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How Historians Rank the Presidents How Historians Rank the Presidents

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How Historians Rank the Presidents

Ranked number one president of all time by 238 presidential historians.

photo of Julia Edwards
February 19, 2011

The Siena College Research Institute has asked 238 presidential scholars to rank presidents five times since 1982. This year was a polling year. Franklin Roosevelt came in first, Barack Obama at 15th, George W. Bush at 40th, and Andrew Johnson dead last.

The scholars rank each president on 20 different characteristics before arriving at the overall scores. Here's a look at some of the characteristics the historians were asked to rank and which presidents they thought exemplified them best.



No. 1 in Background and Intelligence: Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson came in first in background, which includes family, education, experience, and intelligence. Overall, Jefferson was ranked fifth among all presidents.

Imagination and Communication: Obama's top scores

President Obama ranked sixth in imagination and seventh in communication, his top scores in any category. John F. Kennedy also scored high in these categories: fourth in communication and seventh in imagination.

Best relationship with congress: Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson, seen here signing the Civil Rights Act, was ranked No. 1 for his relationship with congress. Overall, Johnson ranked 16th.

Luckiest President: George Washington

The first president of our nation ranked No. 1 in luck. He was also first in his choice of executive appointments and leadership. Although history remembers him for not being able to tell a lie, he was second in integrity.

No. 1 in ability to compromise, integrity, and domestic accomplishments: Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe passed George Washington in integrity. His ranking in ability to compromise and domestic accomplishments were no doubt the markings of the Civil War.

The Worst President of All Time: Andrew Johnson

The man who filled Lincoln's shoes couldn't keep up the pace. Johnson's failure to reconstruct an economically viable South and guarantee the rights of freed slaves gave him bad marks across all categories and the honor of being the worst president in American history.

The Historians' Favorite: Franklin D. Roosevelt


FDR ranked No. 1 overall and in four distinct categories, including handling of the economy and foreign policy accomplishments. No doubt the New Deal and Roosevelt's decision to enter World War II influenced his ranking. 

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