History Podcasts

Coming Soon (December 30)

Coming Soon (December 30)

Scroll down to listen to all the fight commentaries or click here to download them in Apple Podcasts and subscribe to the feed.


Wood splinters cover the ground. The pile of fire wood you've chopped has grown into a mountain. It should. You've been at it for hours. Your shoulders ache from exhaustion. You could use some help right now, turning all these logs into enough fuel to last the upcoming winter. As if you wish were granted, you see a man approaching with a wood ax in hand. He has unnaturally long limbs, a tough, thin, sinewy frame, and looks like he's spent his life chopping firewood and wrestling on the frontier.

But then you realize that he has. It's Abraham Lincoln himself, the sixteenth president. Then you realize to your horror that he isn't there to chop firewood. The deranged look in his eye suggests he's there to chop you.

But suddenly you see that you two aren't alone. In walks a burly man, 6'2 and 180 pounds, wearing a Revolutionary Era military uniform and most of his teeth missing. To your shock you realize it's the father of our country, George Washington, and he has come to your defense.

Washington and Lincoln start grappling, fighting in the style of frontier wrestling. Lincoln has the superior reach and more wrestling experience; Washington has the training of a sportsman and battlefield training. Lincoln flips over Washington and has him on the ground. But then somebody comes in to help the embattled general. It's Teddy Roosevelt, charging like he's going to take San Juan Hill. He lands two blows on Lincoln's jaw, the old boxer sizing up his opponent.

Lincoln can't handle a two-on-one fight, but it soon turns into a two on two fight. It's Thomas Jefferson. He throws his quill pen to the side, straightens his jacket, and prepares for fisticuffs, ready to strike as if they were a Barbary pirate. You gaze in wonder as Mount Rushmore has come to life in front of your eyes. And they aren't alone. Slowly the other 40 men who served as presidents shuffle in - James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Rutherford B. Hayes, The modern contingent comes as well- Reagan, both Bushes, Nixon, Obama, Trump. The Generals walk with military step: William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower.

The 44 presidents look each other over. Across space and time they have all come together. But these presidents are not here to talk, or to offer each other the wisdom of the ages. They are here for one reason and one reason alone. To fight.

Welcome to Presidential Fight Club.

HOW THE TOURNAMENT WILL GO DOWN

Listen to the introductory episode here where Scott explains the rules of the fight

This podcast is hosted by me, Scott Rank a history and religious studies professor at the University of Kansas, and James Early, a history professor at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas. We are going to narrate each of the 44 one-on-one fights between presidents in 44 short podcast episodes, which you can listen to below.

In each fight we discuss the physical abilities of each president (their height, weight, etc.), military experience, and special abilities that would help them win. Did they have combat training? Were they generals? Were they wrestling champions in their town or county?

At the end of each fight James announces the winner. We discuss why that president won and the other lost. If you would like to download an infograph that lists the fighting stats of each president, click here.

The 44 men who have been president are divided into four groups of eleven. The groups are based on the location of the presidents' home states. Within each group, we have given them a “seed,” just like in the NCAA basketball tournament. The seed was based on how well we think they would do in hand-to-hand combat at about the age of 35 (no, FDR, won't be fighting as a polio-riddled man in a wheelchair).

The seeds were used to make brackets, again, as in the NCAA tournament. Since there are only eleven in each group rather than sixteen, the top five seeded presidents will get a bye in the first round. The presidents seeded 6-11 will square off against each other, and then the winners will advance to the second round.

How is it decided which president won each match?

The members of the Facebook Group American History Fanatics voted on the contest in a poll in the summer of 2017. Based on these results the tournament proceeded.

