Let's Rank the US Presidents

After being really bored one day just after finishing The Complete Book of U. S. Presidents, I decided to make my own ranking of American chief executives. I decided not to rank GWB and Clinton because their impact has yet to be judged by history. I also decided to ignore Willam Henry Harrison due to the brevity of his presidency. And also note that I am a conservative Republican.


  1. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) Republican
  2. George Washington (1789-1797) none
  3. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) Republican
  4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) Democrat
  5. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) Republican

6. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) Republican
7. James Monroe (1817-1825) Democratic-Republican
8. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) Democratic-Republican
9. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) Democrat
10. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897) Democrat
11. Dwight David Eisenhower (1953-1961) Republican
12. Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-1969) Democrat
13. John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1960-1963) Democrat
14. George Bush (1989-1993) Republican

15. Richard Milhous Nixon (1969-1974) Republican
16. Gerald Ford (1974-1977) Republican
17. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) Whig
18. James Garfield (1881) Republican
19. Chester Arthur (1881-1885) Republican

20. William Howard Taft (1909-1913) Republican
21. Rutherford Hayes (1877-1881) Republican
22. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) Democratic-Republican
23. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) Democrat
24. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) Democrat
25. John Adams (1797-1801) Federalist
26. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) Republican
27. William McKinley (1897-1901) Republican
28. James Knox Polk (1845-1849) Democrat
29. James Madison (1809-1817) Democratic-Republican
30. Ulysses Grant (1869-1877) Republican
31. John Tyler (1841-1895) Whig/independent
32. Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) Republican

33. Warren Harding (1921-1923) Republican
34. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) Whig
35. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841) Democrat
36. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) Democrat
37. James “Jimmy” Carter (1977-1981) Democrat
38. James Buchanan (1857-1861) Democrat
39. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) Democrat

Many will be surprised because I didn’t rank FDR as one of the top three. However, I just can’t come to terms with the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans. I also think he should’ve bombed the concentration camps. The New Deal was also not as great as many people think it was: there was another recession on 1937-1938. And I think TR is a frequently underrated chief executive. He mediated the end of the Russo-Japanese War, tried to improve race relations (though he could’ve gone a step further than he did), built a strong navy, and rallied for conservationism. He also helped Panama gain independence and negotiated a surprisingly fair canal treaty.

I know many will take issue with the fact that I ranked Reagan as a “great”. He liberated Grenada and Panam for dictatorships (and the citizens of both countries supported the invasions), he had a tough stance against drugs and terrorism. He compensated victims of Roosevelt’s policies against Japanese-Americans and he boycotted the régime of Nazi sympathizer Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay. He was not guilty of any crime during Iran-Contra, but his attitude was too naïve regarding it. And he mantained an all-too-friendly attitude towards the régimes of Saddam and Hissène Habré of Chad.

I also think Coolidge is frequently underrated. He presided over years of great economic growth, lowered taxes, reduced the national debt, and gave Native Americans full U.S. citizenship.

Jefferson is almost always overrated. He was a good president, but he kept paying tribute to the Barbary nations and signed the Embargo Act which harmed the US more than it did France and the UK.

Due to Watergate, Nixon is usually underrated. He did visit China but at the same time supported Taiwan. He signed new acts to protect the environment and oversaw an honorable ending to the Viet Nam War.

Woodrow Wilson only grudgingly entered World War I (he should have come to England’s aid right after the bombing of the Lusitania). He jailed pacifists during the war, however, and this was unnecessary. He supported the KKK and instituted segregation in the federal government for the first time. He used American troops in Nicaragua to select the president he wanted, ignoring the wishes of Nicaraguans. When Haiti refused to declare war on Germany, Wilson dissolved the Haitian government and passed a less democratic constitution through a fraudulent referendum. American soldiers forced small Haitian farmers from their farms to work in public works projects, gibing the lands to plantation owners.

McKinley and Polk are both ranked as below average because of their imperialism. In McKinely’s case, he oppressed the Filipinos as much as the Spaniards did, leavinf hundreds of thousands dead. He failed to install a proper democracy in Cuba, leading to dictatorships such as the ones of Batista and Castro. And he passed the Dingley Tariff, which put the average rate at an unnecessarily high 46%. Polk forced Mexico to sell California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. He also opposed the Wilmot Proviso, which banned slavery from the territories gained from Mexico.

Madison’s low ranking is becaused I believe the War of 1812 could have been solved peacefully. If John Adams avoided a war with France, Madison could’ve avoided a war with England. The Treaty of Ghent pretty much kept the status quo.

