Special Report

Presidents With the Best and Worst Relationships With Congress

Source: Moore / Getty Images

Dwight D. Eisenhower
> Years served: 1953-1961
> Relationship with Congress score: 72.0 (6th highest)
> Crisis leadership score: 82.3 (6th highest)
> Party affiliation: Republican

Dwight Eisenhower was famous for his ability to delegate responsibility to his subordinates as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. The same was true when he was president. Eisenhower made it a point to upgrade the Office of Congressional Relations with people such as Gerald Morgan, an attorney who helped draft the Taft-Hartley Act that restricted the power of organized labor. Eisenhower believed that the governmental departments should do the bulk of the work in dealing with Congress. He also had a strong respect for the separation of powers. His ability to work with Congress led to the passage of the Federal Highway Acts of 1954,1956, and 1958 that created the interstate highway system.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Theodore Roosevelt
> Years served: 1901-1909
> Relationship with Congress score: 72.0 (6th highest)
> Crisis leadership score: 83.5 (5th highest)
> Party affiliation: Republican

After the Civil War, Congress, and not the president, became the dominant branch in American government. That changed with President Theodore Roosevelt, whose forceful personality helped turn the United States into a global power. The 26th president reshaped the executive branch in his energetic image, challenging notions of limited executive leadership. The progressive Republican got Congress behind initiatives such as taking on business monopolies, using government to provide equal economic opportunity, and supporting conservation.

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

Thomas Jefferson
> Years served: 1801-1809
> Relationship with Congress score: 74.0 (5th highest)
> Crisis leadership score: 72.4 (13th highest)
> Party affiliation: Democratic-Republican

President Thomas Jefferson tried to reduce the profile of the presidency, and his annual addresses to Congress were delivered in writing. Jefferson also sought to reduce the size of government, slashing the size of the navy and army and trimming some government posts. He flouted his own constitutional principles by going ahead with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 without Congress’s approval because, as he reasoned, the opportunity to expand the country so quickly was too good to pass up. Jefferson’s decision is considered one of the boldest actions taken by a president without congressional approval.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Abraham Lincoln
> Years served: 1861-1865
> Relationship with Congress score: 79.5 (4th highest)
> Crisis leadership score: 97.8 (the highest)
> Party affiliation: Republican

President Abraham Lincoln’s relations with Congress were complex. His administration was consumed by the Civil War, and many in Congress had their own ideas about how to prosecute the conflict. Like Lincoln, many in Congress were focused on fighting the war to preserve the Union and were wary of alienating border states over the issue of slavery — even though they viewed slavery as wrong. Lincoln proved to be a master at handling the competing factions, particularly when it came to congressmen imposing their opinions on who should lead the Union Army.

Source: National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons

Franklin D. Roosevelt
> Years served: 1933-1945
> Relationship with Congress score: 80.1 (3rd highest)
> Crisis leadership score: 94.1 (2nd highest)
> Party affiliation: Democrat

Once he was elected president, Franklin D. Roosevelt received virtually the full cooperation of Congress because of the Great Depression. The legislation that was passed greatly expanded the size and scope of the federal government, changes that are felt to this day. In FDR’s first hundred days, Congress passed bills to address the weakened banking system, provide short-term relief programs, jobs programs, farm relief, conservation initiatives, and electrification projects. Eventually, FDR would secure passage of the bill that would create Social Security, the nation’s first financial safety net for all Americans.

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