I just read a blog post entitled Five Presidents Who Could Kick Chuck Norris's Ass, and it listed Abraham Lincoln as number five. The other candidates for kicking Chuck Norris's behind were: (4) Ulysses S. Grant; (3) George Washington; (2) Teddy Roosevelt; (1) Andrew Jackson. It was an entertaining read, and I am sure the blogger wrote tongue-in-cheek. His post was certainly not a model of dispassionate evidentiary analysis.
Although it is unlikely that any of these men could have prevailed against a modern professional martial artist in a MMA-style competition, we can be certain that they were all capable of handling themselves in a scuffle. The most bellicose man on the list would have to be Andrew Jackson, whom I believe to be the only president to ever return fire upon a would-be assassin. We all know that Jackson was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, but I only recently learned that he was recuperating from gunshot wounds sustained in a duel when he led his army south to meet the British.
I have mentioned Lincoln's strength and wrestling ability in previous posts, but I want to talk about something that happened when Lincoln was a flatboatman on the Mississippi River system. One night during his first trip to New Orleans, he and his companions moored their boat so that they could sleep. While the crew slumbered, a company of some five to seven river pirates boarded the boat to plunder it. The noise of their entry waked the crew, and the boat's "captain," Allen Gentry, yelled "Bring the guns, Abe! Shoot them!"
The call for gunplay did not deter the pirates. Apparently they thought Gentry was bluffing. Either the pirates were correct or Lincoln was disobedient. Instead of arming himself with a firearm, Lincoln stepped into the midst of the pirates wielding a club. Lincoln laid about with the club and, after a brief but furious battle, cleared the deck of pirates. In the fight he received a minor wound, and he carried the scar from that wound to his grave. At least, that's the story that William O. Stoddard tells in his biography Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (p. 63).
If I were listing the presidents in order of prowess in hand-to-hand combat, I'd rank Lincoln number two right behind Andrew Jackson.