Special Report

The Most (and Least) Effective US Presidents, According to Historians

TonyBaggett / iStock via Getty Images

Time is growing short for Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States and the longest-lived former chief executive in the nation’s history. With the 98-year-old Carter now in hospice care at home in Plains, Georgia., it’s worth taking a look at where he ranks among the nation’s presidents – and which other former chief executives are ranked lower or higher. (These are the stories behind the deaths of 39 American presidents.)

To rank the best and worst presidents in US history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed C-SPAN’s 2021 Presidential Historians Survey. For the survey, 142 historians and professors as well as other professional observers of the presidency scored each president in 10 categories, ranging from economic and crisis management to international relations to relationship with Congress. Each category was given equal weighting to arrive at each president’s total score. Survey responses are tabulated by averaging all responses in each category for each president. Joe Biden is not included because he had been in office for only a few months when the survey was conducted.

Based on the C-SPAN survey, Jimmy Carter is ranked 26th out of 45 pre-Biden presidents. Carter’s ranking among his White House peers was hurt by his performance in economic management, crisis leadership, public persuasion, relationship with Congress, and administration skills. His standing is buoyed by higher ratings in pursuing equal justice for all and moral authority.

Click here to read about the most (and least) effective U.S. presidents, according to historians

Carter’s one-term presidency (1977-1981) was hurt by economic stagnation, an energy crisis, the Iran hostage affair, his inability to persuade a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass his policies, and failure to inspire the nation. Historians gave Carter higher grades for his advocacy of human rights, and for appointing more minorities and women to the federal bench, improving relations with Latin American countries, and helping forge the 1978 peace accord between Israel and Egypt. (Can you solve these real “Jeopardy!” clues about U.S. presidents?)

Source: iip-photo-archive / Flickr

44. Democrat James Buchanan (1857-1861)
> Best performing category: International relations and administrative skills (30.5 — the lowest and 3rd lowest, respectively)
> Worst performing category: Crisis leadership (16.1 — the lowest)

James Buchanan, the only bachelor president and a Pennsylvania native, failed in his efforts to find common ground between the North and the South, which led to the Civil War. By December 1860, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union and was followed by seven other Southern states. Although Buchanan attempted to quell the bellicose actions sweeping the South, with war seemingly unavoidable, the 15th president seemed to fill the rest of his days in office running out the clock.

[in-text-ad]

43. National Union member Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
> Best performing category: International relations (33.9 — 3rd lowest)
> Worst performing category: Relations with Congress (15.2 — the lowest)

Andrew Johnson, a North Carolinian and the 17th president, had the bad fortune of following Abraham Lincoln in the White House after the latter’s assassination. He took office as the Civil War was winding down. Johnson’s moderate Reconstruction policies in the South enraged Radical Republicans, who favored severe measures, and brought about his impeachment. He was later acquitted, but his reputation was left in tatters.

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

42. Democrat Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (38.2 — 6th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (23.0 — 3rd lowest)

New Hampshire-born Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, failed in handling the divisions over slavery. He attempted to solve the division by populating his Cabinet with extremists from both ends of the spectrum. Due to a series of ill-fated decisions, including one that led to violence and deaths in Kansas, Pierce lost his party’s support, and he was denied the nomination.

Source: iip-photo-archive / Flickr

41. Republican Donald Trump (2017-2021)
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (43.9 — 13th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Moral authority (18.7 — the lowest)

Donald Trump is the lowest-ranked post-19th-century president, according to the historians and other authorities surveyed by C-SPAN. The businessman turned nation’s chief executive graded lowest in the categories of moral authority, administrative skills, international relations, relationship with Congress, performance within the context of time, and crisis leadership. Trump was known for alienating allies by such actions as pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, hectoring NATO allies to boost military spending, and openly disparaging other countries. He created a chaotic administrative climate by constantly replacing officials. Though Trump is credited with fast-tracking the development of vaccines to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, his management of the crisis was seen as lacking.

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

40. Whig William Henry Harrison (32 days in 1841)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (43.8 — 10th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (30.8 — 9th lowest)

In 1841, when William Henry Harrison took over the Oval Office, he was 68, the oldest to become president at the time. He was also the first president to die in office. His death, only a month after he became president, was brought on by a cold he contracted on the frigid inauguration day. That day, he rode to the capitol without a topcoat on a white horse and proceeded to deliver a two-hour speech. He was succeeded by John Tyler.

