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

  • #23. Grover Cleveland

    - 22nd, 24th president (Served from: March 4, 1885–March 4, 1889; March 4, 1893–March 4, 1897)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 540
    --- Political persuasion score: 60.0 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 54.7 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 50.1 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 56.6 (#26 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 56.1 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 58.4 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 53.6 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 55.6 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 38.6 (#31 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 56.7 (#23 out of 43)

    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 Taft in 1913. In office he stayed out of foreign affairs and tried to decrease government spending, relying heavily on his veto power. He 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. While he ranked moderately well for his political persuasion (he strengthened the executive branch of government), he rated lowest for his pursuit of equal justice, or lack thereof. He was not a proponent of equal rights for African Americans or women’s voting rights, and felt that Native Americans should assimilate into society.

  • #22. Ulysses S. Grant

    - 18th president (Served from: March 4, 1869–March 4, 1877)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 557
    --- Political persuasion score: 60.9 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 58.7 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 47.1 (#27 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 61.4 (#19 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 60.4 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 40.8 (#37 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 54.6 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 50.7 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 64.0 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 58.0 (#21 out of 43)

    This Civil War general strove to peacefully reunite the North and South after the destruction of the war, and to ensure rights for freed slaves. Ulysses S. Grant saw the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave Black people the right to vote. But, his administration faced several scandals, 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. He received decent marks for political persuasion and moral authority, but ranked lowest for his administrative skills.

  • #21. John Quincy Adams

    - 6th president (Served from: March 4, 1825–March 4, 1829)
    - Political party: Democratic-Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 590
    --- Political persuasion score: 42.7 (#33 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 54.1 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 58.6 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 70.1 (#12 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 68.5 (#15 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 61.4 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 44.3 (#32 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 65.5 (#15 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 66.9 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 57.6 (#22 out of 43)

    John Quincy Adams faced 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 gave him grief. 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, but did go on to be a member of the House. Adams placed 21st due to his pursuit of equal justice, and by that token, his moral authority; he strove to abolish slavery and provide Native Americans with Western land and was a strong proponent of free speech.

  • #20. George H.W. Bush

    - 41st president (Served from: Jan. 20, 1989–Jan. 20, 1993)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 596
    --- Political persuasion score: 49.8 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 72.7 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 52.9 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 64.0 (#17 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 77.3 (#8 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 63.1 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 56.3 (#15 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 46.1 (#27 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 52.0 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 62.0 (#20 out of 43)

    When he assumed the presidency in 1988, Bush faced a great deal of political change. The Cold War finally saw its end, the Soviet Union disbanded, and the Berlin Wall fell. Bush did not interfere in these foreign affairs, but had to take point when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He gained the support of the United Nations, U.S. citizens, and Congress to send 425,000 American soldiers to Iraq in order to liberate Kuwait via warfare. Bush’s decision also gleaned backlash from many Americans, who strongly condemned the resulting damage to Iraq and Kuwait. Nonetheless, he earned his ranking for his approach to international relations.

  • #19. John Adams

    - 2nd president (Served from: March 4, 1797–March 4, 1801)
    - Political party: Federalist
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 604
    --- Political persuasion score: 50.7 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 62.8 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 62.5 (#15 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 70.7 (#11 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 70.2 (#13 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 59.9 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 52.0 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 57.8 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 52.6 (#15 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 64.6 (#19 out of 43)

    John Adams quickly became involved in the war between Britain and France upon 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 led to Adams’s popularity. That is, until he enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which allowed the government to deport threatening aliens and arrest those who disagreed with the government. Adams placed 19th for his moral authority and approach to international affairs—he attempted to resolve the conflict between France and Britain peacefully, and in the end, succeeded.

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  • #18. Andrew Jackson

    - 7th president (Served from: March 4, 1829–March 4, 1837)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 609
    --- Political persuasion score: 82.2 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 73.5 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 47.6 (#26 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 59.3 (#20 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 58.0 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 56.5 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 53.7 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 79.0 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 31.2 (#38 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 68.1 (#13 out of 43)

    Andrew 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.

    Another major issue came about when Jackson opposed the South Carolina legislature when it tried to nullify existing tariffs. He sent armed forces to South Carolina, but they eventually complied, and Jackson got credit for keeping the Union intact in a moment of crisis. He earned his rank due to his powers of political persuasion; his views toward the bank and his general support of states’ rights made him popular among American voters.

  • #17. James Madison

    - 4th president (Served from: March 4, 1809–March 4, 1817)
    - Political party: Democratic-Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 610
    --- Political persuasion score: 62.3 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 60.4 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 57.9 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 72.9 (#9 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 56.9 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 62.7 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 60.1 (#13 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 63.4 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 47.2 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 66.4 (#16 out of 43)

    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 of 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, scholars assert that the relationship between the U.S. and Britain did not really change after the war. Madison’s moral authority won him his rank—he took measures to make sure the government made decisions fairly and acted in the interest of the people.

  • #16. William McKinley

    - 25th president (Served from: March 4, 1897–Sept. 14, 1901)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 627
    --- Political persuasion score: 67.4 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 64.8 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 64.3 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 63.5 (#18 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 65.5 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 65.4 (#13 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 65.6 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 63.5 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 41.4 (#26 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 65.4 (#18 out of 43)

    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 be 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.

  • #15. Bill Clinton

    - 42nd president (Served from: Jan. 20, 1993–Jan. 20, 2001)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 634
    --- Political persuasion score: 79.6 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 61.5 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 78.6 (#3 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 33.2 (#38 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 63.8 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 60.7 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 55.1 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 63.1 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 72.3 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 65.9 (#17 out of 43)

    The first baby boomer to take office, Clinton passed 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 airstrikes against Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs.

    In his second term, the House of Representatives impeached Clinton due to his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but he was ultimately found not guilty. He rates 15th for his economic management—under his presidency, the U.S. experienced low unemployment rates, technology was thriving, and he realized the first federal budget surplus in decades. His pursuit of equal justice also can’t be ignored.

  • #14. James K. Polk

    - 11th president (Served from: March 4, 1845–March 4, 1849)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 637
    --- Political persuasion score: 68.8 (#13 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 73.8 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 63.2 (#14 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 53.2 (#27 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 67.5 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 69.0 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 64.6 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 76.6 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 32.1 (#36 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 68.6 (#12 out of 43)

    This dark horse president was responsible for the acquisition of the Oregon Territory from the British, as well as California and the southwest in the Mexican–American War. Domestically, James Polk lowered tariffs and made improvements to the U.S. banking system. His crisis leadership and his agenda-setting, according to CBS News, earned him his rank—he got the country through war and expanded its geographic area in the process.

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