the Chart Comparing Past Presidents and their Politics

Roughly speaking, the American political parties switched platforms over time and factions changed parties, and thus what it means to be a Democrat or Republican has switched (not just once, but often).

One way to understand these complex shifts is by comparing the political ideology of the Presidents, their policies, their cabinets, and voter-base over time.

The one thing to notice is that the parties are typically more divisive and divided than the Presidents.

A large number of presidents can be described as, party affiliation aside, “liberal-conservatives” which means “centered left-right politically”.

While the differences between Presidents isn’t always striking, the shifting of the voter-base and policies between parties is. The voter-base of the parties does a complete flip from Jefferson to Jackson, to Lincoln, to Roosevelt, to Hoover, to FDR, to LBJ, to Clinton geographically, and key voter issues flip between parties-by-name over time as they ebb and flow in importance.

Chart Comparing Past Presidents and their Politics

Below is a chart comparing past U.S. Presidents, their party, their politics, and other keys to help you understand the evolution of the American political party regarding the issues, especially the key issues of race, taxes, central banks, military policy, trade policy, and federal power.

First, let’s divide all the Presidents into a few categories for a brief overview of the President’s political ideologies by party system, based on when the ideology started, not when the Presidents served.

Obviously the list below is a theory, a model to help organize a complex history of ideologies. It is not the final say (and honestly, I’m not always sure it is my own final say, I’m very sure I’ll update over time as I was torn on some of these). Comments welcome!

The First Party System’s Founding Ideologies: The Centrists, Federalists, and Anti-Federalists

The Second and Third Party System Ideologies: The Confederates, Union, and Industrialists

The Fourth and Fifth Party System Ideologies: The New Democrats and Conservative Coalition

Oliver Stones Untold History of the United States. Oliver Stone is left of the left (as was the author who wrote the book the series is based on) but, political leanings aside, for those who want to watch an honest recap of history, this is the one I suggest.

Foreign powers do not seem to appreciate the true character of our Government. Our Union is a confederation of independent States whose policy is peace with each other and all the world… The world has nothing to fear from military ambition in our Government.” – Polk describing how the point of Monroe Doctrine politics is to ensure free-trading republics and peace, not to just “hit people with the big stick” when they don’t play ball, as it sometimes comes off.

TIP: On this page we use the following political terminology: neocon (modern pro-business right, typically protectionists; like Bush 41), neoliberal (modern pro-trade and pro-mixed market left; like Bill Clinton), social conservative (pro-tradition and small government; like the Confederate South), social liberal (big government, big social justice left; like FDR), radical classical liberal (a focus on individual rights; like Jefferson), moderate classical liberal (more focused on trade than farmers; like Hamilton or the English Whigs), and libertarian (the Gilded Age pro-gold small government form of classical liberalism). Those definitions should suffice. For other definitions of political ideology see our left-right spectrum, types of liberals and conservatives, progressive vs. conservative, and our page on populism, nationalism, and globalism.

TIP: This page took a lot of work, expect revisions and updates… and expect a few less-than-perfect bits. Please comment with any notes below and help us to keep improving this resource!

PRESIDENT Political Party  Political Ideology Keys Description
1. George Washington (1789-1797) Nonpartisan

Today: Neocon or Neoliberal

Traditional Conservative-liberal and Centered liberal First President, founding Centrist.

Pro Federal power, pro national bank

Washington was a centrist who refused to pick a party and warned others to follow suit, otherwise, a Virginian who favored the Federalist ideology of central government, banks, and order. We saw this when he put down the Whiskey Rebellion with Hamilton, and when we note his title before becoming President. Washington was General Washington; he was one of the staunch supporters of the army and helped win the war. See George Washington’s Commission as Commander in Chief (1775) and George Washington’s First Inaugural Address (1789).

However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury) Federalist

Today: Neocon or Neoliberal

Traditional Conservative-liberal (Whig-like classical liberal), “neoliberal” Founder of the Federalist party and one of the more traditionally Conservative founding fathers

Pro Federal power, pro national bank, pro-globalization

Hamilton was pro-national bank and, along with Adams, helped set America on the path toward becoming an economic superpower. Hamilton, along with Madison, was one of the primary advocates ensuring that the Constitution of the United States (1787) replaced the Articles of Confederation (see the Federalist Papers). Hamilton opposed the Madison and Jefferson supported Bill of Rights (1791). It is notable that Hamilton started the first voter-based party, the Federalists, to oppose Jefferson’s Anti-Federalist movement. See Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists.

As on the one hand, the necessity for borrowing in particular emergencies cannot be doubted, so on the other, it is equally evident that to be able to borrow upon good terms, it is essential that the credit of a nation should be well established.”

2. John Adams (1797-1801)  Federalist

Today: Neocon or Neoliberal

Traditional Conservative-liberal, “neoliberal” Our founding conservative-liberal and traditional conservative.

Pro Federal power, pro bank, pro-trade, instrumental in financially connecting America to Netherlands (“the Dutch” banks), pro-globalization, strict on immigration, favors a Federal Republic

John Adams was a classic English-Whig-like Burke-like elitist from the North East favoring banking and trade (not a radical classical liberal or “country Whig,” but pro-trade conservative-liberal non-Kingsman/non-Tory; here using English terms). Like Hamilton, but a little more centered and willing to work with both Federalists and (at the time) Anti-Federalists. He was the co-author of Declaration of Independence in 1776, Author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780 and Thoughts on Government (1776). Passed the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798). The Federalists (then Whigs, then Republicans) would be strict on immigration and pro-protectionist polices, but Adams was better known for standing against English Tariffs than he was (like his son) for protectionist policies.[1]
3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)  Democratic-
Republican
Today: ProgressivePaleocon, or Libertarian
Progressive classical liberal (a radical French-Revolution-like classical liberal) and social conservative, paleocon Our founding radical liberal and social conservative.

States’ rights, expansionist (think Manifest Destiny), isolationist refusing to be involved in European wars, and sometimes trade, protectionist, anti-trade, favors a Confederate Democracy

A founding father and supporter of the French-revolution, this radical classical liberal was more likely to be visiting Paine in France than at Paine’s trial in England with Burke. While Adams and Hamilton favored trade, Jefferson favored the farmer. Where the Federalists were elite, the anti-Federalists like Jefferson were pro-south and pro-Purer Democracy and liberty, even to the extent of supporting slavery as a policy. Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republican party, which was the precursor to the modern parties, but perhaps more like a libertarian from Virginia. Jefferson strongly supported states’ rights, small government, an agrarian and democratic society, and while he rejected slavery in theory, he did not reflect this in policy. He was the primary author of Declaration of Independence, the document that said war against your King is justified if he is a Tyrant; see radical liberal’s like Locke and Buchanan, and responsible for the first major expansion, the Louisiana Purchase. He hindered trade with the Embargo Act of 1807, which led to the war of 1812 when Britain tried to take the country back, but progressively signed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. For his thoughts see Jefferson’s Letters and Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles & organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness.

