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

  • #13. James Monroe

    - 5th president (Served from: March 4, 1817–March 4, 1825)
    - Political party: Democratic-Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 646
    --- Political persuasion score: 64.5 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 66.1 (#14 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 58.0 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 66.2 (#16 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 79.5 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 66.4 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 66.2 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 65.6 (#14 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 43.5 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 69.9 (#11 out of 43)

    Although 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 let 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—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. He ranked highest for his international relations skills, as evidenced by the successful prevention of further Western colonization.

  • #12. Barack Obama

    - 44th president (Served from: Jan. 20, 2009–Jan. 20, 2017)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 669
    --- Political persuasion score: 77.9 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 65.4 (#15 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 69.6 (#8 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 77.5 (#7 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 55.1 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 61.3 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 37.8 (#39 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 73.3 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 83.2 (#3 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 67.5 (#15 out of 43)

    Barack Obama was the first African American man to serve as president of the U.S. During his campaign and in his time in office, he vowed to bring about positive change. He set out to improve American race relations, but several instances of police officers arresting and killing Black people occurred under his administration, as well as race-related protests.

    Obama helped to get the economy in better shape in the wake of the 2008 recession, and generally had positive relationships with foreign countries. He passed the Affordable Care Act, retooled No Child Left Behind, and overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, legalizing gay marriage nationwide. The president has been criticized for a number of matters throughout his time in the White House, including failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He ranked 12th for his pursuit of equal justice and moral authority, considering he instituted nationwide health care and fought for minority rights.

  • #11. Woodrow Wilson

    - 28th president (Served from: March 4, 1913–March 4, 1921)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 683
    --- Political persuasion score: 77.8 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 73.4 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 69.5 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 75.7 (#8 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 71.3 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 70.0 (#8 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 55.2 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 83.0 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 36.2 (#35 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 71.1 (#10 out of 43)

    Known as the leader of the Progressive Movement, 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 World War I 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. His agenda-setting ability won him his rank, considering the positive legislation he passed domestically.

  • #10. Lyndon B. Johnson

    - 36th president (Served from: Nov. 22, 1963–Jan. 20, 1969)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 687
    --- Political persuasion score: 67.5 (#15 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 59.7 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 63.9 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 57.8 (#24 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 41.5 (#38 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 72.3 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 83.0 (#1 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 81.7 (#8 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 91.5 (#2 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 68.0 (#14 out of 43)

    Lyndon Johnson took office upon the assassination of JFK in 1963. He first carried out the legislation that JFK planned to enact when he died, which included an amended civil rights bill and tax cuts. But he was known best 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. He ranked highest for his congressional relations and pursuit of equal justice, which were wrapped up in his Great Society program and civil rights legislation.

  • #9. Ronald Reagan

    - 40th president (Served from: Jan. 20, 1981–Jan. 20, 1989)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 691
    --- Political persuasion score: 90.9 (#5 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 74.1 (#8 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 60.9 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 68.8 (#13 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 76.8 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 47.4 (#33 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 68.9 (#8 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 84.9 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 44.6 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 74.1 (#8 out of 43)

    This actor-turned-politician brought about economic growth, created jobs, sought to reduce government spending, and bolstered national defense forces, but this led to more government debt. Ronald 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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  • #8. John F. Kennedy

    - 35th president (Served from: Jan. 20, 1961–Nov. 22, 1963)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 722
    --- Political persuasion score: 86.4 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 79.4 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 70.7 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 66.9 (#15 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 69.5 (#14 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 63.3 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 61.3 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 80.9 (#9 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 71.7 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 72.5 (#9 out of 43)

    In office JFK orchestrated a CIA-centric attempt to overthrow the Cuban government, which ultimately failed. He took military measures to thwart the Cuban Missile Crisis, which may have led to all-out nuclear war, and he set out to establish his New Frontier plan, which involved tax reform, positive labor and education amendments, and big pushes for civil rights legislation—but it never became fully realized. He gained the highest marks in political persuasion—he fought hard for labor, education, and civil rights. His work in crisis leadership should also be noted, considering he helped decelerate the nuclear arms race.

  • #7. Thomas Jefferson

    - 3rd president (Served from: March 4, 1801–March 4, 1809)
    - Political party: Democratic-Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 727
    --- Political persuasion score: 82.1 (#8 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 72.4 (#13 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 63.3 (#13 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 78.5 (#6 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 71.5 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 71.8 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 74.0 (#5 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 87.2 (#5 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 47.8 (#17 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 78.6 (#6 out of 43)

    Before Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, political conflict arose between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, which lead to the formation of two parties—the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, 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 encompassed 15 current states. Jefferson won a high ranking for his treatment of congressional relations and agenda-setting—he was, after all, the main author of the Declaration of Independence—and had to work closely with Congress to gain the approval of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty.

  • #6. Harry S. Truman

    - 33rd president (Served from: April 12, 1945–Jan. 20, 1953)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 737
    --- Political persuasion score: 67.8 (#14 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 85.1 (#4 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 68.8 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 72.8 (#10 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 82.6 (#5 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 67.5 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 57.9 (#14 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 73.0 (#13 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 81.4 (#4 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 80.7 (#5 out of 43)

    Harry Truman found himself in the presidential hot seat upon the death of FDR in 1945. He made the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima at the end of World War II and 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. He also attempted to keep violence to a minimum when North Korea attacked South Korea in 1950. It’s no surprise that his marks in crisis leadership and the pursuit of justice for all gleaned him sixth place, considering his approach to domestic and foreign affairs.

  • #5. Dwight D. Eisenhower

    - 34th president (Served from: Jan. 20, 1953–Jan. 20, 1961)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 745
    --- Political persuasion score: 73.0 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 82.3 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 71.5 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 85.6 (#4 out of 43)
    --- International relations score score:  81.5 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 77.0 (#5 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 72.0 (#6 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 64.1 (#16 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 60.7 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 77.2 (#7 out of 43)

    As a commanding general in the U.S. Army during WWII, 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. It was his crisis leadership skills that notched him up to fifth place, and he scored highly for moral authority—the basis of his approach to crisis management.

     

  • #4. Theodore Roosevelt

    - 26th president (Served from: Sept. 14, 1901–March 4, 1909)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 807
    --- Political persuasion score: 92.6 (#2 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 83.5 (#5 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 76.2 (#4 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 84.1 (#5 out of 43)
    --- International relations score:  84.4 (#4 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 78.8 (#4 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 72.0 (#7 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 87.6 (#4 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 62.8 (#11 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 85.4 (#4 out of 43)

    Theodore Roosevelt entered the presidency due to the assassination of President 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 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 if need be. He ranked high for his political persuasion—he was known as the leader of the Progressive Movement, which encompassed his Square Deal program—conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection, as well as his belief that the government should do whatever it takes for the good of the people.