Historians and journalists often ponder questions related to the political scene and its events. Many of those questions are related to the efficiency of the politicians, presidents, and their governments. Today, we will talk about the best and worst US presidents and why they deserved those rankings.
Before we start, it is essential to note that presidents are not responsible for everything in the United States, so they should not get all the credit or blame for things that go right or wrong. While the rankings of the best and worst presidents can lack credibility due to subjectivity and numerous other factors, it is worth contemplating who should be on the top and bottom of the list. Our list will rank best and worst, and not every president in history made it to the list. So, without further delay, let us get into it.
Top 10 Best US Presidents
1. George Washington (1789 – 1797)
Although America was well on the way to becoming an independent country, it would not happen without George Washington. He got everything off the ground in 1776 and crushed the Newburgh Conspiracy in 1783, and all of this happened before he actually became the President of the United States.
His moral authority, economic management, and performance led this very young nation to numerous successes. He pushed hard for the Constitution, as he felt that the Articles of Confederation were not the right fit for the country. As his first term was coming to an end, he was very disappointed, seeing that the country was politically divided, and by the end of his second term, he decided to retire.
2. Abraham Lincoln (1861 – 1865)
Abraham Lincoln is a president that makes it to the first place in countless lists due to his incredible leadership abilities. He is well-remembered as a president who led the country through one of its most difficult and trying periods, the Civil War, and in 1863 he signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves.
Apart from winning the war, he managed to master fractious politics in Washington, including everything from backstabbing generals to rioting in the streets of New York. He had a willingness to take risks, the ability to compromise, and numerous domestic accomplishments, which ranks him in the top five US presidents on most lists.
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933 – 1945)
When it comes to skills in party leadership, Franklin D. Roosevelt is likely the best president in the history of the United States. He was also known for his ability to handle foreign relations through his mandates. His “New Deal” created Social Security and completely reformed the banking system in the country.
He was an unmatched war president and helped save not only America but much of the world from one of the greatest threats to humanity and freedom during his mandate, and is historically remembered for it.
4. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1901 – 1909)
Teddy Roosevelt was the US president who was beloved for his public persuasion and willingness to take risks. He was 42 when he was elected to be the youngest president in the nation’s history. He had the energy and ability to convince Congress to pass numerous progressive reforms.
He is best known for his conservation efforts and has dramatically expanded the national forests while spearheading irrigation projects. He was an enthusiastic outdoorsman and oversaw the expansion of America’s national parks. Teddy Roosevelt is also famous for his motto, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
5. Thomas Jefferson (1801 – 1809)
Famous for his intelligence and vision, Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. During his mandate, Jefferson acquired the Louisiana Territory, which was the act that vastly expanded the size of the country.
He was also known for slashing the national debt by a third, which was a huge economic boost that country needed at the time.
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953 – 1961)
Dwight D. Eisenhower is widely considered one of the best presidents in the history of the United States. He was a distinguished commander in World War II and invested his energies in the onset of the Cold War.
In addition, Eisenhower secured peace after years of war in Korea and continued the assimilation of the United States armed forces. Moreover, he sent federal troops to exact a court order assimilating public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Eisenhower famously made full use of his valets, chauffeurs, and secretarial support, which is one of the reasons why he rarely drove or dialed the phone. He was also a passionate fisherman, golfer, painter, and bridge player and generally enjoyed more passive forms of entertainment.
7. Harry Truman (1945 – 1953)
Historians are generally fond of Harry Truman and largely praise him for his foreign policy and leadership. This may come as a surprise since when Truman was leaving office, he was regarded as a very unpopular president. However, over the course of years and in-depth analysis of his mandate, historians started to rank him higher on their lists.
When Japan refused to surrender after V-E Day, he ordered the atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ultimately ended World War II in the Pacific region. Not long after those events, Truman watched the signing of the charter of the United Nations, which was established to conserve peace.
8. John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963)
Kennedy is widely credited by historians for his incredible skills in public persuasion and vision. During his mandate, John F. Kennedy also showed exceptional skills in crisis management and handling international relations as well.
He will stay remembered for standing up to the Soviets and successfully defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis. He had a charming personality which voters appreciated a lot, and he inspired the American people by vowing to put a man on the moon. Kennedy was also a supporter of progress on civil rights.
However, the thing that the public remembers the most about his rule is that he was assassinated after barely a thousand days in office.