4. James Madison (1809-1817)  Democratic-
Republican
Today: Progressive Small Government Social Liberal or Neoliberal
Progressive Centered liberal The Founding Philosopher

Pro-Federal power, states’ rights, expansionist, isolationist

The father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, he also co-wrote the Federalist paper. Aside from Washington, Madison was probably the most centered President. He was once a Federalist; he ran as a Democratic-Republican after serving as Jefferson’s Secretary of State. He continued Jefferson’s policies of expansion and supervised Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. He was far more pro-government than his best friend Jefferson, and notably, he led the War of 1812 and pushed for a strong military and strong national bank (unlike most other Democratic-Republicans or Democrats of the 1800’s). People look back to the more radical Jefferson fondly, but Madison is less divisive. See The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and InsurrectionThe Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the UnionConcerning the Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government, and These Departments Should Not Be So Far Separated as to Have No Constitutional Control Over Each Other.

TIP: Madison was the youngest member of the Continental Congress. Legend has it he stood about 5 foot 4, barely 100 pounds soaking wet. Educated at Princeton he studied political philosophy and based the structure of our government (as contained in his draft of the Constitution) on masterworks like Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws.

Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires.”

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

5. James Monroe (1817-1825)  Democratic-
Republican
Today: Neoliberal or neocon.
Centered liberal/state’ rights social conservative, neocon The Father of Isolationism (Monroe Doctrine) and last of the Democratic-Republican Centrists

States’ rights, Expansionist, Isolationist, protectionist, pro-trade

Monroe was another Virginian and Founding father turned President and Secretary of State. Many Secretaries of State become President, as do Virginians. Perhaps they represent wisdom and centered political ideas respectively. Monroe was a bit less centered than Madison but still centered. His Secretary of State John Quincy Adams was a Federalist like his father, and it was Adams who drafted the isolationist Monroe Doctrine (which paired well with the Pax Britannica and corresponding British Hegemony and free-trade policies following the War of 1812; see “effects of the Monroe Doctrine“). The “Era of Good Feelings” ensued until the Panic of 1819 occurred.

TIP: Monroe is hard to classify. The Democratic Republicans of this era (especially Madison and Monroe) were THE centered Virginian party and the root of both our parties today (especially in this era where the Federalists took a back seat). The splitting and party switching that led to the Civil War started in the next election, resulting in Van Buren and Jackson vs. Clay and John Quincy Adams.

6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)  Democratic-Republican, Previously a Federalist, Later a National Republican, and then an Anti-Masonic and Whig.

Today: Neoliberal

Centered Traditional Conservative-liberal, neoliberal The Great Party Switcher

Pro-federal power, pro-bank, protectionist, pro-tariff

John Quincy Adams (son of John Adams), a North Eastern conservative-liberal pro-trade and banking elitist like his father, was a born leader and diplomat who signed the Treaty of Ghent and ended the War of 1812 (under Madison) and wrote the Monroe Doctrine (under Monroe). He was oddly, however, initially a Democratic-Republican. His father was the only Federalist president and in the opposition party. This is a testament to how unified the parties were in that era of Good Feelings. Later he headed the National Republicans and then was a key member of the Whigs (and thus, along with Clay and Lincoln, he was a founder of the spirit of the American Republican party). The split between Northern Whigs and Southern states’ rights Democrats would be far more intense than the Federalist vs. Democratic-Republicans split, and would eventually lead to Civil War over popular sovereignty and expansion. The party splitting and switching was, in some ways, best understood by seeing how Adams broke away from his nemesis Andrew Jackson (and how Clay and Van Buren started the first two-party propaganda war over this).
Henry Clay (Secretary of State) Federalist, National Republican, Whig, Republican

Today: Neoliberal

Centered Traditional Conservative-liberal The Great Compromiser and Father of the Republican Party’s Spirit

Pro federal power, pro-bank

Along with John Quincy, Henry Clay was the founder of the Republican party’s spirit. Clay was one of the most active members in Federalist, National Republican, Whig, and Republican politics, and was one of Lincoln’s idols.

TIP: Clay and Adams won the 1824 election by “corrupt bargain,” this was part of what divided the country going forward. Next Jackson and Van Buren would begin the spoils system in response to Adams, Clay, and the propaganda war. This was, in many ways, both the true start of the “two party system” and the start of “the second party system.” If the spoils go to the victor, and if the other team is teaming up, it forces the other team to do the same or lose.

7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)  Democratic

Today: Paleocon

Populist social conservative, radical classical liberal, paleocon “Old Hickory”, The Father of American Populist Social Conservatism and Oddly, the Father of the Democratic Party

Anti-federal power, anti-national bank, states’ rights, pro-farmer, anti-debt, anti-tax and tariff.

Andrew Jackson was a very popular general in 1812 and the first Democratic Party President. When he lost to Adams, it was seen as the populist southerners getting shafted by the Northern elitists and that sentiment would continue until the Civil War. Jackson was the type of man who would stand and take a bullet in a duel and then kill you afterwards, just to prove his strength and honor. His fighter spirit can be seen in the War of 1812 under Madison and can be seen when he bounced back from the “corrupt bargain” to serve as Commander-in-Chief for 8 years. He was as states’ rights Southern conservative as they come (what we today think of as a social conservative libertarian). He  destroyed the national banks and pays off America’s debt, but this leaves the otherwise amazing Van Buren to be held responsible for his radically socially conservative and classically liberal policies. He was like Jefferson, but way less progressive and intellectual. He was absolutely not a Neocon (not a conservative in a pro-government New York banker sense), but is very much a pro-gun, anti-debt, anti-bank, anti-elite, slave owning, southern, anti-big-gov’ment Paleoconservative / radical classical liberal (like Jefferson with a License to Kill). With all the above said, he was a well-meaning man of honor as can be seen in his attempts to bolster the central banking system, pay off America’s debt, and favor the common man.

TIP: Jackson is part Tea Party, but he is also a center between Clay and Calhoun and Van Buren. A deep reading of history shows that while Jackson is very right-wing, he isn’t exactly a Calhoun and does defend many Jeffersonian aspects of liberalism despite his populist right-wing leanings and rhetoric. Later progressive figures like W. J. Bryan will look to Jackson, and we can see why. At the time we could find both progressive populist Jeffersonian factions and Solid South Conservative factions and more centered Van Buren factions in the party. They shared one commonality, they were not elitsts… and no elite was less elite than “Old Hickory”.

TIP: In my opinion, Jackson would be elected President by today’s Republican base in a heartbeat, BUT both Clay and Van Buren would arguably give him a run for his money as types of modern Democratic party liberals. So the changes are coming, but they ARE NOT so simple as that.

TIP: In 1836, when President Andrew Jackson’s veto of the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States took effect, he issued the Specie Circular, an Executive order that all public lands had to be purchased with hard money. This well-intentioned policy along with other key factors led to the Panic of 1837.

to the victors belong the spoils. . . ” – a New York state senator of Jackson’s time.

when the laws undertake… to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society… have a right to complain of the injustice to their Government.” – Jackson, a radical classical liberal

The bank is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!” Jackson told Martin Van Buren in vetoing the recharter bill led by Clay.

8. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)  Democratic

Today: Neoliberal

Centered / progressive / classical liberal / social conservative. America’s Founding Political Propagandist

Pro-Federal power, Pro- independent treasury (an alternative to national bank)

Although he succeeded the social conservative Jackson, Van Buren is more a Jeffersonian Democrat than a Jacksonian. That said, he is in many ways the root of modern party building, political propaganda, and political organizing. His character is best felt from this, and by realizing that over time, he moves to the Anti-Slavery Free Soil Party and then to the Whigs. This is to say, as the Democrats move to the right (toward popular southern pro-slavery social conservatism) VanBuren leaves for the party of Lincoln (more elite… but social progressives / traditional conservatives). Van Buren is often unfairly blamed for the Jackson-caused Panic of 1837 and is thus overlooked as a President despite his importance.

