U.S. Presidents For Dummies with Online Practice
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Developing a list of the ten best U.S. presidents presents a truly difficult task. Selecting the ten best presidents out of the 44 (President Trump does not qualify to be rated because his presidency is ongoing at this time) isn’t easy.

Of course, some choices are no-brainers; some presidents, such as Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt stand out so much that they have to be included in any list of the top ten presidents. Other picks may cause a little controversy — this is good. Feel free to disagree with these ten choices, because every list of presidents is subjective in nature.

This evaluation of the best presidents is based on seven characteristics. They consist of policy leadership, crisis management, quality of their appointments, how they’re regarded by foreign leaders, their character and integrity, how effective they are at getting the public’s support, and the vision they have for the country. For a president to be listed in the top ten list, he has to have shown superior abilities in all seven categories.

Without any further ado, here’s a subjective list of the ten best presidents in U.S. history, with the best president being listed first and the tenth best listed last.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln not only saved the Union, but he also issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring the slaves in the Confederacy free, and pushed for the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery in the United States. He expanded the war-making powers of the president, and he was a founding father of the Republican Party.

If Lincoln had lived longer, the reintegration of the Confederate states into the union would have proceeded differently, leading to less controversy.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt has the distinction of being the only president elected to four terms. He assumed the presidency during the Great Depression and provided practical help to the people affected by it. His New Deal programs provided help and hope to millions of U.S. citizens and set the foundation for the modern welfare state.

Franklin Roosevelt saved democracy in Europe by aiding Great Britain early on in its struggle with Nazi Germany, and turned the U.S. economy into a wartime economy capable of winning World War II. During the war, he became one of the founding fathers of the United Nations, committing the United States to an active interventionist foreign policy.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt broke the longstanding isolationist tradition that kept the United States deliberately uninvolved in world affairs. By getting involved in world affairs, he set the foundation for the United States to become a world power in the 20th century.

Theodore Roosevelt gave the world the Panama Canal, and he was the first U.S. citizen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for settling the war between Japan and Russia in 1906.

Roosevelt further protected average citizens from business excesses by regulating industries.

George Washington

As the first president, George Washington kept the new country together. He legitimized the new form of government and set the foundation for democracy in the United States.

Washington also established many traditions, some of which are still around today. From the ceremony and protocols surrounding inaugural addresses to the isolationist foreign policy in place until the early 20th century, Washington’s ideas stuck around.

Harry Truman

Harry Truman is one of the most unappreciated presidents in U.S. history. He made the difficult choice of dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, which ended World War II. In the opinion of many scholars, Truman’s decision saved untold lives that would have been lost if the United States had been forced to invade Japan.

Truman single-handedly saved Western and Southern Europe from communism with the Truman Doctrine, extending military aid to countries fighting communist uprisings, and the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild the economies of post-war Europe. He was the first president to realize the Soviet threat. He acted to stop communism from expanding, establishing organizations such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to contain Soviet expansionism.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan was elected president in a time of crisis, as U.S. power was declining internationally. He restored U.S. power and prestige throughout the world. His military spending led to the destruction of the Soviet economy, which wasn’t able to keep up with U.S. spending, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet empire. Without Reagan, the United States may not have won the Cold War in 1991.

Reagan’s economic policies, while increasing the U.S. debt, provided for years of unheard-of growth for the U.S. economy. When he left office in 1989, he was one of the most idolized and admired presidents in U.S. history.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the most intellectual president in U.S. history. He enjoyed a worldwide reputation for his writings, and he was the chief author of the Declaration of Independence.

As president, Jefferson doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase, and he kept the country from going to war with major European powers.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson saved democracy in Europe. He made the decision to enter World War I on the side of the democratic allies in Europe. Wilson’s decision provided for the difference in WWI, as democracy emerged victorious over the authoritarian German and Austrian-Hungarian empires.

The League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, was his brainchild. Even though the U.S. Senate refused to join the League of Nations, the foundation for the United Nations was set.

Domestically, Wilson was a reformer who gave women the right to vote in 1920. He also oversaw the newly established way to elect U.S. senators, which put the selection in the hands of voters instead of the state legislatures.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

This choice may surprise some. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a president who accomplished much in a very quiet way. He ended the war in Korea and managed to contain the Soviet Union for the eight years he held office. He gave the United States eight years of peace. During his tenure in office, not one U.S. soldier was lost in combat.

Eisenhower passed the first civil rights legislation since the end of the Civil War. He stood up to several Southern governors who refused to implement the Supreme Court’s decision to integrate public schools. Finally, Eisenhower also gave us our present-day interstate highway system.

James Polk

This is another choice that may surprise some readers. James Polk is often considered to be the most underrated president in U.S. history. He arranged a dramatic expansion of the country by acquiring most of what today is the southwestern United States.

Polk was a hardworking, honest man, who actually worked himself into an early grave. During Polk’s administration, there were no scandals involving him or his cabinet.

This president stuck to his promise to serve only one term, and he put the good of the country before his own interests, earning the right to be listed as one of the top ten U.S. presidents.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Marcus A. Stadelmann, PhD, is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and History at the University of Texas at Tyler. Along with teaching at universities in California, Utah, and Texas, Dr. Stadelmann has published and given presentations in the fields of American politics and international relations.

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