9. Ronald Regan (1981 – 1989)
Ronal Regan is generally favored by historians, and it is mostly due to his public persuasion skills and the legacy he left behind in setting the national agenda. Regan was a highly capable president, and he made significant changes in the state during his mandate.
He actively worked with Congress and was able to pass legislation that dramatically improved and sped up economic growth while also strengthening national defense. Regan will also be remembered for advancing his vision of “peace through strength” in the years in which the Cold War officially ended.
10. Barack Obama (2009 – 2017)
Being the first African American man to serve as president of the United States, Barack Obama vowed to bring numerous positive changes during his mandate. He was determined to bring improvements to American race relations.
Even though there were several instances of police officers arresting and killing Black people under his administration alongside some race-related protests, historians rank Obama pretty high on the list.
Obama’s domestic policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act (also known by the name Obamacare), was generally criticized by Republicans. However, it extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans, and Obama’s guidance of the country through the Great Recession and saving the U.S. auto industry are acts that will mostly be remembered when referring to his rule.
Top 10 Worst US Presidents
1. Andrew Johnson (1865 – 1869)
Historically, Johnson got the worst ratings overall. He became the United States president after Lincoln was assassinated and is known for his clash with fellow Republicans over Reconstruction in the wake of the Civil War.
Andrew Johnson was also the first United States president ever who faced impeachment due to his dismissal of his secretary of War. He often attempted to sidestep Congress and was poorly ranked for his poor party leadership, communication, and court appointments.
2. James Buchanan (1857 – 1861)
Buchanan was the United States president who was universally criticized for his poor leadership in a time of crisis. He was unable to grasp the enormity of the United States’ division over slavery, letting this issue fester, which was contributing factor to the eventual Civil War.
Throughout his mandate, James Buchanan attempted to keep the peace among the northern and southern states, but he ended up angering both sides and went down in history as one of the worst US presidents.
3. Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981)
Although Carter was admired by certain historians for his pursuits of equal justice, he was often criticized for his leadership in times of crisis. Carter was also criticized for his poor management and lack of ability to sort out decisions that a president must make from those that should be settled at lower levels.
His presidency was largely a failure, and people sometimes characterized him as “the best ex-president the country has ever had.” He was also characterized as misunderstood, and only time will tell if this was the correct claim.
4. Warren G. Harding (1921 – 1923)
Although Warren G. Harding’s presidency benefited from economic boost, mainly due to the growing mass production of motor cars, there were numerous scandals that plagued his time in the office. He was embroiled in multiple administrative scandals.
Warren G. Harding looked presidential, but he was corrupt, and among numerous scandals his mandate provided, the most infamous was Teapot Dome, in which cronies profited from secret oil deals. He was also known as a gambler and womanizer, and he died before he could do greater damage to the country.
5. George W. Bush (2001 – 2009)
According to historians and analysts, George W. Bush received one of the worst presidential ratings in terms of intelligence, although his overall standings were trending upwards over the last years. His most controversial decision was to invade Iraq in 2003.
This decision was based on the mistaken belief that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Although he left office at the height of an economic crisis, historians reviewed his record and moved him up a couple of rankings better.
6. Franklin Pierce (1853 – 1857)
Franklin Pierce generally gets a low rating by historians due to the fact that he failed to pursue equal justice and neglected and avoided resolving this civil right issue. When he became the president, the United States was in a relatively peaceful state.
However, his desire to expand the nation annoyed Northerners since they believed he acted in the interest of those who still supported slavery. The biggest issue with his mandate was the Kansas-Nebraska Act which established Kansas and Nebraska as territories and made them available for the building of settlements and railroads.
The problem was that this act was also reversing the prohibition of slavery in Kansas, which made this formerly free state a battlefield for pro and anti-slavery citizens.
7. Donald Trump (2017 – 2024)
Donald Trump is the only president of the United States on this list that had to face impeachment twice. Although historians do not look kindly on his mandate, he did get fairly high scores in public persuasion and economic management, while he was ranked worst in terms of moral authority and administrative skills.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for the second time on one count of incitement of insurrection, which made him the first president in the history of the state to be impeached twice. This voting came seven days after a mob of the president’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, trying to block Congress from counting the Electoral College votes that eventually confirmed Joe Biden’s election victory.
