Experts rank the best U.S. presidents of all time

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February 8, 2019
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Experts rank the best U.S. presidents of all time

Over the course of 240 years, United States presidents have made many integral and difficult decisions to help shape this country. Civil and international wars, economic crises, and deep-rooted bigotry are just a few major installments that presidents have had to tackle. But the expectations of the president have evolved over time—and with a more diverse and populated public to represent, it's become more difficult than ever to please everyone. Despite these increasingly challenging expectations, some presidents have certainly fared better than others.

Stacker compiled data from the annual “Presidential Greatness” ranking, a survey of 170 current and recent members of the Presidents & Executive Politics Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA)—in order to find out just which ones have succeeded and which have failed. Political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus at the University of Houston and political science associate professor Justin S. Vaughn at Boise State University conducted the survey, with the results published in the New York Times. Respondents were surveyed between Dec. 22, 2017 and Jan. 16, 2018, and each expert rated every president on a 0-100 scale, with 0 being a failure, 50 as average, and 100 as great. The scores were then averaged, and the presidents are ranked lowest to highest. Continue reading to see the reasons why some presidents remain household names, while others all but fade into the background of U.S. history.

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Gage Skidmore // flickr

#44. Donald J. Trump

45th president
Term: 2017-
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 12

Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” political experts gave President Trump a score of just 12 out of a possible 100. The first term of Trump's presidency has been marked by controversy—from an ongoing investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election, to accusations of sexual harassment, to the president's ongoing fight to build a border wall along the U.S. boundary with Mexico. The border has served as a routine spot of heated debate when it comes to Trump's hard-line immigration policies, including the widely criticized choice to separate and detain children who crossed the border illegally.

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Mathew Brady//Wikimedia

#43. James Buchanan

15th president
Term: 1857-1861
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 15

Though he intended to maintain peace between the pro-slavery South and anti-slavery North, President James Buchanan did little to prevent the conflict. A few days before he was elected, the Supreme Court passed the Dred Scott decision, denying the federal government power to regulate slavery in U.S. territories and depriving slaves the rights of citizens. Buchanan's lobbying of a fellow Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice to vote with the Southern majority aroused a heated reaction among abolitionists. This decision set the tone for what became Buchanan's unfortunate legacy: an inability to calm the explosive relationship between the North and South that led to the Civil War. A 2017 survey from C-SPAN put Buchanan last in presidential rankings, but thanks to Trump Buchanan has seen his ranking adjusted.

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Albert Sands Southworth//Wikimedia

#42. William H. Harrison

Ninth president
Term: 1841
Political party: Whig
Presidential greatness score: 19

President William Harrison died just 32 days into his presidency, so his accomplishments are limited. Leading up to his time in office, he served as governor of the Indiana Territory, where he negotiated the U.S. acquisition of land with Native American tribes. Negotiations were rocky, which led to war with the Indian confederacy—in which Harrison famously defeated Shawnee leader Tecumseh in the battle on the Tippecanoe River. Considered a war hero, Harrison served as commander of the Northwest army in the War of 1812. The Whig Party nominated him in the 1840 election. He died of pneumonia after delivering an extremely long inaugural address without the protection of a coat or hat.

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Mathew Brady//Wikimedia

#41. Franklin Pierce

14th president
Term: 1853-1857
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 23

President Franklin Pierce led the country during a time of relative peace. His desire to expand the nation annoyed Northerners, who thought he was acting in the interest of those who supported slavery. The Kansas–Nebraska Act, the largest legislation passed during Pierce's term, established Kansas and Nebraska into territories, made them available for development and railroads, and reversed the prohibition of slavery in Kansas. The law also turned Kansas into a battlefield for the slavery debate.

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#40. Warren G. Harding

29th president
Term: 1921-1923
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 25

President Warren G. Harding cut taxes for the wealthy and for corporations, passed high protective tariffs, and restricted immigration. He also signed the Budget and Accounting Act, which integrated the federal budget system and called for the General Accounting Office to analyze federal expenses. Harding's presidency was also marred by scandal, particularly the Teapot Dome issue, in which Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall made a secret deal that allowed oil companies to tap the Teapot Dome oil reserve in Wyoming in exchange for monetary compensation, as well as other embezzlement-related scandals. Harding himself was never found to be tied to any of these dealings, although history remembers him for hiring untrustworthy officials who corrupted the executive branch.

