Which American president do you think is the greatest in history? Well, C-SPAN recently commissioned experts to rank American presidents according to several factors such as public persuasion, international relations, and leadership during a crisis. The team of experts examined all the presidents who served from 1774 up to the present and the results are quite intriguing. Keep reading to find out which presidents made the final cut as the greatest in American history.
Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding was elected in the 29th election, which is actually a meaningful milestone because it was the first time women were permitted to vote. Having owned the Ohio newspaper Marion Star, Warren Harding began his career in the industry but left his Ohio hometown once his role in politics required him to do so. Harding was the United States president from 1921 to 1923 and he formally ended the First World War by declaring the United States of America was at peace with Austria, Germany, and Hungary. In addition, since Harding actively encouraged a “return to normalcy”, he made attempts to revive the economy in many ways, but his cabinet suffered a lot of scandals and he, unfortunately, suffered a heart attack and died in office as the scandals were becoming more public.
Following the passing of President William Henry Harrison, John Tyler was sworn in as the tenth president of the US, serving between 1841 and 1845, and became the first vice president to succeed to the presidency and the first non-elected president. With regard to the debate about slavery, Tyler openly supported granting states the right to make decisions regarding the matter, just like other matters, and since he refused to remain a replacement president who was “passive,” he made enemies in Congress and people gave him the nickname “His Accidency.” The attempt at impeaching him, though eventually foiled, was a first in the history of America. With regard to international matters, he was part of negotiating treaties between the US and Britain and China and with regard to his personal life, he was the president with the most children (Tyler had 15).
As the United States’ 14th president, Franklin Pierce was a rather controversial figure. A Democrat, he has strongly opposed abolitionism, referring to it as “a fundamental threat to the unity of the nation.” It is difficult to believe that Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act since this act enabled new territory residents to decide whether to allow slavery or not. In addition to his not-so-savory characteristics, Pierce was also an alcoholic, like his mother.
After Franklin Pierce served as president, another democrat took over. According to many historians, James Buchanan, unfortunately, still didn’t make much improvement. Ironically, when he got elected as president, Buchanan revealed his aims of reaching the same level of excellence as George Washington’s! On a different note, Buchanan had ten siblings and he was older than most of them.
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison is the record holder for the shortest time in office, only 31 days, from 4 March 1841 to 4 April 1841, and many remember him mainly for tragedy since he died while serving as America’s 9th president. He suffered from pneumonia and died after his Inauguration Day that was quite rainy and there were some claims made that he died because of his refusal to wear a jacket when he rode on a horse and gave a two-hour long speech. The only remaining living president before the American Revolution, he achieved fame through his contribution as the leader of the victorious military in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe, for which he acquired the nickname “Old Tippecanoe.” Despite the fact that he was the first US president that was photographed, the picture was unfortunately lost but what didn’t get lost was his legacy because Benjamin Harrison, his grandson and founding father Benjamin Harrison’s son, became the 23rd US president between the years 1889 and 1893.
Before the forgotten Whig Party fell apart, the last president who came from it was Millard Fillmore, who was born poor but succeeded in giving himself enough education to rise to the rank and become vice president to President Zachary Taylor. After Taylor suffered from cholera and passed away, Fillmore became America’s 13th president in the year 1850, but following Taylor’s death, the whole White House cabinet immediately resigned, leaving the new president to create a completely new cabinet. Fillmore signed the Compromise of 1850 in order to stop a rift from developing between the North and the South from 1850 until 1853, but he failed. He helped develop the Japan-US relations, which resulted in Japan letting American ships dock in the Asian country whenever there were emergencies at the time of his presidency despite Japan previously banning all international relations with international trade included.
