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Who Was the Best President?

Photo of President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy is still fondly remembered by a large portion of the population.

The United States has both enjoyed and suffered the terms of a range of presidents. Some were exceptional and influential, others downright awful and embarrassing, and many mediocre. But, who was the best?

Who Tops the List?

There are many different answers to that question, depending on who you ask. Typically, people tend to name Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in some order as their top three. Answers can vary depending on age too. Younger voters may say Barack Obama simply because of their personal experiences. Older voters often have stronger feelings about Dwight D Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, and Lyndon B Johnson. Either way, there are some great contenders that made positive changes and were outstanding leaders.

How Do You Determine the Best President?

There are some names that you see appear on these lists a lot because historians are pretty much in agreement over their ranking. But, there will always be some disagreement over certain actions and traits. There are those that have nothing bad to say about an older president because of key policies, while others point out their attitudes to slaves and equal rights. Party politics will also have an influence.

We do need to take some factors into account here that can sway our opinion on the best and worst presidents. A good example is that a few here died in office. There is always that question of whether we would have the same attitude towards them if they had lived, and there wasn’t an overriding feeling of loss and sympathy. What’s more, there is often a stronger positive sentiment around wartime presidents that got the nation through a difficult time.

There has never been a perfect president and never will be. But, the 10 men listed below are among the best, and a couple are deemed as close to perfect as you are going to get. Some a little lower down may not be in a personal top ten, and opinion may sour with time. Those at the top have pretty much cemented their position.

The 10 Best Presidents of the United States

Abraham Lincoln

We start with Abraham Lincoln because so many people name him the best president ever. This comes from a few sources. There is still a lot of respect for Honest Abe, who shone as a positive force among a host of terrible Civil War presidents. His work with the Emancipation Proclamation earns him a spot. However, his status is also elevated because he was assassinated.

George Washington

Washington is another name that immediately comes to mind. Although, there is the sense that children are conditioned to think so before learning any American history. Washington was a leading figure during the quest for independence, a successful commander, and instrumental in creating the Constitution.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Some people may place Roosevelt a little lower on this list. However, there is no denying that he was a highly influential and popular figure. He was the longest-serving president in American history, which saw him lead the nation through many crises. He lifted the United States out of the Great Depression with the New Deal and led the nation through the Second World War. He served far too long before the two-term rule was implemented and died in office during his fourth term.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (R).

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt also deserves a mention. Teddy, as he was affectionately known, may not have had the same influence overall as his namesake, but was still well-liked and a larger-than-life character. This was aptly demonstrated when he continued his speech during an assassination attempt. He passed many progressive measures and is responsible for the wealth of national parks around the country.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson is one of those early presidents whose reputation has suffered due to his attitudes. Like many at the time, Jefferson was a slave owner, and his actions have affected public opinion today. However, there is no denying his importance as a Founding Father. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, later served as president, and helped the newly free nation expand via the Louisiana Purchase.

James Madison

Madison is another figure that played a crucial role in creating a free and independent America. He deserves as much praise during this period because of his work in creating and ratifying the Constitution. He would also work on the Bill of Rights and, as president, lead the nation in the War of 1812 against the British.

Stencil of President James Madison
James Madison is often referred to as the ‘Father of the Constitution.’

Barack Obama

There may come a point where Obama’s name isn’t in any top 10 lists. But, right now, he is a favorite with the public and historians alike. The public still adores him for his personality and leadership while acting as the first black president. Historians cite his work with the Affordable Care Act and response to the recession.

Dwight D Eisenhower

Older Americans may be more inclined to put Eisenhower high on their list for his work in the armed forces and subsequent military conflict. Eisenhower was a commander in the Second World War before being elected. He then worked on many foreign campaigns such as Korea and during the Cold War. However, his domestic and civil rights records were also favorable.

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy is one of those presidents whose popularity shifts depending on who you ask. Some will have nothing negative to say about him following his assassination. Others criticize his decisions and the traits of the Kennedy family more generally. Still, he was popular at the time for his work with civil rights, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and general charisma.

Lyndon B. Johnson

Finally, it makes sense to mention Johnson here if we are heaping praise on Kennedy. It was Lyndon B Johnson that finished a lot of the work in progress. He signed the Civil Rights Act and worked on his “Great Society” pledges, which helped with education, healthcare, and other welfare schemes.

Photo of Vice President Lyndon Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded JFK following his assassination in Dallas, Texas.

This list is not definitive and is sure to divide opinions. But that is what is so fun about the debate on who was the best president. Will we never all agree, and the best may yet be to come. 

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