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Mathew Brady//Wikimedia

#39. Andrew Johnson

17th president
Term: 1865-1869
Political party: National Union (Democrat)
Presidential greatness score: 25

President Andrew Johnson took office following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. His main presidential task was to reconstruct former Confederate states while Congress was not in session. Meanwhile, new Southern governments led by ex-confederates quickly passed codes that controlled newly freed black citizens. Congressional radical Republicans fought bitterly with Johnson over what they considered to be his approach to post-war reform (including his vetoes on the Freedmen's Bureau and Civil Rights bills) and his efforts to convince the South not to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment awarding citizenship to black people. Johnson's actions created so much tension with Congress that the House of Representatives impeached him, though he was not removed from office.

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George Peter Alexander Healy//Wikimedia

#38. Millard Fillmore

13th president
Term: 1850-1853
Political party: Whig
Presidential greatness score: 28

Prior to occupying the presidency after the death of former President Zachary Taylor, President Millard Fillmore supervised the debate surrounding the Compromise of 1850. Fillmore claimed to oppose slavery in his personal convictions, but he believed the Compromise was a way of preserving the Union and passed it to the disapproval of Northern states.

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#37. John Tyler

10th president
Term: 1841-1845
Political party: Whig
Presidential greatness score: 31

President John Tyler was the first vice president to assume the presidency because of the death of his forerunner, then-president William Henry Harrison, and was known as “His Accidency.” His own Whig Party viewed him as representative of the common man, one who fought against Native Americans along with Harrison. But while Tyler maintained Harrison's cabinet, he was against much of the Whigs' legislative program, which led the party to disown and attempt to impeach him. Their efforts failed, and Tyler continued to carry out his agenda—which included legislation allowing a citizen to purchase 160 acres of public land, solving a boundary conflict between the U.S. and British North American colonies, and annexing Texas, which joined the Union later the same year.

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#36. Zachary Taylor

12th president
Term: 1849-1850
Political party: Whig
Presidential greatness score: 33

President Zachary Taylor led the country during the years leading up to the Civil War, when slavery and its expansion into the U.S.' Western territories caused significant conflict between Northern and Southern states. Although he himself owned slaves, Taylor's nationalism was the basis of his aversion to creating new slave states. His idea to have the Mexican Cession territories immediately become states and leave decisions about slavery to state constitutions led to extensive debate.

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Harris & Ewing//Wikimedia

#35. Herbert Hoover

31st president
Term: 1929-1933
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 33

Months into President Herbert Hoover's term, the stock market crash of 1929 sparked the Great Depression. Many people lost their jobs and homes and resorted to living in run-down communities that came to be known as “Hoovervilles.” Though Hoover was not solely responsible, the American people largely blamed the president. While he did take measures to stimulate the economy, Hoover also believed in limited federal involvement and asked for relief to be delivered on a local level.

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White House Photo Office//Wikimedia

#34. Richard M. Nixon

37th president
Term: 1969-1974
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 37

President Richard Nixon is perhaps best remembered for resigning from office as a result of his involvement in the Watergate scandal, when individuals associated with his campaign broke into the Democratic National Committee's office at the Watergate complex to install listening devices and to steal documents. Nixon denied having knowledge of the break-ins, but audio tape revealed that he attempted to cover up the crime, and—faced with impeachment—Nixon chose to resign. His presidential accomplishments include negotiating weapons control with Russia, making diplomatic headway with communist China, and pulling troops out of Vietnam.

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#33. James A. Garfield

20th president
Term: 1881
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 37

President James Garfield, a former Civil War general, spent just 200 days in office before he was assassinated. As president, Garfield assembled his cabinet and made political appointments. Before setting his plan of civil service reform in motion, an embittered attorney who was denied a political appointment shot Garfield on his way to Williams College. Garfield died less than three months later from complications to his injury.

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Joseph Gray Kitchell//Wikimedia

#32. Benjamin Harrison

23rd president
Term: 1889-1893
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 38

President Benjamin Harrison was known for creating the first “front porch” campaigns leading up to his election, in which he gave short talks in Indianapolis, Ind., to visiting delegations. While in office, Harrison's backing of protective tariffs was seen as contributing to future economic turmoil because of the impact those tariffs had on consumer prices. Harrison in his tenure signed the Sherman Antitrust Act, the first legislation banning certain types of industrial monopolies, and he helped establish terms with Britain and Germany for an American protectorate in the Samoan Islands. At the time, his involvement in foreign affairs was exceeded only by former President Abraham Lincoln decades earlier.