It is frequently forgotten that Harding supported blacks living in the south, speaking about the virtues of racial equality. He also pardoned nonviolent antiwar protesters jailed under Wilson.

Although Jackson is a very popular president, both now and then, he was not a good one. His dismantling of the Second Bank of the United States led to increased inflation and eventually to the Panic of 1837. Jackson was also a strong supporter of Indian Removal, something that resulted in the Trail of Tears. Greedy gold-searchers used Jackson’s Indian Removal Act to expel Cherokees from their lands, with no opposition from Jackson himself. Jackson made no effort to enforce the Worcester v. Georgia ruling, which stated that Georgia laws had no force in the Cherokee nation. Jackson’s use of the spoils system reached abusive levels.

Carter was incompetent both in foreign and domestic issues. Inflation grew and transformed into stagflation, causing much unemployment. He adopted a double standard when dealing with dictatorships, supporting stronger relations with China and Cuba while criticizing anti-communist military régimes. Under Carters, diplomatic relations with Taiwan were ended and diplomatic relations with China began, even though China’s human rights record was much worse. Carter also ignored the Indonesian genocide against people in East Timor. Carter failed to intervene when Iran’s Shah was deposed and Islamic fundamentalism took hold, resulting in a hostage crisis that Carter was unable to solve. Carter also failed to help Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded. Even after his presidency, Carter constantly undermined America abroad.

What do you think? How would you rank the presidents?

The Middle is too vast for me to really rate.

But the Best are (in no paticular order):
Theodore Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

With the exception of TR, these men saw the country through critical times of uncertainty. Had they misstepped, the nation as we know it coulkd have been destroyed (or stillborn, in Washington’s case). FDR and Lincoln are both guilty of grave crimes against democracy, but given the times, things could have turned out much, much worse, so I forgive them.
TR is simply too fucking cool to ignore.

And the Worst are:
Lyndon Johnson

The first three are there for pretty obvious reasons of corruption. Nixon was a skilled president, and it’s unfortunate that he pissed away his potential, but he’s earned his place in infamy.

Wilson reneged on his promises to keep us out of WWI, and then botched the peace process (despite the fact that his ideas were good), contributing to WWII. His later days in office were actually officiated by his wife, after he suffered a stroke. That’s just scary.

Johnson committed the nation to Vietnam after the fraudulent Gulf of Tonkin incident. Despite his better record on domestic policies, I can’t forgive him for that.

But the absolute worst, bar none, was Andrew Jackson. He directly ignored the Supreme Court to committ genocide. Never has this country seen a more flagrant abuse of power from the White House.

I would not rank Lincoln nor Reagan as great.

Lincoln made the war a lot longer and bloodier than it had to be. If he had given his generals the troops they asked for, the Confederacy would have had to surrender.

As it was, he went through several generals before he got to Grant, who was willing to do it the president’s way - sending wave after wave of troops headlong into Lee’s entrenched defenses.

And, why else do we consider Lincoln great? It was all about keeping the nation together when it was falling apart. He made it harder and bloodier than it had to be. He made it worse than if he’d not made any input into the war effort.

Reagan is still recent, and I believe succeeding generations will be pissed at the national debt he and Bush left for them. Also, I believe after the requisite time, classified info will come out that will expose a lot more underhanded dealing than we already know about, which will hurt his standing as JFK’s has been hurt.

Washington (who may as well have been Republican), FDR, and TR and definite greats.

I think Eisenhower is underrated by many - thanks for the interstate system! Thanks for sitting back and letting the defense department do its job! Thanks for keeping your hands off things that weren’t broken! But you already have him near-great, which is where I’d put him too.

Nixon belongs in the bottom tier because he betrayed the constitution - his crime couldn’t have been more anti-democratic nor more against the oath he swore to uphold.

Oh - and why is Polk below average? He kept every campaign promise he made! Competent, and near-great.

My greats are:

1- Washington
2- Lincoln
3- F D Roosevelt
4- L B Johnson

To blame Lincoln for not giving his generals what they wanted is ridiculous. The war lasted longer than it had to largely due to the utter incompetence and cowardice of one George McClellan. Washington and Lincoln are no brainers, FDR for getting the US out of depression, winning the war, and starting Social Security. LBJ’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the great watershed moments in history, though his presidency is somewhat tarnished by Vietnam.

I’m not sure why JFK would be rated as near great. I think were it not for his assassination, he’d be remembered as mediocre at best. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis was indeed superb, but that is matched by his disastrous Bay of Pigs.

Nixon above average? I don’t think so. His singular achievement, improved relations with China, is worthy of note but it is dwarfed by the damage he did to the presidency.

