The Top 30 US Presidents Ranked From Lowest To Highest
Who do you think was considered the best president in American history? A team of experts was recently commissioned by C-SPAN to answer that question definitively and the results are fascinating. They ranked each president according to a number of different factors such as public persuasion, crisis leadership, international relations, and vision while in office. We’ve compiled those presidents who made it into the top 30. Please note that presidents are only rated after their presidency, so the current president has not yet been ranked. Whether you agree or disagree, read on to find out who made the cut!
30. Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison was the 23rd president of the United States and served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He ranks at number 30 on the list of greatest US presidents, primarily for excelling at international relations and for his good working relationship with Congress while in office from 1889 to 1893.
Harrison is well remembered for advocating and enforcing voting rights for African Americans. He was also responsible for admitting six western states into the Union. Harrison remains the only president to also have a grandfather serve as president of the United States, William Henry Harrison.
29. James A. Garfield
James A. Garfield holds the title of being the only sitting member of the House of Representatives to be elected president of the United States. Before his political career, Garfield served as a major general on the Union side of the American Civil War.
Garfield fought in a number of important Civil War battles such as Middle Creek, Shiloh and Chickamauga. Even though his presidency was cut short by infections following an assassination attempt, he managed to accomplish a long list of achievements while in office from March 4, 1881 to September 19, 1881. Among many other things, he managed to build up the navy and purge corruption in the postal service.
28. Richard M. Nixon
Richard Nixon was the 37th president of the United States and had a huge talent for negotiating foreign affairs. He successfully ended American involvement in Vietnam, brought POWs home, opened diplomatic relations with China, and signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the USSR while in office from 1969 to 1974.
Nixon was also responsible for enforcing desegregation in the South, founding the Environmental Protection Agency, and starting the “War on Cancer”. Nixon would have ranked much higher on the list had it not been for the Watergate scandal.
27. Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge was vice president, then took over after President Harding’s death. During his time in office from 1923 until 1929, He was a big advocate of small government and laissez-faire policy. Coolidge was a firm supporter of racial equality and even left office with considerable popularity.
“He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength,” his biographer wrote.
26. Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter served at the 39th President of the United States from 1977 until 1981. While in office, he established the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He was also behind the Camp David Accords, which led to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979.
According to C-SPAN’s rankings, Carter scored highly for moral authority and for pursuing equal justice for all. He was faced with handling several international crises during his presidency. In 2002, he won a Nobel Peace Prize for the work of his NGO, the Carter Center.
25. Gerald R. Ford Jr.
Gerald Ford became the 38th president of the United States after Richard Nixon resigned from office. He served in office from 1974 until 1977. He is remembered for taking part in the Helsinki Accords, which attempted to thaw relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War
Overall, he ranks high for his moral authority as he led the country through a serious economic depression. Gerald Ford holds the title of being the only man to serve as both president and vice president without being elected.
24. William H. Taft
President William H. Taft, the 27th president of the United States, comes in at 24th on the list of greatest presidents ever. He is the only man to serve as both president and chief justice of the United States.
During his term as president from 1909 to 1913, he focused his efforts on east Asia more so than European affairs. Taft also intervened in Latin American affairs to either set up or topple governments. Read on to find out which US president comes next on the list of greatest US presidents.
23. Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland served two terms as president, the first from 1885 to 1889 and then again four years later, from 1893 to 1897. He is championed by conservatives for his fiscal policy and because he advocated for political reform.
Cleveland excelled at public speaking and persuasion. “He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence, and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not,” his biographer later wrote. Despite a lackluster second term, Cleveland is considered one of the better US presidents.
22. Ulysses S. Grant
War hero Ulysses S. Grant comes in as the 22nd best president of all time. He served as the commanding general of the Union Army during the American Civil War and was well liked by the public during his time in office from 1869 until 1877.
Grant received high scores for having high public persuasion, moral authority, excelling at international relations and for pursuing justice for Americans, equally. He is remembered for being an honest person who took a strong stand against the KKK in the former Confederacy. Grant also appointed African and Jewish Americans to office for the first time.
21. John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States, serving from 1825 until 1829 and was the son of president and Founding Father, John Adams. He ranks high for having a strong vision for the country and for his devotion to ensuring that all Americans were treated equally.