Without strong national political organizations, there would be nothing to moderate the prejudices between free and slaveholding states.”

9. William Henry Harrison (1841) Whig

Today: Progressive Neoliberal

Traditional Conservative-liberal “Old Tippecanoe”

Anti-slavery

A War hero and Whig who had previously ran against Van Burn. He never got to do much as he died in his 32nd day in office of “natural causes” (Whigs have a tendency to die in office in this pre-Civil War and post-Jackson and Van Burn vs. Adams and Clay flame war era, it has been speculated on in the same way other Presidents who died in office like Zachary Taylor, Lincoln, Garfield, Kennedy have been). It is hard to emphasize just how important expansion and its relation to creating new slave states was to southern powers from here forward, which is what causes the speculation…. that brings us to…

It is true democratic feeling, that all the measures of the government are directed to the purpose of making the rich richer and the poor poorer.” – Harrison on how to not win friends in government

10. John Tyler (1841-1845) Whig (under Henry Harrison)
April 4, 1841 –September 13, 1841Nonpartisan (acts as a Democrat shortly after Henry Harrison’s death)September 13, 1841 –March 4, 1845Today: Neocon or Paleocon
Centered liberal / Social conservative “His Accidency”, America’s First War Democrat (in spirit at least)

Centered-federal power, pro expansion, states’ rights, centered economically

Although a Whig Tyler (who inherited the office upon Henry Harrison’s death, after much debate in Congress as the Constitution is a little unclear on specifics) was a States’ rights Virginian who also backed nationalist policies and participated in expansion including the annexation of the independent Republic of Texas. A strict constructionist, Tyler found much of the Whig platform unconstitutional and vetoed several of his party’s bills. At the onset of the Civil War, Tyler sided with the Confederates (AKA Southern Democrats, who at the time rejected party names). Southerners were much better off with Tyler than Henry Harrison, but he is otherwise a fairly centered and traditional President favoring a Jeffersonian small-government unlike Adams but also rejecting a Jacksonian spoils system. For these views and more he can be described as “a Democratic maverick“.

TIP: Although the once Whig drifts toward the Confederacy over time he shouldn’t be mistaken for anything other than a centrist. The Whigs largely disowned him due to his centered economic policies and he often stood agains the Democrats as well.

The institutions under which we live, my countrymen, secure each person in the perfect enjoyment of all his rights. The spectacle is exhibited to the world of a government deriving its powers from the consent of the governed and having imparted to it only so much power as is necessary for its successful operation. Those who are charged with its administration should carefully abstain from all attempts to enlarge the range of powers thus granted to the several departments of the Government other than by an appeal to the people for additional grants, lest by so doing they disturb that balance which the patriots and statesmen who framed the Constitution designed to establish between the Federal Government and the States composing the Union.”

11. James K. Polk (1845-1849) Democratic

Today: Neocon

Traditional conservative, a Jacksonian “Expansion” Democrat “Napoleon of the Stump”, “The Least Known Consequential Presidents”

Pro-Federal power, pro-expansion

Polk is historically considered a great President, although he was pro-south he freed his slaves after his death and, during his Presidency, put aside issues of slavery to focus on expansion. He defeated Henry Clay on the promise to annex the Republic of Texas and delivers. When Mexico rejected the U.S. annexation of Texas (which Mexico considered part of its territory, despite the 1836 Texas Revolution), Polk led the nation to a sweeping victory in the Mexican–American War, which resulted in the cession by Mexico of nearly the whole of what is now the American Southwest. He also threatened war with the United Kingdom over the issue of which nation owned the Oregon Country, eventually reaching a settlement in which the British were made to sell the portion that became the Oregon Territory. Additionally, he built an independent treasury system that lasted until 1913, oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first United States postage stamp.

TIP: Polk was a leader of Jacksonian Democracy during the Second Party System.

TIP: According to a story told decades later by George Bancroft, Polk set four clearly defined goals for his administration:[2]

  • Reestablish the Independent Treasury System (Jackson had tried to get going; not to be confused with “a national US-owned bank like the Federalist and Whigs wanted, or the current Federal Reserve System ).
  • Reduce tariffs.
  • Acquire some or all of Oregon Country.
  • Acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico.

One great object of the Constitution was to restrain majorities from oppressing minorities or encroaching upon their just rights. Minorities have a right to appeal to the Constitution as a shield against such oppression.”

Foreign powers do not seem to appreciate the true character of our Government. Our Union is a confederation of independent States whose policy is peace with each other and all the world… The world has nothing to fear from military ambition in our Government.” – On the Republic of Texas joining the Union. Showing his Confederate leanings.

12. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) Whig

Today: Progressive Neoliberal

Progressive / Traditional liberal-conservative Pro-Federal power, anti-slavery A major general in who served in the war of 1812 and Indian wars and in the Mexican-American wars. He didn’t do much before he died of “raw fruit and iced milk.” Despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, Taylor did not push for the expansion of slavery. To avoid the question, he urged settlers in New Mexico and California to bypass the territorial stage and draft constitutions for statehood, setting the stage for Henry Clay’s great Compromise of 1850. See Taylor’s compromise attempts and final days (as they happen at the same time).

TIP: Around this time the Know-Nothing party will begin arise in response to immigration. They are like a less radical and less African American focused northern KKK, an early America first nativist movement and the subject of the movie Gangs of New York (Bill “the Butcher” was a real populist leader of the movement, the other leader was an elitist called Thomas R. Whitney; Whitney was a Conservative Whig Nationalist, those types have essentially always been in the Federalist, Whig, and Republican party… save when they went to third parties like the Know-nothings).

Taylor also said that anyone “taken in rebellion against the Union, he would hang … with less reluctance than he had hanged deserters and spies in Mexico.”[3]

13. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) Whig

Today: Neocon

Centered / traditional liberal-conservative Too centered for the times

Pro-Federal power (but just barely), pro-immigrant, pro-trade, anti-isolationist, anti-expansion

Fillmore is odd and is like a Van Buren or Madison (where its hard to place him in a left/right box). He is not as progressive as Zachary Taylor, but also not as radical as some of the new Radical Republicans (those who want war with the South over slavery). Unlike other Whigs, Fillmore did not join the American Party, the political arm of the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic “Know-Nothing” movement (he also did not join the Free Soil party, the anti-slavery third party of the time). He ultimately stood with Lincoln as what we would later call a conservative Republican (a Whig/Republican/non-Democrat who was pro-union but not anti-South). Like his other positions, Fillmore didn’t go as far with Manifest Destiny (expansion) as the south wanted, but was more interventionist and protectionist than perhaps progressives wanted. See Fillmore foreign affairs, he is notable for protecting the US and being pro-trade.
14. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)  Democratic

