Special Report

Historians Rank Every President

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

11. Woodrow Wilson
> Years served: 1913-1921
> Best performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (83.0)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (36.2)
> Party affiliation: Democratic

High-minded, the Virginia-born Woodrow Wilson oversaw the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, and he was a founder and key supporter of the League of Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his role in the League’s creation. Wilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was an academic who garnered national attention as the president of Princeton University before he became a two-term president.

Source: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

12. Barack Obama
> Years served: 2009-2017
> Best performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (83.2)
> Worst performing category: Relations with congress (37.8)
> Party affiliation: Democratic

As a first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama was not a household name before he took the country by storm. Conventional wisdom was that he had much going against him — an odd-sounding name, a biracial background from an American mother and a Kenyan father, and limited political inexperience. Yet, he quickly beat his Democratic political opponent, Hillary Clinton, and triumphed in two presidential elections, making him the first African American president. His signature legislative achievement is the Affordable Care Act, aimed to provide medical coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

Source: Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons

13. James Monroe
> Years served: 1817-1825
> Best performing category: International relations (79.5)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (43.5)
> Party affiliation: Democratic-Republican

James Monroe, a Virginian and the fifth U.S. president, created a lasting legacy through his Monroe Doctrine, which warned European countries against meddling with countries in the Western Hemisphere. Monroe presided over what would come to be known as the Era of Good Feelings, which included such historic milestones as the acquisition of Florida from Spain and the Missouri Compromise.

Source: National Archives / Getty Images

14. James K. Polk
> Years served: 1845-1849
> Best performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (76.6)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (32.1)
> Party affiliation: Democratic

James Polk served one term as president, yet he accomplished a great deal during that bitterly partisan time. Polk succeeded in settling a trade dispute with Great Britain, helped broker peace with Great Britain over the Oregon territory, expanded the U.S. armed services, and revised the treasury system. He has been compared to Truman, in that he was seen as a man of integrity who rose to the highest level of government and largely enjoyed the support of the American people.

Source: Noam Galai / Getty Images

15. William J. Clinton
> Years served: 1993-2001
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (79.6)
> Worst performing category: Moral authority (33.2)
> Party affiliation: Democratic

William J. Clinton, or Bill Clinton, has a mixed legacy. The former governor of Arkansas and a pragmatic centrist Democrat defeated President George H.W. Bush in part because of his gifts as a persuasive, skilled orator at a time when the country wanted a change. The first of his two terms included the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and the appointment of several women to high-profile positions, including as attorney general, Supreme Court justice, and secretary of state. Sexual misconduct scandals, however, plagued Clinton, including an affair with a White House intern, which led to impeachment by the House of Representatives for perjury and obstruction of justice. The Senate later acquitted Clinton of the charges. Despite the scandal, his approval ratings remained strong.