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Who Was the Best President?

Updated on August 28, 2014

Polls That Rank the Presidents

Some time ago, I posted an article that asked, "Who was the worst president in American history?" Most people I've seen lately on television and on social networking websites tend to choose either Barack Obama or George W. Bush. Some blame everything bad in America on the foibles of one of these two men. They argue either that Bush gave the country away to corporate interests or that Obama is trying to make us a communist nation. I argued that it is not yet possible to understand the ramifications of the activities of these men, and that it probably won't be for quite some time.

There are actual polls from time to time that attempt to rank presidents in order from best to worst. As the previous hub noted, US News and World Report produced one of these polls regarding the worst president in US history. C-SPAN also did a poll back in 2009 that attempted to rank the presidents, sans Obama because he had just taken office a few weeks prior. Both polls came to a similar conclusion. James Buchanan was the absolute worse president in US history, and Andrew Johnson was not too far behind.

The Best President Ever?

Honest Abe
Honest Abe | Source

Abraham Lincoln Was the Best President

The C-SPAN poll of 65 historians mentioned above named Abraham Lincoln as the best president in US history. Honest Abe frequently turns up near or at the top of these types of lists. Also in the top 5 were George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

George Washington is a no-brainer for this list. As the first president in US history, GW was not just first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. He was a major trend setter when it came to the presidency, because literally everything he did set a precedent for the future. While the Jeffersonian Republicans began some machinations in the background of the Washington administration, George Washington remained very popular throughout his presidency.

One very interesting thing about two of the men on the list is the massive amount of unpopularity that they had while president. Abraham Lincoln's election literally helped tear the nation apart because some Southern fire-eaters complained that the Northerners who wanted to do away with their way of life had succeeded in electing a "sectional president." During the war itself, it was not clear that Lincoln could get re-elected before a string of Northern successes. Prior to the success at Atlanta and a few other battles, it looked as though George B. McClellan might become president on a peace platform.

Lincoln would not rest until the restoration of the Union. He did not exactly support civil liberties during the war. He greatly expanded the power of the federal government. Despite these major areas for criticism, Lincoln did what was necessary under difficult circumstances to win the war. This single-minded propensity to stay the very unpopular course made Lincoln a great leader.

Truman was another president whose stock has risen in recent years. It is hard to forget the Chicago Tribune image that declared "Dewey Defeats Truman." Most people thought he had no chance to win, but he did. He was quite successful after being thrown into the job after FDR's sudden death near the end of World War II in 1945. Truman adapted well to the job after having little knowledge of what was going on before he ascended to the position.

George Washington

George Washington
George Washington | Source

Activist Presidents Tend to Rate Stronger

Presidents who were not terribly active in exerting their authority tend to rate poorly on the list of the best presidents. Take for example Buchanan. South Carolina decided to secede before he left office. While he did not believe that secession was a legal option, be did not do anything to stop it. Many people also consider Herbert Hoover a poor president because they perceive that he did little to alleviate the problem of the Great Depression.

FDR and TR were cousins and they also rate highly among the best presidents in US history. Both took an activist role in American society. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the more imperialist-minded presidents, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt attempted to improve the plight of people during the Great Depression and directed the massive national effort during World War II. Neither sat on his laurels and merely waited for Congress to act. This leadership frequently draws the ire of many libertarians who despise an active national government.


Who Was the Best President?

Who Was the Best President

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Here is my top 5 presidents of all-time, with my reasoning. Obviously, it is not a scientific study, but most of these presidents are thought of fairly well.

1. George Washington--he set a high bar for those who followed him. His "Farewell Address" was very prescient, even though recent presidents have taken little to heart.

2. Abraham Lincoln--preserved the Union in spite of those who wanted to break it up.

3. FDR--while some people said he brought in socialism, he probably kept more radical groups from taking over. Also, he successfully negotiated World War II.

4. Harry S. Truman--did a good job of ending World War II with little background knowledge and navigated the early Cold War.

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower--was a forward-thinking president who gave us the interstates and warned of the Military Industrial Complex.

If leaders had listened to forward thinkers like Washington and Eisenhower, the nation would probably be in much better shape.

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    • profile image

      kumar24894 4 years ago from Fuck of HUBPAGES

      George Washington started school when he was six years old. He left school at 15 to become a surveyor because his mother couldn't afford to send him to college.

      At 26, he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow who already had two children, Jackie and Patsy. Washington never had any children of his own.

      At six feet, two inches tall, and 200 pounds, he was one of our biggest presidents.

      Some of his favorite dishes were cream of peanut soup, mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, and string beans with mushrooms.

      He bred hound dogs that he treated like members of the family. He gave some of them unusual names: Tarter, True Love, and Sweet Lips.

      Toothaches bothered him for years. When he was 57, he had all his teeth pulled. From then on, he wore ivory false teeth set in a silver plate.

      Although he helped plan the nation's new capital city that was named for him, he never lived there. New York City and, later, Philadelphia were the nation's capitals while he was president.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I see that Lincoln is the favorite so far. I voted for him as well. You and I agree on the top favorites, if only we could have their advice today. Great topic and well covered.

