Discover the Best of the Best: Top 10 Presidents Ranked

Presidents come and go, but only a select few leave a lasting impression. The United States has been governed by 46 presidents since its founding, some of whom stood out more than others in terms of their leadership, policies, personal qualities, and legacies. In this article, we examine the top 10 presidents in American history, based on various criteria and rankings.

The Criteria Used to Rank the Presidents

Ranking presidents is not an exact science, and there are often disagreements among scholars, historians, and the public about the relative merits and flaws of each president. However, there are some common criteria that can be used to evaluate their performance and legacy:

  • Policies: What was the president’s agenda, vision, and achievements in terms of domestic and foreign policies?
  • Leadership: How did the president exercise power, manage crisis, inspire the nation, and interact with other branches of government?
  • Character: What were the president’s personal qualities, values, ethics, and behavior, both in public and private life?
  • Legacy: What was the impact of the president’s tenure on American society, economy, politics, and culture, both short-term and long-term?

Of course, each person’s ranking may vary depending on their own perceptions and biases, as well as the historical context in which the president lived and worked. Nevertheless, by examining different rankings and surveys, we can identify a consensus on which presidents are considered the best of the best.

The Top 10 Presidents of the United States

1. George Washington (1789-1797)

There is no doubt that the first president of the United States is also one of the greatest. Washington was a pivotal figure in the American Revolution, helping to lead the Continental Army to victory over the British, and then presiding over the drafting of the Constitution and the establishment of the new federal government. As president, Washington set many precedents and standards that have endured to this day, including the two-term limit and the ideal of a nonpartisan executive. He also oversaw the creation of the federal court system, the establishment of the national bank, and the opening of diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

Washington was praised for his integrity, self-discipline, and patriotism, as well as his willingness to listen to different opinions and seek compromises. He was not without his flaws, however, including his ownership of slaves and his tendency to favor the interests of the wealthy and powerful. Nevertheless, his legacy as the father of the country and the exemplar of presidential leadership remains unmatched.

2. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)

Often considered the greatest president of the 19th century, Lincoln faced arguably the toughest challenges of any president in American history. He became president during a period of intense political division and crisis, as the country was on the brink of civil war over the issue of slavery. Lincoln’s leadership in navigating the conflict and preserving the Union was instrumental, as he issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves, delivered the Gettysburg Address to honor the fallen soldiers, and eventually won the war against the Confederacy.

Lincoln was renowned for his eloquence, intellect, and moral courage, as well as his compassion and empathy for all Americans. He also pushed for economic development, land grants, and the transcontinental railroad, paving the way for the industrialization of the country. His tragic assassination in 1865 only added to his mythic stature and legacy as a champion of freedom and democracy.

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)

The longest-serving president in American history, Roosevelt led the country through some of its darkest and most transformative moments, including the Great Depression and World War II. His New Deal policies aimed to provide relief, recovery, and reform for the millions of Americans affected by the economic crisis, and his leadership in mobilizing the country for war against fascism and imperialism helped to secure victory and shape the postwar world.

Roosevelt was known for his optimism, charm, and persuasive skills, as well as his innovative use of radio, press conferences, and fireside chats to communicate with the public. He also promoted civil rights and labor rights, and signed the Social Security Act and other key pieces of legislation that transformed the role of the federal government in American society. His leadership was not without controversy, however, as he faced criticism for his internment of Japanese Americans and his attempt to pack the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Roosevelt remains a towering figure in American history and a symbol of presidential power and activism.

4. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)

As one of the Founding Fathers and the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was a champion of liberty, democracy, and enlightenment. As president, he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the country and opened up new opportunities for exploration, trade, and settlement. He also abolished the international slave trade, reduced the size and influence of the federal government, and established the University of Virginia.

Jefferson was distinguished by his intellectual curiosity, his devotion to science and reason, and his advocacy of religious freedom and separation of church and state. He also faced challenges and controversies, including the threat of British aggression, the tensions with France and Spain, and his own personal relationships with women and slaves. Nevertheless, Jefferson’s legacy as a visionary thinker and democratic leader endures.

5. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)

Often ranked as one of the most energetic and charismatic presidents, Roosevelt embodied the ethos of the Progressive era, which aimed to reform government, industry, and society for the greater good. He crusaded against monopolies, trusts, and corruption, and championed conservation, social justice, and international diplomacy. He also oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal, advanced the cause of civil rights, and shaped the future of American foreign policy.

Roosevelt was widely admired for his sense of adventure, his love of nature and animals, and his can-do spirit. He was also criticized for his imperialistic tendencies, his muscular approach to foreign affairs, and his failure to address some of the underlying problems of inequality and injustice. Nevertheless, Roosevelt remains a fascinating and colorful figure in American history and a model of presidential leadership.

6. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)

Truman became president unexpectedly after the death of FDR, and faced immediate challenges and decisions of historic importance, such as the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and the beginning of the Cold War. Truman’s leadership in the aftermath of World War II was crucial, as he helped to rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan, founded the United Nations, and initiated the policy of containment against Soviet expansionism.

Truman was known for his plain-spokenness, his honesty, and his political courage, as well as his guiding principles of fairness and decency. He also tackled domestic issues such as civil rights, health care, and labor disputes. His presidency was marked by some controversies, including the firing of General MacArthur in Korea, the loyalty program to weed out Communists, and the challenges to his authority by Congress and the media. Nevertheless, Truman’s legacy as a thoughtful and resolute leader endures.

7. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)

Kennedy’s presidency was cut short by assassination, but his impact on American politics, culture, and identity was significant. He became the first Catholic president, and his youth, charisma, and vision inspired a generation of Americans to pursue excellence and public service. Kennedy’s leadership during the Cold War, the Space Race, and the Civil Rights movement was marked by bold initiatives, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Alliance for Progress, and the formation of the Peace Corps.

Kennedy was admired for his eloquence, his wit, and his charm, as well as his pragmatism and idealism. He also faced challenges and scandals, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Vietnam War, and the allegations of infidelity and drug use. Nevertheless, Kennedy’s legacy as a charismatic and visionary leader endures.

8. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)

Reagan was a transformative figure in American politics, as he helped to shift the country to the right and promote conservative values, such as lower taxes, smaller government, and a stronger military. He presided over a period of economic growth, reduced inflation, and improved international relations, including the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Reagan was known for his folksy charm, his sunny optimism, and his strong communication skills, as well as his unwavering belief in American exceptionalism and individualism. He also faced criticism for his handling of the Iran-Contra affair, his limited engagement with civil rights and social issues, and his lack of attention to environmental concerns. Nevertheless, Reagan’s legacy as a popular and influential president endures.

9. James K. Polk (1845-1849)

Although not as well-known as some of the other presidents on this list, Polk is often regarded as one of the most successful and effective chief executives in American history. He made good on his promises to expand the country’s borders, both to the west and to the north, by negotiating the acquisition of Texas, Oregon, and California, as well as settling the dispute with Britain over the Oregon Territory.

Polk was known for his precision, his stamina, and his ambitious agenda, as well as his plain-spokenness and his strict adherence to the Constitution. He also faced criticism for his handling of the Mexican War, his pro-slavery attitudes, and his neglect of domestic issues. Nevertheless, Polk’s legacy as a skilled and strategic leader endures.

10. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)

Johnson succeeded Kennedy after his assassination and inherited many of his challenges and opportunities, including the Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and the Great Society. Johnson’s leadership in pushing for landmark legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and Medicaid, helped to transform American society and expand the role of the federal government.

Johnson was known for his ability to get things done, his mastery of legislative politics, and his compassion for the poor and disadvantaged, as well as his vulgar manners and his escalation of the war in Vietnam. He also faced mounting criticism from the media, the public, and his own party, as the costs and casualties of the war increased, and the civil unrest and protest intensified. Nevertheless, Johnson’s legacy as a complex and consequential president endures.


Ranking the top 10 presidents of the United States is not only a fascinating exercise in historical analysis and interpretation, but also a reflection of our own values, ideals, and aspirations as a nation. Each of these presidents left a lasting imprint on our political heritage, whether through their achievements, their failures, or their human flaws. By examining their legacies, we can learn from them and continue to strive for a more perfect union.


  • “Presidential Historians Survey” by C-SPAN (
  • “The Top 10 Presidents” by U.S. News & World Report (
  • “Ranking the Presidents by Era: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by Time (

FAQs About the Top 10 Presidents

Here are some common questions and answers about the top 10 presidents:

  • Who was the first president of the United States? George Washington was the first president of the United States, serving from 1789 to 1797.
  • Who was the greatest president of all time? There is no consensus on who was the greatest president of all time, as different people have different criteria and opinions. However, many historians and scholars consider George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt to be among the greatest presidents in American history.
  • Who was the youngest president ever elected? John F. Kennedy was the youngest president ever elected, at the age of 43, and the only Catholic president, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.
  • Who was the only president to resign? Richard Nixon was the only president to resign from office, in 1974, after the Watergate scandal and the threat of impeachment.
  • Who was the worst president of all time? There is no consensus on who was the worst president of all time, as different people have different criteria and opinions. However, many historians and scholars consider James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Richard Nixon to be among the worst presidents in American history.

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