Source: iip-photo-archive / Flickr

39. Whig John Tyler (1841-1845)
> Best performing category: International relations (45.2 — 10th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (24.0 — 4th lowest)

Known as a maverick, President John Tyler was shunned by his own party, the Whigs, while he was in office. His ascendancy to the highest office created a constitutional crisis in that this was the first time a vice president had become president after the commander in chief’s death. Tyler’s assertive taking of the office, however, settled the question, and it was never raised again. During his term, he reorganized the Navy, set up the United States Weather Bureau, brokered an end to the Second Seminole War, and quashed a rebellion against the state government of Rhode Island.

[in-text-ad]

Source: iip-photo-archive / Flickr

38. Whig Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
> Best performing category: Relations with Congress (43.9 — 10th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (30.2 — 7th lowest)

Vice President Millard Fillmore became the 13th president when Taylor died in office. A New Yorker who came from humble beginnings, Fillmore gave his support, against his own beliefs, the Fugitive Slave Act, which required federal enforcement to capture and return slaves to their owners. He favored it as a way of keeping the Union together. While the measure kept the Civil War at bay for another decade, his support of it led to his political demise.

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

37. Republican Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
> Best performing category: International relations (46.3 — 11th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Moral authority (26.9 — 5th lowest)

Twenty-ninth President Warren G. Harding accomplished relatively little during his three years in office. His administration left looming problems, including the Teapot Dome Scandal, for incoming President Coolidge to clean up. Harding’s cabinet came to be viewed as one of the most corrupt in U.S. history. The Teapot Dome scandal surrounded Harding secretly allowing oil reserves in California to be transferred from the Navy’s jurisdiction to the Interior Department. The department’s secretary, Albert Fall, then leased the oilfields to private oil companies and, as a result, received thousands in gifts and loans.

Source: Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

36. Republican Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (60.0 — 20th highest)
> Worst performing category: Economic management (26.2 — the lowest)

Iowan Herbert Hoover, the 31st president, became a hero when he saved millions of Europeans during World War I from starvation as head of the American Relief Administration, which sent boatloads of food to such countries as Germany and Bolshevik Russia. Yet, as president, he and the nation were challenged after the stock market crash of 1929, which heralded the Great Depression. He was viewed as a failure during the Depression’s early years when he was unable to put forth policies that spared U.S. citizens from joblessness, homelessness, and hunger. So acute was the criticism that some homeless called their shantytowns Hoovervilles.

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

35. Whig Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (48.0 — 16th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (36.2 — 11th lowest)

Zachary Taylor, a hero of the Mexican-American War, took office as the 12th president but died 18 months into his term from cholera. While president, Taylor took on the controversial topic of slavery, specifically whether to extend slavery into the newly acquired Mexican territory. Taylor opposed creating new slave states and pushed for California to gain statehood in part because its constitution forbade slavery. Leaders from Southern states objected to Taylor’s view and feared they would be outnumbered by new free states.

Source: iip-photo-archive / Flickr/ Public Domain

34. Democrat Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (54.6 — 20th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Economic management (37.2 — 6th lowest)

Known as a shrewd politician, Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. president, a New Yorker, was one of the founders of the Democratic Party. His presidency was troubled, starting with a national financial panic caused partly by the transfer of funds from the Bank of the United States to state banks during Andrew Jackson’s second term. He also presided over the costly Second Seminole War and did not support the annexation of the newly independent state of Texas. Van Buren was opposed to adding another slave state, which Texas was, for fear of further dividing the country.

[in-text-ad]

Source: library_of_congress / Flickr

33. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (50.9 — 14th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (39.9 — 14th lowest)

Nineteenth president, Rutherford B. Hayes, was known for ending Reconstruction in the South and aiming to establish high standards of integrity in the Oval Office after eight years of the Grant administration. He was the only president to take office after a commission of congressmen and Supreme Court justices settled disputed ballots. An Ohioan, Hayes was a staunch abolitionist who also signed an act in 1879 that allowed female lawyers to practice before the Supreme Court. By choice, he was a one-term president.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

32. Republican Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (49.7 — 13th lowest)
> Worst performing category: Public persuasion (41.9 — 9th lowest)

Among President Benjamin Harrison’s accomplishments were signing into law the Sherman Antitrust Act — the first legislation passed by Congress to limit special interests from inhibiting trade. Harrison was a moderate Republican from Ohio who lost the popular vote but won the electoral college. His administration stood out for foreign policy. His secretary of state helped establish what eventually became the Pan American Union, which promoted the sharing of cultural and economic ideas among countries in the Americas.

