40 American Presidents Ranked In Order Of Their IQs

Just how smart do you have to be to win an American presidential election? Judging by these 40 presidents, all of whom have exceptionally high IQs, raw intelligence is needed. Remember, most people have IQs ranging from 85 to 115. But the majority of U.S. presidents lived before IQ tests were invented. So Professor Dean Simonton, a psychologist of University of California at Davis, estimated presidential IQs using biographical information.

40. Ulysses S. Grant, IQ 130

Ulysses S. Grant has the lowest IQ of all the presidents on this list. But that doesn’t mean he was dumb, by any stretch. For his score puts him well above the average IQ among contemporary Americans which stands at 98. Grant was the 18th president, serving two terms from 1869. Despite his undoubted political achievements, he’s well remembered as a Unionist Civil War general. Since he was on the winning side, that would indicate that he was pretty smart.

39. George W. Bush, IQ 138.5

George W. Bush served two terms as the 43rd U.S. president from 2001 until he was succeeded by Barack Obama. His tenure was far from an easy ride – the 9/11 terrorist atrocity happened on his watch. That was followed by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, events which would have tested any president to the limit. In his study of presidential IQ, Professor Simonton wrote that Bush was “in the upper range of college graduates in raw intellect.”

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38. James Monroe, IQ 138.6

The fifth president, James Monroe served from 1817 to 1825. And he was the last man to hold office who could lay claim to being one of the Founding Fathers. According to the White House website, one woman from Virginia who met Monroe described him thus, “He is tall and well formed. His dress plain and in the old style. His manner was quiet and dignified.” As well as being personable, he was bright enough to study law under another president, Thomas Jefferson.

37. William Howard Taft, IQ 139.5

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William Howard Taft came to the presidency in 1909, the 27th man to hold the position. But during his single term of office he did little to distinguish himself – described by the White House website as a “poor politician.” Yet after leaving office, he became a professor of law at Yale. And in 1921 he took the position of United States Chief Justice, becoming the only man ever to serve in that position as well as president.

36. Andrew Johnson, IQ 139.8

Andrew Johnson had the unenviable task of becoming president in 1865 after his predecessor Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. That meant he took office during the period of reconstruction after the horrors of the Civil War, a task which must have required smarts. In the turmoil of the time, he faced impeachment, the first president to do so. The Senate acquitted him by just one vote. Johnson later continued in politics as a Tennessee senator.

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35. Zachary Taylor, IQ 139.8

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Zachary Taylor became the 12th president in 1849. Before his term in office he was widely regarded as a hero by his fellow citizens because of his role as a general during both the Mexican-American and 1812 wars. Holding this high military position is surely a testament to his intellect. Unfortunately, just 16 months into his presidential term, Taylor was struck down by gastrointestinal disease and died after a five-day illness.

34. Harry S. Truman, IQ 139.8

A matter of weeks after being elected vice president, Harry S. Truman found himself thrust into the presidency when the incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945. But Truman helped end WWII when he ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on Japan. Harsh yes, but perhaps clever. The White House website quotes Truman’s memory of becoming president, “I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”

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33. Warren G. Harding, IQ 139.9

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Warren G. Harding won his bid to become president in 1921 on his 56th birthday. After a successful spell as a newspaper publisher, Harding entered politics in 1898. By 1914 he was a senator representing Ohio, and was said to have been a strong supporter of votes for women. So surely he must have been intelligent? Yet he’s actually remembered as one of the worst presidents, as he didn’t appear to know which direction to take the country in.

32. George Washington, IQ 140

It was in 1789 that George Washington became the very first president of the United States. His estimated IQ score of 140 means that he can be classed as exceptionally clever, among the top two percent. Which is just as well since he commanded the armies that eventually saw off the British in the Revolutionary War. Hardly the achievement of a mediocre military-man.

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31. Gerald Ford, IQ 140.4

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After Richard Nixon was booted out of the presidency by the Watergate scandal, Gerald Ford took office in August 1974. As he took the oath of office in that unhappy time, he said, “I assume the presidency under extraordinary circumstances. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.” Ford needed all the resources that his considerable intelligence gave him to steer America through an exceptionally difficult period.

30. Lyndon B. Johnson, IQ 140.6

Lyndon Johnson was another politician unexpectedly catapulted into the presidency, in his case in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson inherited Kennedy’s ambition to fly men to the Moon, which he pursued with enthusiasm. Less welcome was the escalation of the Vietnam War and the civil rights crisis for African-Americans. After his first brief tenure as president, Johnson went on to resounding victory in the 1964 election.

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29. Calvin Coolidge, IQ 141.6

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Coolidge was vice president when President Warren Harding died in 1923 and so succeeded him in office. As his IQ testifies, he had a keen intellect. Before his political career he used it to train as a lawyer, entering the bar and starting his own law firm in 1898. He stood for a second term in 1924, winning that election with a convincing majority of 2.5 million in the popular vote.

28. Herbert Hoover, IQ 141.6

By the time that Herbert Hoover gave his inaugural presidential speech in 1929 at the age of 54 he was already a millionaire businessman. Since he achieved this from a humble background – his father was a blacksmith – it’s perhaps evidence of his ready intelligence. Hoover also had an international reputation for his outstanding philanthropy. Indeed, he gave the entirety of his presidential salary to charity.

