Special Report

Historians Rank Every President

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6. Harry S. Truman
> Years served: 1945-1953
> Best performing category: Crisis leadership (85.1)
> Worst performing category: Relations with congress (57.9)
> Party affiliation: Democratic

Harry S. Truman was known as a plain-spoken, no-nonsense president who became commander in chief when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died suddenly in 1945, while World War II was still being fought. Truman authorized the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan to hasten the end of fighting. This Missourian also defied pundits who predicted he would lose his 1948 reelection bid to Thomas E. Dewey. The savvy politician used his second term to promote public housing, wage, and civil rights reform.

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

7. Thomas Jefferson
> Years served: 1801-1809
> Best performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (87.2)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (47.8)
> Party affiliation: Democratic-Republican

Virginia plantation owner Thomas Jefferson is best remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence. He was also the country’s first secretary of state and the man responsible for the Louisiana Purchase. Add to that, inventor, architect, scholar, and diplomat. Today, historians scrutinize Jefferson more closely. He was a slave owner and dependent on that system for his wealth and privilege.

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

8. John F. Kennedy
> Years served: 1961-1963
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (86.4)
> Worst performing category: Relations with congress (61.3)
> Party affiliation: Democratic

It is impossible to know what President John Kennedy’s legacy would have been had he not be assassinated in 1963 in Dallas, Texas, less than two years into his presidency. The handsome, rich Massachusetts native with the beautiful wife and children projected the vigor, youth, and promise of the United States. He was tested by high stakes international crises wit the Cuban Missile Crisis and had successes in securing the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty and Alliance for Progress. To admirers, he remains an inspirational leader who could have achieved great things.

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9. Ronald Reagan
> Years served: 1981-1989
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (90.9)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (44.6)
> Party affiliation: Republican

Ronald Reagan was the first, and to date also the only, president to have been a movie star in an earlier career. His second act was to be the governor of California for two terms. It is through that experience that the public witnessed his conservative brand of Republicanism, strong anti-communism stance, and engaging affability and charm honed in Hollywood. As president, he adapted those traits and leanings to the world stage and cut taxes and social service programs, as well as built up the military. Given his virulent anti-communism stance, it is not surprising that among his best known remarks are a 1987 speech to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in which he said, “Tear down this wall,” referring to the Berlin Wall that separated East and West Berlin.

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10. Lyndon B. Johnson
> Years served: 1963-1969
> Best performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (91.5)
> Worst performing category: International relations (41.5)
> Party affiliation: Democratic

Lyndon B. Johnson was a shrewd congressman and very effective leader before he joined Kennedy’s ticket as the vice presidential nominee. It was that savviness that Johnson took to the White House when he succeeded Kennedy after the latter’s death. Johnson was able to shepherd through landmark legislation: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, Johnson’s military escalation in Vietnam left a cloud over his presidency. With the growing anti-war movement and the death toll adding up on the battlefield, the Texan chose not to seek a second full term.

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