The 13 Presidents with the Highest IQ Scores
It takes a lot of brainpower to run a country—see how the top presidents stack up!
The brains of a president
Just how smart do you have to be to lead an entire nation? Dean Simonton, a researcher and psychologist from UC Davis, sought to quantify the intelligence of U.S. presidents by estimating their IQ levels. Using factors such as intellectual brilliance and openness, Simonton was able to get a picture of how smart our leaders were. All of the data below is from Simonton’s corrected estimates of the presidents’ IQs after age 18. For context, every IQ test differs, but an average IQ generally hovers around 100. Humor is a sign of intelligence, too—here are the funniest quotes from U.S. presidents.
John Quincy Adams
At a score of 175, Harvard grad John Quincy Adams has the highest estimated IQ of all U.S. presidents. He studied all around the world, becoming fluent in seven languages throughout his life. Without even completing law school, he became a lawyer. A notable diplomat, Adams first served as Secretary of State for President James Monroe. Highlights of his government career included shaping the Monroe Doctrine and helping to negotiate the end of the War of 1812. He was called “Old Man Eloquent” for his top-notch oratorial skills, and has even been called one of the fittest presidents. He’s also a president with one of the most famous first pets to live in the White House.
Thomas Jefferson had so many books to feed his IQ of 160 that he sold them to the Library of Congress after it was ransacked by the British. A true Renaissance man, he lists achievements in the areas of economics, architecture, food and wine, agriculture, paleontology, astronomy, music, and writing. Oh, and he wrote the Declaration of Independence and doubled the size of the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. Check out more hidden talents of U.S. presidents that you might not have known.
At 5 feet 4 inches, James Madison is the shortest U.S. president, but his IQ definitely stacked up: It was estimated to be 160. A scholar at heart, he is considered Princeton’s first graduate student, though he didn’t technically earn a degree. He is called the “Father of the Constitution,” and authored the Bill of Rights. His wife, Dolley, also helped define the role of First Lady in its social and philanthropical aspects. Can you guess the middle name of all the U.S. Presidents?
John F. Kennedy
Even with an IQ of 159.8, John F. Kennedy had a reputation in childhood of being a poor student, preferring games and sports. He came around, though, and graduated from Harvard in 1940. A Navy man, he won a Purple Heart in World War II for heroic actions in the South Pacific, and after being elected to both the House and Senate, he became the second-youngest president in history and the first and only Catholic president. In his tenure, he dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis and authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion, in addition to creating the Peace Corps and getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. He was also the only president to win a Pulitzer Prize. What many people also don’t know is that JFK’s achievements were accompanied by his struggle with chronic health problems, which threatened his life several times. Here are the presidential “facts” that aren’t actually true.
Bill Clinton‘s IQ was estimated to be 159. Born in Arkansas, he later attended school at Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale, where he met his wife, Hillary Rodham. He started his political career in Arkansas state government before becoming president in 1992; one of his big achievements while in office was the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. His smarts weren’t enough for him to avoid impeachment, however, as Congress voted to impeach Clinton over his relationship with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky, although he stayed in office for another two years afterward. Here’s what he looked like before-and-after his time in office, along with other presidents.
Jimmy Carter came from humble beginnings in rural Georgia, but he was no less smart, with an IQ of 156.8. He engaged in important diplomatic work in his time as president, and continued humanitarian work after his years in the White House, becoming a professor at Emory, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Check out these words and phrases that were actually made up by presidents.
Woodrow Wilson served as president from 1913 to 1921, and his IQ of 155.2 didn’t hurt as he made sweeping achievements in world affairs and American politics. He was born in Virginia a few years before the Civil War and studied at Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Johns Hopkins. Wilson was actually a professor before his government career. After leading the country through World War I in his presidency, he advocated for world peace and created the League of Nations to achieve it, for which he earned a Nobel Peace Prize. This ties into his surprising presidential first. Want to know what goes on in the West Wing? Here’s what happens when the president pardons a turkey.
Not to be confused with his son, John Quincy Adams, John Adams had an IQ of about 155. If you want to get a feel for what this famous president was like, you can check out the extensive archives of letters between Adams and his wife, Abigail. He was the only one of the first five presidents to not hail from Virginia—he was from Massachusetts, and he was the one to draft the Massachusetts Constitution, which is still in effect today. This is the U.S. state that produced the most presidents.
The Constitution Center called Teddy Roosevelt “one of the most dynamic presidents in White House history,” and with an IQ of 153, he was also one the smartest. He came from a wealthy New York family and attended Harvard and Columbia Law School, though he did not graduate from the latter. He is called the Father of the U.S. Navy and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts in the Russo-Japanese War. During his time in office, he banned something from the White House.
James Garfield had a notably high IQ of 152.3, though he only served 200 days in office before his assassination. Before that, though, he attended famed liberal arts school Williams College and later worked in Ohio’s state government for nine terms. He was also a Union officer in the Civil War. Don’t miss these interesting facts about the White House.
Chester Arthur and his IQ of 152.3 took office after the death of his predecessor, James Garfield. Born in Vermont to an Irish father and American mother, he attended Union College in upstate New York and then became a lawyer in New York City, working on several high-profile civil rights cases before becoming involved in politics and taking over the office of president in 1881. One unsolved presidential mystery is whether he was actually Canadian.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Before he began his 12-year tenure as president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with an IQ of 150.5, attended Harvard and later law school at Columbia University, and was an assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy. He guided the country through the Great Depression and World War II, and instituted the New Deal to improve the state of the American economy, including legislative measures like the Social Security Act, which are still in place today. His health was often tenuous, ever since being diagnosed with polio at the age of 39, and he died in office in 1945. Eleanor Roosevelt was also one of the most prominent first ladies in the White House—here are some facts you never knew about America’s first ladies.
At 150, Abraham Lincoln is the last on this list, but certainly not the lowest of the presidents in terms of IQ (that’s Andrew Johnson, successor to Lincoln, if you were curious). Lincoln is especially impressive considering he had very little formal schooling and was largely self-taught. He became a lawyer nonetheless, and as president, led the Union in the Civil War and passed the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery. A skilled speaker, he delivered what is possibly the most famous presidential speech in U.S. history, the Gettysburg Address. Honest Abe never did get to see the end of the war, though, as it ended a month after his assassination. Next, check out these astonishing facts you never knew about U.S. presidents.