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27. Ronald Reagan IQ 141.9

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Before his two terms as president from 1981 Ronald Reagan enjoyed a successful career in Hollywood, appearing in some 50 movies. But his political career took off in 1964 when he won the governor of California seat. When he defeated Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential vote, Reagan was 69, the oldest man to become his country’s leader at that time. And many credited him with ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union. No mean feat.

26. Richard Nixon, IQ 142.9

Richard Nixon’s main achievement as president from 1969 to 1974 was to end America’s military offensive in Vietnam. But this was almost completely overshadowed by the Watergate affair. This involved presidential aides illegally working to undermine Nixon’s political opponents. The scandal led Nixon to resign, the only president ever to do so. But Nixon’s intelligence is exemplified by the fact that he won a scholarship to Harvard but never took it up because he couldn’t afford the expense.

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25. George H. W. Bush, IQ 143

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George H. W. Bush was the first member of his family to become president when he won the election of 1988. As the White House website puts it, while studying at Yale the young Bush “excelled both in sports and in his studies; he was captain of the baseball team and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.” Despite his undoubted talents, in his bid for a second term Bush lost the 1992 election to one Bill Clinton.

24. William McKinley, IQ 143.4

William McKinley took office as America’s 25th president in 1897. History perhaps remembers him best as the leader who achieved victory for his country in the Spanish-American War. But before politics dominated his life, McKinley had gone to college and was a teacher when the American Civil War erupted. After that, he put his smarts to studying law and later opened a private practice. To underline his intelligence he married, you guessed it, a banker’s daughter.

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23. James K. Polk, IQ 143.4

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James K. Polk served as president for a single term from 1845. He was a diligent honors student at the University of North Carolina and, like so many politicians, went on to work as a lawyer before entering politics. After military action against Mexico, Polk succeeded in winning California and New Mexico for America at a cost of $15 million. That was perhaps one of the best bargains ever pulled off in U.S. history.

22. Grover Cleveland, IQ 144

In 1884 Grover Cleveland became the first Democrat to win a presidential election since the end of the Civil War. His time as president is unique since he left the White House at the end of his first term in 1889, only to be elected for a second term in 1893. Despite financial hardship that meant he had to leave formal education at 16, Cleveland stuck at part-time study and succeeded in passing his bar exams.

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21. Andrew Jackson, IQ 145

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Andrew Jackson was the seventh U.S. president, serving two terms from 1829 to 1837. Jackson received little structured education as a youngster but still went on to study law. According to the White House website, “he became an outstanding young lawyer in Tennessee.” Jackson had a fiery temperament such that in 1806 he fought a duel with a man who had allegedly defamed his wife, shooting him dead.

20. Dwight D. Eisenhower, IQ 145.1

Dwight D. Eisenhower first came to fame as a public figure as commander of the Allied forces that crushed Hitler’s Nazis in 1945. As perhaps the most accomplished military man of his day, he gave a sure indication of his outstanding intellect. After his landslide 1952 election victory, Eisenhower went on to negotiate a truce in the Korean war that brought an end to the bloodshed.

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19. Benjamin Harrison, IQ 145.4

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Benjamin Harrison was a single-term president who won the election of 1888. Yet another president who studied and practiced law, he was known as a “brilliant lawyer.” He also rose to the rank of colonel with the Unionists forces in the Civil War. Harrison was elected by virtue of his victory in the Electoral College although he actually lost the popular vote.

18. Martin Van Buren, IQ 146

Martin Van Buren was elected as president in 1837 after serving as vice president to Andrew Jackson for two terms. Standing just five feet six inches tall, Van Buren was known as the “Little Magician.” Although he had to leave school aged 14, he was clearly a bright youngster since he took a law apprenticeship and passed his bar exams.

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17. William Henry Harrison, IQ 146.3

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Having defeated the incumbent Martin Van Buren in the 1780 election, William Henry Harrison served as America’s ninth president. He was born into what the White House website describes as the “Virginian planter aristocracy.” Despite this, Harrison managed to present himself to the public as, “a simple frontier Indian fighter, living in a log cabin and drinking cider.” But in fact he had a history and classics degree from Hampden-Sydney College.

16. Rutherford B. Hayes, IQ 146.3

Rutherford B. Hayes triumphed in the election of 1876, a time when the national wounds of the Civil War were still healing. Hayes studied law at Harvard and went on to fight with the Unionists in the Civil War, attaining the rank of brevet major general. But perhaps he stayed sharper than the average bear by avoiding booze. You see, he banished liquors and wines from the White House, an order carried out by his wife.

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15. Franklin Pierce, IQ 147.4

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Franklin Pierce came to office in 1853 as America’s 14th president. He studied and briefly practiced law before moving into politics. And he won his first election, to the New Hampshire legislature, at the age of just 24. Personal tragedy marked Pierce’s days as president since soon before he was inaugurated, his 11-year-old son died in a railroad crash. Pierce and his wife were both on the train when it happened.