Source: Washington Bureau / Archive Photos via Getty Images

31. Republican Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
> Best performing category: International relations (68.7 — 12th highest)
> Worst performing category: Moral authority (21.7 — 4th lowest)

The name Richard Nixon likely brings to mind Watergate, the scandal that brought down his presidency. Nixon, once a congressman from California and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vice president, resigned as the 37th president in 1974 to avoid impeachment as his administration was crumbling. Still, Nixon had succeeded in promoting progressive domestic policies, such as affirmative action, and he is known for “opening” the People’s Republic of China to the West. The talks were capped by Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

[in-text-ad-2]

30. Republican Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (54.9 — 21st lowest)
> Worst performing category: Public persuasion (43.1 — 11th lowest)

As president, Chester A. Arthur could be maddening to both his political friends and enemies. The Vermonter and 21st president ascended to the presidency when Garfield died while in office. The source of the political dismay at the time against Arthur was his support of the Pendleton Civil Service Act, which used merit, rather than patronage, to appoint and promote federal employees. Although he allowed his name to be put up for reelection, he was not nominated by the Republican Party. The GOP lost that presidential election to Democrat Grover Cleveland.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

29. Republican George W. Bush (2001-2009)
> Best performing category: Crisis leadership (54.6 — 22nd highest)
> Worst performing category: Economic management and international relations (42.2 — 10th lowest and 7th lowest, respectively)

Scion of the Bush political family, George W. Bush took office in 2001 in one of the most bitterly contested and closest presidential races in history. He lost the popular vote and narrowly won the electoral college. Though initially popular for his response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks, his administration was beset by numerous controversies, including the administration’s justification for the Iraq War, that began in 2003, and his response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated large swaths of New Orleans in 2005.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Gary Newkirk / Getty Images

28. Republican Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (59.5 — 20th highest)
> Worst performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (40.8 — 10th lowest)

Gerald R. Ford became the 38th president when Richard M. Nixon resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal. Ford had been the minority leader in the House of Representatives when Nixon tapped him to replace his vice president, Spiro Agnew, who had resigned in disgrace. As president, Ford retained most of Nixon’s cabinet and pardoned Nixon of all crimes, which ultimately undercut his credibility and lead to his defeat in the 1976 election against Jimmy Carter.

Source: gregobagel / iStock via Getty Images

27. Republican James A. Garfield (200 days in 1881)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (58.6 — 22nd lowest)
> Worst performing category: International relations (44.9 — 9th lowest)

James A. Garfield, the 20th president who was born in Ohio, was known for having one of the shortest tenures in the Oval Office. After only four months on the job, Garfield was shot by an assassin on his way to a family vacation in New England. He died several months later due to complications from the wound. Among the programs Garfield championed was education for African Americans as a path to prosperity.

Source: Central Press / Getty Images

26. Democrat James Carter (1977-1981)
> Best performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (72.0 — 5th highest)
> Worst performing category: Economic management (37.8 — 8th lowest)

Jimmy Carter burst onto the national scene while still governor of Georgia as a symbol of the new South. Often dismissed as “just a peanut farmer,” Carter was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a submarine officer, who left the Navy to run his family’s vast agricultural holdings when his father died. Carter’s years in the Oval Office were plagued by his inability to get legislation passed, even though his own party, Democrats, controlled both houses. His achievements, however, were mostly in foreign affairs, where he adopted strong human rights’ stances and secured the Camp David Accords, which ended the long-term state of war between Egypt and Israel.

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: iip-photo-archive / Flickr

25. Democrat Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (58.3 — 22nd lowest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (42.3 — 16th lowest)

Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president, was the only commander in chief to serve two disordered terms. In his first term, the New Jersey native distinguished himself by blocking a series of bills he deemed overreaching. Still, he lost his first bid for reelection to Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison. When he was elected a second time, he, a conservative Democrat, put forth a pro-business, limited-government agenda, which was diametrically opposed to that of Democratic presidents who followed.

Source: Library of Congress / Archive Photos via Getty Images

24. Republican Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (60.4 — 18th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (44.3 — 21st lowest)

Vermont-born Calvin Coolidge assumed the role of 30th president after he replaced President Warren G. Harding who had died in office. Unfortunately for Coolidge, his elevation to the high office coincided with scandals coming to light about the Harding administration. Coolidge addressed the trouble head on and restored the American people’s confidence in the presidency. In line with the Republican Party’s reputation, Coolidge upheld a pro-business agenda, including slashing income and estate taxes.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

23. Republican William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
> Best performing category: Administrative skills (62.6 — 15th highest)
> Worst performing category: Public persuasion (47.3 — 17th lowest)

William Howard Taft, the 27th president, had the rare distinction of also being the chief justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Warren G. Harding. As a presidential contender, Ohioan Taft was heavily favored by the departing president, Theodore Roosevelt. However, once Taft secured the White House, he offended Roosevelt and other progressives with his conservative agenda. When Taft was up for reelection, Roosevelt challenged him for the nomination, leading to a split in the Republican Party. That split paved the way for Democrat Woodrow Wilson to be elected president.