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#31. George W. Bush

43rd president
Term: 2001-2009
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 40

President George W. Bush's first term was marked by the 9/11 attacks and his ensuing decision to send U.S. troops into Afghanistan in an attempt to disband the Taliban government and defeat Osama Bin Laden. Bush also established the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to combat further terrorist attacks. In 2003, he made the controversial decision to invade Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein, whom he argued had been linked to international terrorist groups and harbored weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was captured, but the U.S. ultimately found that the Iraqi government did not possess nuclear weapons.

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Ole Peter Hansen Balling//Wikimedia

#30. Chester A. Arthur

21st president
Term: 1881-1885
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 40

President Chester Arthur assumed the presidency upon the assassination of President James Garfield. In office, he signed the Pendleton Civil Service Act into law, creating a bipartisan Civil Service Commission. Although he initially vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act, Congress overrode the veto and limited the ban on Chinese immigrants to 10 years, at which point Arthur passed the bill. It also excluded immigrants who were paupers, felons, or considered insane.

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Copyright by Notman Photo Co., Boston, Mass.//Wikimedia

#29. Calvin Coolidge

30th president
Term: 1923-1929
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 42

“Silent Cal,” as President Calvin Coolidge was nicknamed, took office when President Warren Harding died halfway through his term. Coolidge worked to rectify the corruption of the previous administration, standing for traditionalism and respectability in a decade of substantial social and technological change. This approach also involved abstaining from passing new legislation and facilitating reform. Coolidge cut taxes and limited government spending—two economic policies that helped contribute to the 1929 stock market crash.

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Mathew Brady//Wikimedia

#28. Rutherford B. Hayes

19th president
Term: 1877-1881
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 42

President Rutherford Hayes's main job in office was to reunify the nation at the tail end of the Reconstruction era. In fact, the only states still in need of reunification were Louisiana and South Carolina. Hayes planned to remove soldiers fighting for Republican governments in those states if leading Democrats promised to abide by the civil and voting rights of black and white Republicans. He leaned on healthy local self-government to do the job. But this plan backfired: racism remained prevalent and African-Americans didn't gain voting rights for some time. Hayes hoped for a “new Republican party” in the South that would attract conservatives and white businessmen. But ultimately, Hayes couldn't win the support of the entire South.

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Mathew Brady//Wikimedia

#27. Martin Van Buren

8th president
Term: 1837-1841
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 44

While Martin Van Buren was serving in the Senate leading up to the 1828 election, he spearheaded an oppositional party to President John Quincy Adams: a coalition of Andrew Jackson-supporting Republicans that formed the basis of the Democratic party. Shortly into Van Buren's stint as president, America was hit by financial upheaval, caused in part by the moving of federal funds from the then-obsolete Bank of the United States to state banks. To remedy this problem, Van Buren planned to create an independent treasury to deal with the funds that were moved to state banks and to stop government expenses. But his plan sparked drawn-out debate and alienated conservative Democrats.

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Official White House photographer//Wikimedia

#26. Jimmy Carter

39th president
Term: 1977-1981
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 45

As President Gerald Ford's successor, President Jimmy Carter fought to remedy the faltering economy—succeeding in creating jobs and lessening the budget deficit, but he faced a small recession in lowering inflation. He fixed the energy shortage, bolstered the national park system, created the Department of Education, improved Social Security and brought on a lot of women, African-Americans, and Hispanic people into government roles. Internationally, he facilitated an amicable relationship between Israel and Egypt, and negotiated the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union.

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#25. Gerald R. Ford

38th president
Term: 1974-1977
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 47

President Gerald Ford took office after Nixon resigned, pardoning Nixon for his crimes relating to the Watergate scandal—a decision that did not sit well with many Americans. Nonetheless, Ford strove to help the American public regain trust in the government in the aftermath of the debacle. As a Republican, Ford had a difficult relationship with a mostly Democratic Congress, which came into play when he tried and failed to secure military relief to South Vietnam. He did sign the Helsinki Accords, lessening strain between Western countries and the Soviet Union.