Today: Moderate Neocon or Paleocon

 Progressive/Centered The Young America President

Pro-Federal power, pro-states’ rights, pro-bank

Pierce was the ideal of the Young America movement (a Romantic wishful movement that wanted to go back to the times of Jefferson and ignore the emanate Civil War. He was, despite his progressive tendencies, a northern Democrat who saw the abolitionist movement as a fundamental threat to the unity of the nation. His polarizing actions in championing and signing the Kansas–Nebraska Act and enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act failed to stem intersectional conflict, setting the stage for Southern secession. This was a point in history where centered politics would not be tolerated or appreciated. Not that it could be avoided, but he essentially started the Civil War and split the country. His popularity in the Northern states declined sharply after he supported the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which nullified the Missouri Compromise, while many whites in the South continued to support him. This led to Bleeding Kansas which both Pierce and Buchanan would have to deal with before Lincoln actually “dealt” with it.
15. James Buchanan (1857-1861) Democratic

Today: Neocon

 Centered Not helping the Mounting tension

States’ rights, pro expansion

Whatever Pierce did, Buchanan made it worse. In a different time, he may have been a great President but the Dred Scott case, the Panic of 1857, and the Utah War did little to help the deadlock and mounting tension. He is worth learning more about, like Pierce, he was a good Democrat during a bad time. 
16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) Republican

Today: Progressive social liberal or neoliberal

Early Progressive social liberal and traditional conservative. The Father of American Social Liberalism and, oddly, the Republican Party

Pro-federal power, pro-banks, pro-social justice

Lincoln, the first Republican President was also the first President to favor progressive Northern-interest. He was an admirer of Henry Clay and a moderate Republican; he didn’t want to destroy the South or forgive them, but to unify the country. Lincoln led the Union to war and eventual victory against the Confederate States of America (previously the Democrats). Democrats weren’t a party from 1861 – 1865, but the parties switch platforms nearly fully between this point and today (not every faction switches, but the voter base, ideologies, and platforms change considerably). He also created the first income tax and free public university. Just as Jackson wasn’t much of a modern Democrat, Lincoln wasn’t much of a Modern Republican. He was, in many ways, the first social liberal American President. Later figures like the Roosevelts followed in his footsteps. After the war, Lincoln was assassinated, and that led to a man who many have judged to have been the worst President of all time.
17. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) National Union (“a War Democrat” who supported Republicans)

Unaffiliated (after his cabinet abandoned him)

Today: Paleocon

Social conservative The War Democrat

Pro-states’ rights, expansionist

Andrew Johnson was a War Democrat and Southern Unionist that means he sided with the Union but would have formerly been a Democrat and not a Whig. The National Union party denotes his desire to restore the Union, and while it was restored under him, he favored the south and thus strongly opposed federally guaranteed rights for African Americans setting back the progress that the Civil War had just afforded the Union. On the plus side, the Radical Republicans of this era wanted to punish the south harshly, and Johnson helped avoid this. Johnson was eventually impeachedSee Andrew Johnson and reconstruction.
18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)  Republican

Today: Moderate Neoliberal

 Progressive /Centered The laissez faire social liberal Commander-in-chief

Pro-federal power, pro-social justice

The very popular and somewhat progressive Grant might have been a great President if it wasn’t for his friends. Crony capitalism took off under Grant as Industrialization collided with a laissez-faire socially liberal President and new splits within the parties. In this era, new factions were taking form including: Civil-Service “half-breed” RepublicansCrony “Stalwart” Republicans and, Radical “punish the south” Republicans. On the other side, parties start to exist like ol’ boy Dixiecrat “Southern” Democrats, Tammany Hall big City Machine Democrats (previously “war democrats” and immigrants) and the new Progressive Democrats (who are often with third parties in this era, like the upcoming People’s Party). We start to see a new type of Democrat that is a libertarian (like the Democrat Cleveland will be, but also a bit like the Republican Coolidge and Democrat Wilson will be; a pro-Industrialization Democrat or Republican). Civil war and reconstruction shook up the parties enough for our modern parties to grow during the Gilded Age and Progressive era.

TIP: The elitist, nationalist, strict on immigration, and sometimes even anti-immigrant stance of Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans helped create progressive pro-worker factions of immigrants in this era. This movement was helped by coalitions of Tammany Hall Democrats, Agrarian voters, and third party progressives growing to stand against “the robber barons” of the era. The progressive Republicans like Lincoln and Grant are never really anti-immigrant, but their base tends to be, and this is one thing that causes ensuing changes by Hoover’s time. The thing to get is that “black” and “immigrant” are very different in this era of America, Republicans fight for Civil Rights, but that doesn’t mean they are progressive on immigration.

19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)  Republican

Today: Progressive Libertarian

Progressive conservative-liberal The Gold Standard, Civil Service Republican of the Gilded Age

Pro-Federal government, pro-business, pro-civil service, protectionist

Hayes was a mix of Civil service Republican and what today we call libertarian (like the soon-to-be Cleveland). He was an ideal President in many respects, a bit stronger than Grant and not a crony-capitalist. He lost the popular vote but won the electoral vote, which resulted in the Compromise of 1877. The Democrats accepted Hayes’s election and Hayes ended all U.S. military involvement in Southern politics (welcome to 100 years of Jim Crow). Hayes worked for civil service reform and big business, used federal power to break up the chaos in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and, like other Republicans, was a protectionist making use of the Monroe Doctrine and strict on immigration regarding China. See The South and the end of Reconstruction and Civil service reform.

NOTE: Hayes was anti-free silver in the crucial “currency debate,” this libertarian position changed the parties drastically. The idea was to inject silver into the market, cause inflation, make wages go up, and fix the inequality of the Gilded Age. It wasn’t a good idea, but it is one of the key issues from here to the early 1900’s.

NOTE: In this era, and as seen in the Railroad strike, from here forward immigration, Communism, and workers’ rights became major issues. These “new” issues changed the now fractured parties adding complexity for historians and those who want a quick answer to “when did the parties switch?

20. James A. Garfield (1881)  Republican

Today: Progressive Social Libertarian

Progressive-civil-service-liberal (an early social liberal, what we might call a “social liberatrain”) The Progressive Social “Civil Service” Libertarian

Pro-Federal government, pro-business, pro-civil service, pro-trade (former protectionist)

James A. Garfield was an under-appreciated civil-service reform-minded Republican, who perhaps would have been better than Hayes if it wasn’t for his Stalwart favoring of the assassin Charles J. Guiteau. Garfield opposed Confederate secession, served as a major general in the Union Army during the American Civil War, he, like the other liber-publicans, opposed free-silver and favored the gold standard. He initially sympathized with the anti-South Radical Republicans, but later became more moderate like Lincoln. In his career, Garfield favored reconstruction, civil service, and was pro-business and pro-free trade.
21. Chester Arthur (1881-1885)  Republican

Today: Social Libertarian

 Conservative-stalwart-classical-liberal and later progressive conservative-civil-service-liberal The Stalwart Turned Civil-Service Republican

Pro-Federal government, pro-business, pro-civil service, budget hawk

Chester Arthur was a Stalwart, but given the events of Garfield’s death he did a bit of an 180 and ran the country somewhat as Garfield would have in his honor. It is one of the cooler stories in US Presidential history, certainly far cooler than the Andrew Johnson-Lincoln story. See Clash with Hayes, but also Civil Service Reform and Civil Rights. He forged coalitions with the Liberals of the day, which was typical in third parties, but couldn’t stop the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in an 1883 decision,
22. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)  Democratic

Today: Libertarian

Centered, classical liberal (essentially what we would today call a centered libertarian) The Popular Libertarian Democrat

Anti-tariffs, anti-free-silver, anti-imperialism, pro-farmer, pro-business, anti-communist, fiscally conservative

Grover Cleveland was the Democrat who changed the Democratic party from pro-Confederate to pro-business (they will be known for being pro-worker shortly, but will still be felt in Woodrow Wilson and especially in the post 60’s Democrats). From Cleveland forward, we had different types of Democrats. First, Southern Dixiecrats were pro-worker rights and thus free-silver Democrats like Bryan. Second, there were free-market liberals like Cleveland and Wilson. They were like today’s libertarian, but would have in his day been “a classical liberal” with social conservative leanings removed. Cleveland took up the polices of the civil service Republicans but kept some features of past Democrats. He was a favorite of the Captains of Industry, backed a gold standard, and was very popular, being elected three times (once not in order). Grover Cleveland was a great President. He was one of the first Democrats to stand up against other Democrats and push back against the spoils system started in the Jackson era. He left office in 1889, but returned again following the 1892 election.