Source: eurobanks / iStock via Getty Images

22. Democrat Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (78.6 — 8th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (30.0 — 6th lowest)

Andrew Jackson, known as Old Hickory, was the first president elected from west of the Appalachian Mountains, the first one born into poverty, and the first who won the presidency through direct appeal to voters. The seventh commander in chief was also a revered military officer in battles on the frontier. The political movement of elected, rather than appointed, officials became known as Jacksonian Democracy. Jackson left office more popular than when he assumed it, and his election set the stage for men of humble means to aspire to the presidency.

Source: John Moore / Getty Images News via Getty Images

21. Republican George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
> Best performing category: International relations (74.7 — 8th highest)
> Worst performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (48.0 — 17th lowest)

George H.W. Bush was a one-term president and the patriarch of the Bush family dynasty, which produced George W. Bush, a two-term president, and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and a failed presidential contender. After a career in public service, Bush, Reagan’s vice president, became the 41st president. Under his watch, the United States engaged in the first Gulf War, in which a multinational force expelled Iraq from Kuwait.

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Graphic House / Archive Photos via Getty Images

20. Republican Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
> Best performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (71.4 — 6th highest)
> Worst performing category: Administrative skills (46.1 — 9th lowest)

The Ohio-born Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president, was also a military hero in the last stages of the Civil War. When he entered the White House, he was a political naif, and at 46, was then the youngest man to become president. Some of his appointments were surprising, including naming Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Native American, the commissioner of Indian Affairs. Through his wife, Julia Grant, he knew the suffragette Susan B. Anthony, who ended up supporting him over the first woman running for president. Scandals surrounded Grant who was a two-term president, but he supported many noteworthy causes, including amnesty for Confederate soldiers and civil rights for former slaves.

Source: Alex Wong / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

19. Democrat William J. Clinton (1993-2001)
> Best performing category: Economic management (73.6 — 5th highest)
> Worst performing category: Moral authority (30.0 — 7th lowest)

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.

[in-text-ad]

18. Democrat James K. Polk (1845-1849)
> Best performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (72.8 — 11th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (32.3 — 10th lowest)

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.

17. Democrat-Republican John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
> Best performing category: International relations (70.2 — 10th highest)
> Worst performing category: Relations with Congress (49.0 — 16th lowest)

John Quincy Adams, the eldest son of second U.S. President John Adams, became the sixth president. He was a diplomat before he became president and a U.S. congressman afterward. Adams was also an outspoken abolitionist. Some historians, however, see his presidential years as the low point of what until then had been an illustrious career of public service. As president, he favored creating a national university, holding the western lands in a trust and developing them slowly, and having Congress build a system of national roads using federal monies. All were denied by Congress.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. Democrat-Republican James Madison (1809-1817)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (68.5 — 12th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (47.1 — 21st highest)

James Madison, the fourth president and one of the founding fathers, had sponsored as a member of the House of Representatives the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. On his presidential watch, the country was compelled to join the War of 1812, based on a dispute between the United States and Britain over the latter’s violations of U.S. maritime rights.

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

15. Federalist John Adams (1797-1801)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (71.6 — 8th highest)
> Worst performing category: Public persuasion (51.4 — 22nd highest)

John Adams’ star had been fading before his legacy and writings were studied. He had been an early proponent of independence from Great Britain, was the first ambassador to the Court of St. James, and the second president of the United States. He was also the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. Adams, who was known as opinionated and irascible, could alienate friends and rivals alike, including Thomas Jefferson, who served as his vice president. The two died on the same day, July 4, 1826, Adams in his native Massachusetts, the town of Quincy, Jefferson at Monticello, in Virginia.

14. Republican William McKinley (1897-1901)
> Best performing category: Relations with Congress (65.2 — 10th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (43.8 — 19th lowest)

On the watch of the 25th American president, William McKinley, the country became a global empire by going to war with Spain and acquiring Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. McKinley began his political career in the House of Representatives, representing Ohio, and then went on to serve as governor before being tapped for a White House run. A Republican, he won two resounding victories against Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Yet he died from gunshot wounds early in his second term and was succeeded by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Tony Essex / Getty Images

13. Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
> Best performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (75.5 — 9th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (30.2 — 8th lowest)

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.

