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

  • 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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #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.