14. John Tyler, IQ 148.1

When William Henry Harrison died after just 32 days in office in 1841, Vice President John Tyler succeeded him. Harrison had been the first president to die in office, and Tyler became the first to become president without an election. His political enemies called him “His Accidency.” Tyler attended the College of William and Mary where, almost inevitably, he studied law.

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13. Abraham Lincoln, IQ 150

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Abraham Lincoln’s name resounds down the years as the man who signed into law the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the legislation that brought an end to slavery in the United States. Serving from 1861, he was the president who led the Unionist forces to victory in the Civil War. He rose to lead his country despite an estimated 18 months of formal education, surely a testimony to his fierce intelligence.

12. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 150.5

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency started in 1933 during one of the most difficult periods of U.S. history, the Great Depression. He was a high-achieving scholar who studied at Harvard University and Columbia Law School. Roosevelt’s political career started in 1910 with his election to the New York Senate. Having weathered the Great Depression, he was to be greatly tested again by America’s entry into WWII in 1941.

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11. Chester A. Arthur, IQ 152.3

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The son of an Irish emigrant, Chester A. Arthur came to the presidency in 1881 when President James Garfield was assassinated. He was a graduate of New York State’s Union College and joined the bar in New York City. But within a year of succeeding to the presidency Arthur was diagnosed with terminal kidney disease, a condition he kept secret. In any case, he failed to win the Republican nomination for the 1884 election.

10. James Garfield, IQ 152.3

After a long political career including nine terms in the House of Representatives, James Garfield won the 1880 election to become the 20th U.S. president. As a youth he was a talented scholar with a particular aptitude for Greek and Latin. He fought on the Unionist side during the Civil war, rising to the rank of brigadier general. Sadly, Garfield is one of the four presidents to have been assassinated in office.

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9. Theodore Roosevelt, IQ 153

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Vice president when William McKinley was assassinated, Theodore Roosevelt succeeded to the highest office in September 1901 when he was just 42. The youngest ever president, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and went on to study law at Columbia. He distinguished himself and became a well-known figure during the Spanish American War as the leader of the Rough Rider Regiment. Universally known as “Teddy,” Roosevelt went on to win a second term in the election of 1904.

8. John Adams, IQ 155

John Adams was the first vice president to George Washington and then went on to become the second president of America, winning the 1796 election. Perhaps reflecting his very high IQ score, the White House website describes him as, “more remarkable as a political philosopher than as a politician.” Adams was a clever student, gaining a scholarship to Harvard where he earned a master’s degree.

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7. Woodrow Wilson, IQ 155.2

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Woodrow Wilson won his first election in 1913 and went on to become a two-term president. That meant that he was in power as WWI raged. He maintained America’s neutrality in the conflict until 1917 when the United States joined the war, as he famously put it, to “make the world safe for democracy.” Despite his high IQ, Wilson was apparently a poor student as a boy and some suspect that he may have been dyslexic.

6. James Carter, IQ 156.8

Known as “Jimmy” – Carter won the presidency at the 1976 election. And before that he’d studied at the elite Naval Academy in Annapolis, Georgia, graduating in the top ten percent of students. He served in the U.S. Navy for seven years and then took over his family’s Georgia peanut farm after the death of his father. Carter’s presidency was blighted by the Iran hostage crisis, when revolutionary Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 Americans captive.

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5. William J. Clinton, IQ 159

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Known as “Bill,” Clinton won election to the White House in 1994 and served for two terms. By common consensus, he oversaw an extraordinary period of prosperity in the States with high home ownership, low unemployment and low inflation. And Clinton had excelled as a student, winning a Rhodes Scholarship to England’s Oxford University. But for all his smarts, Clinton couldn’t keep his hands to himself, and an affair with intern Monica Lewinsky tarnished his tenure.

4. John F. Kennedy, IQ, 159.8

John F. Kennedy became president in 1961 aged 43, the youngest man ever elected to America’s highest office. As a boy, he wasn’t a conscientious student and often got into trouble. Even as a teenager, the Biography website reports, “Kennedy remained at best a mediocre student, preferring sports, girls and practical jokes to coursework.” But later he applied himself, and his final university paper sold 80,000 copies.

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3. Thomas Jefferson, IQ 160

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One of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as America’s third president in 1801. He was a man of high principles and the White House website quotes from a letter he composed just before his election win. He wrote, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Jefferson was reputedly one of the best-schooled lawyers in America. Perhaps that helps explain his IQ.

2. James Madison, IQ 160

James Madison won the presidential election of 1808, succeeding Thomas Jefferson in the White House and serving for two terms. Plagued by poor health, Madison received much of his education at his family’s estate in Orange County, Virginia. Eventually he attended the College of New Jersey, the forerunner of Princeton University. Madison is often called the “Father of the Constitution” because of his diligent work in drafting the document.

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1. John Quincy Adams, IQ 175

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John Quincy Adams, eldest son of second president John Adams, won the election of 1824 to become the sixth president. As a teenager he traveled to Europe and his outrageously high IQ apparently gave him an extraordinary talent for learning languages. He became a fluent speaker of Dutch, French and German. Returning to America, he studied at Harvard.

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