Presidents ranked by historians

Cheeto not last but almost last

Surprised to see Ike so high.

I think given time Trump will fall lower yet. His final acts as President, basically encouraging sedition and trying to undermine the voting process while in office puts him down with Buchanan.

I had looked up the page on Wikipedia regarding historical rankings of presidents last year, and the ones that included Trump had ranked him pretty close to the bottom already. Given the unprecedented actions taken regarding the election and insurrection, coupled with further stuff we’re bound to learn in the coming years regarding the previous administration, I doubt it’s going to get any better.

cheeto dead last in moral authority . LMAO

James K. Polk should have been higher.

Yeah, Pierce’s, A. Johnson’s and Buchanan’s legacies are already set, we haven’t even begun to unravel what Trump’s legacy looks like. January 6, 2021, will not do the Cheeto any favors.

Also dead last in 'Administrative Skills"; not in the least surprising for a president who had most of his days blocked out as “executive time”, which was actually watching Fox News all day while eating fast food.

Eisenhower presided over the post-WWII economic boom, proposed and signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and engineered the armistice over the Korean conflict. He supported education, particularly what we now refer to as STEM, opposed McCarthyism, and established the Interstate Highway System that modernized transportation infrastructure. He also presciently warned of the growing influence of the “military-industrial complex”. The biggest criticism I can come up with is that he also presided during a time of a substantial growth of covert actions and surveillance, both abroad and domestically, although that was probably going to occur regardless of who sat in the Oval Office. Ike was basically what Republicans used to aspire to be and still like to claim that they are, even though Eisenhower today would be eviscerated by Fox News for being a flaming liberal insufficiently concerned about protecting the US from immigrants and terrorists.

I’m mildly surprised that Ronald Reagan sits as high as he does. I know that Reagan’s legacy enjoys popularity with a large segment of the general population (even though they don’t seem to understand the difference between the Republican party of Reagan’s era and the grotesque parody of it that is the modern GOP) but I would expect professional historians to be aware of both the rampant corruption under the Reagan Administration, most notably the Iran-Contra Affair, of which even if you buy the notion that Reagan didn’t really know what was going on or understand why it was wrong, still had senior members of his executive staff and the NSC essentially running a shadow intelligence agency delivering weapons and materiel to Iran in exchange for hostages, and then using profits to support the Contra rebels in explicit violation of the Boland Amendments. Reagan was the first president since Truman to have a resolution for impeachment referred to the Judiciary Committee, and while it never made it out of committee members of his cabinet were seriously concerned that another impeachment effort might be made after the trial of Oliver North.

And while the general public still holds that Reagan “ended the Cold War” via a massive military buildup and modernization one would expect historians to understand the the entire context of the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the Solidarity Movement in Poland, the effects of the long-moribund Soviet economy that was selling oil and other natural resources for pennies on the dollar just to stay afloat, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and of course the scandal of the Chernobyl Crisis, that together brought the Soviet Union to the point of fiscal ruin. Reagan talked well and got to be on stage during the downward slide of the Warsaw Pact, but there is little anyone can point to that were policies (legal or otherwise) of the Reagan Administration that had any direct influence on the failure of the Soviet Union.

As for Trump, he should be vying at the bottom with Andrew Johnson for reasons that should be obvious to any historian.


There’s always a high degree of recency bias in these surveys even among professional historians. (I’m always surprised how JFK consistently scores so high on these lists.) On almost all of the criteria used in the survey, the top ten is composed of the “biggies” (Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts) and presidents who served within the lifetime of the respondents.

It’s ridiculous that Reagan is higher than Obama.

I pretty much agree with the rankings of the top ten.

I’m surprised at how high Andrew Jackson is. Personally I’d put him near the bottom, if not the bottom.

Obama was an important milestone and a decent president but was he really better than Clinton? Obamacare is his most important legislative legacy and it’s too early to determine how good it ends up being.

Obama’s lowest score was in “Relations with Congress.” Which, okay, but that was arguably more Congress’s fault (and specifically Mitch McConnell’s) than Obama’s.

Surprised to see George W. Bush so low on that list. A lot things Bush did were bad but he was very effective in getting them done.

I don’t agree. He didn’t want to even try to “play the game” that presidents and congress have played since Roosevelt if not earlier. He wasn’t interested in talking to people he didn’t like or strongly disagreed with. He was a good and effective speaker. He has a great smile. I think he’s a good man, and I’m very glad there were no scandals during his tenure, but I don’t think his good qualities were matched by presidential achievements, and I think he shares no small responsibility for that.

Andrew Jackson was basically considered on the top of end of U.S. Presidents for most of our country’s history, it’s basically a retcon job that he is blamed for “every bad thing to happen to a Native American.” I actually was an anti-Jacksonian long before people were getting really worked up about the Trail of Tears, but that was largely because I think his destruction of the Bank of the United States set us on a long term wrong path. That being said, the classical pro-Jackson argument largely stems from him being a transformational President. He was widely seen as ushering in the era of “true democracy” in the United States.

Like many things that are “widely seen”, that perception is not unabashedly correct. Jackson did see an undermining of the traditional eastern mercantile elite, and there was a general “era of political worship of the lower class as virtuous”, in fact a series of politicians for years after Jackson would try to one up each other with their “I came from nothing” backstories (hence the large number of politicians who tried to identify as having been raised in log cabins.) Jackson did break the back of some elite entrenched political forces and remade the party system. This sometimes coincided with a brushing away of some of the law restrictive laws on the white male franchise. Of course, given that no women or people of color would vote for many years later, the idea that he was a great democratizer is not really true, but in the context of the time he did genuinely elevate the political power of non-elite white males.

