Book review: “Recarving Rushmore”

Abraham Lincoln, Bad President. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bad President.  Andrew Jackson: Bad President. Bill Clinton, Average President. John Tyler: Good President?!

What’s going on here?

If there’s one thing that really annoys me about libertarianism in general; it’s that every time I think I will find a president I can really like, someone has to come along and utterly destroy them. I really wanted to like most of these men, I did. I was taught in school to think that Lincoln was the great emancipator of the slaves, and champion of civil rights. Looking back on school now, I remember that almost all of our presidents were lauded as great heroes and saviors of their people. But darn it all if “facts are stubborn things.” I thought I was fairly safe as a Libertarian with Thomas Jefferson as my favorite president. Then I opened up “Recarving Rushmore,” to see him at number 26 with a ranking of “bad president.” Ouch.

In “Recarving Rushmore,” Ivan Eland ranks the presidents, not in order of how they instituted Great Societies, or embarked on large-scale social engineering like the New Deal, but in order of how they ensured peace, prosperity, and liberty (P, P & L scale).

Eland’s book doesn’t read as if it’s biased or opinionated. On the contrary, this is a scholarly piece of work that offers a ranking system from number one down to forty-three. You’ll be surprised at who comes up first and last. Hint: It’s not Abe or George W.

The only criticism that I had is a mild one that the book is more of a guide for presidential policy relating to liberty than an exciting polemic to fire up the limited government types. Eland writes in a style that is direct and fair, but sometimes stodgy. It’s not a quick read that will have you burning the midnight oil. If you have a passion for this subject though you will want to finish it.

Libertarians who seek easy access to information can easily reference this text for what they need and therein lays the books usefulness.

The ranking system applied is credible, as is the author, who holds an MBA in Economics and is a senior fellow at the esteemed Independent Institute. A graduate of Iowa State, Mr. Eland spent fifteen years working for congress on foreign affairs and national security issues.

Some of the information you’ll find in this book will surprise you even if you’re the type who prides themselves on knowledge of Presidential history. For instance, I wasn’t aware that George Washington’s precedent of leaving office after two terms wasn’t an established law, until Roosevelt abused the privilege during World War II. Afterwards a constitutional amendment codified it. Tidbits like this make the book well worth a read, and a good reference guide for any freedom lover who would draw on it as a resource.

“Recarving Rushmore,” by Ivan Eland is available for sale through The Independent Institute by visiting