U.S. presidents ranked by intelligence

Thomas Jefferson is ranked as the most intelligent president.
Thomas Jefferson is ranked as the most intelligent president.
By now, you've heard (maybe a million times) that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly described President Donald Trump as a "moron." 

    Trump called the story, first reported by NBC, "fake news." But during an interview with Forbes magazine published today, the president suggested that if the story is true, he and Tillerson should compare I.Q. tests. Trump has before bragged of his intelligence, mentioning his undergraduate degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. 
    While most presidents who ranked high in intelligence attended prestigious schools and excelled as students, there is a notable exception. Abraham Lincoln was largely self-educated. Here are the 10 brainiest White House occupants, as ranked by 238 participating presidential scholars in the Siena Research Institute's 2010 U.S. Presidents Study:

  1. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826): He graduated from the College of William & Mary, where professors took note of his propensity to study for long hours.  (See our story here.)
  2. James Madison (1751-1836): A graduate of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), Madison was known to study for long hours and graduated in two years, notes The Complete Book of Presidents, by William A. DeGregorio and Sandra Lee Stuart, (Barricade Books; 2013). 
  3. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865): The 16th president did not have a formal education. Indeed, Lincoln borrowed books to study for the bar exam. (See our story here.) Despite this, historians rank him as one of the three most intelligent presidents.
  4. Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924): Wilson had health issues and was thought to be a slow learner when he was a child, according to DeGregorio. Eventually, however, he improved and graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton). An eager student, Wilson was the only president with a Ph.D. He earned his doctoral degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University in 1886.   
  5. John Quincy Adams (1767-1848): The son of John and Abigail Adams traveled with his father and spoke several languages. He was known as a voracious reader, and by age 10 was tackling Shakespeare, DeGregorio writes. Adams later graduated from Harvard University, second in a class of 51 students. 
  6. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919):  Also a voracious reader, Roosevelt “seems to have had something of a photographic memory,” writes H.W. Brands in the book T.R.: The Last Romantic (Basic Books; 1997). Even late in life, the Harvard graduate could recite lengthy passages from books he had read.  
  7. John Adams (1735 -1826): Another Harvard graduate, the second president was known for his intellect. While in college, he became immersed in education: “I soon perceived a growing curiosity,” he wrote, “a love of books and a fondness for study, which dissipated all my inclination for sports, and even for the society of the ladies. I read forever, but without much method, and with very little choice.” 
  8. Barack Obama (1961- ): His undergraduate degree was from Columbia University; his law school degree was from Harvard. He was also the first African-American to become president of the Harvard Law Review. (See The New York Times story from 1990.)
  9. Bill Clinton (1946- ): Throughout his school years, he was known as a strong student. His undergraduate degree was from Georgetown University in Washington; his law degree was from Yale. He was a Rhodes scholar.
  10. Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945): He was educated at Groton, an elite secondary school, before going on to Harvard. He attended Columbia Law School but dropped out to pursue politics. He was elected to the New York Senate in 1910 -- when he was 28.



       Quick Study: Presidents without diplomas

       Quick Study: The complicated John Adams

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