Northeast Regional Tournament

(Click here to download your own printable tournament bracket sheet. Fill it out to see how the results match up with ours)

Name: John Adams

Height: 5'7 1/2

Weight: 175

Military experience: None

Special abilities: Supreme self-assurance. He defended the five British soldiers guilty of the Boston Massacre in 1770 in the city itself, the hotbed of anti-British sentiment, and won the case. He can also intimidate any opponent by his hideous ugliness. The opposition called him a hermaphrodite “which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Name: John Quincy Adams

Height: 5'7 1/2

Weight: 175

Military experience: None

Special abilities: Extreme versatility. He was the man of the house at age eight when his father left and the Revolutionary War happened right outside his house. He went with the elder Adams on his European diplomatic journeys at age 14, serving as private secretary and interpreter for the American minister to Russia. John Quincy Adams also swam the Potomac every morning, naked, at 5 a.m., even as a fifty-eight-year-old president.

Name: Millard Fillmore

Height: 5'9

Weight: 165

Military experience: Major, New York State Militia; Served in New York Militia in 1820s and 1830s; Organized Union Continentals home guard unit during the Civil War.

Special abilities: The power of invisibility on account of being utterly forgettable. The thirteenth president was chosen as Taylor's vice president only on account of being a Northeasterner. He failed to quell the oncoming Civil War. In that battle he formed a forty-five-man militia, but the only action they saw was marching in parades.

Name: Martin Van Buren

Height: 5'6

Weight: 165

Military experience: None

Special abilities: Master manipulator. He was known as the “little magician” or the “red fox” for his ability to control and mastermind elections. In 1832 he formed a political machine called the Albany Regency that controlled New York politics for years, rigging elections.

Name: Calvin Coolidge

Height: 5'10

Weight: 150

Military experience: None

Special abilities: Extreme caution. Coolidge would not make any hasty moves in a fight. However, he might not make any moves. He was chronically shy and feared meeting strangers well into adulthood. Coolidge's health was little better. He suffered from chronic respiratory ailments. As president he underwent frequent asthma attacks, hay fever, bronchitis, and stomach upset. Coolidge coughed so much that he feared he had tuberculosis.

Name: Chester A. Arthur

Height: 6'2

Weight: 225

Military experience: Brigadier General, Quartermaster General and Inspector General of the New York Militia before and during the Civil War.

Special abilities: Master manipulator. He was a fixture in America's post-Civil War corrupt political machine politics, gaining power through wheeling and dealing and doling out favors. Before becoming Garfield's vice president, he ran the New York Custom House and could choose political candidates by throwing donations and volunteers at them. Even as a child he could order others to do his bidding.

Fight #4: Teddy Roosevelt vs. John Adams

Name: Theodore Roosevelt

Height: 5'10

Weight: 220

Military experience: Colonel, U.S. Army.New York National Guard, 1882 to 1886, captain and company commander. Spanish-American War service as second in command and then commander of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders).

Special abilities: Being the world's most interesting man. Roosevelt was a champion intramural boxer in college, practiced judo while president, worked as a rancher in the Dakota territories and got in fist-fights with cowboys, arrested outlaws, gave a ninety-minute speech after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin, and explored an uncharted river in the Amazon following his failed presidential bid for the Bull Moose Party.

Name: Franklin Pierce

Height: 5'10

Weight: 145

Military experience: Brigadier General; New Hampshire Militia, 1831-46; Mexican-American War; commanded Infantry Brigade at Battle of Contreras, Battle of Churubusco, and the Assault on Mexico City.

Special abilities: Stone-cold ruthlessness. Pierce fought at the end of the Mexican-American War and led a brigade despite being thrown from his horse and injured on the battlefield. He continued to bark orders while completely immobile. While president, Pierce was charged with running over a woman with his horse; the case was thrown out due to a lack of evidence. He was also a chronic alcoholic praised by his opponents as “the victor of many a hard-fought bottle.”

Name: John F. Kennedy

Height: 6'0

Weight: 175

Military experience: Lieutenant (navy). Served in combat during World War II. Received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart.