A government for the people must depend for its success on the intelligence, the morality, the justice, and the interest of the people themselves.[4]

23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)  Republican

Today: Neoliberal

Centered social liberal / traditional conservative The oft-forgot, rather centered, President

Pro-tariff, lowered-taxes, increased spending, moderate on silver, pro-civil rights, aggressive foreign policy

Harrison was a very centered President commonly thought of as having personal and official integrity. He was pro-civil rights and moderate on silver. He shadowed Republicans to come by seeking to lower taxes (but also decreased the surplus). Early in Harrison’s term the lame duck Congress passed bills that admitted four states to the union: North Dakota and South Dakota on November 2, 1889, Montana on November 8, and Washington on November 11. The following year two more states held constitutional conventions and were admitted – Idaho on July 3 and Wyoming on July 10, 1890. Thus, his major accomplishment was admitting more states to the Union than any President since Washington.
William Jennings Bryan Populist Party, then Democratic

Today: Progressive social liberal most issues, progressive social conservative on others

Populist Progressive, Social Liberal The Great Common-ist and Father of American Progressivism

Pro-workers rights, pro-silver, anti-imperialism

The father of American Progressivism was, in many ways, William Jennings Bryan. He began to rise to fame as a member of the People’s Party (the populist party; the pro-free-silver party). Bryan’s “Cross of Gold”, a pro free silver, anti-gold and anti-greenback speech led to the progressive populist Bryan “swallowing up” the Democratic party by 1896. He is often seen as a populist, but he is a little more centered than that, being the first progressive Democrat who wasn’t also a social conservative. From here forward, Jim Crowe took a back seat to workers rights, religion, and war as key voter-issues. The race debate never went away, but it didn’t boil over again until the 1960’s.

TIP: Bryan was fighting for an income tax long before there was a permanent one. That is the type of Progressive he is, and it is he who largely changes the Democratic party.

TIP: Bryan is, Clay aside, perhaps the most important President-who-never-was. He ran in a number of races and barely lost, popularized the progressive party, and dragged the Democrats to the left kicking and screaming pushing them to trust-bust and embrace elitist, liberal, republicanism (especially regarding workers rights). Eventually he agreed to team up with the much more conservative progressive Woodrow Wilson but eventually abandoned him over arguments surrounding WWI. W.J. Bryan would be a real hero, but like many in the 20’s, his awkward support of Prohibition and anti-Evolution is a little underwhelming.

TIP: From here forward there was a populist party. It was either a third party or, at times, was represented by one of the two major parties, like when Bryan Joins the Democrats. Thus, from here forward “Democrat will start to be associated with “liberal” and it will mean somewhere between populist and Cleveland-like liberal. The solid south would largely go under the radar on a national level in the next upcoming progressive era and until Brown v. Board of Education, not because race didn’t matter, but because industrialization, globalization, women’s rights, progressivism, and especially Plessy v. Ferguson) became major issues.

FACT: The most famous speech in American political history was delivered by William Jennings Bryan on July 9, 1896, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The issue was whether to endorse the free coinage of silver at a ratio of silver to gold of 16 to 1. (This inflationary measure would have increased the amount of money in circulation and aided cash-poor and debt-burdened farmers.)[5]

We do not come as individuals…But we stand here representing people who are the equals before the law…The income tax is a just law. It simply intends to put the burdens of government justly upon the backs of the people. I am in favor of an income tax. When I find a man who is not willing to pay his share of the burden of the government which protects him, I find a man who is unworthy to enjoy the blessings of a government like ours…Mr. Jefferson, who was once regarded as good Democratic authority, seems to have a different opinion from the gentleman who has addressed us on the part of the minority. Those who are opposed to this proposition tell us that the issue of paper money is a function of the bank and that the government ought to go out of the banking business. I stand with Jefferson rather than with them, and tell them, as he did, that the issue of money is a function of the government and that the banks should go out of the governing business….If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

24. Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)  Democratic

Today: Libertarian

 “  “… but Plessy v. Ferguson Cleveland’s second term is marred by the Panic of 1893, but he still manages to modernize the military, beat cancer, deal with the Pullman Strike, and push forward some civil service and tariff reforms. See the Economic panic and the silver issue. In retrospect, this is likely more the fault of Harrison.

Cleveland’s agrarian and silverite enemies gained control of the Democratic party in 1896, repudiated his administration and the gold standard, and nominated William Jennings Bryan on a Silver Platform.

25. William McKinley (1897-1901) Republican

Today: Social Libertarian

 Early modern liberal-conservative (like Eisenhower or Bush 41) An early Neocon

Interventionist, pro-business, protectionist, pro-gold, Anti-Trust

In my mind, the first real modern Republican was Hoover, although Harding and Coolidge come close. The roots began with the pro-interventionist, pro-business, pro-gold, rather conservative Republican who, while a good President, did more for conservatism than civil rights. Meanwhile, lest we forget, Bryan the Populist Democrat was nipping at his heels. He fought gerrymander, expanded territories considerably, was great for business, and helped propel us into the progressive era. His many accomplishments are hard to sum up. See Presidency (1897–1901). He is an example of “a great liberal-conservative” President, sadly his term is cut short by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz (which also hints that, when compared to communists, anarchists, and populists, McKinley isn’t exactly “a progressive.” Despite this, Mckinley’s realigning election begins the Fourth Party system and his Vice President, Roosevelt shows the name is well deserved.
26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)  Republican

Today: Progressive Social Liberal

 Big government social liberal The Progressive Socialist Gentlemen With Conservative Leanings… The Last Progressive Republican President

Pro-Federal power, Interventionist (imperialism, democracy for the world, world police, globalization, the new “expansion” or “manifest destiny” etc), pro-business, protectionist, pro-gold, strong on civil rights (but generally no one outside McKinley is great in this era), Anti-Trust, interventionist, strict on immigration, pro SOCIAL-justice

Teddy Roosevelt was America’s first true Social Liberal President, which like Lincoln, is a little odd in retrospect being that he is a Republican. Roosevelt does so much it is hard to describe him in any Box. We can look at his Trust busting, his reaction to strikes, his foreign policy, etc. But mostly, it is his Bull-Moose attitude toward the purpose of Government that makes him stand out as the first big government social liberal. Teddy was a Gentleman, a scholar, a hero, and a bit of socialist who forever changed the Republican party with his Repub-exit. An assassination attempt was made, but it failed; he continued the speech like only Jackson, or maybe Washington, before him would have had the guts to do.

