I have ranked the 40 presidents who have warranted a ranking here. I have not ranked Barack Obama, as he is the sitting president; I believe that a presidency should be in the rear-view window before it is ranked among the others. As is customary from the Schlesinger ranking, and most other subsequent rankings, I have omitted William Henry Harrison and James Garfield because of the brevity of their administrations.
Nobody faced a greater range of challenges than FDR during his 12 years as president, nor met them quite so ably. Contrary to some revisionist scholarship from the last 30 years, the New Deal was largely a success, and if anything was a few sizes too small to fully meet the depth of the Great Depression. FDR stablized a shaky banking system, enacted Social Security, and artfully moved a nation inclined to isolationism into engagement and participation in the Second World War.
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Monroe presided over an "Era of Good Feelings" largely free from partisan rancor, and his policies expertly moved the U.S. from a Jeffersonian collection of sovereign states and into a coherent nation. He also had the best cabinet of any president-- with J.Q. Adams, John Calhoun, William Wirt, and William Crawford rocking the sundry departments- all among the best to have served. Many presidents served during times of crisis. Monroe avoided crises.
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A curious mix of the Progressive and the imperialist. Energetic and wildly intelligent, TR helped preserve our country's natural beauty, and initiated a series of cautious trust-busting legislation. He also deserves credit for inviting a black man to the White House, Booker T. Washington, for a social visit, an act which was poisonous in the Jim Crow South. While his ventures into Latin America are troubling, Roosevelt is a crucial transition president, and among the first to use the powers of his office to temper the excesses and abuses of an unfettered market economy.
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One of the nation's least experienced presidents coming ine, Lincoln nevertheless grew in office and was transformed by the office like no other president. The learning curve was steep, one that cost the Union lots of early victories, and led to thousands of lives lost in the cause of Union. Yet, as Goodwin, Shenk, and countless other biographers have pointed out, Lincoln had a flair for the moment, an overarching vision. He thought, and acted, on a greater and higher level than any other president. For better or worse, he turned the U.S. into a single and indivisible nation that could not be rent assunder.
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