I haven't read the other "Ranking of Presidents" threads yet because I didn't want your guys' rankings to affect mine. Having now done this exercise, I can say two things: this was fun, and we had a really strong group of Presidents in the 20th century.
MY TOP 8 PRESIDENTS:
1. Thomas Jefferson -- He wrote the Declaration of Independence and made the Louisiana Purchase which tripled the size of the country. He wrote the first law ever establishing the principle of Separation of Church and State (in the Virginia state legislature), and Co-wrote (with James Madison) the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, possibly the single most brilliant sentence ever crafted anywhere, by anyone:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
How would a normal intellect go about insuring religious freedom, but balancing that against the separation of church and state, and preserving the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly for all time, while simultaneously making sure a new country's government is answerable to the people, instead of the other way around? I don't know, maybe by fighting a series of wars, or drafting a hundred agreements, or piecing together ideas over decades.
How did Thomas Jefferson do it? He wrote ONE SENTENCE.
When JFK held a banquet for Nobel Prize winners, he told them "This is the most extraordinary collection of talent and human knowledge to gather here at the White House since Thomas Jefferson dined alone." I completely agree.
2. Abe Lincoln -- Emancipation Proclamation, won the Civil War despite a series of mediocre Generals. 13th through 15th Amendments. Due Process and Equal Protection.
3. FDR -- Responded instantly to the Great Depression as Governor of New York, then President of the United States. The New Deal provided jobs for many, and a safety net for the rest. People stopped starving to death in America. Later, he instantly recognized Hitler's evil, and he struggled every day from September 1, 1939 onward to push, pull or drag us into the war. He had the foresight to know which laws needed to be bent (and then some) and which intelligence needed to be "shaped" for the greater good, so that his countrymen could see Hitler for what he was: a threat to the very existence of western civilization.
4. Teddy Roosevelt -- Signed up to fight in the Spanish-American War in his late 30's. Busted up the huge monopolies previous Presidents had allowed to form (I'm looking at you, McKinley). He single handedly made the Panama Canal happen. He founded the Progressive Party, and once gave a speech after being shot with a pistol. The first thing he did after being President was go lion hunting on safari. The man had basketballs in his scrotum.
5. Ike Eisenhower -- Ended the Korean War (helped by Stalin's death), forwarded US interests by ordering coups in Guatemala and Iran, wrapped our allies' knuckles when they failed to consult us before launching military action in the 1956 Suez Crisis (thereby causing the deserved collapse of both the British and French governments). He balanced his budgets and he warned us about the potential dangers of the growing military-industrial complex. Oh yeah, he also won WWII.
6. JFK -- WWII hero. Cuban Missile Crisis. Ordered university integration in the south. Proposed the first Civil Rights Bill. Brought in the "best and the brightest," who conceptualized nuclear deterence and MAD, the basic principles that even today protect us from nuclear war. He had a hot wife, but still got to bang Marilyn Monroe. Drawback: Vietnam, where I doubt he wouldn't done things any differently than LBJ.
7. LBJ -- Passed the Civil Rights Act. Passed the Voting Rights Act. Passed the Great Society bills, including the first Medicare bill. Declared war on poverty. Gave the Israelis the green light to launch the 6 Day War. Non-Drawback to me: Vietnam, which would've happened to any President of either party, given the then-universal acceptance of Cold War's Domino Theory.
8. Woodrow Wilson -- The 14 Points. Fought WWI to "make the world safe for democracy." Correctly believed the Treaty of Versailles was too hard on Germany. Maybe a milder peace would've led to more moderate politics in the Weimar Republic and a certain Austrian corporal might never have gained control of Germany. His great League of Nations idea effectively died when he had a stroke and the US didn't join its own idea.
MY WORST PRESIDENTS IN HISTORY:
1. Herbert Hoover -- The stock market crashed early in his term and he spent 3+ years doing absolutely nothing about it. When he left office, unemployment was between 25% and 30%, with no existing safety net to prevent our unemployed citizens and their families from starving to death. Grade: F-
2. Ulysses S. Grant. Spent two terms drunk. Entrusted the country to his ne'er do well friends and relatives. Think today's country being run by Billy Carter and Roger Clinton. Grade: F
3. George W. Bush -- Weapons of Mass Destruction debacle, "Mission Accomplished" debacle, 5,000 US Servicemen killed in Iraq debacle, Katrina debacle, economic meltdown of '08 - '09. Grade: F
1. Bill Clinton -- Balanced budgets, economic prosperity, Yugoslavia, Welfare Reform Bill.
2. George H.W. Bush -- Desert Storm, Tax and Spending cuts bill when the country needed it.
1. George Washington -- A do-nothing President who never won a single battle in the Revolutionary War. Washington's battle record was 0-4-1 (Battle of Monmouth was a draw). All our victories in the war were won by other generals: Montgomery, Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold and the French General Lafayette. Washington was specifically opposed to fighting the Battle of Yorktown, the battle that effectively ended the war in North America. His last speech in office was spent decrying the death of American democracy if we formed political parties.
2. Andrew Jackson -- Abolished the national banking system. Established states rights as a legitimate basis for southern states to uphold slavery. Owned slaves himself. Won one battle one time, fought 6 weeks after the war was over (but the peace treaty hadn't yet reached us from England). BFD.
3. William McKinley -- pawn of the industrialists. Allowed monopolies to form everywhere: Rockefeller (oil), Carnegie (steel), JP Morgan (finance and railroads). Not interested in wealth redistribution at all. When Rockefeller died, he was worth over $700 billion in today's money (by comparison, Bill Gates is worth roughly $80 billion).
Interesting rankings but a president's ranking should ONLY be based on what he did as president. Grant did enforce reconstruction to some extent. Jefferson as president did the Louisiana purchase and not much else. Washington's big contribution was to show that the president was not a king or a dictator. Clinton is vastly underrated because of his personal life. No president ever had a better economy. Some say it was due to the internet without realizing that the GOVERNMENT invented the internet.
Walt, I briefly considered the question of whether I should only consider a President's accomplishments only when he was in office, or from his entire career, but I decided not to limit it because I knew for sure I wanted to rank TJ #1.
Wasn't the internet actually developed by DARPA and the DOD, as a command and control system in the event of nuclear war? It makes sense, since one of the internet's features is that servers can get knocked out (by, say, a nuclear strike), but the internet self corrects and re-routes itself to continue functioning.
On the Clinton point, I wrote another thread tonight where I rage about how sick I am of losing important leaders because of who they're sleeping with. I can't think of a DUMBER standard to pick leaders than some kind of sex or fidelity test.
Would it have been a good idea to impeach Kennedy because he happened to have a weakness for blondes? #$%$, no, cuz we honest to God might have died during the Cuban Missile Crisis if the wrong guy was sitting in the big chair.