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#24. Grover Cleveland

22nd & 24th president
Term: 1885-1889 & 1893-1897
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 51

President Grover Cleveland was the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms and the only Democrat to win in the stretch of Republican electees that ran from Lincoln in 1860 to President William Taft in 1913. In office, he stayed out of foreign affairs and tried to decrease government spending, relying heavily on his veto power. Cleveland lowered protective tariffs, but this move cost him the election of 1888. During his second term, Cleveland had to deal with the 1893 financial crisis, which didn't subside until 1896. He was not a proponent of equal rights for black people or women, and he argued for Native Americans should assimilate into society.

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#23. William Howard Taft

27th president
Term: 1909-1913
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 52

During his presidency, Taft dismantled many trusts, and he supported amendments calling for federal income taxes and publicly elected senators. However, he angered progressives by passing the Payne-Aldrich Act in an attempt to lower tariffs, which proved ineffective. He also incensed progressives and Teddy Roosevelt when he made Richard Ballinger Secretary of the Interior, having rebuffed Roosevelt's friend Gifford Pinchot. The situation ultimately caused a divide within the Republican Party—and between Taft and Roosevelt, who were once friends. Nearly a decade after leaving office, Harding made Taft Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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#22. John Quincy Adams

Sixth president
Term: 1825-1829
Political party: National- Republican
Presidential greatness score: 52

Adams faced plenty of congressional backlash during his time in office. Andrew Jackson, opposing presidential candidate to Adams, thought he won the seat unfairly, so Jackson's congressional supporters remained hostile toward him. Adams proposed the creation of interstate roads and canals, as well as the institution of a national university, but congressional Jacksonians thwarted many of these efforts. Adams did see the construction of the Erie Canal during his presidency, which facilitated the transportation of grain and whiskey to the east. He served only one term, before going on to be a member of the House. Adams placed 21st thanks to his pursuit to abolish slavery, provide Native Americans with Western land, and protect free speech.

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Brady-Handy Photograph Collection//Wikimedia

#21. Ulysses S. Grant

18th president
Term: 1869-1877
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 53

President Ulysses Grant, a Civil War general, strove to peacefully reunite the North and South after the destruction of the war, and to ensure rights for freed slaves. He saw the ratification of the 15th amendment, which gave black people the right to vote. His administration faced several scandals, however, including lingering damage from the Credit Mobilier scandal, and a tax fraud engagement involving federal employees. While Grant himself was never under investigation, he did hire corrupt government workers.

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#20. James K. Polk

11th president
Term: 1845-1849
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 54

President James K. Polk was responsible for the acquisition of the Oregon Territory from the British, as well as California and much of the present southwest U.S. following the Mexican-American War. Domestically, he lowered tariffs and made improvements to the U.S. banking system.

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#19. William McKinley

25th president
Term: 1897-1901
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 55

As president, William McKinley guided the country through the Spanish-American War, with the intention of achieving Cuban independence. The U.S. came away from the conflict having acquired Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. McKinley's audacious approach to foreign intervention allowed the U.S. to become more active in international affairs. Domestically, he enacted the Dingley Tariff Act, the highest protective tariff in history, with the intention of building domestic industry. He was shot and killed by an anarchist not long into his second term. He gained the highest ratings for congressional relations—his work with Congress brought about a tariff that led to rich industrial growth.

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Library of Congress//Wikimedia

#18. George H.W. Bush

41st president
Term: 1989-1993
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 61

When he assumed the presidency in 1988, President George H.W. Bush faced a lot of political change that included the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bush did not interfere in these foreign affairs, but he did take issue with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. He gained the support of the United Nations and Congress to send 425,000 American soldiers to Iraq in order to forcefully liberate Kuwait. Bush's decision also gleaned backlash from many Americans, who strongly condemned the resulting damage to Iraq and Kuwait.

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#17. James Monroe

Fifth president
Term: 1817-1825
Political party: Democratic- Republican
Presidential greatness score: 61

Although President James Monroe billed his presidency as the “Era of Good Feelings,” this promise didn't exactly hold up. The issue of slavery presented a problem: the Northern states had done away with slavery, but the South still condoned it. The Missouri Compromise temporarily fixed the problem, letting Missouri join the U.S. as a slave state, and Maine to join as a free state. Monroe ran into another issue when he secured the purchase of Florida in 1819, resulting in four years of economic troubles known as the Panic of 1819. Most famously, Monroe issued his eponymous doctrine, which warned European countries against colonizing those in the Western hemisphere.