The 31st president of the USA was Herbert Hoover, who was in office at a time that is among the most trying in the history of the country. Originally from Iowa, Hoover moved to Oregon and then studied at Stanford University the first time it opened in 1891, eventually tying the knot with his college sweetheart, Lou Henry. Despite the fact that he worked in China for quite some time before his career in politics started, Hoover was actually in Europe when the First World War broke out and he helped evacuate approximately 120,000 American travelers who were in France and Germany at the time, for which he gained recognition. Hoover served as president between 1929 and 1933, during which the Great Depression began partly owing to the stock market that crashed. Even during the unfavorable circumstances, he tried different tactics to assist his country, including convincing businesses not to lay off their employees and lowering taxes, and he had no choice but to stay strong during a time when the US experienced the worst economy. Change, as you know, happens slowly.
The 21st US president, Chester Arthur, was born to Irish immigrant parents in Vermont and despite people saying he “looked like a president,” he became president only after President James Garfield’s assassination in 1881 as Arthur was the vice president at the time. Signing the Pendleton Civil Service Act into law was one of his notable accomplishments while serving as president from 1881 until 1885. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act changed the political roles system because the act ensures that people earn federal government jobs based on merit, keeps people from landing jobs merely owing to political affiliations, and started the utilization of exams in order to earn jobs in the government. During his presidency, Arthur passed the first-ever federal law on immigration, aiming to stop “paupers, criminals, and lunatics” from coming into the US.
Martin Van Buren
President Martin Van Buren served one term, between the years 1837 and 1841, during the Panic of 1837, a major economic crisis which started only three months into his presidency and the financial crisis that is considered America’s first great depression. Van Buren advocated the US Treasury’s independence from the government and keeping of funds separate so that they remain safe despite varying and changing political opinions, which earned him the moniker “the Little Magician.” Before Van Buren became president, President Andrew Jackson had appointed him as the Secretary of State and then the “minister to Great Britain,” but because of the great depression and its effects, he was under a lot of scrutinies, since the economic crisis caused a lot of banks and businesses to shut down. Nonetheless, the policies which Van Buren set revived the economy in the end but the effects became noticeable later, when he was not president anymore, so he didn’t actually get the credit which he deserved.
George W. Bush
George W. Bush is America’s 43rd President and was serving as the commander in chief in the year 2001 when the extremely tragic September 11 attacks took place in the US, which in turn, resulted in Bush establishing the Department of Homeland Security in response to the said terror attacks. Bush served two consecutive presidential terms, between 2001 and 2008. During this period, he ordered Afghanistan’s invasion and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, resulting in Saddam Hussein, its leader, to be overthrown. Bush also served as Texas governor, from 1995 to 2000, before he won the presidential election and became president in 2000, but because the margin of victory in the popular vote in Florida was less than 0.5%, a recount had to be done as mandated by the law, a process that was lengthy but still resulted in Bush being declared the winner for having won the electoral vote despite losing the popular vote. Because his father (George H.W. Bush) was president roughly a decade earlier, George W. Bush is the second US president whose father was also a president.
Bush Hears About 9/11
It’s quite difficult to forget the fateful day Al Qaeda terrorists attacked America by flying two planes into New York City’s World Trade Center. This photo shows the precise moment that President Bush was told about the extremely devastating attacks. When he received the information, Bush was in Sarasota County, Florida, visiting Emma E. Booker Elementary School. He was doing the event to promote literacy in America, and he even joined the reading of The Pet Goat together with the school children.
Rutherford B. Hayes
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was the 19th president of the United States from 1877 to 1881 since he won the electoral vote (but lost the popular vote following months of dispute and even with the famous writer Mark Twain giving his support) like the elections in 2000. Hayes was an Ohio governor for three terms before becoming president. He began his political career as a member of the now dissolved Whig party, and also supported the expansion of the civil rights of the black community. However, the Congress’ Democratic majority ultimately interfered with his efforts, but he persevered. In addition, he famously advocated civil service exams since he believed that people should earn their jobs in the government rather than getting the jobs just because of political ties, which led to the passing of the Pendleton Act. Hayes’ wife, Lucy Webb Hayes, was the first First Lady with a college degree and the first to vouch for a White House that was alcohol-free.