Jackson also was seen to have purged a lot of corruption out of office, he lead major investigations of much of the Federal government to find wrongdoing. Interestingly the actual policies he promoted lead to the traditional “spoils system” which itself was corrupt, so much like the view of him as a democratizer, it isn’t quite accurate. But on the flipside, what predated the spoils system was arguably even more unvarnished and pervasive corruption.

He paid off the national debt (I don’t mean he just ran a budget surplus, we actually paid off the entirety of the national debt), and his economic moves around the Bank of the United States proved both popular and highly successful in Jackson’s immediate administration.

A major Panic “the Panic of 1837” started right as Jackson was leaving office, and resulted in a pervasive depression that went into the mid-1840s, it largely doomed his successor van Buren to being a one term President. Jackson historically kinda dodged the bullet on blame for that because it was blamed heavily at the time on foreign land speculators and land speculating in general (which was one of the major direct causes), and Jackson’s efforts with things like the Specie Circular and even vetoing renewal of the national bank’s charter was in part designed to clamp down on land speculation. The reality is most historians later on felt the lack of a national bank was a major factor, and the closing of the national bank lead to money being sent back to State banks, which often fueled the land speculation.

I think Jackson’s historical reputation would be a lot weaker if he had borne the full blame for this in his lifetime, but he wasn’t really held to task for it until long after he was dead when later historians gave new analyses of his Presidency.

I also think Jackson handled the Nullification crisis well, he backed South Carolina down without precipitating what could have been an early Civil War.

On the whole, as an anti-Jacksonian I still rank him above our “worst quartile” of Presidents, but just barely, I’d probably have him in the 30s somewhere. The historians rate him in the low 20s, which I would disagree with. I’d rate him below Taft, Coolidge, Cleveland, Arthur at the very least. Those Presidents (especially Cleveland) have a couple black marks against them but most were fairly honorable caretaker Presidents that didn’t actively fuck things up real bad. Jackson was a far more charismatic and famous President, but I think his mismanagement of the public fisc is a big black mark.

On the question of the Indian Removals, it’s hard for me with a historians eye to summon the same furor the hoi polloi get over it. To me it’s like, we ding every President at the very least up until the 1890s for serious abuse of the Native Americans, in which case the overall rankings don’t really change, or we randomly choose to hold specific Presidents to account. My reason I would classify it as random is I’m not familiar with any President from 1789 to 1900 that had a serious issue with dispossessing, relocating, and outright waging wars that lead to actual physical massacres against the Native Americans. The Trail of Tears has become famous because it was a one off, particularly large relocation. But it was not out of line with the practice of all the Presidents contemporaneous to Jackson. The full “Trail of Tears” period also covers 20 years, and while it began under Jackson it was perpetuated by six subsequent Presidents. Additionally, while not part of the historical “Trail of Tears” forceful removals and mass killings of Native Americans occurred before the Trail of Tears and continued after it.

Jackson’s policy certainly brought the formal term “Indian Removal” to the forefront of American politics, and was the organized, Federal effort at attaining this. But based on actual population, the 60,000 or so persons removed under the Jackson law (mostly after Jackson left office, as implementation involved negotiating treaties and land sales and took a few years), are a much smaller amount than the number of Native Americans who were basically forced to leave their ancestral tribal areas through various other depredations. Often times frontier settlers and state governments, for decades, had been at the vanguard of promoting violent attacks and massacres on Native Americans, which had an effect of pushing many survivors further out past the frontier. George Washington actually spoke against this, and basically said that if frontier settlers expected Indian raids to stop, they needed to commit to ceasing raiding of Indian villages. Washington arguably may have had the most balanced view on the Native Americans of any of the early Presidents, but even he wasn’t really protecting their treaty rights to a significant degree.

Jackson certainly deserves blame for the specific things he did to Native Americans, but it seems odd to me we have made him sort of a “talisman” for this blame, in which millions of people were affected by the decisions of 25 some Presidents and thousands of state level political leaders, and often millions of white settlers who we re raiding and killing on their own accord as well.

Ike and Reagan have been creeping up the chart since 2000. I suspect they benefit in contrast with the last two Republican presidents.

Ah! A fellow graduate of the They Might Be Giants School of Historical Study?

I think Ike left office with very high approval and had a good reputation from both a Republican and Democrat perspective for a good 15-20 years. I think he just “fell off the radar” somewhat for anyone born after his Presidency. Ike wasn’t a particularly charismatic individual; he was elected due to his popularity from what he actually did in WWII. He was never the leader of a cultural movement or spawned sort of a quasi-personality cult the way FDR, Reagan or even Kennedy did. The years after Ike were full of wars, political and economic upheaval, racial strife etc, I think it became easy to just kind of move him into the “Coolidge” flavor of Presidencies–a quiet Presidency in between more consequential ones. But some modern historians have done a good job highlighting part of why the Ike years were “quiet” was due to his shrewd and effective management of both foreign and domestic affairs. Is he ever going to rank as being as consequential as an FDR or such? No, but I think Ike will hold up will with time.