8. William Henry Harrison (1841)
William Henry Harrison passed away just 32 days into his presidency, so the time for him to make some accomplishments was fairly limited. However, it is safe to say that his presidency stays remembered for organizational chaos.
Back then, it was common for job seekers to simply visit the White House and ask for a meeting with the chief executive, so they proceeded with that. However, Harrison complained that he was harassed by so many calls upon him that he could not pay attention to any business of his own. Overall, historians and analysts do not have much to judge him on since his rule was very short, and there was no time for him to succeed or fail at that position.
9. Zachary Taylor (1849 – 1850)
Zachary Taylor was a military hero and served his presidential mandate in the years leading to the Civil War. At this point in time, slavery was in expansion into America’s western territories. This caused significant conflict between the North and South, and it was a time full of turmoil on American soil.
Taylor was also an enslaver, and his nationalism was the basis of his aversion to creating new slave states. Same as most pre-Civil War era presidents, he got a pretty low score from historians due to his inability to pursue equal justice and his inaction regarding slavery.
10. Gerald Ford (1974 – 1977)
Ford assumed the presidency after Richard Nixon’s resignation, which made him the first unelected president in American history. He was a vice president under Nixon, and he pardoned him for crimes related to the Watergate scandal, which was a decision that met poor reception by most Americans.
However, in the aftermath of this debacle, Ford focused his energies on helping the American public regain its trust in government and its institutions. He was a Republican and therefore had a complicated relationship with a mostly Democratic Congress, especially when he failed to secure military relief to South Vietnam.
In addition, he signed the Helsinki Accords, which reduced strain between Western countries and the Soviet Union. One of his main strengths was his pursuit of equal justice, while he recorded the worst marks in terms of agenda-setting, for which the main proof was his pardoning of Nixon’s Failure.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do historians determine the score when ranking the best and worst U.S. presidents?
Historians determine the score by judging the presidents’ skills and abilities in various categories. When they judge those factors, they get an overall C-SPAN score which ultimately determines the president’s position on the list. Some of the most important categories include:
- Political persuasion score
- Crisis leadership score
- Economic management score
- Moral authority score
- International relations score
- Administrative skills score
- Congressional relations score
- Vision and ability to set an agenda score
- Pursued equal justice for all score
- Performance within the context of the times score
2. Who is the best president in the history of the United States?
Judging by the latest total scores and overall rankings and the research and analysis conducted in 2024, the highest-ranked president was Abraham Lincoln, while George Washington was the runner-up.
3. Who is the most influential president in the history of the United States?
The general opinion is that Abraham Lincoln is the greatest president in U.S. history due to his leadership during the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
4. Which U.S. president lived the longest?
At the age of 97, Jimmy Carter is the oldest living president of the United States, as well as America’s longest-lived president.
5. Which U.S. president had the shortest term in office?
The shortest term in the history of the United States had William Henry Harrison, who was the ninth U.S. president. He was only 32 days in office, after which he passed away, and is remembered as the president who served the shortest tenure in the nation’s history.
6. Who was the only president in the history of the U.S. that resigned?
The only president in the history of the United States to resign was Richard Nixon. He resigned on August 1974, after he was almost certainly facing impeachment after the Watergate scandal.
7. Which president had the most children?
John Tyler was the president that had the most children. He fathered fifteen children and had two official first ladies, and he remarried during his presidential tenure.
8. Who was the least educated president of the United States?
Although it comes as a surprise to some people, George Washington was the least educated president in the history of the United States. He never attended college, although The College of William & Mary issued him a surveyor’s certificate.
9. Who was the self-educated president of the United States?
Even though President Abraham Lincoln had numerous admirable traits, the one that often gets overlooked is his self-education. Growing up on the frontier, he did not have many options in terms of education, but due to his focus and self-determination, he taught himself to read, which greatly improved his powers of concentration.
The legacy of the United States presidents is a complicated one. While some have been celebrated for their leadership and accomplishments, others have been criticized for their policies and actions. However, regardless of their place in history, each president has left a mark on the country and its people.
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Even though the list of the United States presidents is much longer, our list consists of some of the highlighted names that were important in the country’s history and had different impacts on its position.
This is a fairly subjective topic, and even historians and analysts can be mistaken. Only time will tell which president stands tallest on the list because there might be some future names that will hold an even more significant impact.