The 12th US President, Zachary Taylor, also known as “Old Rough and Ready,” was in office for quite a brief time, but prior to starting his political career, Taylor was actually a renowned war hero, having demonstrated exceptional leadership skills when he served in the military during the Mexican-American War, which also earned him his moniker. He eventually became the final Whig Party leader who became president and from the start of his term in March 1849, he really paid particular attention to the slavery debate and leaned towards anti-slavery in spite of the fact that he had slaves back then. While he was president, Taylor proposed that New Mexico and California become free states but he, unfortunately, passed away in office on 9 July 1850, after suffering from cholera only a couple of days earlier. Due to his untimely death, people speculated about the reason for his sudden sickness, with some saying he consumed contaminated ice water and milk while others blaming the enormous amount of cherries which he consumed on July 4th.
Benjamin Harrison was a Union Army general during the American Civil War before he became the 23rd president of the USA and one of the country’s greatest presidents. With remarkable skills in international relations, Harrison and the US Congress had a rather good working relationship during his presidency (1889-1893). While he was president, his nickname was “Little Ben” since his namesake and great-grandfather is Benjamin Harrison, one of the founding fathers. He is the only president that had a US president for a grandfather, William Henry Harrison, also known as “Old Tippecanoe.” Many remember Benjamin Harrison for advocating and enforcing African Americans’ voting rights and he was behind the acceptance of several states in the west into the Union: Washington, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
James A. Garfield
The 20th president of the United States, James A. Garfield was the only elected president who was still a sitting House of Representatives member. During the American Civil War, he was a Union major general and he was also in several battles like Middle Creek, Chickamauga, and Shiloh. While he was president (March 4, 1881, to September 19, 1881), he had many admirable accomplishments such as getting rid of the postal service corruption and improving the navy. In addition to being an advocate for the universal education systems, he also had concern for civil rights and appointed several African Americans like Fredrick Douglass to renowned government positions, but owing to the July 1881 attempt on his life, Garfield suffered from many infections and his presidency got cut short.
President James Garfield hadn’t even finished his 4th month as president when Charles J. Guiteau shot him. Actually, the president survived the shooting, though later passed away due to infection. A lot of doctors believe that if the incident happened today, Garfield would have received better treatment and would even completely recover.
Richard M. Nixon
The 37th US president, Richard M. Nixon was quite talented with regard to foreign affairs negotiations and even when he was still vice president (during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency) between 1953 and 1961, Nixon had already had several impressive accomplishments. When Nixon was in office from 1969 until 1974, he succeeded in ending US involvement in Vietnam, bringing home POWs, establishing diplomatic relations between the US and China, and signing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty along with the USSR. Nixon also enforced desegregation in the South, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, started the “War on Cancer”, and passed the Organized Crime Control Act. Nixon also ran in the 1960 presidential elections but lost to John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, and if the Watergate scandal had not been uncovered, Richard M. Nixon’s rank on this list would have been higher.
After President Warren Harding passed away in 1923, Calvin Coolidge succeeded to the presidency and since he won the presidential election in 1924, he served as president until 1929. Coolidge supported laissez-faire foreign policy and small government. He was very popular once his term ended since many people considered his presidency to be a period of dignity for the president because the White House was mixed up in multiple scandals over the years. His demeanor was soft-spoken, he fought for things he believed were right, and was a staunch supporter of racial equality as well as civil rights, but despite all of that, the approval of others in the government was something he didn’t always have, like the time he proposed that lynching should become a federal crime. However, he managed to make the Indian Citizenship Act into a law, which gave full American citizenship to Native Americans on reservations, and this was what his biographer wrote about Coolidge: “He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength”.
Growing up in a family of peanut farmers who were successful, the civil rights movement was something Jimmy Carter became passionate about while he was working in the family business, and this led him to start a political career and eventually becoming the 39th US President from 1977 until 1981. While he was president, Carter not only created the Department of Education and the Department of Energy but also facilitated the signing of the Camp David Accords, which ultimately resulted in the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. In C-SPAN’s ranking process, Jimmy Carter scored high due to moral authority and because he pursued equal justice for all but during his term, he had to handle multiple international crises, like the Energy Crisis in 1979 and the Iran Hostage Crisis. The general attitude of the nation was certainly affected by how these events were dealt with, which resulted in the decline in his approval rating and eventually costing him the 1980 elections, where Republican Ronald Reagan won, but Carter was still awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in the year 2002 for the work the Carter Center (his NGO) does.
