Who Was the Best American President?
Who Were the Best Presidents? An Introduction
The debate about who was the best U.S. President continues to rage, and it can be difficult to answer this question. While Lincoln is still the President who stands out for many, the debate over the best U.S. President, or even the five best, still rages on. So here is a list of seven former Presidents who have all been considered among the best either by historians, political science professors, or the good old masses of common people.
There are three Republicans, three Democrats, and the only unaffiliated on the list, placed in chronological order. So enjoy, and please feel free to leave feedback, but keep it civil and factual in discussions: if you want to debate give positive reasons for your favorites, don't cut others down!
Books on U.S. Presidents
Seven of the Best U.S. Presidents
George Washington, Federalist Party. The very first President, he definitely belongs on this list. During his time as President, the office of the Presidency actually had really little power during this time. Washington was President when the Bill of Rights was ratified, he refused to be king (the offer was there) and voluntarily stepped down after two terms, setting a precedent that helped democracy in the United States form and survive. Correction: The Federalist Party was started during Washington's first term, but when he took office he was not affiliated, making John Adams the only "true" Federalist President. Good catch by Tim.
Thomas Jefferson, Republican Party. Not only did Jefferson get a huge amount of land with the Louisiana Purchase, but he also saw the establishment of the U.S. Military Academy as well as the Lewis & Clark expedition. Jefferson was also quoted as saying: "The government is best that governs least," a sentiment that many Americans wish both parties would adopt. He was not repudiated to be a particularly nice man, but he was an excellent President.
Abe Lincoln, Republican Party. A major part of being remembered in history is being in the spot light during a historical crisis. The Civil War threatened to tear the nation apart, and Lincoln refused to allow this to happen. He was one of the least popular Presidents ever during his lifetime, but history has certainly vindicated him. Lincoln preserved the union, and his letters indicate his steadfastness came from a vision of the future that seemed almost prophetic. The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves, and the Union after a bloody war, held together as one. Lincoln is generally the most popular choice for best President ever, though critics do point out his suspension of habeus corpus and the first military draft.
Teddy Roosevelt, Republican Party. Teddy was known as a President who was gutsy and stubborn, and surprisingly progressive. He was the first President to be on a submarine or an airplane, and was a major conservationist. Over 125 million acres of nature were made into National Parks while also gaining a reputation as a trust buster, bringing the robber barons to their knees and forcing open and fair capitalism. The first laws were passed forcing a minimum quality for food. Teddy also won a Nobel Peace Prize for brokering peace between Russia and Japan, and stated unequivocally to European powers that they had no right to interfere with the Western Hemisphere. Not bad for a President only elected to one term.
FDR, Democratic Party. Beloved by Democrats and Independents, demonized by Republicans, FDR is nonetheless the only President to be elected to more than two terms, and saw the country through the Great Depression while deciding it was better to intervene and keep tens of thousands, or even millions, from starving to death rather than let the markets that caused the Depression simply "take their course." FDR founded the TVA, helping to bring the South (still being punished for the Civil War) into the 20th century, created Social Security to prevent severe or life threatening poverty among the elderly, and had the first form of welfare - one in which people worked to build roads and national parks to earn money.
FDR's WPA program, in fact, employed some 3.3 million people who were set to work on tasks that gave America lasting improvements. In 8 years the WPA built 40,000 buildings, 8,000 schools, built or improved 650,000 miles of roads, 124,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, 18,000 playgrounds, and over 2,000 swimming pools. This program was later referred to by President Ronald Regan as one of the best and most successful government social programs in history. Oh, yeah, they also built New York's La Guardia Airport.
He also repealed Prohibition, and brought America's industrial strength to full force before entering World War II and becoming a world power, although there was that shameful attempt to pack the Supreme Court.
JFK, Democratic Party. During JFK's tragically short time as President he created the Peace Corps, saw the first American sent to space, and gave residents of the District of Columbia the right to vote in Presidential elections. During the Cuban Missile Crisis his cabinet wanted to use nuclear weapons, the generals wanted to use nuclear weapons, and Kennedy refused to listen and brokered peace, averting nuclear war. Say what you want, any President who prevents nuclear war is automatically on my top five.
Bill Clinton, Democratic Party. Although his Presidency was full of controversy, it is hard to argue with the numbers. The lowest unemployment rate ever, the biggest economic boon in history, a five trillion dollar deficit paid off, budgets balanced, and minimum wage raised. The negatives were all the scandals, some which were definitely political witch hunts, others which appear very legitimate. He left office even after all the scandals with a 65% approval rating, the highest since FDR shortly after his death. Love him or hate him, there's no denying the economy of the 1990s was far superior to anything before or later.