Special abilities: Incredible endurance under extreme pain. Kennedy suffered Addison's disease his entire life, causing terrible physical suffering in his joints and abdomen. The left side of his body was smaller than the right, producing chronic back pain. He wore a metal brace and used crutches or even a wheelchair when the press was out of view. Despite this, when in August 1943 his boat the PT-109 was ripped apart by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy (now with a ruptured spinal disk) swam four hours with his crew to an island while towing an injured crewman by the life-jacket strap with his teeth.

Name: Franklin D. Roosevelt

Height: 6'2

Weight: 190

Military experience: None

Special abilities: Fearlessness. Lyndon Johnson said FDR was “the only person I knew, anywhere, who was not afraid.” And he was quite hearty before coming down with polio at age 39. Like his distant cousin Teddy, FDR suffered many illnesses as a child but fought back by throwing himself into the outdoors. He loved to swim, box, sail, fish, and jog. But overall he had incredible composure under stress due to his supreme assurance of the importance of what he was doing.

Name: Donald Trump

Height: 6'2

Weight: 235

Military experience: None

Special abilities: Actual ring experience. While Trump has no military experience beyond a few years of his childhood at the New York Military Academy (he said those five years gave him more military training than the military could), he is the only president with actual experience in the professional wrestling ring. In 2007, Trump faced off against WWE owner Vince McMahon at WrestleMania 23. The two sexagenarians threw down in the ring, and McMahon lost the match, having his hair buzzed off as part of bet. Trump was later inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, again, the only president to do so.

(Click here to download your own printable tournament bracket sheet. Fill it out to see how the results match up with ours)

Name: Woodrow Wilson

Height: 5'11

Weight: 170

Military experience: None

Special abilities: Being president while nearly dead. Most historians agree Wilson's wife Edith effectively became president after Woodrow suffered a stroke. America didn't have a fully functioning chief executive for eighteen months. His poor health goes back to childhood, when he suffered indigestion. In college Wilson nearly collapsed under the work load. In 1895, a retinal hemorrhage left him with poor vision in his right eye; he was nearly blind at the time of his death.

Name: James Buchanan

Height: 6'0

Weight: 200

Military experience: Private, War of 1812

Special abilities: Uhh… squeamishness? Buchanan is widely considered America's worst president for doing nothing to prevent Southern succession. He is also a poor physical specimen: observers noticed that he always cocked his head to the left to compensate for one eye being nearsighted, the other farsighted. One of his eyelids twitched, which led to a Jackson biographer describing Buchanan as a “winking, fidgeting, little busybody.”

Name: Andrew Johnson

Height: 5'10

Weight: 175

Military experience: Brigadier General, Served in Tennessee Militia in 1830s. American Civil War; served as Military Governor of Tennessee in 1862.

Special abilities: Winning as an underdog. As a child Johnson was mocked for being fatherless, impoverished, and being sold as an indentured servant to a tailor. He never went to school, taught himself to read and write, and was chosen as Lincoln's vice president for little other reason than being a pro-Union Southerner during the Civil War. While ranked as one of America's worst presidents for hampering Reconstruction, his grim determination earned respect even from opponents.

Name: James Madison

Height: 5'4

Weight: 100

Military experience: Colonel, Virginia Militia; did not see action.

Special abilities: Being a little man with big courage. Despite being America's smallest president (his wife Dolley was two inches taller, called him the “great little Madison,” and reportedly gave him piggy-back rides) he is the only man to take up arms while president-during the War of 1812 the British showed up at his door. In response he grabbed two pistols, mounted a horse, and rode out to the front lines despite having never fired a weapon.

Name: John Tyler

Height: 6'0

Weight: 160

Military experience: Captain, Virginia militia, war of 1812

Special abilities: Rock-hard conviction. He opposed his own party's federalist agenda, causing fellow Whigs to publicly expel him from the party and his cabinet to resign. Tyler relished in the challenge to his state's rights beliefs and vetoed nearly everything sent to his desk. He embraced his outlaw persona and renamed his plantation “Sherwood Forest.”