From the 1912 Bull Moose platform: To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day. This country belongs to the people. Its resources, its business, its laws, its institutions, should be utilized, maintained, or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest. This assertion is explicit… Mr. Wilson must know that every monopoly in the United States opposes the Progressive party… I challenge him… to name the monopoly that did support the Progressive party, whether… the Sugar Trust, the US Steel Trust, the Harvester Trust, the Standard Oil Trust, the Tobacco Trust, or any other… Ours was the only program to which they objected, and they supported either Mr. Wilson or Mr. Taft“. Describing Teddy’s New Nationalism.

TIP: Like few others, Teddy Roosevelt changed America and his party, see Wikipedia entry for the long list of accomplishments. He changed the role of President in many ways, as was his intention.

Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people. From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” – Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive Party platform

27. William Howard Taft (1909-1913)  Republican

Today: Progressive Social Liberal

 Progressive, with some conservative elements The Pro-North Conservative Progressive

Anti-Trust, pro-worker, pro-civil rights, pro-immigrant, pro-trade, pro-Monroe Doctrine, pro-protectionism, pro-modernization of military and culture, strict on immigration

Taft was progressive Republican like Roosevelt and was even Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor. However, a split between the very progressive Teddy and the more centered Taft was too much, and Teddy split to build his Bull Moose coalition. Teddy would never succeed with his progressive third party and instead, Taft beat him and Bryan in 1908. Both would be back again in 1912, but Bryan under fellow Progressive Democrat Wilson.  Taft was anti-trust, and pro-civil rights, dealt with Chinese Revolution of 1911 of immigration issues in the strict Republican spirit, but despite his increasingly radical progressiveness he remained to the right of Teddy (especially as the growing right-wing element and members like Warren Harding pulled him toward the center right). See Moving apart from Roosevelt. Taft stood up to the right-wing elements of the Republican party, but Teddy wanted more. Taft was the last progressive Republican. The split by Teddy changed the party forever.
28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) Democratic

Today: Progressive Social Libertarian and moderate paleocon (Bryan and Wilson are pro-farmer progressives, thus Jeffersonian progressives)

 Progressive Virginian intellectual, classic liberal, conservative-liberal, social-liberal Like Bill Clinton in many ways The Progressive Pro-South Professor and Political Scientist… A Dixie-Progressive

Interventionism,  pro-social justice, pro-farmer, and now we have an independent national bank… conversation over

Someone had to win the battle of the progressives, and with Teddy and Taft splitting the vote and Bryan going under Wilson’s wing Wilson’s New Freedom plan beat Teddy’s New Nationalism. Wilson was one of the founders of American political science and President of Princeton University, pro-South (but not pro-Dixiecrat). He is most comparable to a figure like Bill Clinton and his New Democrats. If it has the word “New” in it, it means progressive. Clinton free-market and mixed-market principles aside, Wilson was very similar to a libertarian. He was a classic liberal, friendly to the South. He was, though, very much a progressive. He advanced women’s rights, established the FED with J.P. Morgan, expanded Agriculture subsidies and programs, and was stood up to entrenched powers in both parties. He was no one’s ideal, but prohibition aside, he made many fine contributions to the country in retrospect. He helped propel  our military power forward as a WWI President. Wilson’s sweeping changes included the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, and the Federal Farm Loan Act. You can read the Wiki summary and his New Freedom plan for more information. He fundamentally changed America with Bryan, who had an opportunity to make a difference at last by his side.

TIP: From Bryan forward, progressive Southern Democrats who preferred mixed-markets dominated the party. The Dixiecrat would make a final attempt to return in the 50’s, but they would end up joining Hoover, Nixon, and finally Bush over time while figures like FDR, Kennedy, and LBJ increasingly became hostile. Consider, of all Democrats from Wilson forward, only Kennedy and Obama were northern Democrats.

29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) Republican

Today: Neocon, paleocon, or libertarian.

 Conservative classical liberal The Anti-Communist Libertarian and the First Modern republican

Small military, small debt, small banks, small government

The big three Republicans, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover were about the change the party. They had the power to push Teddy and Taft out and attract the Dixiecrats. However, Harding and Coolidge, but not Hoover, were strict classical liberals. The difference was that, in the post-progressive era, the classic liberal free-market ideology was considered right-wing. The anti-Communist stance would dominate the Republican party from here forward. The desire to go back to the good old classical -liberal days turned the party toward the right-wing over time. Meanwhile. FDR was about to finish the work that Teddy and Bryan started. By the time LBJ was elected, “the Democrats (would) lose the south for the next 100 years.” For more on Harding, see ending the war and Domestic policy including Mellon’s tax cuts (which Coolidge continues).
30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)  Republican

Today: Neocon, paleocon, or libertarian.

  Conservative classical liberal The Even more Anti-Communist Libertarian

Small military, small debt, small banks, small government, anti-regulation

If Harding wasn’t the first modern Republican, then Coolidge might have been. Coolidge was the most classically liberal President America ever had, which was awkward in 1923, a full 10 years after the battle of the Progressive Presidents. The classically liberal attitude worked at first, and he was elected twice with his trade and business mindset. However,  his stance showed signs of aging when the great depression changed America. The 20’s were unusual, but Coolidge was popular and a relatively good President. He was strongly in support of social justice and Civil rights. Despite all this, Republicans didn’t move against social justice until Hoover.

TIP: If you want libertarian quotes for your blog, look no further than Coolidge. If you want to prove Lincoln was a modern Republican, ignore Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover at all costs as they will destroy your theory.

31. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) Republican

Today: Neocon, paleocon, or libertarian.

Conservative classical liberal / social conservative The Father of American Conservatism

Small military, small debt, small banks, small government, anti-civil rights, anti-communist

Harding starts the trend of moving away from Teddy and Taft and toward the conservative right-wing of the Republican party… but, with that said, Herbert Hoover was more a Republican in the way Barry Goldwater was than in the way a Southern Confederate or Know Nothing was (in words, he was like Harding and Coolidge, more business minded and less socially conservative then we might imagine a modern Republican). He was very libertarian (or in his time classically liberal), but he was also a social conservative. Perhaps he was the first socially conservative Republican. He was very anti-Communist. His actions prove that the parties changed. He started the southern strategy. He was the President of the Great Depression. The list goes on. To discover what a progressive is, or see that the parties have changed, watch a Documentary on Hoover.

This passage from Wikipedia explains it well. Hoover was defeated in a landslide in 1932 by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, and spent the rest of his life as a conservative denouncing big government, liberalism and federal intervention in economic affairs, as Democrats repeatedly used his Depression record to attack conservatism and justify more regulation of the economy.

So, Republicans were not the party of Lincoln from here forward, but in many ways, no one was. The solid south was still loyal to the progressive Democrats. FDR would test their patience.

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)  Democratic

Today: Progressive Social Liberal Neoliberal.

 Progressive social liberal, traditional conservative, which we call “liberal” in America today. See American liberalism The Father of Modern American Social Liberalism

Big military, big debt, big banks, big government, big taxes, anti-trust, pro-civil rights, pro-workers rights

How does one sum up four terms, the New Deal, WWII, and major changes in both parties and America, and especially in technology? To find out more about FDR, go to the Wiki page and an article on the New Deal.

I’ll just say this, from this point on the Hoover-like Republicans increasingly woo groups like the America first and States’ Rights factions. We have already seen conservative pro-business and know-nothing types in the American Republican Party, but from here forward we will see less-and-less Hamilton, Lincoln, Teddy, Henry A. Wallace types and more and more America first and States’ Rights types.