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Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl//Wikimedia

#16. Andrew Jackson

Seventh president
Term: 1829-1837
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 62

Jackson's bold personality and tendency to veto congressional decisions sparked two new political parties at the time—Jackson supporters were known as Democrats, and those who opposed him became the Whig Party. The largest issue between the parties arose when Jackson attacked the Second Bank of the United States and eventually charged it with unjust economic privilege. Jackson also spearheaded the Indian Removal Act and other legislation that removed Native Americans from land they had lived on for generations.

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U.S. Embassy New Dehli // Wikimedia Commons

#15. John F. Kennedy

35th president
Term: 1961-1963
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 62

In office, President John F. Kennedy orchestrated the Bay of Pigs, a failed CIA-centric attempt to overthrow the Cuban government. The following year, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis represents the closest America has come to a nuclear war. Domestically, Kennedy set out to establish his New Frontier plan involving tax reform, positive labor and education amendments, and big pushes for civil rights legislation. The plan never became fully realized.

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Asher Brown Durand//Wikimedia

#14. John Adams

Second president
Term: 1797-1801
Political party: Federalist
Presidential greatness score: 63

President John Adams quickly became involved in the war between Britain and France upon President George Washington's departure from the White House. When he attempted to negotiate a treaty with France, the French foreign minister demanded a bribe, which Adams refused. The ordeal became known as the XYZ Affair, and it led to Adams's popularity. That is, until he enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which allowed the government to deport foreigners who disagreed with the government. 

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John Vanderlyn//Wikimedia

#13. James Madison

Fourth president
Term: 1809-1817
Political party: Democratic- Republican
Presidential greatness score: 64

President James Madison most famously wrote the first drafts of the Constitution and co-wrote the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. A couple years later, he took point on writing the Bill of Rights. Madison reluctantly led the country through the War of 1812. Though Americans considered the war successful due in part to their victory at the Battle of New Orleans, some scholars assert that the relationship between the U.S. and Britain did not really change after the war.

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Bob McNeely, The White House//Wikimedia

#12. William J. Clinton

42nd president
Term: 1993-2001
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 64

The first baby boomer to take office, President Bill Clinton passed several pieces of positive domestic legislation, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Violence Against Women Act, anti-gun violence bills, and educational reform. He signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, achieved a federal budget surplus, and launched air strikes against Iraq's nuclear weapons programs. In his second term, the House of Representatives impeached Clinton following his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but he was ultimately found not guilty. 

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Pach Brothers, New York//Wikimedia

#11. Woodrow Wilson

28th president
Term: 1913-1921
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 67

Known as the leader of the Progressive Movement, President Woodrow Wilson enacted a variety of reforms during his presidency, including new tax legislation, the prohibition of child labor, unjust business practices, and the confining of railroad workers to an eight-hour workday. In 1917, he proposed to Congress that the U.S. finally enter WWI by declaring war on Germany. The following year, he drew up a proposal to end the war between Germany and the Allied Powers—the Versailles Treaty—but it did not pass the Senate.

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White House Photographic Office//Wikimedia

#10. Ronald Reagan

40th president
Term: 1981-1989
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 69

The actor-turned-politician President Ronald Reagan brought about economic growth, created jobs, sought to reduce government spending, and bolstered national defense forces—but his actions also led to more government debt. Reagan's economic policies were known collectively as “Reaganomics.” He carried out major tax reforms that were believed by many to primarily benefit the wealthy. His ratings in political persuasion, crisis leadership, and increasingly positive views of his economic management earned him ninth on the list. Under Reagan, the U.S. experienced its longest stretch of economic prosperity during a peaceful time, and he made positive steps toward peace as the Cold War approached its end.

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Yoichi Okamoto//Wikimedia

#9. Lyndon B. Johnson

36th president
Term: 1963-1969
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 69

President Lyndon Johnson took office upon the assassination of Kennedy in 1963. He first carried out the legislation that JFK was planning to enact when he died, which included an amended civil rights bill and tax cuts. He was perhaps best known for his Great Society program, which he proposed to Congress in 1965. The program encompassed things like educational aid, improvements in medicine, environmental conservation, the addition of Medicare, crime prevention, and equal voting rights. He also helmed the space program that sent astronauts to the moon in 1969.

