Who was the smartest US President?

From George Washington to George W, who was the smartest of all US presidents? I know “smart” is a pretty subjective term but is there a way of telling who was the brightest bulb?

I’m not sure that it’s possible to give a factual answer to that. But President Kennedy once hosted a White House dinner for 49 Nobel Prize winners. During his speech, he said that it was “the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” (Not that it answers the question. I just like the quote.)

I would have to give the edge to the guys who created the Constitution and founded the country itself - Washington, Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers.

I don’t know that Washington had any kind of extraordinary intellect. I’m not saying that he was dumb, or even that he wasn’t bright, but his talents were not primarily intellectual.

Jefferson might go at the the top of the list, but there have been a lot of smart ones. Bill Clinton has a pretty high IQ (Rhodes Sholar, after all) and reputedly had an encyclopedic memory for names and for policy issues. I think Lincoln was pretty bright too.

I guess I would give it to Jefferson by dint of his known abilities and reputation and for lack of any candidate who I could clearly argue was smarter.

Wilson had a doctorate and was a college president.

Carter was not a great president, but intellectually he was naval nuclear engineering graduate, and helped other nuclear engineering students with their math as a midshipman, so I imagine he was no slouch brainpower-wise.

Nixon for all his ethical failings was also a very intelligent man, and had a near photographic memory.

I opened this thread just to say Jefferson; you beat me to it in a way.

Perhaps we could all agree that Dubya is by far the most intellectually lacking?

I’d put Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, or Warren Harding ahead on the most intellectually lacking. GWB scored in the 88th percentile on the verbal and 86th in math on his SAT*; that’s pretty good.

  • Adjusted for 1994 “re-centering” of scores.

Jefferson probably had the widest intelligence, as paleontologist, architect, philosopher, etc.

I’d vote for Jefferson, too. Herbert Hoover would probably also rank high on the list, nicely illustrating, along with Carter, that intellectual ability does not guarantee a successful term in the Oval Office.

John Quincy Adams has to rate up there.

He was his father’s personal secretary during diplomatic missions, was the Ambassador to Russia at a very young age, and spoke a handful of languages fluently. By most accounts, he was also a coot just like his father.

I think I’ve read that Wilson and his wife conversed in Chinese at home.

I doubt that is true at least as far as firm measures go. GWB had SAT scores in the 1200’s which is into the high 90’s percentile wise. People made fun of his intellect even when he ran against John Kerry. Both of them went to Yale and GWB beat Kerry in GPA. He might have odd priorities but I don’t think GWB is truly dumb and there have to be some obscure obscure presidents that really were a little dim.

I think Jefferson is probably the smartest as well but he could have really used some business courses because he couldn’t seem to manage money for crap.

Hoover and Carter were engineers, who traditionally make lousy administrators. Granted, Hoovers did display exceptional organization skills both in the Boxer Rebellion and feeding post-WWI Europe, but those were straight top-down systems, and he was in over his head as president

I think a lot of W’s problem is brain damage from all that booze and blow. I don’t think his deficiencies are genetic. His father is smart. Jeb does not appear to be a moron. I think W’s got a bit of the Ozzy Syndrome going on. I’ve seen it a million times in real life.

Are you sure you have the right President? Wilson was a professor but his specialty was American law and political science; as far as I know he had no particualr interest in China. And neither Ellen or Edith Wilson knew Chinese as far as I’ve heard.

It sounds more like the Hoovers. Herbert and Lou Hoover lived in China in the early years of their marriage.

James Garfield was a very intelligent man. He was a teacher, a lawyer, a general, and a politician and was successful at all of these things.


Looking for opinions? IMHO is the place.




I would go with Jefferson; not only did he have a soaring intellect, his vision of the country’s future was far-reaching and all-encompassing.

Yup. I’m also going with Jeffrson

And if we went with founding fathers, I’d go with Franklin. But he was too smart to become president.

I’m hoping Obama becomes our next intelligent president.