12. Democrat-Republican James Monroe (1817-1825)
> Best performing category: International relations (78.4 — 6th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (43.9 — 20th lowest)

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: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

11. Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
> Best performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (86.2 — 2nd highest)
> Worst performing category: International relations (39.7 — 6th lowest)

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.

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Pool / Getty Images News via Getty Images

10. Democrat Barack Obama (2009-2017)
> Best performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (78.2 — 3rd highest)
> Worst performing category: Relations with Congress (46.9 — 13th lowest)

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: pingnews / Flickr

9. Republican Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (89.1 — 5th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (46.0 — 22nd highest)

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.

[in-text-ad]

Source: Central Press / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

8. Democrat John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (84.8 — 6th highest)
> Worst performing category: Administrative skills (61.7 — 18th highest)

It is impossible to know what President John Kennedy’s legacy would have been had he not been 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 with 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.

Source: kamcma / iStock via Getty Images

7. Democrat-Republican Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
> Best performing category: Vision/setting an agenda (83.8 — 6th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (47.9 — 20th highest)

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: Fotosearch / Archive Photos via Getty Images

6. Democrat Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
> Best performing category: Crisis leadership (80.1 — 5th highest)
> Worst performing category: Relations with congress (59.6 — 14th highest)

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.

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Express Newspapers / Hulton Royals Collection via Getty Images

5. Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
> Best performing category: Moral authority (81.4 — 4th highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (61.5 — 12th highest)

The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in WWII, Kansas-born Dwight “Ike” D. Eisenhower, was a popular figure in post-war America. As such, he easily won the presidency in 1952. His signature million-watt smile and interest in American western literature were part of what endeared Americans to him. During the first of his two terms, he championed a balanced budget, less government control over the economy, and a return of some federal functions to states. Also, he also raised the federal minimum wage to $1 an hour. He expanded Social Security and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

4. Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (90.3 — 3rd highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (62.7 — 11th highest)

Unlike FDR, his cousin, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was a robust outdoorsman and a Republican (Franklin, a Democrat). He was also a soldier and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War. Among his most popular moves were to establish the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, which managed government-owned lands.

[in-text-ad]

Source: navymedicine / Flickr

3. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
> Best performing category: Public persuasion (94.8 — the highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (66.2 — 9th highest)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR, was the only president to have been elected to the presidency four times. Like Lincoln, his presidency was marked by a war, World War II, and he also spearheaded sweeping legislation — to remedy the ravages left by the Great Depression through the New Deal, a set of government programs and reforms. The New Deal provided short-term government aid and jobs as well as ways to revitalize different industries with federal help. What was unknown to most Americans was that Roosevelt’s fragile health was failing. He died in office before completing his fourth term.

Source: TonyBaggett / iStock via Getty Images

2. Federalist George Washington (1789-1797)
> Best performing category: Overall performance in the context of time (95.6 — 2nd highest)
> Worst performing category: Pursued equal justice for all (54.8 — 14th highest)

Called the father of this country, George Washington was the young nation’s first president, voted in by electors in 1789, following his leadership at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. A Virginia native and landowner, Washington was known for his honesty, leadership on the battlefield, and administrative skills. Even though he took on the job as president reluctantly, he served two consecutive four-year terms as the commander in chief.

Source: Rischgitz / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

1. Republican Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
> Best performing category: Overall performance in the context of time (96.5 — the highest)
> Worst performing category: Relations with Congress (78.9 — 4th highest)

Few U.S. presidents have dealt with such serious trials as Abraham Lincoln. He presided over the divided land through most of the Civil War, which ended with the nation united again, and shepherded through Congress the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves. His life was also the classic American success story in that he started out extremely poor in Kentucky. However, his life was cut short after the war, when he was assassinated by pro-slavery advocate John Wilkes Booth while attending a theater production in Washington, D.C.

Want to Retire Early? Start Here (Sponsor)

Want retirement to come a few years earlier than you’d planned? Or are you ready to retire now, but want an extra set of eyes on your finances?

Now you can speak with up to 3 financial experts in your area for FREE. By simply clicking here you can begin to match with financial professionals who can help you build your plan to retire early. And the best part? The first conversation with them is free.

Click here to match with up to 3 financial pros who would be excited to help you make financial decisions.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.