Rank #1: Franklin Pierce
Alexis and Elliott delve into the life of a handsome yet disappointing president, number 14, Franklin Pierce. They speak to a presidential grief specialist about how Pierce dealt with a tragic death two months before his inauguration, examine how the Kansas-Nebraska Act—an act that was meant to defuse tension over slavery—ended up blowing up the country, and explore Pierce’s lifelong friendship with the acclaimed novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Rank #2: Gerald Ford
Alexis and Elliott get to know the all-American football star who stepped into office after Nixon’s resignation and served less than a full term, president #38 Gerald Ford. They examine his childhood, imagine his life as a pro-football player, explore his controversial decision to pardon Nixon a month after he left office in disgrace, and peek inside the East Wing with Betty Ford’s White House press secretary.
Rank #3: Chester A. Arthur
Alexis and Elliott explore the life of our oft-forgotten 21st president, Chester Alan Arthur. Author Esther Crain explains why Arthur was the quintessential Gilded Age New Yorker, Elliott digs into a complicated relationship with NY senator Roscoe Conkling, and Alexis investigates his involvement in a significant civil rights case. Playwright Sean David DeMers meets our hosts at a Brooklyn cemetery, to discuss Arthur’s mysterious correspondence with a New York woman who encouraged him to rise to the challenges of the presidency.
Rank #4: George Washington
Alexis and Elliott attempt to get closer to the man behind the marble facade: our first president, George Washington. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph J. Ellis explains what made Washington a myth, even in his own time. Reid Mitenbuler, author of Bourbon Empire, sheds light on Washington’s surprising role as a major American whiskey distiller. Rohulamin Quander reflects on his ancestors enslaved at Mount Vernon, and Alexis and Elliott visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to see the site of Benedict Arnold’s infamous betrayal.
Rank #5: William Howard Taft
This week, Alexis and Elliott get to know the sensitive soul behind our portly 27th president, William Howard Taft. They talk to historian H.W. Brands about Taft’s public break from his mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, and journalist Alexandra Robbins takes us back to Taft’s days as a member of Skull and Bones, Yale’s oldest secret society. Elsewhere, Alexis clears up some misinformation, and drops a bombshell on Chicago second grader Isaac Margolis.
Rank #6: Rutherford B. Hayes
Alexis and Elliott explore the life of president number 19, Rutherford B. Hayes, and investigate how a seemingly decent man turned into possibly the worst president ever. Alexis and Elliott speak to author and historian Roy Morris Jr. about the stolen election of 1876, and to David O. Stowell about Hayes’ involvement in the Great Railway Strike of 1877. They also enlist the help of comedian Kristen Schaal, in an attempt to find an entertaining way to talk about the silver coinage debate.
Rank #7: George H.W. Bush
Alexis and Elliott reexamine the life and presidency of the first President Bush, number 41, George Herbert Walker Bush, current most senior member of the Bush political dynasty and prolific thank-you note writer. Alexis speaks to journalist and unauthorized Bush biographer Kitty Kelley about Bush's surprising association with Planned Parenthood, while biographer Jon Meacham recounts his WWII experience and unrelenting drive to succeed. Bush Sr. impressionist Eric Harthen gives voice to personal letters, and imagines an alternate history in which his political rise went differently.
Rank #8: Benjamin Harrison
This episode takes a look at president number 23, Benjamin Harrison, grandson of President William Henry Harrison, and the meat in the Grover Cleveland sandwich. Elliott chats with Harrison biographer Charles Calhoun about Harrison’s impressive legislative advancements, and his role as the missing link between early American politics and the modern presidency. Alexis and Elliott speak with Harrison re-enactor Charles Braun, and reveal two remarkable examples of Harrison’s bravery under fire. Comedian Wyatt Cenac and others reimagine the Harrison White House years as a 1980s TV sitcom.
Rank #9: Abraham Lincoln
This is the episode Elliott has been waiting for: number 16, Abraham Lincoln, his favorite president and personal hero. Elliott speaks to Lincoln scholar and former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Frank J. Williams about Lincoln’s 25-year legal career, while Alexis reexamines First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln’s complicated legacy with the help of historian Catherine Clinton. And author Mary Roach takes us behind the scenes of Lincoln's final train journey.
Rank #10: Calvin Coolidge
Alexis and Elliott get to know the Vermonter with a maligned legacy, number 30, Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge’s hands-off style of governing has been blamed for paving the way to the devastation of the Great Depression, but personal tragedy may be as much to blame as his fiscal conservatism. Alexis speaks to political scientist Robert E. Gilbert about Coolidge’s long-time struggle with depression. We hear author Jen Doll's very modern re-telling of the moment Coolidge and his wife Grace met, and about the quietly dramatic moment he was sworn into office.