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  • Subject area(s): Business
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Who are the best and worst Presidents of all time?

In his first few months as President of the United States Donald Trump has received some of the worst opinion polls in history. In his first year as President he averaged only a 38.4% approval rating, the previous lowest was Bill Clinton at 49.3% (an over 11-point difference). Suffice to say Trump in his short time as President is at least up there in the most controversial Presidents of all time. This made me wonder… who are the worst and best presidents of all time? I looked at surveys on this topic to create shortlists of both the worst and best Presidents which I then tried to narrow down to one by looking at them in a bit more depth. I excluded Trump because it’s a way too obvious pick and I think it is good to have some perspective so that the decision is not affected by emotion. I am sure that when President Trump’s term is over, I will probably consider him up there with the worst but for now I would like to see his full term before I make my final decision. Now onto the matter on hand.

Who is the best President?

Before I look at the more controversial topic of who is the worst President, I looked at who the best President was. The way I did this was by looking at the 2017 C-SPAN Presidential Historian Survey which is a good source to use because it is rated by experts in Presidential history and therefore we know they are knowledgeable in this field. Additionally, it should be less subjective than an opinion poll of citizens where political allegiance is likely to play a big factor in the rankings and therefore would make it biased. The C-Span survey ranks the presidents on a series of categories. They were: public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision (the ability to set an agenda), whether they wanted equal justice for all and their performance in the context of their time. Per the C-Span article the top 10 presidents were (from best to worst); Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B Johnson. In the paragraphs below I will look at each one in a bit more depth before making a final decision

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States of America and served from 1861 until his untimely assassination in 1865. He was President during the American Civil War which is arguably America’s greatest crisis in its brief history. Even despite serving his term during this crisis he managed to preserve the Union as well as modernise the economy, abolish slavery and strengthen the federal government. He was also a tremendous public speaker with the Gettysburg Address remaining as one of the most famous presidential speeches of all time. Lincoln also was a self-made man born to a poor family in Kentucky. However, President Lincoln was not perfect. He was prone to instituting martial law and suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus (right to a trial) and arrested up to around 10,000 people without a trial. Although, seen as unconstitutional it does state in Article 1 and section 9 of the constitution that the President can override this during a rebellion or invasion in the interest of public safety.  Additionally, he nominated Andrew Johnson as his running mate in the second term, which lead to Andrew Johnson’s presidency when Lincoln died which was disastrous as he became the first President to be impeached by the House.

George Washington

George Washington was the first President of the United and is one of the most well-known presidents of all time and helped establish the U.S. as a nation following its independence from the United Kingdom. He had great leadership skills and put himself above party and set the precedent of how a President should operate under the constitution. He also listened to all his advisors- particularly Alexander Hamilton and his wise economic policies which established a stable economy for America. He also swiftly put down the Whisky Rebellion, ensuring it didn’t get out of hand and gave amnesty to those involved in it, preventing long term issues arising from it and remained neutral in the war between England and revolutionary France ensuring America’s survival. However, he did tend to be a bit pompous, refusing to shake hands with visitors and instead bowing. Additionally, he was influenced a bit too much by Hamilton despite trying to seem unbiased during the cabinet meetings (see Hamilton the Musical for a good description of this.)  Additionally, his response to the Whiskey rebellion was a bit over the top as he mobilised an entire army to fight a handful of rioters which fits in with the criticism that he was too authoritarian. Finally, he was criticised for not standing up for France despite their help in the revolutionary wars.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

FDR was the 32nd President of the United States and served from 1933 to 1945. He managed to restore confidence in the government after the disastrous Hoover administration and the Great Depression, giving the U.S a new sense of direction. He is fondly remembered (at least by Democrats) for his New Deal approach which set the stage for Democrat policy for decades to come with its focus on social programmes to reduce social inequality. The Wagner Act also allowed workers to organise together and protest and he introduced programmes such as Social Security which are still used to this day. Additionally, despite a climate of isolationism he still promoted good relationships with the rest of the world. He restored good relations with Latin America with his “Good Neighbour Policy” after fractured relations dating all the way back to the Mexican American war of the 1840s. He also produced crucial aid to Britain during 1940 and 1941 and tried his best to cooperate with the Soviets and try to bring some peace between the two superpowers. Additionally, without Roosevelt’s help to the allied cause, the Allies may have not won the war. FDR as commander-in-chief picked skilled leaders to top military positions such as Eisenhower (more on him later.) However, he also was considered by some as a demagogue due to controversial plans such as the “court-packing plan” which would have allowed him to change the supreme court to his will, showing a lack of regard towards the constitution. He also spent irresponsibly despite promising to “balance the budget” and was only saved by the money America gained during the war producing weapons. Roosevelt also became aware of the Fascist movement too late and did nothing to stop the ill-advised appeasement of Hitler at Munich. He also embargoed arms to Spanish Loyalists during to Spanish Civil War, helping Franco’s pro-fascist forces to win. He also immorally helped with the internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans to “relocation camps” and perhaps allowed the Soviet’s too much control during the Yalta conference.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United and served from 1901 to 1909. He is well known for tackling big businesses and his “trust-busting” clearly outlined national interests over corporate interests. During the Anthracite coal strike, he worked with the miners fairly and became loved by the working man. He also passed the Pure Food and Drug Act.  

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