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THE U.S. PRESIDENCY has been blessed, from time to time, with those of considerable intellect. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was a polymath and student of Euclid; natural philosopher and oenophile; a linguist fluent in French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish; the architect of his Monticello residence; the inventor of the swivel chair, among other things; every bit a Renaissance man.
At a reception 186 years after the nation’s birth, President John F. Kennedy said to a group of American Nobel Prize winners, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together in the White House—with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
John Adams tops several lists of most intellectual U.S. Presidents, including one in Business Insider. “The 15 Smartest U.S. Presidents of All Time” by Natasha Bertrand is based on the work of Dean Simonton, a psychology professor at University of California at Davis. His 2006 paper is titled “Presidential IQ, Openess, Intellectual Brilliance, and Leadership: Estimates and Correlations for 42 U.S. Chief Executives.”
According to Professor Simonton’s estimates, John Adams had an IQ of 173. Bertrand notes that Adams was “ambitious and intellectual—if not a little vain… best remembered for his skills in diplomacy, helping to negotiate a peace treaty during the Revolutionary War and avoiding a war with France during his Presidency.”
John Adams was also the principal author of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, a model for the U.S. Constitution ratified in 1788. The U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights owes much to Adams’ philosophy of government and the governed.
Thomas Jefferson called John Adams “a colossus of independence.” In a monumental coincidence of history, both men died on July, 4, 1826; Jefferson at age 83, Adams at age 90.
As a concluding note, James A. Garfield wasn’t exactly an intellectual, but he was multilingual, the first and only president to campaign in two languages, English and German. What’s more, he was ambidextrous. Indeed, Garfield could simultaneously write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.
This may seem nothing more than a neat party trick, but it certainly displays erudition, particularly refreshing and welcomed these days. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays, 2017