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Top Ten Best Presidents

Updated on March 5, 2014

David Letterman has his top 10s, I have mine....

B"H

Top Ten Lists are by necessity very subjective. This one is no exception. But as a longtime presidential trivia buff, I feel qualified to judge the presidents on their contributions to society and the world.

Why I wrote this lens

I'm a presidential trivia buff. My brother and I used to play with Presidents' statues, color in Presidents' coloring books, read Presidents' books. In our pre-teens, we could rattle off the Presidents of the US in order and knew which ones were related (for the record, the Johnsons were not related but James Madison and Zachary Taylor were second cousins). We knew who died in office and who was assassinated. We could tell you the names of all the Presidential wives. And, at one point, we could name all their Vice Presidents.

So, when the most recent presidential election came up, I decided to put together my list of my top ten favorite presidents.

Top Ten Presidents

Since my criteria for who are the ten best presidents in totally subjective and might not have anything to do with what happened during the specific president's tenure as president, I have listed them in chronological order (according to "what number president" each was) -- I also have listed why I consider each one as part of this list:

  • George Washington:

    I hate to be cliche (and I probably will be with others on this list), but Washington set the tone for what a president is and would be. Because he was also part of the congress that created the constitution (though Madison was called the Father of the Constitution), Washington was the first president under the Constitution and he was the president who set the precedents that led to the best government in the world (in my humble opinion)

  • John Adams:

    I have John Adams on this list mostly for what he did before he was president. As a person, he makes my list for many reasons -- for his contribution to the Continental Congress, for his diplomatic service, for his relationship with his wife, Abigail, who was an early feminist, for his prodigious letter writing to Abigail and their son John Quincy, for his intelligence, hutzpa, support of Jews and women, for playing second fiddle to Washington and, oftentimes, to Jefferson, for his eloquent writing, for his general honesty and integrity. Though his presidency was largely a disaster (the Alien and Sedition Acts being the lowest point), he was the first president to live in Washington, DC, in the Executive Mansion (which we know as the White House).

  • Thomas Jefferson:

    While I'm not fond of Jefferson as a person (his opinion of Jews and women being mostly negative, his ownership of slaves, though not unusual in his time, in the scheme of things isn't what one would like to see in a leader, his aristocratic opinions, etc.), I feel the need to put him on this list simply for acquiring the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Ironically, this served to weaken his own (and the South's) State's Rights position by strengthening the Federal Government.

  • John Quincy Adams:

    Again, as with his father, I would put "Quincy" on the list mostly for what he did before (and, in Quincy's case, after) he was president. While his presidency was mostly lackluster (thanks to crazy man and future president Andrew Jackson's use of congress to sandbag anything Adams tried to do legislatively), his life before and after was anything but. To just list a few of his accomplishments:

  • a European diplomatic career in his youth

  • Harvard education and also a prodigious letter writer

  • Monroe's Secretary of State (it was in this capacity that JQA wrote what is now known as the Monroe Doctrine, one of the strongest foreign policy statements in the history of the US)

  • Return to the House of Representatives post- presidency

  • He defended the blacks of the Amistad who mutinied against their captors

  • He was an ardent abolitionist and argued for the freeing of all slaves years before the Civil War


JQA really earned the nickname Old Man Eloquent. See more about both Adamses at John and John Quincy Adams

James Knox Polk:Polk was one of the hardest working presidents. He was the only president who had been Speaker of the House and he was the first Dark Horse president. His campaign slogan was 54-40 or Fight! (which was the latitude measurement of the border the US wanted with Canada) -- Polk negotiated and bloodlessly (at the 49th parallel) resolved this issue and also added California (and, just before he was inaugurated, Texas) to the Union. (black spot on his presidency was the Mexican War, a somewhat imperialistic war)Overworked, but successful in his endeavors, Polk left office after an eventful single term as president, returned home and died a few months later before his 54th birthday. Of all the presidents who survived the presidency, he lived the shortest after retiring. And, except for Kennedy and Garfield, both of whom were assassinated, he died the youngest of any president.Abraham Lincoln:Again, a cliche part of the list, though probably not for the reason most people think. Yes, he was instrumental in "freeing the slaves", but his real courage was facing the crisis and succeeding in preserving the Union. The genius of the Emancipation Proclamation, which, at the time, did not free a single slave, was in keeping the border states in the Union and gaining the support of the free black community. While I also admire him for what he did de facto for civil rights (and human rights), the preservation of the Union and victory in the Civil War were his crowning achievements. Theodore Roosevelt:Theodore was a sickly child who worked very hard to build himself up physically. By the time he became president, he had recreated himself as a robust, healthy man with boundless energy. He pretty much did the same thing for this country. TR was the youngest man ever to be president (he succeeded to the presidency on the assassination death of William McKinley). TR had already experienced death in a personal way -- in 1884, when TR was only 25, his mother (who hadn't hit her 50th birthday) and his wife (who was only 22 at the time) both died on the same day. But he always became stronger through adversity. He was a progressive in his policies. And, for his work in negotiating the treaty in the Russo-Japanese war, he was the first president to win the Nobel Peace Prize.Franklin Roosevelt:Most people know about FDR's work during WWII, but I put him on my list mostly for his forward thinking work in getting the US out of the Great Depression. Many of his assistance programs are still in effect in the US and his foresight has helped many people out of poverty.Harry S Truman:Thrust into the job of president with the sudden death of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman rose to the occasion. He negotiated the end of WWII in Europe and later made the hard decision (which shortened the war in the Pacific and saved countless lives on both sides) to send the Enola Gay to drop the Atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima (after warning the government to evacuate the city, a warning the Japanese government ignored), then sending Bock's Car to drop another bomb on Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered soon after.Truman was also one of the first world leaders to recognize the nascent State of Israel. Lyndon Baines Johnson:Though most people blame Johnson for the escalation of US involvement in the war in Vietnam, Johnson's experience and forcefulness gave him the ability to push through legislation in the area of Civil Rights. He also added to FDR's Depression-ending programs, giving Americans better retirements and more opportunities to get themselves out of poverty.

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