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

  • #33. George W. Bush

    - 43rd president (Served from: Jan. 20, 2001–Jan. 20, 2009)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 456
    --- Political persuasion score: 49.0 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 52.3 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 38.2 (#36 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 45.8 (#34 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 36.4 (#41 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 45.5 (#34 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 51.9 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 46.3 (#26 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 47.0 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 43.3 (#35 out of 43)

    During his first term in the White House, George W. Bush was preoccupied with the September 11th attacks, in response to which he sent U.S. troops into Afghanistan in attempts to disband the Taliban government and by extension, defeat Osama bin Laden. Bush also established the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to combat further terrorist attacks. In 2003, he made the controversial decision to invade Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein, whom he argued had been linked to international terrorist groups and harbored weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was captured, but the U.S. ultimately found that the Iraqi government did not possess nuclear weapons.

    Many Americans accused Bush of exaggerating Iraq’s threat to the U.S. to justify invading the country, especially given that his father, President George H.W. Bush, had also waged war against Saddam Hussein during Operation Desert Storm. His low rating in international relations garnered him 33rd place.

  • #32. Rutherford B. Hayes

    - 19th president (Served from: March 4, 1877–March 4, 1881)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 458
    --- Political persuasion score: 46.1 (#29 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 45.7 (#30 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 47.6 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 46.9 (#32 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 48.5 (#33 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 49.8 (#29 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 45.8 (#30 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 42.5 (#32 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 38.0 (#32 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 47.0 (#28 out of 43)

    Rutherford Hayes’s main job in office was to reunify the nation at the tail end of the Reconstruction era. In fact, the only states that were still in need of reunification were Louisiana and South Carolina. Hayes planned to remove soldiers fighting for Republican governments in those states if leading Democrats promised to abide by the civil and voting rights of Black and white Republicans. He leaned on healthy local self-government to do the job. But this plan backfired—racism remained prevalent and African Americans didn’t gain voting rights for some time.

    Hayes hoped for a “new Republican party” in the South that would attract conservatives and white businessmen. But ultimately, Hayes couldn’t win the support of the entire South. He ranked low because of his pursuit of equal justice—particularly because he did not involve himself enough in securing rights for African Americans and instead left it up to the states.

  • #31. Zachary Taylor

    - 12th president (Served from: March 4, 1849–July 9, 1850)
    - Political party: Whig
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 458
    --- Political persuasion score: 48.5 (#27 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 47.6 (#28 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 46.1 (#28 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 51.0 (#28 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 49.7 (#30 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 45.2 (#35 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 43.3 (#35 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 44.1 (#30 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 36.3 (#34 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 46.5 (#30 out of 43)

    Zachary Taylor, a past military hero, was president in the years leading up to the Civil War, when slavery and its expansion into America’s Western territories caused significant conflict between the North and South. Although he himself owned slaves, Taylor’s nationalism was the basis of his aversion to creating new slave states. His idea to have the Mexican Cession territories immediately become states and leave decisions about slavery to state constitutions led to extensive debate. Taylor is yet another president from the pre-Civil War era who earned low marks in the pursuit of equal justice due to inaction regarding slavery.

  • #30. Benjamin Harrison

    - 23rd president (Served from: March 4, 1889–March 4, 1893)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 462
    --- Political persuasion score: 43.8 (#32 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 42.5 (#33 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 43.3 (#32 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 47.7 (#30 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 51.0 (#27 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 49.3 (#30 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 50.5 (#26 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 43.5 (#31 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 43.8 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 46.2 (#31 out of 43)

    Leading up to his election, Benjamin Harrison was known for creating the first “front porch” campaigns, in which he gave short talks to visiting delegations in Indianapolis. Harrison’s backing of protective tariffs have been said to have caused the foundation for future economic turmoil because of its impact on consumer prices. He signed the Sherman Antitrust Act, the first legislation that banned certain types of industrial monopolies. 

    Harrison did show initiative in terms of foreign affairs—his state department communicated with Britain and Germany to establish terms for an American protectorate in the Samoan Islands, and prevented Britain and Canada from over-hunting Bering Sea seals. His economic and crisis management skills earned him his placement: in the wake of an existing economic depression, his administration set aside a billion dollars in a peacetime economy—a decision with which many Americans disagreed.

  • #29. James A. Garfield

    - 20th president (Served from: March 4, 1881–Sept. 19, 1881)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 481
    --- Political persuasion score: 51.1 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 44.1 (#31 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 46.1 (#29 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 58.1 (#22 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 43.4 (#36 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 48.8 (#32 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 48.6 (#27 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 47.0 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 46.7 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 47.3 (#27 out of 43)

    James Garfield, a former Civil War general, spent just 200 days in office before meeting an untimely assassination. During the time he did have, he assembled his Cabinet and made political appointments. Just as he was about to set his plan of civil service reform in motion, an embittered attorney who had been denied a political appointment shot Garfield while he was on his way to Williams College, injuring him to the extent that he died less than three months later.

    Garfield’s rating for international relations most heavily contributed to his 29th place—the man he appointed secretary of state was preoccupied to the extent that he didn’t have time to deal with Latin American affairs, the issue of Chinese immigration, and other pressing international issues.

