Historical Rankings of Presidents of The United States - General Findings

General Findings

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt are consistently ranked at the top of the lists. Often ranked just below those Presidents are Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. The remaining places in the top ten are often rounded out by Harry S Truman, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Andrew Jackson. The bottom ten are Warren G. Harding, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, Ulysses S. Grant, George W. Bush, Zachary Taylor, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler. Because William Henry Harrison (32 days) and James A. Garfield (200 days, incapacitated after 119 days) both died shortly after taking office, they are sometimes omitted from presidential rankings. Zachary Taylor also died after serving as president for only 16 months, but is usually included. In the case of these three, it is not clear if they received low rankings due to their actions as president, or because each was president for such a limited time that it is not possible to rate them more highly.

Political scientist Walter Dean Burnham noted the "dichotomous or schizoid profiles" of presidents, which can make some hard to classify. Historian Alan Brinkley said, "There are presidents who could be considered both failures and great or near great (for example, Nixon)". James MacGregor Burns observed of Nixon, "How can one evaluate such an idiosyncratic president, so brilliant and so morally lacking?"

David H. Donald, noted biographer of Lincoln, relates that when he met John F. Kennedy in 1962, Kennedy voiced his deep dissatisfaction and resentment with historians who had rated some of his predecessors. Kennedy said, "No one has a right to grade a President—even poor James Buchanan—who has not sat in his chair, examined the mail and information that came across his desk, and learned why he made his decisions."

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