10/18/2012 12:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Who Is the Most Underrated American President?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By Bryce Johannes, explorer of lesser known histories in search of a brighter future

Jimmy Carter (1977 - 1981).

But I may be using a different yardstick than most.

Of all the Presidents, I think he was most sincere in wanting to help the people of the country (not a very high bar to exceed). I put LBJ as a distant second in this list.

Carter ran with a promise not to lie to the public (to distinguish himself from Nixon no doubt, but still).

In his nomination acceptance speech, he said:

Too many have had to suffer at the hands of a political and economic elite who have shaped decisions and never had to account for mistakes, nor to suffer from injustice.

In office, Carter was hardworking and unpretentious. He was committed to an open and transparent White House. He also didn't have much patience with lobbyists and people trying to bribe him into acting against the best interests of the people.

Where Carter really stood out for his time was on foreign policy, at least in the early days of his term. He encouraged a human-rights-oriented foreign policy, calling USSR and South Africa - amongst others - to task for violations of human decency. He also tried to encourage the country to live up to high human rights standards that could serve as a model for the world. He was suggesting that the Cold War could be fought not with aggression but by winning the ideological debate between Democracy and Totalitarianism. At a speech at Notre Dame in 1977, he argued that:

Being confident in our own future, we are now free of that inordinate fear of Communism that once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear... We can no longer separate the traditional issues of war and peace from the new global questions of justice, equity, and human rights.

Carter realized that fighting might with might was requiring the United States to oppress its own democracy in order to prove its superiority to Russian oppression. He suggested that if we as a country believe in Democracy and we believe that Soviet Communism was not sustainable, then we should put our faith in Democracy, encourage countries to move toward it instead of supporting regimes that deny it, and let the Soviet Union compete against freedom instead of oppression.

He got drawn into making some pretty awful mistakes by traditional Washington politicians, but I believe his heart was in the right place.

And don't get me started on his life after being President. No one has been a better former President.


By Daniel Mokrauer-Madden, History Enthusiast

Hands down, my vote goes to Grover Cleveland.

After a string of five forgettable presidents, Grover Cleveland sought to restore power to the presidency, instead of having an unchecked congress setting the national agenda. He wielded the veto more than any of his predecessors and was known for his veto messages explaining why he was rejecting the bill at hand. He also proved that politicians didn't need to be in the pocket of political machines by opening rebelling against the Tammany Hall machine in New York and fighting corruption in the capital. Additionally, he showed that the Republican party did not have a monopoly on the presidency and made sure that the Democratic party stayed relevant.

And here's a great excerpt from his annual message to Congress in 1887

When we consider that the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance of the Government which protects him, it is plain that the exaction of more than this is indefensible extortion and a culpable betrayal of American fairness and justice ... The public Treasury, which should only exist as a conduit conveying the people's tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure, becomes a hoarding place for money needlessly withdrawn from trade and the people's use, thus crippling our national energies, suspending our country's development, preventing investment in productive enterprise, threatening financial disturbance, and inviting schemes of public plunder.

[1] In many cases, the bills were for questionable benefits claims by Civil War veterans who were trying to game the system and had taken advantage of sympathetic congressmen who tried to justify dishing out cash to their constituents in the name of patriotism.

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