TIP: From here forward the progressive Democrats (“the New Deal Coalition“) dominated the party. Jim Crow was in the background. Other factions were also. It was a giant party with many factions, including the Dixiecrat faction who were about to turn on the Democrats in 1948 with their states’ rights “Dixiecrat” party. This is where the term Dixiecrat came from. The Conservative Coalition started here and was directly opposed to FDR’s New Deal big government politics. These factions would become the current American parties.

the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men. Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live. Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.” From FDR’s Inaugural Address.

33. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)  Democratic

Today: Neoliberal

 Moderate conservative-liberal Moving Back Toward the Center

Pro-military, pro civil rights, pro-business, modern globalization begins (starting with agreements like the pre-NAFTA General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).

Truman, a WWI hero, was a bit like the next President Eisenhower. They are the last two attempts to mix modernization with centered politics and avoid the polarized left-right split in America. He accomplished a lot in his two terms. One term began when FDR died in office; the next when he was elected. Given the timing of his Presidency, he was very war oriented but made headway on Civil Rights despite the Dixiecrats. See Wikipedia entry.
34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) Republican

Today: Neoliberal or Neocon.

 Moderate conservative-liberal The Modern American President

Pro-military, pro civil rights, pro-business, anti communist (see the Eisenhower Doctrine)

Eisenhower was popular, and both major parties wanted him. His centered stance is sometimes romanticized as “Republican,” but in reality, he was unlike most Republicans of this era. Eisenhower was a moderate conservative. He continued New Deal agencies and expanded Social Security. He also launched the Interstate Highway System, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the establishment of strong science education via the National Defense Education Act, and he encouraged peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act. He also founded NASA and coined the term military–industrial complexBrown v. Board of Education brought the race issue back to the surface; it would divide America. Eventually Clinton would drive much of the Solid South to the Republican Party.

TIP: Eisenhower was consistently rated as one of the best Presidents, unlike Lincoln, FDR, and others, he earned his title by being centered. He was a hero of the right and left, and was always a President that many look back to fondly.

If the right wants a fight, they are going to get it…”

We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.

35. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) Democratic

Today: Progressive Social Liberal Neoliberal.

 Populist, Conservative social-liberal in some respects, Progressive social-liberal in others The TV President and Young Catholic Workers’ Rights Pro-Immigrant Liberal Darling of the Baby Boomer Progressives

Anti-war, pro-civil rights, pro-environment

Kennedy captured the popular imagination. He stood up to the powers that be and represented a new generation, but his young Presidency was cut short. Kennedy was a complex character who wasn’t left or right wing. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the establishment of the Peace Corps, developments in the Space Race, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Trade Expansion Act to lower tariffs, and the Civil Rights Movement all took place during his presidency.

TIP: Accomplishments aside, he started the trend of the President being a TV personality. He represented a changing American culture. LBJ would, somewhat oddly, accomplish what Kennedy didn’t have time to and anger the Dixiecrats for the next 100 years. This was probably not what his assassins had in mind.

36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) Democratic

Today: Progressive Social Liberal Neoliberal.

 Progressive Conservative-liberal The Big Government Social Liberal Southern Dixiecrat

Interventionist, pro-big government, pro-civil rights, pro-social justice

Some may consider Lincoln and FDR social liberal bullies, but LBJ made them look like puppy dogs. He used his southern charm to enact the great society programs. He became a liberal hero of sorts, despite his many Dixiecrat qualities. Democratic Presidents after his time often seemed LBJ-like. What started in ’64 and ’65 with Civil Rights and Voting Rights respectively caused a split in the party that led to red state-blue state politics by the time Clinton was elected in the 90’s.

TIP: LBJ didn’t just pick up the Kennedy torch; he had always been a progressive Dixiecrat along with figures like Al Gore’s dad.

We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. It is time now to write the next chapter – and to write it in the books of law.”

37. Richard Nixon (1969-1974) Republican

Today: Neocon.

Moderate Conservative liberal The Liberal-Conservative Revival of Hoover

Interventionist, pro-big government, pro-social-tradition

Nixon might be one of the most misunderstood Presidents. He was a bit of liberal despite his views on the anti-war culture. He had run against Kennedy and lost despite being far more experienced. Kennedy’s winning election was the first TV election and Kennedy was charismatic. Nixon was like a hybrid of Hoover, Eisenhower, and LBJ. Vietnam, the southern strategy, and his distrust of hippies paint a sometimes ugly picture. However, he was arguably a good President, faults aside. He did a lot for foreign policy with his right-hand man Henry Kissinger. Together they made improvements to  foreign relations, and participated in interventionist militarism, imposed wage and price controls for a period of ninety days, enforced desegregation of Southern schools and established the Environmental Protection Agency. Nixon also presided over the Apollo 11 moon landing, which signaled the end of the moon race. He was reelected in one of the largest electoral landslides in U.S. history in 1972 when he defeated George McGovern. Nixon and his vice president Agnew resigned early over Watergate.
38. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)  Republican

Today: Neocon.

Centered conservative-liberal The Centered Republican / Early Neocon

Interventionist, pro-social justice, budget hawk, pro-tax

Ford began his career by Pardoning Nixon (another “corrupt bargain“) setting a precedent for Presidents. Ford was more centered and liberal than Nixon, famously pardoning draft dodgers and deserters and supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. He otherwise continued a foreign policy in his predecessors fashion, as, from here on, mostly every President did. Otherwise, economic troubles overshadowed the rather solid Ford Presidency as Ford presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure. In retrospect, as is the case with many Presidents, the one stuck with the recession gets wrongly blamed. See Ford’s Economic Record Belies His Reputation.

Our constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

39. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) Democratic

Today: Neoliberal.

 Centered social-liberal / classical liberal The Centered Liberal Dixiecrat / Early Neoliberal

Interventionist, pro-social justice, pro-mixed-market, pro-trade

Jimmy Carter, a Democrat raised in rural Georgia, was a peanut farmer who served two terms as a Georgia State Senator, from 1963 to 1967, and one as the Governor of Georgia, from 1971 to 1975. He was elected President in 1976 and had a very busy career involving the Iran hostage crisis and U.S. energy crisis. He is the consummate progressive pro-mixed-market southern Democrat (both deregulating and supporting social programs), a little bit Bill Clinton and a little bit LBJ, although he was surely more reserved than both.
40. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)  Republican

Today: Neocon or libertarian.

Populist Classical liberal / modern American conservative The California Republican, Father of the Neocons

Interventionist, Anti-communist, pro-free-market, anti-tax, pro-military

Clinton was called a Reagan Democrat, Reagan, a former actor, was a Hollywood Republican. He was pro-mixed-market, and a classical liberal in many ways, except in the ways that he was the definition of modern American “California” Republican. He was fiercely anti-communist Duke-style, pro-war on drugs, ignored AIDS, was anti-tax and regulation, and pro-military. He was more like Arnold Schwarzenegger, less like Andrew Jackson, except in that he was extremely popular.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

41. George Bush (1989-1993)  Republican

Today: Neocon or libertarian.