    • cprice75 profile image
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      cprice75 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks for visiting Kumar and teaches. I totally agree that the advice some earlier presidents gave was quite good, and that the US could've avoided some major problems had they heeded it.

    • Mark McClean profile image

      Mark McClean 4 years ago from South Bend, Indiana USA

      I recently finished Ron Chernow's "Washington". Just a fascinating biography. Best I've ever read.

      I am a huge Lincoln fan who believes he was providentially chosen for this delicate time in American history.

      However I enthusiastically voted for Washington as the best President. Actually I think "best" is the wrong adjective to use. I would use words like "significant."

      After reading his biography what jumped off the pages was Washington was always, and I mean always, SETTING PRECEDENTS for other great men to follow.

      This is the trump card for greatness.

      Precedent setting leaders have no path to follow. They cut their own way through the fog. A very underrated talent. And believe me, America was in a dense fog as it crawled through the beginning pages of it's history.

      Washington had a will of iron forged in the crucible of greatness . His vision of America's future importance as a beacon of freedom led his every action. HE was the man people always turned too. And we're talking formidable men in their own right. Men like Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and Jay.

      And this guy was no intellectual dummy either.

      Washington had many glaring flaws as Chernow describes in detail. But when momentous events, during one of the most momentous times in world history, called for a leader, contemporaries ALWAYS turned to the elder statesman from Virginia.

      The great British statesman and four times Prime Minister, William E. Gladstone, once proposed the creation of a grouping of pedestals for statues of history’s most famous men. One pedestal stood higher than all the rest, and Gladstone was asked to identify the figure to be given the place of honor. Without a moment’s hesitation, he named George Washington.

      Greatness is first, greatness last and greatness is forever.

      American was "lucky" to have at it's disposal such a formidable figure to lead it through the birth pangs of freedom.

      Lincoln was great for having the qualities to save a nation.

      Washington was greater for having the qualities to forge a nation worthy to be saved by the likes of a Lincoln.

    • cprice75 profile image
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      cprice75 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks for reading, Mark. I like Washington because of his pragmatism and his refusal to follow the crowd when it could have been beneficial for him personally to do so ( think Newburgh). You are very correct in saying that Washington was no dummy, in spite of lacking formal education in the modern sense.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      I think Mark is right, the word significant is probably a better term. I would even break it up by era/century. But using significance, you have to add Woodrow Wilson to the list (although I'm not his biggest fan). Besides WWI, he championed Federal income tax and the Federal Reserve. James Polk also expanded the nation through the Mexican War. Great topic. Great article. Thx.

    • cprice75 profile image
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      cprice75 3 years ago from USA

      I would argue that the most significant presidents are usually reasonably good presidents. Most of the bad presidents seem to be the least active. I agree with you on Wilson regarding WWI. The income tax was meant to offset revenue from tariffs at the time. Most people are not ready to go back. The Fed is a necessary evil. Without a central bank, the country experienced massive depressions every 15-20 years with up to 25% unemployment for years at a time. The idea that everything was just peachy before the Fed is really inaccurate.

    • profile image

      mark 2 years ago

      Lincoln was one of the worst ever,if it were today he would be brought to trial for war crimes ,along with grant and sherman for what they did in the final yr of the war. burning entire towns,raping,pillaging,murdering all the way to atlanta. lincoln gave the orders ,he's not an innocent bystander. if american soldiers were to do that in iraq they would be in prison.i refuse to carry a $5 bill to this day

    • profile image

      Tschmidt 2 years ago

      how can this poll be considered relavent by means,when 22% voted for Mr.Reagan

    • cprice75 profile image
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      cprice75 2 years ago from USA

      It's probably more of a popularity contest than anything.

    • cprice75 profile image
      Author

      cprice75 2 years ago from USA

      Lincoln also did several things that were questionable from a constitutional standpoint. If he'd lost the war, there is no way he'd be considered among the greatest.

    • kenzo66 profile image

      kenzo66 2 years ago

      I would humbly nominate Calvin Coolidge as best President. While I would not have agreed with everything he did in office, I genuinely believe that his thoughtful, quiet stewardship is a fine model (best we've had) for the conduct of a modern Presidency. Washington and Lincoln were fine men and truly great Presidents, but their times dictated much of what they did and how they comported themselves--and much would seem alien to modern Americans today. But generally thoughtful, impartial, and clear-headed governance has no better model than Coolidge. Indeed, his famous statement regrading re-election, "I do not choose to run," only serves to underscore the practiced detachment of a man superbly suited for executive power but uncorrupted by it.

    • cprice75 profile image
      Author

      cprice75 2 years ago from USA

      Would our thoughts regarding Coolidge be different had he stayed in office? I believe that the Depression would have still happened, as it started less than one year after Hoover took office and the problems that caused it were generally underway. Should this have been the case, rather than Hoover getting the blame (probably undeservedly), that would have fallen on Coolidge, although I must point out that I've read that Coolidge said regarding Hoover that he had given him unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.

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