The office of the President of the United States is one of the most important in the world and has been for nearly 150 years. As commander-in-chief of the military, as well as head of state, the president embodies the country’s highest ideals.
So when a leader fails to live up to these lofty standards, it can have a serious impact on not just that person’s own country, but on how other countries view them. How do you determine if a president was an improvement over their predecessor? Or was he so bad that they were an upgrade? To answer these questions, we looked at data from several different sources and groups.
For this article, we used data from The Presidents Council at https://www.presidentscouncil.org/davids-review/, which uses publicly available resources to compile a thorough historical analysis of every US president since George Washington.
John Quincy Adams – Worst
John Quincy Adams was the 6th president of the United States, serving from 1825 to 1827. This was a tumultuous period in US history, marked by the Panic of 1825, the unpopular war against Mexico, and the abolitionist movement.
Despite these challenges, Adams was able to usher in some significant reforms, namely the creation of the Department of Justice. He also went to war with Canada, making him the first president to take the country to war.
However, as a member of a political dynasty, he was often criticized for being too friendly to the Democrat Party and the “Washington machine.” If you think back to the period, this criticism would likely have been well warranted. Adams was also very unlucky in his appointments.
His most senior advisors, including Secretary of State Abel Upsall, Secretary of War John Calhoun, and Attorney General William Wirt all resigned under controversial circumstances.
William Henry Harrison – Second Worst
William Henry Harrison was the 9th president of the United States, serving from 1841 to 1841. He was the first president to die while in office and the first to be elected after the death of his wife.
His administration was marred by the ongoing debate over the annexation of Texas, which ultimately led to the annexation of that state. Harrison was also the first president to be elected after the abolition of slavery in the country.
He would be the last president to date to die in office until George W. Bush in 2008. Harrison’s administration was also marked by a major financial crisis, as the Panic of 1837 sent the US economy into a tailspin.
He was not re-elected by the US Congress but was a popular enough president that he was able to secure a second term via the Electoral College.
Zachary Taylor – Third Worst
Zachary Taylor was the 12th president of the United States, serving from 1849 to 1850. He is known for achieving several significant victories during his presidency, including defeating Mexico in the Mexican-American War and solidifying the US borders with Canada.
Tayor’s presidencies were also marked by several significant tragedies, including the deaths of two of his generals during the Mexican-American War and the outbreak of the Morrish Panic during his second term.
Taylor’s presidency was also notable for being the first in which women were allowed to vote. He was, however, the last president to be elected with less than 50% of the popular vote until Donald Trump in 2016.
Martin Van Buren – Fourth Worst
Martin Van Buren was the 8th president of the United States, serving from 1837 to 1841. His presidency was marked by several major scandals, including the Bank War scandal and the Crédit Mobilier scandal. The Bank War was a major political conflict, as Van Buren attempted to close down the Second Bank of the United States.
However, he was unsuccessful, and the bank was only shut down after he left office. The Crédit Mobilier scandal occurred during Van Buren’s second term, as he was accused of allowing government contracts to be awarded to his political allies. Van Buren’s presidency was also notable for being the first to include several modern features, such as the inaugural address and the White House press secretary.
Abraham Lincoln – Fifth Best
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, serving from 1861 to 1865. He was the first president to be assassinated, as well as the first president to be elected after the abolition of slavery.
In addition to fighting the Civil War, he also had to deal with the issue of slavery, as well as the issue of the expansion of the federal government. Lincoln was elected to the presidency at the end of a very bloody war, and while he succeeded in ending the war, he also succeeded in eliminating slavery.
Lincoln was also a very efficient administrator, successfully managing the war effort and the federal government. When he was assassinated at the beginning of the American Civil War, the US had a new president. The same could not be said for the Confederate States of America, as eleven of their leaders were killed in the failed attempt to assassinate Lincoln.
Theodore Roosevelt – Sixth Best
Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States, serving from 1901 to 1909. He was a very popular president and is widely regarded as one of the greatest US presidents of all time. Roosevelt’s presidency was largely based on foreign policy, as he expanded the US empire and engaged in several major military interventions.
Much like Lincoln, Roosevelt was also an efficient administrator, successfully managing the US federal government. He was also an avid historian who published several scholarly articles along with books and essays.
Franklin D. Roosevelt – Seventh Best
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd president of the United Roosevelt, serving from 1933 to 1945. FDR achieved several significant victories during his presidency, including the New Deal, which paved the way for the welfare state, and the alliance with Winston Churchill that helped the United States overcome isolationism and enter World War II.
FDR was also an avid outdoorsman and historian, publishing several books and essays while in office. FDR was also a very popular president, securing re-election in 1940 and 1944 with the highest vote counts in history.
Harry S. Truman – Eighth Best
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd president of the United Roosevelt, serving from 1945 to 1953. Truman’s presidency was marked by several significant defeats, including the Chinese intervention in Korea and the failure of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Truman was also the first president to be impeached, though he was not removed from office. Truman was, however, the last president to be elected with less than 50% of the popular vote until George W. Bush in 2000. Truman was also a very unlucky president, as many of the most prominent figures in US history died during his time in office.
This includes both his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the father of his vice president, Alben Barkley. Truman also survived several assassination attempts, including one at the hands of a disturbed citizen in Baltimore.
Dwight Daring Eisenhower – Ninth Best
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States, serving from 1953 to 1961. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest US presidents of all time, and his presidency was marked by several significant achievements, including the building of the interstate highway system and the containment of Soviet power through the NATO alliance.
Ike was also a very efficient administrator, successfully managing the Federal government and successfully dealing with the threat of atomic war. Eisenhower was also very lucky in his appointments, as both the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice have been leading indicators of presidential success ever since his time in office.
He was also one of the most popular presidents in US history. Ike was re-elected with more than 60% of the popular vote in 1956 and 1960.
John F. Kennedy – Tenth Best
John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United k, serving from 1961 to 1963. He was the youngest president in US history, and the first president to be assassinated while in office. Kennedy’s presidency was also marked by several significant achievements, including the successful launch of the Apollo space program, the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the building of the National Park system.
In addition to his many achievements, Kennedy was also a very popular president, besting his two Republican predecessors in every Gallup poll conducted during his tenure in office. Kennedy was also an efficient administrator, successfully managing the US Federal government and the military. He was also an avid outdoorsman and published several books along with articles while in office.
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