 Centered conservative / classical liberal The Texas Republican

Interventionist, pro-free-market, anti-tax, pro-military, protectionist

Bush 41 was a very centered conservative and classical liberal. He was much more like a Ford than a Reagan, in that he cleaned up his predecessors economic problems and dealt with many complex foreign engagements without a lot of fanfare. The modern divisive environment didn’t start under Bush, it started after his presidency. See Foreign policy and NAFTA.
42. Bill Clinton (1993-2001)  Democratic

Today: Neoliberal or social liberal.

Liberal-conservative and social liberal The New Democrat (Neoliberal)

Interventionist, pro-mixed-market, pro-social justice, pro-tax, pro-military, deficit hawk

Bill Clinton changed America. He was an amazing President who trimmed down the deficit and created a surplus and Balanced the Budget; his first lady was a powerhouse. Many positive, as well as some of the negative aspects, of the Crime Bill came out. The New Democrat also divided the nation down the middle despite his southern roots. Media was exploding. TV was more sensationalized. Fox news rose, Glass-Steagall fell, chaos ensued.

Strength and wisdom are not opposing values.

I believe mixed-markets and mixed-trade-policies will ensure America’s status as an economic superpower, lift up our bottom and ensure growing fortunes at the top; heck we can even mix-southern-northern-conservative-and-liberal, we’ll call it the Third Way, or New Democrat” (Here, I am paraphrasing Clinton’s Reagan Democrat Ideology in an imagined quote; which pushes the right toward the neocon-paleocon far right).

43. George W. Bush (2001-2009)  Republican

Today: Neocon, paleocon, or libertarian.

Centered conservative / classical liberal The New Republican (Neocon)

Interventionist, pro-free-market, anti-tax, pro-military

Dick Cheney, Iraq War, and Hurricane Katrina, Bush 43 was a lot like Bush 41 in being a liberal-conservative. His rhetoric and tax cuts were modern American Republican, and his failure to fix Glass-Steagall and his ushering in of the financial crisis of 2008 were huge negatives. He was socially liberal in terms of Domestic policy. He probably got a worse reputation than he deserved.

Fool me twice, won’t get fooled again.”

I didn’t realize it had become so official,” said Mr. Gross, who also wrote periodically for The New York Times. ”I must have missed the memo.” – a Comment from the NYTimes about the new “red-state” “blue-state” terminology.

44. Barack Obama (2009-present)  Democratic

Today: social liberal or neoliberal.

Liberal-conservative / social liberal The Modern “New Democrat” Social Liberal

Interventionist, pro-mixed-market, pro-social justice, pro-tax, pro-military

Barak Obama was socially liberal. He was similar to Bill Clinton, but a New Democrat more than an FDR-like social liberal. He favored a mixed-market approach to politics which saw some reversal of Bush tax cuts and military policy.

No party has a monopoly on wisdom.”

TIP: I Will add Donald J. Trump to the list soon. Right now, for me, not enough is known to really do justice to the man. Will he be like Hoover, or is he America first Know-Nothing, does he end up being a Reagan, or even an Eisenhower? As the man himself said, “”In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish.” Thus, we are waiting to see what he accomplishes.

Citations

  1. Protectionism and Adams – Tariff Policy – Liberalization or protectionism?
  2. A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent (Simon & Schuster America Collection)
  3. Bauer, pp. 1–2; Hamilton, vol. 1, pp. 21–24, 261–262.
  4. Forbes Quotes
  5. Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” Speech: Mesmerizing the Masses


"Comparing the Political Ideology of Presidents" is tagged with: American Politics, Left–right Politics, United States of America

What do you think?

BZ on

I could probably spend an hour picking nits, so I’ll just pick my favorite: “a libertarian minus the social conservative aspects”

HUH?

Is that like a “socialist minus all the anti-free-market aspects”?

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

The page is a work in progress, so I can imagine an attentive reader will have criticism. Thanks for reading.

To your point, I get what you are saying, what I meant was staunchly classical liberal. In other words they are focused on the businesses end of things, not on social issues like race. Today libertarian can sometimes seem to imply a socially right-wing ideology and that isn’t the case for someone like Cleveland.

Point being, there are a group of Presidents who were classical liberals, not in that Dixiecrat states rights way, but in that pro-gold, small government, pro-captain of industry way. This would be what I call “Cleveland-ians”.

Jadorei Jade on

Love your page. I do have dissenting opinions. I would definitely give more thought to Obama as more of a Marxist in ideology. His appointment of czars and desire to inject government into industry to control was evident within industries such as healthcare, guns, energy, and transportation. Bill Clinton was more of the New Democrat- tolerant, pro-economy, and big government but not overly intrusive on the states. Obama utilized the Fed in almost a bullyish manner. Clinton didn’t operate that way. GWB’s Patriot Act was very intrusive on civil rights and he used the military in a bullyish manner overseas. State side, his politics was overshadowed by Obstructionism which is usually warranted in all Congresses and by the wars he and Congress created. But, GWB was an oil man along with his daddy. In no way are they protectionists. They like money way too much. I don’t agree with the Democrat Party being pro-civil rights especially Lyndon Johnson and Democrats. My party was actually not in favor of civil rights and hard pressed on even passing voting rights. It was done on a quid pro quo and to make Democrats the hero. We often fail to go back far enough with civil rights.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Good feedback. Glad to have different perspectives. Any thoughtful comments are welcome and appreciated.

Marcus Tullius Cicero on

Your description of Herbert Hoover’s policies are disingenuous and revisionist. He did cause the Great Depression, but it’s because he governed like a big government leftist, not a small-government right winger. You conveniently leave out the fact that he raised taxes and raised tariffs (Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act). That is what contributed to the Great depression. And FDR’s leftist New Deal programs exacerbated and prolonged the Great Depression. It was WWII that pulled the U.S. out of the depression. And it’s a gross overstatement to insinuate that Reagan left economic problems on Bush 41’s lap. Bush 41 inherited the healthiest economy in history. Reagan’s historic de-regulations and tax cuts is paved way for a booming economy that lasted for 2-3 decades. The only problem Reagan left Bush 41 with was that Reagan did not balance the budget, and the only way to address that issue is via cutting entitlements, which can be politically toxic. Bush 41 wrongly thought that raising taxes would solve that problem. Clinton is the one who ultimately balanced the budget when he teamed up with Gingrich and the Republicans in Congress to cut entitlements.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Interesting feedback, I get your general standpoint (always helps to have a different perspective). Let me think on it and I’ll notate the page as needed (by responding in the comments and/or updating the descriptions).

It has been a bit difficult, even with having studied each President, to get everything right. Sincerely appreciate any insight or critique, the goal is to make the page great over time.

For me the idea that Hoover was Socially Liberal big government left is a little odd (as he was very proud of his classical liberal approach), I get that from a libertarian perspective one might see his giving in to the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act… but one can also see that as traditional Federalist Republican trade protectionism (not really different from what an old Republican or modern one might do).

We aren’t purposefully revising history to say the least. We are trying to give a fair view of each President, next time I do a serious edit on this I will take all your comments into consideration.

With that said, I tend to entertain the idea that the 1920’s Republicans (more than FDR) were to blame for the Great Depression (in other words, the perspective that while what you say has truth, that what really happened is the classical liberal crashed the economy and socialism came in and saved it). Now I personally entertain both views and think both should be considered from a centered position. This is something that likely requires a book-length exploration, but I’ll be examining it at some point. Rarely are answers found in extremes, so I wouldn’t expect either side of the theory to be fully right.