Reagan great? What a joke. Huge deficits and his loony star wars project are his legacy, as is the Iran-Contra debacle.

George Bush near great? Whatever for? His handling of Iraq I was as masterful as his son’s handling of Iraq II was incompetent. But this was a man hopelessly out of touch with his country.

Jimmy Carter is the most underrated president in history. Not intervening in Iran is a huge plus, not a minus. Had he gone in, we’d still be there. His dedication to human rights and the Panama Canal treaty made the US more liked and respected in the hemisphere.

Let it not be said that I cannot say anything nice about George W Bush: Until the 101st president is sworn in, W will remain in the top 100 presidents.

Polk was the most imperialist president ever. The war with mexico was completely uncalled for. Polk forced Mexico to sell more than half of its territory. I don’t care if he completed all his campaign promises, his imperialism is unacceptable to me.

And he did nothing to stop slavery from the conquered territories, I forgot to add.

I agree.

Again I agree. However, I don’t think the New Deal itself got us out of the depression. Explain why the depression worsened during 1938. And there’s also the issue of the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans.

LBJ not only signed the Civil Rights Act. He dispatched troops to the Dominican Republic after a military coup and passed acts regarding environmental protection. I also support the involvement in Viet Nam. The Tet Offensive was an American victory, actually, and the war could’ve been won if LBJ had not bowed to public opinion at the end of his term.

I ranked JFK as a near great simply because he is better than any of the presidents below him. The highest points during his presidency were his handling of the Cuba missile crisis and the fact that he supported a coup against the tyrannical South Vietnamese dictator Ngô Đình Diệm. You’re right, though, Kennedy should probably go below Arthur.

True. But I don’t think that his archivements should be underestimated because of the Watergate cover-up.

I knew you’d disagree. But Reagan did save Grenada (not Panama, my mistake). I really don’t think Reagan should be remembered for Iran-Contra. He accepted investigations into the affair and did not try to cover up like Nixon did. Basically, I, as a neocon, strongly support his foreign policy. That’s why I ranked him as a great. As for Reagonomics, the real economic growth during Reagan’s adminitration was 3.2, higher than both the Ford-Carter years and the Bush-Clinton years. Real median family income grew by $4,000. Before Reagan, it had no growth. After Reagan , it experianced a $1,500 loss. From 1981 to 1989, the per capita increased at a 2.6% annual rate, compared to a 1.6% during Carter.

Like JFK, Bush Sr. is ranked as a near great simply because he was better than his successors. As for Iraq, I believe he should’ve gone after Saddam or at least helped the Kurds and Shi’as in their rebellion, although at least he liberated Kuwait. He also liberated Panama, don’t forget, and 90% of the locals supported his actions. He gave aid to Nicaragua after democracy was fully restored and passed the Clear Air Act. His partnership with Gorbachioff (Gorbachev) was also commendable. And he “spearheaded” the negotioations for NAFTA.

Not intervening in Iran was a giant minus. If the Shah were in power today, there would be no problem with nukes, which ElBaradei is handling so badly. If the Shah were in power, chances are Iranians would be much more free. The Shah extended suffrage to women. As for human rights, Carter’s abandoning of Taiwan for China was unacceptable. China’s human rights record is dire. Additionally, where was Carter when Indonesia’s Suharto committed massive human rights violations against the people of East Timor? Carter failed to help Afghanistan, and the economic recession turned to stagflation under Carter.

I’d rank Bush under Jefferson, above Truman. He liberated the Afghans and the Iraqis. Both held elections last year, lets not forget. The PATRIOT Act, as much as it is criticized, is vital to combat terrorism. And the NSA eavesdropping is also necessary and legal .
I’d rank Clinton below Wilson, above Andrew Johnson. The sanctions against Hussein harmed Iraqis instead of the Saddam régime. He also let Usama bin Ladin go free when Sudan offered to turn him over. He failed in Somalia and basically ignored the Rwandan genocide. There’s also Chinagate.

Who cares? It was a silly little war that neither demanded nor warranted US involvement.

The Shah was a horrible tyrant with a truly awful awful human rights record. He only looks good compared to the later Ayatollahs. I would not side with one against the other. If the US had to be involved, it should have been with one of the secular or Marxist revolutionary groups, not to prop up the Shah.

Of course, if the US hadn’t overthrown the democratically elected leader in the 1950’s (whose name escapes me at the moment, I’m sorry to admit) in favor of the Shah, Iran probably wouldn’t be a problem at all. So that’s a huge strike against Eisenhower, I suppose. Iran has more reason than any other country (save perhaps Mexico) to hate the US.

