Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States
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Historians (and sometimes political scientists) are surveyed and asked to give Presidents of the United States number ratings on their overall performance or on different aspects of their leadership.
Several different factors are considered in deciding what makes one a good or bad president. These include their character, their vision for the country, their relations with congress, their relations with foreign leaders (diplomacy), how they managed the economy, how they managed the military, and their overall political skill.
It is sometimes difficult to accurately rank a president because all of the presidents faced completely different challenges and lived in different times.
Historical opinions of U.S. presidents often change over time. For example, Harry Truman had very low approval ratings right after he left office, but many historians now consider him among the greatest presidents.
Historian Surveys[change | change source]
General Findings[change | change source]
Most surveys agree that the top five presidents are:
- George Washington (the first president of the United States)
- Abraham Lincoln (led the United States through the American Civil War and ended slavery)
- Franklin Roosevelt (elected four times and led the country though the Great Depression and World War II).
- John F. Kennedy (presided over the Cuban Missile Crisis)
- Ronald Reagan (presided over the end of the Cold War and restored the economy)
The following presidents are usually ranked highly:
- Thomas Jefferson (partly because of the Louisiana Purchase)
- James K. Polk (presided over the Mexican American War)
- Theodore Roosevelt (strengthened the United States Navy and had the Panama Canal built)
- Woodrow Wilson (presided over World War I and created the Federal Reserve)
- Harry Truman (presided over the beginning of the Cold War and the integration of the Armed Forces)
- Dwight Eisenhower (presided over the Cold War and created NASA)
Some presidents have mixed ratings. For example, Andrew Jackson is considered to be a leader who stood for the common man, but at the same time historians criticize him because of the Indian Removal Act. Another example is Lyndon B. Johnson, who passed civil rights bills and presided over the Great Society, but also escalated the Vietnam War.
John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan are often considered to be among the worst because they failed to prevent the growth of the slavery which resulted in the Civil War.
Warren G. Harding and Ulysses Grant are often considered to be among the worst presidents because they both made the mistake of appointing their corrupt friends into high political offices, although recently Ulysses Grant has moved up in the rankings because of his efforts to give civil rights to African Americans.
Both historian polls and popular opinion polls consider George W. Bush among the worst U.S. presidents, although some would argue that it is too early to rank him because his term ended recently in 2009.
Also, Barack Obama is not ranked because his presidency has not ended yet. For the same reason, George W. Bush is not ranked in some polls because his presidency ended less than ten years ago. Bill Clinton is included in these polls, but his presidency was still not too long ago and historians have not yet decided whether he was a good or bad president.