Carter’s Peace Deal
History was made when President Jimmy Carter arranged a peace agreement between Egyptian president Anwar Saddat and Israeli president Menachem Begin. In the 1978 deal, Israel agreed to give back land which they had taken during their victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and Egypt agreed to fully recognize the right of Israel to exist. Saddat and Begin received the shared Nobel Peace Prize.
Gerald R. Ford Jr.
After Richard Nixon’s resignation, Gerald Ford succeeded to the presidency and became the 38th US president, serving between 1974 and 1977. Many know him for participating in the Helsinki Accords, primarily as an effort to ease tension between the Soviet and Western blocs, and for pardoning former president Richard Nixon. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, he made a law career that eventually led him to a political career. Ford’s moral authority when he led the US through a major economic depression absolutely boosts his rank considerably higher and Ford was the only vice president and president who was not elected.
Ford’s First Assassination Attempt
On September 5th, 1975, there was an assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford. While the President was walking through a crowd in Sacramento, California, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot him using a Colt M1911 pistol. Fortunately, the gun didn’t go off and nobody was harmed, except Fromme who was immediately pounced on by Secret Service personnel. Fromme was actually a follower of cult leader Charles Manson, who is still in prison and serving a life sentence for numerous murders.
Ford’s Second Assassination Attempt
Just 17 days from the first assassination attempt on Gerald Ford, another woman made an attempt on his life. This time, a lady by the name Sara Jane Moore attempted to shoot him while he was on another California street tour but a former marine saw Moore when she took out the weapon and immediately jumped onto her. Even though a bullet was fired from the gun, it missed Ford and instead hit one cab driver, who fortunately survived. Let’s move right on to the next president on this list.
William H. Taft
The 27th US president, William H. Taft holds the record for being the only person who was president and became a chief justice after. Hailing from Ohio, Taft studied law at Yale University and it is even said that he was a Skull and Bones member, the well-known Yale secret society. During his 20s, Taft did extremely well in law and obtained an appointment as a judge. He served as president between 1909 and 1913, and Taft focused his efforts primarily on East Asia, more than matters regarding Europe, though he also got himself involved in Latin American affairs, giving the notion he either built governments or brought them down.
The 22nd and 24th US President, Grover Cleveland was in office for two terms, between 1885 and 1889, and from 1893 to 1897, since he didn’t win the first time he ran for re-election but was successful the second time around. His fiscal policy and political reform advocacy were praised by conservatives, but the second time he was in office, he had to manage the Panic of 1893. It was an awful downturn in the economy, and he also had to manage the Pullman Strike of 1894, which was a nationwide railroad strike. Cleveland’s ancestors were one of the families who first moved from England to the new world and lived in Massachusetts in the year 1635, and Cleveland’s biographer wrote that the President was a great public speaker: “He possessed honesty, courage, firmness, independence, and common sense. But he possessed them to a degree other men do not.” In spite of his second term being less successful, Grover Cleveland is still considered to be among the better presidents the US has had.
Grover Cleveland remains to be the only US president whose wedding was held at the White House, yet the story isn’t so much about him getting married there, but instead whom he married. Cleveland’s new wife was just 21 years old at the time they got married, but she was definitely a grown woman. Fluent in French, she was charismatic and attractive too. Even though Cleveland was 28 years her senior, the two were really in love with each other, and it appears the public loved the couple as well.
Ulysses S. Grant
The 18th US president, Ulysses S. Grant was a general in the Union Army during the Civil War and he became a really popular president when he served in office between 1869 and 1877. Grant graduated from West Point and a few years later, he fought in the US-Mexican War, resulting in his rise to prominence, and he went on to become the youngest president at the age of 47. Grant scored high owing to the fact that he possessed moral authority, was great at international relations, was able to effectively persuade the public, and pursued equal justice for all Americans. The public remembers Grant as a man of honesty, as someone who staunchly opposed the KKK and as the first president who appointed African Americans and Jewish Americans.