Name: James K. Polk

Height: 5'8

Weight: 175

Military experience: Colonel, Tennessee State Militia; Joined cavalry unit in Tennessee Militia as a Captain. Subsequently appointed a Colonel

Special abilities: Napoleon complex. He had a feverish drive to succeed due to what his biographer called “early physical inferiority.” Polk drove himself ruthlessly, exploiting the abilities he did possess to an extent few equaled.

Name: Andrew Jackson

Height: 6'1

Weight: 140

Military experience: Major General, fought in American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Creek War, First Seminole War.

Special abilities: Scrappiness. Jackson was a frontier wrestler, Revolutionary War POW, militia Indian fighter, and dueler with an inability to surrender. A contemporary youth who squared off against him in wrestling recalled “I could throw him three times out of four, but he would never stayed throwed.” Jackson also never suffered an insult without promising retaliation. He is rumored to have fought over a hundred duels in his life and carried in his body two bullets from separate encounters. While president, a would-be assassin failed to hit Jackson, who beat him with his cane before a crowd.

Name: James Buchanan

Height: 6'0

Weight: 200

Military experience: Private, War of 1812

Special abilities: Uhh… squeamishness? Buchanan is widely considered America's worst president for doing nothing to prevent Southern succession. He is also a poor physical specimen: observers noticed that he always cocked his head to the left to compensate for one eye being nearsighted, the other farsighted. One of his eyelids twitched, which led to a Jackson biographer describing Buchanan as a “winking, fidgeting, little busybody.”

Name: James Monroe

Height: 6'0

Weight: 190

Military experience: Major, Continental Army.

Special abilities: Natural soldier. He was sturdily built with broad shoulders and a large frame, suiting him for the military life. In 1775 he was the youngest member of a patriot band that sized the arsenal of the Governor's Palace. The next year his regiment fought with distinction in the failed defense of Manhattan Island. He was wounded at the battle of Trenton and received a promotion to captain for gallantry under fire.

Name: Andrew Johnson

Height: 5'10

Weight: 175

Military experience: Brigadier General, Served in Tennessee Militia in 1830s. American Civil War; served as Military Governor of Tennessee in 1862.

Special abilities: Winning as an underdog. As a child Johnson was mocked for being fatherless, impoverished, and being sold as an indentured servant to a tailor. He never went to school, taught himself to read and write, and was chosen as Lincoln's vice president for little other reason than being a pro-Union Southerner during the Civil War. While ranked as one of America's worst presidents for hampering Reconstruction, his grim determination earned respect even from opponents.

Name: George Washington

Height: 6'2

Weight: 175

Military experience: General of the Continental Armies, American Revolutionary War.

Special abilities: Athletic polymath. Washington mastered nearly every sport of his day, including archery, horseback riding, swimming, wrestling, iron-bar throwing, and sword fighting. Washington was also more rugged than most politicians. While most Easterners grew up in warm colonial homes, he spent his youth as a backwoods surveyor in the Ohio Valley, building rafts out of trees with his bare hands in frigid weather, fording rivers, and hacking paths through thick forests. He was also fearless in battle: In a 1754 letter to his brother, he commented “I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”

Name: John Tyler

Height: 6'0

Weight: 160

Military experience: Captain, Virginia militia, war of 1812

Special abilities: Rock-hard conviction. He opposed his own party's federalist agenda, causing fellow Whigs to publicly expel him from the party and his cabinet to resign. Tyler relished in the challenge to his state's rights beliefs and vetoed nearly everything sent to his desk. He embraced his outlaw persona and renamed his plantation “Sherwood Forest.”

Name: Jimmy Carter

Height: 5'9 1/2

Weight: 160

Military experience: Lieutenant (navy). Served during World War II as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy. Sea duty and stateside service 1946-1953 during the Korean War.