Carter was a decent president thrown into one of the stickiest situations the country has ever seen. It wasn’t as dire as the Civil War or the Depression, of course, but he got more shit thrown at him than most presidents. Unfortunately, he didn’t handle it very deftly. He deserve a low rating, but still far above all the corrupt and genocidal presidents.

Good lord, Carter “saving” Three Mile Island is of far greater historical and strategic importance than Reagan “saving” Grenada. I can’t believe you would give Reagan such high marks for Grenada, and completely ignore the debacle in Lebanon.

And as far as claiming that Reagan should be excused for his mental lapses which allowed his subordinates to violate the Constitution, well, I fail to see how history will laud Reagan for the whole affair. Talk about turning Alzheimers into lemonade!

The Shah could no more hold onto power than he could cure cancer. He was dead before Reagan took office.

The contrast between criticizing Carter for recognizing China and the laudits for Nixon opening China could hardly be more stark.

It is abundantly clear upon examination of Soviet historical records that the Politburo was encouraged by Ford’s mishandling of the situation in Angola as a clear indication that the Soviets could move into Afghanistan unopposed. The fact that Carter did not start World War III over Afghanistan is a fact that he should be commended for. And I’m assuming you have forgotten the uproar over Zbig Brzezinksi handling an AK-47 destined for the Soviet resistence during a visit to Pakistan… that’s an amusing little diversion in history.

I don’t care about the strategic improtance of Grenada. They were saved from a communist dictatorship thanks to Reagan. They are now a democratic nations, and Grenadans supported the invasion. Had Reagan done nothing, today Grenada would be a dictatorship supported by Castro.

The difference is, Nixon did not want to abandon Taiwan. He tried to let China join the UN without the UN kicking Taiwan out. Carter is always lauded for helping human rights so much, but openin diplomatic relations with China while at the same time breaking them with Taiwan is unacceptable.

It is thanks to the fact that Gorbachioff became the secretary-general of the USSR that the USSR retreated. Again, Carter is praised because he helped human rights, but he did nothing to stop the Soviets who came to help Mohammed Najubullah, a great human rights violator. And I don’t mean that Carter should have sent American troops to help the mujahidin. He sould have armed and financially helped them. That would have been enough and it would not have sparted WWIII.

So you wouldn’t care if Grenada were today a communist dictatorship instead of a democracy?

But the secular groups stood no chance. And the Shah, as bad as his human rights record is, was better than the Ayatollahs. Around 16,000 were killed by the Shah according to Rummel (whose figures are usually inflated). Rummel counts 56,000 democides during the Islamic Republic, 1979-1987. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute counts as many as 20,000 executions by 1987. At least under the Shah, Iran had no nuclear ambitions and women were freer. Both were bad, but Khomeini was worse.


As much as I like Reagan, I don;t think he wuite makes it into the top 5. WHich is a good thing. It shows just how many really important, great statesmen we;ve had, that Reagan just doesn’t quite make it!

I disagree with JFK. He was enormously popular, but from my perspective, his presidency was almost a total failure. I am hard pressed to think of almost anything he did, except happen to not spark WW3. And in any event, that was more the Soviets blinking than him making some brilliant or move. I think he was right to take the direction he did with the Cuban Missile Crisis; I just don’t think that nearly makes up for his failures.

In addition, while I do like Bush (I), I don’t think he’s anything more than average. In retrospect, his tenure as President wasn’ anything special.

lastly, I have to admit I think Grant would have been one of our better presidents. Had he not had the bad luck of choosing really corrupt men for his cabinet (and then trusting them), he would have been a near-great. Looking at a number of other projects he did, I’d have to say that his term was overall stil better than average (even if wildly and rightly unpopular).

And let’s not forget that Polk walked the country right into the Civil War. He could have avoided it, but his inaction amde it inevitable. In fact, he apprently didn’t have a clue what was happening just before the Civil War began!

Heh? I beg to differ. He’s the one who sent the fleet off to blow up the barbary pirates who were demanding the tribute!

Why did you rank Hoover so low? Do you think he did something to cause the Great Depression, or could have done something to stop it? (I ask because Hoover is sometimes cited as a very intellectually qualified president; for what that’s worth.)

As much as I want the United States to be the world police kicking out dictators and installing democracies it simply doesn’t work. Troops from a foriegn country are very rarely welcomed as liberators. Its great that it worked out in Grenada but then again Grenada is a country of ~80,000 people twice the size of Washington D.C. We simply can’t go around deposing dictators and set up democracies in bigger countries.