John Quincy Adams
The 6th US President serving from 1825 until 1829, John Quincy Adams, or JQA, was the son of former president and founding father John Adams. JQA was a staunch supporter of anti-slavery and was pro-equal rights, even calling himself “the acutest, the astutest, the archest enemy of southern slavery that ever existed.” Preferring not to be involved in European politics, Adams staunchly advocated non-intervention policies. Furthermore, he strongly opposed the Texas annexation, and his surviving presidential photo is the oldest ever, having been taken when he was 76 years old in the year 1843.
George H. W. Bush
George H. W. Bush was a one-term president, serving from 1989 until 1993, and he was the father of President George W. Bush as well. Before he became president, George Bush Sr. was Vice President to President Ronald Reagan for 8 years. Well-known for the leadership skills he possessed (especially during a crisis), Bush Sr. was also skilled as a negotiator (which was quite beneficial for international relations). While he was president, many symbolic historical events took place like the Cold War ending, the Berlin Wall falling, and the start and end of the first Gulf War. George H. W. Bush was also behind a number of landmark acts, like the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, the Clean Air Act, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, and if that isn’t all, he was married to Barbara Bush for 73 years – the longest ever presidential marriage!
The 2nd US president, John Adams was in office from 1797 until 1801. One of the US founding fathers, while he was president, he improved the navy and thus was known as “the father of the American Navy.” Aside from that, he famously solved a conflict between France and America, but he was president for only one term because Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams in the elections.
The 7th president of the United States of America, Andrew Jackson served only one term, between 1829 and 1837. Today, you may know him for appearing on a twenty-dollar bill, just his face of course! Interestingly, however, Jackson was, in actual fact, quite against paper money, instead advocating coins made of gold and silver. When he was only 13 years old, the British held Jackson captive in the Revolutionary War, making him the only US president who used to be a prisoner of war. Aside from that, people remember Jackson for preventing South Carolina’s secession from the Union as well as for remarkably managing to pay off the country’s debt – the only US leader in history who was able to do so.
William McKinley Jr.
The 25th US president William McKinley Jr. was in office from 1897 to 1901. Aside from leading the US as the last president during the American Civil War, the country was also victorious in the Spanish-US War under his leadership. While he was president, the country saw some major movement as the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam became US territories. Moreover, many liked him for boosting the US economy, though he didn’t really strive for equal justice for all the people.
On September 6th, 1901, President William McKinley went to Buffalo, New York to visit the Temple of Music. Due to worries over an assassination attempt, his secretary successfully dissuaded the president from going ahead with the trip in two previous instances. However, on that day the president succeeded in convincing his aide even though it ended up being detrimental to him. The anarchist Leon Czolgosz advanced toward the president and proceeded to shoot him two times in the abdomen, which resulted in McKinley dying eight days later.
The 42nd US president Bill Clinton was in office for two terms, from 1993 until 2001. While he was president, America was on the longest economic expansion ever during peace. White House reporter Helen Thomas said, “He has brought on the greatest prosperity we have ever known and he doesn’t get the credit for it and that’s too bad.” Aside from that, since World War II, Clinton’s approval rating was the highest (60%).
Everyone remembers the scandal involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. Despite the fact that 49-year-old Bill Clinton initially blatantly denied that he had a relationship with the 22-year-old Lewinsky, he eventually came forward and confessed. Many will probably remember that he said, ‘Even presidents have private lives.’
James K. Polk
The 11th US president, James K. Polk was in office between the years 1845 and 1849. His inauguration is a major landmark as it was the first time that a presidential inauguration was broadcast in the news… With the use of a telegraph! In addition, America won in the US-Mexican War Polk under his leadership, and while he was in office, the territory of the US expanded because of the 1845 Texas Annexation and 1848 Mexican Cession.