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Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project//Wikimedia

#8. Barack H. Obama

44th president
Term: 2009-2017
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 71

President Barack Obama was the first African-American person to serve as president of the U.S., and he used that opportunity to bring about positive change, according to political experts. Obama focused in particular on civil rights—advocating for an improvement in the U.S.' long checkered history on race relations. He also supported the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had barred LGBTQ couples from marrying. Obama improved the economy in the wake of the 2008 recession, passed the Affordable Care Act, and retooled No Child Left Behind. Obama's legacy has only improved since he left office.

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NARA photograph // Wikimedia Commons

#7. Dwight D. Eisenhower

34th president
Term: 1953-1961
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 74

As commanding general in the U.S. Army during WWII, President Dwight Eisenhower brought his know-how in the area of foreign relations to the presidency. He took measures to lessen the impact of the Cold War, negotiated with the then-Soviet Union in the midst of the nuclear arms race, and facilitated peace at the South Korean border after years of war. Domestically, he continued the New Deal and Fair Deal policies, and initiated desegregation in schools and the armed forces.

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Greta Kempton//Wikimedia

#6. Harry S. Truman

33rd president
Term: 1945-1953
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 75

President Harry Truman ascended to the presidency in 1945, following the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He created programs to expand Social Security, introduce fair employment, and clean up slums—known collectively as the Fair Deal. He called for congressional aid for Turkey and Greece when the Soviet Union threatened to overtake the two countries, otherwise known as the Truman Doctrine. Truman's decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII has remained one of the most bitterly controversial choices of any president.

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Rembrandt Peale//Wikimedia

#5. Thomas Jefferson

Third president
Term: 1801-1809
Political party: Democratic- Republican
Presidential greatness score: 80

Before Jefferson's presidency, political conflict arose between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, which led to the formation of two parties: the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, the latter of which Jefferson eventually helmed. As president, Jefferson decreased the national debt, sent naval troops to combat Barbary pirates who interfered with American commerce in the Mediterranean, and secured the Louisiana territory from Napoleon in 1803, which came to encompass 15 current states.

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Pach Brothers//Wikimedia

#4. Theodore Roosevelt

26th president
Term: 1901-1909
Political party: Republican
Presidential greatness score: 81

Theodore Roosevelt entered the presidency following the assassination of McKinley. In office, he drove the U.S. to take a more active role in world affairs: he facilitated Panama's secession from Colombia in order to start building the Panama Canal, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize for arbitrating the Russo-Japanese War. He was known for his “big stick” approach to foreign policy, in which he would negotiate peacefully but not hesitate to use military force.

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#3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

32nd president
Term: 1933-1945
Political party: Democrat
Presidential greatness score: 89

Over the course of his three terms in office, FDR is perhaps most famous for instituting the New Deal to combat the effects of the Great Depression and for leading the country through most of WWII. He famously said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” as part of his “Fireside Chats”—radio broadcasts to comfort the public during the Depression. He formed the New Deal Coalition, which was instrumental in reorienting U.S. politics toward social ideals and developing the foundations of contemporary liberalism.

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#2. George Washington

First president
Term: 1789-1797
Political party: None
Presidential greatness score: 93

As the first president of the U.S., President George Washington helped build the very foundation of the country. Not only did he serve as commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War, he established the cabinet system of government and communicated well with department leaders. In the midst of all this, Washington had to tackle numerous problems: several states hadn't yet joined the Union; the French Revolution sparked political turmoil in which Washington became involved, and the U.S. army was in bad shape.

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US National Archives bot//Wikimedia

#1. Abraham Lincoln

16th president
Term: 1861-1865
Political party: National Union (Republican)
Presidential greatness score: 95

Lincoln successfully led the country through the Civil War and paved the way for the abolition of slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. In his famous Gettysburg Address—which begins with the famous lines, “Four score and seven years ago”—he declared that all men were created equal. He died at the hands of John Wilkes Booth in 1865, who shot him during a play at Ford's Theatre. Lincoln heralded the U.S. through the deadliest war in its history, while keeping the Union intact.

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