It was pointless to continue recognizing Taiwan as the legitimate government of China. All it does is anatgonize the actual government of China. Now that we have relations with China and economic interests we can pressure them to improve their human rights activities. If we were still basically in the cold war with them we couldn’t do that.

Carter did send military and financial aid to the mujahidin.

There is no way Carter should be as low as you have him in his rankings. Carter walked into the worst situation that this country has faced since Hoover. The energy crisis was in full swing, global depression and inflation were abundant. In response Carter initiated a process to wean the United States off of the Oil teat. In his infamous “mailaise” speech he laid out the process and rightfully said it would be a struggle to win the war.

In terms of foriegn policy Carter steered the country towards a more human rights oriented focus. In my opinion this seems to have been the correct choice. Its unknown whether or not continuing this policy would have resulted in the USSR surviving. I have a great deal of doubt that it would have becuase the USSR fell apart from inside pressure not outside. It no longer had the will nor even the means to continue to supress revolutionary movements in the eastern block. Once one revolution was successful the rest of them fell like dominos.

On the other hand Reagan cozied up to Saudi Arabia, sold weapons to Iran and started sending aid to Iraq. Reagan’s solution did get us cheap oil quickly and lead to the economies rebound but was it the right thing to do? Well, its too soon to tell but Reagan’s policies certainly laid the foundation for the anti-American movement we are seeing in the middle east. What will happen if the monarchy in Saudi Arabia falls? If it does fall we will see a virulently anti-American fundamentalist government sitting on top of an enormous amount of oil reserves. That doesn’t seem like very good long term policy.

In terms of foriegn policy Reagan decided to help anyone and everyone who could in some fashion harm the USSR. In the process of doing so he helped prop up a good number of dictators many whom we consider enemies now. Did that speed up the USSR’s demise? Maybe, but as I said before I believe the USSR was coming down anyways. Like his oil policy it seems Reagan chose short term benefits over long term ones. Its really impossible to know what his policies will cost us in the long term but I suspect we could have been better served with actions more focused on the long term.

I could go into more things in terms of the drug war, AIDS, Reganomics but speaking of policy is barking up the wrong tree in terms of Reagan’s presidency. He was the wizard behind a grand illusion of his vision of America. When you read Reagan’s speeches or anything about him you constantly hear him speaking of his vision for America. America was the shining example of democracy where a man was free to do what he pleased. If you worked hard in America you could be successful and if you were not successful that was your fault. The government, he said, was not the solution to any of America’s problems. Whether that is true or not is a seperate debate but its not the issue. Its what he said was America and it was what a great deal of people believed America to be.

Reagan was responsible for, for lack of a better term, breeding the next generation of American conservatives. Obviously depending on your viewpoint this could be both a good thing or a bad thing but its significance can not be ignored. Reagan was the Great Communicator and deserves a great deal of credit for that. If he were president during WWII he would top this list easy becuase he would have been such a great unifier and inspirational leader. He would have been our Churchil. However, since his policies were so divisive you get a split on opinion of him. If you agree with his policies he is the epitome of a president. If you disagree with his policies he falls to the average range of presidents.

Only time will tell if his policies were indeed the correct choice of action and cement his ranking among presidents.

My favorite Roosevelt story: Three weeks before the 1912 election as he was preparing for a campaign speech he was shot in the chest by an anarchist. He made the speech anyway, although he had to talk off the top of his head since the paper containing his prepared remarks was too blood-soaked to read. :eek:

I think you are best advised to avoid attempts to rank any president who has not been out of office for at least 25 years, if not 50. You simply don’t have sufficient time to know what all will come of his actions. I tend, for this reason, not to try and rank Carter or Reagan.

The best part of the story was his line afterwards, though, when he heard that the attempted assassin was trying to plead insanity. “He isn’t crazy. He made sure to shoot me in a state without the death penalty.”

It’s funny you say that, because Carter ordered the CIA to start providing arms to the resistence within days of the Soviet invasion. That program was related to the whole episode I mentioned earlier about a picture of Zbig making its way into the rumor mill, and some unknowledgable folks started making up stories about how he went to Pakistan to take potshots at Soviets, or something like that. The picture that got it all started is here.

And if Reagan gets credit for spending the Soviet Union into bankruptcy, why isn’t there any credit for Carter allowing – or arguably helping – the Soviet Union to get involved in their own Vietnam? Cite.

I think you need to learn a little bit more about Afghanistan before coming to such concrete conclusions on US policy on the Soviet intervention.

He did defeat Tripoli, but kept on paying tribute to three other Barbary nations and also had to pay ransom to secure the release of hostages held in Tripoli.