Special abilities: Speed and memory. Carter was a standout basketball player at his high school in Plains, Georgia. He played baseball in the navy and ran cross country. Carter often ran for recreation during his White House days, which was at the height of the running craze in the late 1970s. Carter has also taken a memory retention course, so he will be able to mentally record his opponent, play back their attacks in his mind, and scan for any weaknesses.

Name: Thomas Jefferson

Height: 6'2 1/2

Weight: 175

Military experience: Colonel, Virginia Militia. Commander of Albemarle County Militia at start of the American Revolution; did not see action.

Special abilities: Superhuman intelligence. He is widely regarded to be the smartest president in American history. He spoke seven languages, played five musical instruments, and inventor (the swivel chair, a new moldboard plow, and polygraph machine). He helped design Washington D.C. And Monticello, and introduced many crops to the United States (grapes, olive trees, apricot trees, tomatoes).

Name: Andrew Jackson

Height: 6'1

Weight: 140

Military experience: Major General, fought in American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Creek War, First Seminole War.

Special abilities: Scrappiness. Jackson was a frontier wrestler, Revolutionary War POW, militia Indian fighter, and dueler with an inability to surrender. A contemporary youth who squared off against him in wrestling recalled “I could throw him three times out of four, but he would never stayed throwed.” Jackson also never suffered an insult without promising retaliation. He is rumored to have fought over a hundred duels in his life and carried in his body two bullets from separate encounters. While president, a would-be assassin failed to hit Jackson, who beat him with his cane before a crowd.

Name: James Monroe

Height: 6'0

Weight: 190

Military experience: Major, Continental Army.

Special abilities: Natural soldier. He was sturdily built with broad shoulders and a large frame, suiting him for the military life. In 1775 he was the youngest member of a patriot band that sized the arsenal of the Governor's Palace. The next year his regiment fought with distinction in the failed defense of Manhattan Island. He was wounded at the battle of Trenton and received a promotion to captain for gallantry under fire.

Name: George Washington

Height: 6'2

Weight: 175

Military experience: General of the Continental Armies, American Revolutionary War.

Special abilities: Athletic polymath. Washington mastered nearly every sport of his day, including archery, horseback riding, swimming, wrestling, iron-bar throwing, and sword fighting. Washington was also more rugged than most politicians. While most Easterners grew up in warm colonial homes, he spent his youth as a backwoods surveyor in the Ohio Valley, building rafts out of trees with his bare hands in frigid weather, fording rivers, and hacking paths through thick forests. He was also fearless in battle: In a 1754 letter to his brother, he commented “I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”

Name: Thomas Jefferson

Height: 6'2 1/2

Weight: 175

Military experience: Colonel, Virginia Militia. Commander of Albemarle County Militia at start of the American Revolution; did not see action.

Special abilities: Superhuman intelligence. He is widely regarded to be the smartest president in American history. He spoke seven languages, played five musical instruments, and inventor (the swivel chair, a new moldboard plow, and polygraph machine). He helped design Washington D.C. And Monticello, and introduced many crops to the United States (grapes, olive trees, apricot trees, tomatoes).

(Click here to download your own printable tournament bracket sheet. Fill it out to see how the results match up with ours)

Name: Richard Nixon

Height: 6'0

Weight: 175

Military experience: Commander, US Naval Reserve. Served in World War II; earned two battle stars for service in the Pacific.

Special abilities: Ruthlessness. Psychoanalysts have described Nixon as narcissistic, suspicious, and secretive out of a fear of passivity, appearing soft, or being dependent on others. Nixon is categorized as a compulsive liar who did so to win the pettiest of fights, and he did so most viciously to deny he lied. He plotted to kill journalist Jack Anderson for exposing his corruption (two ideas were to plant poison in his medicine cabinet and smear a lethal dose of LSD on his steering wheel).

Name: George H.W. Bush

Height: 6'2

Weight: 195

Military experience: Lieutenant, Naval Reserve. Navy pilot in World War II (1942-1945). Shot down and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Special abilities: Being a flying ace, oil drilling spymaster. Despite his grandf