Adams was vehemently anti-slavery. According to him, he was “the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of southern slavery that ever existed.” President Adams was also a big advocate of nonintervention policies, staying out of European politics. He was also against the annexation of Texas. Fun Fact: Adams was the first president to be photographed.
20. George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush ranks high on the list of top presidents due to his excellence in crisis leadership, being highly skilled in international relations and for his high moral authority. He served from 1989 until 1993, following eight years as vice president under Ronald Reagan.
During his presidency, he oversaw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and the first Gulf War. In domestic affairs, he established the Americans With Disablities Act and the Clean Air Act. He was also one of the signees of the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico.
19. John Adams
John Adams, one of the founding fathers of America, was the second president of the United States. He is best remembered for his resolution of the conflict with France and building up of the army and navy during his term from 1797 until 1801.
John Adams is commonly known as “the father of the American Navy.” He scored highest on international relations, moral authority and crisis leadership. Adams only served one term as president and was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson.
18. Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson ranks high on the list of US presidents mainly due to his abilities in public persuasion and his skill in crisis leadership while in office from 1829 until 1837. He holds the title of being the only US president who was a prisoner of war because he was taken captive by the British during the Revolutionary War when he was 13.
He remains the only president to manage to pay off the national debt and successfully prevented South Carolina from seceding from the Union. Although Andrew Jackson appears on the 20 dollar bill, he was against the use of paper money, preferring the use of gold and silver instead.
17. James Madison
James Madison, also known as the father of the constitution, was the fourth president of the United States and a Founding Father. Madison comes in at number 17 for his high moral authority and his superb performance during his two terms from 1809 until 1817. He led the country through the War of 1812 and called for beefing up the military, government powers, and establishing a national bank.
Madison was highly intelligent, completing college in just two years. He was also the first graduate student at Princeton University. His wife Dolley was instrumental in defining the role of first lady. She was the first to take an active role in the White House by redecorating and leading a public outreach program for orphans.
16. William McKinley Jr.
William McKinley was the 25th President of the United States and the very last president who served in the Civil War. He served as commander in chief from 1897 until 1901. The 25th president is remembered for leading the US to victory in the Spanish-American War.
He is also known for advancing the US economy and maintaining the gold standard. He was also president when Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines became US territories. McKinley ranks high on C-SPAN’s presidential survey in almost every criteria apart from pursuing equal justice for all.
15. Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton served as the 42nd President of the United States and is well remembered for his public persuasion and exemplary economic management during his term from 1993 until 2001. Clinton holds the title as having the longest period of economic expansion during peacetime of any president.
He accomplished a number of reforms regarding welfare and health insurance for children and was active in promoting peace efforts around the world. “He has brought on the greatest prosperity we have ever known and he doesn’t get the credit for it and that’s too bad,” said White House reporter Helen Thomas. His approval rating when he left office was 60%, the highest since World War II.
14. James K. Polk
James K. Polk served as the 11th President of the United States and scored highest for his crisis leadership and clear vision for the country during his tenure in office from 1845 until 1849. Polk was the first person whose inauguration was covered in the news by telegraph.
Under the leadership of President Polk, the United States reigned victorious in the Mexican-American War and greatly expanded US territory. With the Mexican Cession of 1848, the US expanded its territory to the Pacific Ocean. He also annexed the Republic of Texas during his tenure.
13. James Monroe
Founding Father James Monroe served as the fifth President of the United States from 1817 until 1825. He fought in the American Revolutionary War and his first term heralded in what was known as the Era of Good Feelings. President Monroe is well remembered today for his foreign policy, known as “The Monroe Doctrine.”
Monroe scored very high in international relations and performance but falls short in the pursuance of equal justice for all. He won both of his elections in a landslide. Keep reading, you’ll never believe which president comes in 12th place!
12. Barack Obama
Barack Obama served as the 44th President of the United States and was the very first African-American to serve as president. Obama scores very high for his moral authority, pursuing justice for all and was highly skilled at public persuasion while in office from 2009 until 2017.
Obama is remembered for reforming healthcare with the Affordable Care Act, repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, helping broker a nuclear agreement with Iran, normalizing relations with Cuba, and initiating sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine.
11. Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson served as the 28th president of the United States for two terms, from 1913 to 1921. He scores highest for his clear agenda and skills at public persuasion. Wilson led the United States through World War I and assisted with the Treaty of Versailles that significantly helped end the war.
At the conclusion of the conference, Wilson is famous for saying that “at last the world knows America as the savior of the world!” Wilson. He strongly pushed for the US to join the League of Nations, which eventually became the United Nations, but congress did not approve.
10. Lyndon Baines Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ for short, was the 36th President of the United States and scored high on C-SPAN’s survey for pursuing equal justice for all and keeping good relations with Congress during his time in office from 1963 until 1969.
LBJ scored low for international relations, but what he lacked internationally, he made up for domestically. Johnson passed many domestic laws affecting civil rights, gun laws, and welfare. He passed Social Security into law and expanded Medicare and Medicaid.
9. Ronald Reagan
The ninth best president in history is none other than Ronald Reagan, who served as the 40th President of the United States from 1981 until 1989. Reagan scores among the highest of all the presidents for his skills at public persuasion and having a clear vision for the country.
President Reagan is well known for his policy of Reaganomics, as well as for ending the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the Iran-Contra affair. He is also well remembered for his iconic speech in West Germany, standing in front of the Berlin Wall, in which he told Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!”.
8. John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy comes in at number eight on the list. He served as the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. He holds the title of being the first and only Roman Catholic to hold the position of president.
Kennedy scores highest for his abilities in public persuasion and holding a clear vision and agenda for the country. He established the Peace Corps and was leader during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Read on to find out who came in at number seven!
7. Thomas Jefferson
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson comes in at number seven on the list of best presidents. He served as the nation’s third president from 1801 until 1809 and was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase with France, doubling the territory of the United States. He was also an advocate of religious freedom and tolerance. Jefferson only falls short in one category of the survey, and that’s pursuing equal justice for all.
6. Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman served as the 33rd President of the United States and comes in as the sixth best president. He served in the US Army during World War I and took office just after the completion of World War II. He held office from 1945 until 1953.
During his time as president, he used his veto power an astounding 180 times. He also holds the title of being the only president to have used nuclear weapons. He ranks high in the categories of crisis leadership, pursuing justice for all and for performance.
5. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Army-General-turned-politician Dwight D. Eisenhower is the fifth highest ranking president on this list. He served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He scored high for his moral authority, as well as crisis leadership and international relations.
Eisenhower was responsible for implementing the desegregation of the armed forces, a policy set by President Truman. Eisenhower has consistently topped surveys of the most admired men ever. Hey, it looks like everyone did like Ike after all.
4. Theodore Roosevelt
Coming in at no. 4 is Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. He ranks second best for his skills at public persuasion and fourth in the areas of economic management, international relations, administrative skills and vision.
During his time in office from 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt was responsible for creating many national parks and forests, as well as monuments. He began the construction of the Panama Canal, expanded the Navy and won a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. Read on to find out who came in third place.
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
The third highest ranking president of all time is Franklin D. Roosevelt or FDR for short. He was the 32nd President of the United States and holds the title of being the only president to be elected four times, holding office from 1933 until 1945.
FDR was a master at public persuasion and crisis leadership. He led the nation through the Great Depression and all the way to victory in World War II. He established many social and economic reforms as part of the New Deal in an attempt to pull the US out of the grips of the Great Depression. Read on to find out who came in second place.
2. George Washington
The second highest-ranking president of all time is George Washington, the very first President of the United States. As a Founding Father, Washington defined the nation, as well as the duties of a president while in office from 1789 to 1797.
George Washington helped establish many of the most elemental parts of the US government, such as as the seat of government and the tax system. He was leader of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Washington scores high in almost every single category except pursuing equal justice for all.
1. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln is the highest ranking US president of all time. He served as the 16th president from 1861 until 1865. He led the Union through the Civil War and most importantly, started the process of abolishing slavery.
He set the grounds for ending slavery with his groundbreaking the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which changed the status of slaves in the South to free people. It was his mission to add the 13th amendment to the constitution, which would officially outlaw slavery in the United States. Sadly, it was only passed after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. A number of different polls show that Lincoln is the most admired US President of all time.
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