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  • #28. Richard Nixon

    - 37th president (Served from: Jan. 20, 1969–Aug. 9, 1974)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 486
    --- Political persuasion score: 49.0 (#26 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 49.1 (#27 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 52.6 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 23.0 (#42 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 72.3 (#10 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 56.5 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 42.8 (#37 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 50.2 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 46.6 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 44.0 (#34 out of 43)

    Richard Nixon is probably best remembered as having resigned from office as a result of his involvement in the Watergate scandal—when a group of individuals associated with Nixon’s campaign broke into the DNC at the Watergate complex to place listening devices and steal documents. Nixon denied having knowledge of the break-ins, but audiotape revealed that he attempted to cover up the crime.

    Facing impeachment, Nixon chose to resign. His actual presidential accomplishments include negotiating weapons control with Russia, making diplomatic headway with Communist China, pulling troops out of Vietnam, and enforcing anti-crime efforts. While his international relations skills were notable, his moral authority ranking is what placed him at #28 on the list.

  • #27. Calvin Coolidge

    - 30th president (Served from: Aug. 2, 1923–March 4, 1929)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 506
    --- Political persuasion score: 49.8 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 46.8 (#29 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 52.7 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 59.1 (#21 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 50.9 (#29 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 56.3 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 55.1 (#18 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 44.9 (#29 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 39.5 (#29 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 51.0 (#26 out of 43)

    “Silent Cal,” as he was nicknamed, took office when Warren Harding passed away halfway through his term. Calvin Coolidge worked to rectify the corruption that occurred under the previous administration, standing for traditionalism and respectability in a decade of substantial social and technological change. But this approach also involved abstaining from passing new legislation and facilitating reform.

    He cut taxes and limited government spending, economic policies that ultimately contributed to the 1929 stock market crash. Coolidge may have ranked decently for his congressional relations, but he ranked low for crisis leadership, international relations, agenda-setting, and the pursuit of justice. He did nothing to help struggling farmers, let the U.S. become unhealthily involved in Latin American affairs, limited the entry of European immigrants into the U.S., and kept quiet during controversies like the Scopes Trial.

  • #26. Jimmy Carter

    - 39th president (Served from: Jan. 20, 1977–Jan. 20, 1981)
    - Political party: Democratic
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 506
    --- Political persuasion score: 42.5 (#35 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 40.0 (#37 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 41.5 (#33 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 67.1 (#14 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 49.4 (#32 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 49.1 (#31 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 44.2 (#33 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 50.8 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 75.1 (#5 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 46.9 (#29 out of 43)

    As Gerald Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter fought to remedy the faltering economy, succeeding in creating jobs and lessening the budget deficit, but faced a small recession in lowering inflation. He fixed the energy shortage, bolstered the national park system, created the Department of Education, improved Social Security and brought on women, African Americans, and Hispanic people into government roles.

    Internationally he facilitated an amicable relationship between Israel and Egypt, and negotiated the second round of the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT) with the Soviet Union. Though Carter rated highly for the pursuit of equal justice as seen through his domestic achievements and employment of minorities, he fell short in his crisis leadership skills; his SALT II negotiation ultimately caused the Iran hostage crisis.

  • #25. Gerald Ford

    - 38th president (Served from: Aug. 9, 1974–Jan. 20, 1977)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 509
    --- Political persuasion score: 42.5 (#34 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 53.6 (#24 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 44.9 (#30 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 57.9 (#23 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 54.2 (#25 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 52.9 (#27 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 54.9 (#19 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 41.5 (#35 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 53.1 (#14 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 53.8 (#25 out of 43)

    Gerald Ford took office after Nixon resigned, making him the first unelected president in American history. As vice president under Nixon, Ford pardoned Nixon for his crimes relating to the Watergate scandal, a decision that did not sit well with many Americans. Nonetheless, Ford strove to help the American public regain trust in the government in the aftermath of the debacle.

    As a Republican, Ford had a difficult relationship with a mostly Democratic Congress, which came into play when he tried and failed to secure military relief to South Vietnam. But, he did sign the Helsinki Accords, lessening strain between Western countries and the Soviet Union. Ford’s greatest strength, according to C-SPAN, was the pursuit of equal justice. His lowest was agenda-setting, evidenced in his pardoning of Nixon and failure to regain public confidence in the wake of Watergate.

  • #24. William Howard Taft

    - 27th president (Served from: March 4, 1909–March 4, 1913)
    - Political party: Republican
    - Overall C-SPAN score: 528
    --- Political persuasion score: 45.1 (#31 out of 43)
    --- Crisis leadership score: 49.9 (#26 out of 43)
    --- Economic management score: 55.2 (#20 out of 43)
    --- Moral authority score: 56.7 (#25 out of 43)
    --- International relations score: 57.8 (#21 out of 43)
    --- Administrative skills score: 65.8 (#12 out of 43)
    --- Congressional relations score: 52.3 (#23 out of 43)
    --- Vision/ability to set an agenda score: 45.9 (#28 out of 43)
    --- Pursued equal justice for all score: 44.7 (#22 out of 43)
    --- Performance within context of the times score: 54.6 (#24 out of 43)

    During his presidency, William Howard Taft dismantled many trusts and supported amendments calling for federal income taxes and publicly elected senators. However, he angered Progressives by passing the Payne-Aldrich Act in an attempt to lower tariffs, which proved ineffective. He also ticked off both Progressives and Teddy Roosevelt when he made Richard Ballinger secretary of the interior, having rebuffed Roosevelt’s friend Gifford Pinchot.

    The situation ultimately caused a divide within the Republican Party—and between Taft and Roosevelt, who were once friends. Nearly a decade after leaving office, President Warren Harding made Taft chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. While Taft’s administrative skills were on point, he received low marks for his political persuasion—his domestic decisions did not jibe with many Americans.

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