Measuring Up in the Oval

That Office of the President thing. I can’t believe anyone still really wants the job. But people do. Of course, some people are more well-suited for the job, by physical appearance alone. Apparently, taller, seems to be better.

As a point of note, the average height of all U.S. presidents elected during the 20th and 21st centuries is 6-feet even. That’s average. And, during the 18th and 19th centuries, America’s presidents averaged 5’ 11”. Again, to note, this was at a time when the average man stood 5’ 8”. (As a country, the USA is growing taller, and wider, as the time moves on.)

But Presidents. So now we are up to 45 of them. Of those, only six have been shorter than the average presidential height at the time. Our most recent shorty-man was Jimmy Carter elected in 1976. He was only 5’9”.

One of our greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was the tallest of them all, at 6’4”. But could he jump?

Truly though, size doesn’t necessarily matter. Here are our shortest three.

The Little-Award goes to America’s shortest president, the 5’ 4” tall James Madison. A full foot shorter than tall and honest Abe. But being a little guy didn’t stop him from getting elected twice over substantially taller opponents.

As the fourth U.S. president, Madison was first elected in 1808, defeating 5’ 9” Charles C. Pinckney. Four years later, in 1812, Madison was elected to a second term over his 6’ 3” opponent De Witt Clinton.
He did a few good things in his work. He helped draft the Constitution, and became known as the “Father of the Constitution.” He helped write the Federalist Papers too.

Next little man on the list came around in the 1888 election. That smallish 5’ 6” Benjamin Harrison defeated 5’ 11” incumbent President Grover Cleveland to become America’s 23rd president.

Harrison did some decent work. He crafted a foreign policy program focused on international trade diplomacy. Imagine. Trade Diplomacy. And, it helped the United States recover from a 20-year period of economic depression. The big slump that had lingered since the end of the Civil War.

And then, in 1892, Harrison orchestrated the opening of Ellis Island. This became the primary point of entry for immigrants to the United States.

Finally, Harrison also greatly expanded the system of National Parks launched in 1872, with Ulysses S. Grant’s dedication of Yellowstone. During his term, Harrison added new parks including, Casa Grande (Arizona), Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks (California), and Sitka National Historical Park (Alaska).

Short guy got the job done.

And in the number three spot was one of the most influential Founding Fathers, the 5’ 7” tall John Adams. Little John was elected as the nation’s second president, over his taller friend, 6’ 3” that lanky Thomas Jefferson.

First, Adams inherited an ongoing war between France and England. He did a lot of maneuvering to keep the U.S. out of a conflict there. He strong-armed France. As a result, there was a Convention of 1800 brought a peaceful end to the Quasi-War. More than that, it established the new nation’s status as a world power.

His presidency was filled with a lot of good acts for the country. But on a personal level, he and Abigail made their magic, and brought little John Quincy Adams into the world. And Quincy became the nation’s sixth president. He was short too. Standing only one-half inch taller than his 5’ 7” father, John Quincy Adams defeated not just one, but three much taller opponents.

So. That’s how those Presidents measured up.
But believe me, the height doesn’t seem to equate to competency. In fact, some Presidents don’t seem to be able to stand on their own two feet, no matter how tall they are.

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”
― Malcolm Forbes

“The measure of a man is his state of mind.”
― Lailah Gifty Akita

“Ability without honor is useless.”
― Marcus T. Cicero