For the first time Struggles for Justice rates American Presidents. We’ll do so each year on the first workday following Easter Sunday as we have done here. It should be noted what the ratings reflect and what they do not:

Ratings do NOT reflect any partisan affiliation to a political party or part of the political spectrum. Ratings are NOT ideological. Ratings do NOT reflect the lifetime achievement of the officeholder. For example, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter did best when not President. Note Washington runs a close second to Lincoln but is still “first in peace, first in war, first in the hearts of his countrymen” for his work as the General commanding the Continental Army to victory in the Revolution and the steadying influence at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in addition to making a fine President. Notably evaluations do NOT reflect the private lives of Presidents where that does not bear upon his performance in office. Otherwise both Kennedy and Clinton would have a lot of answering to do. Ratings do NOT reflect any preference for time period.

Ratings DO reflect the success of a given President. They DO reflect Presidential ability and leadership—how steady a hand they were on the tiller of the Ship of State. They DO reflect both a moral leadership in their public life and the connection they forged with the American people to do justice to them and the nation and the larger world we all inhabit. They DO reflect how much a given President made of limited opportunities and what a given President did in times of crisis such as both Lincoln and FDR. Presidents who served so short a time as to not have had the chance to achieve or fail are listed in a separate category and rated among themselves, such as William Henry Harrison who lasted little more than a month in office after an overly long speech in a cold rain. Lyndon Baines Johnson for example is rated quite highly mainly due to his forgotten achievements for Civil Rights and justice to the poor in America and not the debacle in Vietnam.


1. Abraham Lincoln.
2. George Washington
3. Thomas Jefferson
4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
5. Theodore Roosevelt
6. James Monroe
7. Andrew Jackson
8. James K. Polk
9. Dwight D. Eisenhower
10. Ronald Reagan
11. Lyndon Baines Johnson
12 John F. Kennedy
13 Barrack Hussein Obama*
12. Harry S. Truman
13. William McKinley
14. William Jefferson Clinton
15. William Howard Taft
16. John Adams
17. John Quincy Adams
18. James Madison
19. Ulysses S. Grant
20. Woodrow Wilson
21. James Earl Carter
22. Calvin Coolidge
23. Grover Cleveland
24. George Bush (Sr.)
25. Benjamin Harrison
26. Rutherford B. Hayes
27. Martin Van Buren
28. Gerald Ford
29. Chester Arthur
30. John Tyler
31. Millard Fillmore
32. Franklin Pierce
33. Andrew Johnson
34. Herbert Hoover
35. Richard Nixon
36. George W. Bush (Jr.)
37. Warren G. Harding
38. James Buchanan
*Barrack Hussein Obama’s Ultimate Postition on this Rating List Subject to Future Events and the Longer Term Verdict of History. Yet, he has fought for justice and has had great success with some of the fewest opportunities for such success of just about any President.

40. James Garfield*
41. Zachary Taylor*
41. William Henry Harrison*


  1. When anyone jumps into the swamp of rankings, they are brave indeed! But you did, so here’s my thoughts, like ’em orr not.

    In thinking of those who made the greatest impact on policy, I’d probably rate both LBJ and Reagan a bit higher. LBJ’s great domestic achievements are still with us (Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights, and to a lesser extent, the Great Society), but these were dampened by his duplicitous and wrong-headed involvement in the Vietnam War. Reagan certainly moved the country to the right (sadly so), but it would be hard to argue that his impact has not been felt, particularly in the labor movement (thanks to the firing of the air traffic controllers).

    And, I’d actually rate Nixon a bit higher, too. He signed into law the EPA and OSHA, plus opened up our policies with China. These all have had lasting impacts on Society.

    Just a few thoughts. Doing rankings can be lots of fun!

  2. It is a swamp indeed! There are some good choices, but a number of things I disagree with here. Granted in a few choices I admit to being a little non-conventional, but at least I can provide examples, and I am not just regurgitating what’s been said traditionally over time. So, my thoughts (and I apologize this is from memory and away from my library) on just a few of these:

    1-5: Fine. Although based on your criteria, I would have placed FDR and TR above Jefferson.

    9. I like Ike, and he’s a very fashionable choice these days as several recent books have indicated he had his hands on the ship of state a lot firmer than traditionally thought. But, he was far too mum on McCarthy for far too long, let the CIA run rampant, protests the “military-industrial” complex after letting that horse out of the barn for 8 years, and ruined any chance for detente with the USSR after the U-2 plane was shot down. I just don’t think he’s a top 10 guy.

    12. Truman below JFK? Berlin Airlift, recognition of Israel, early moves toward Civil Rights. I think they’re close but the two need to be switched.

    13. After Obama signed that “Monsanto” bill, I would knock him down a few pegs. But, in all honestly, I don’t think it’s fair — for good or bad — to include an acting president on a list of this type.

    20. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why you have Grant the President at 20.

    21. Wilson is a personal dislike of mine. For the charade he, his wife and a few others performed to keep him in office after that second serious stroke he suffered (not the one in the train in Pueblo Co., the second one he had while shaving in the White House) was a disgrace and one of the greatest disservices to this country. Gene Smith’s book “When the Cheering Stopped” should be required reading for anyone interested in presidential history (and for how to write a great story!).

    30. Please read, Gentleman Boss by Thomas Reeves. I think after you do, you will move Chester Arthur up a few slots.

    36. Somebody else already commented on Nixon being too low and why. I absolutely agree.

    38. Finally, I am putting in a plug in for Warren Harding, who always fares poorly on these rankings. If you don’t study Harding, all you know of is “smoked-filled room” and “Teapot Dome.” But most people forget: a. He inherited a horrible economy because Wilson’s incapacity prevented the government from adjusting to a post-war economy. The boon of the 1920s had as much, if not more, to do with Harding’s policies than Coolidge’s. Harding sought balance between capital and labor, Coolidge favored business-centric policies. b. Harding freed Eugene Debbs who was unjustly tossed in jail by Wilson’s administration. c. Harding was the first US president to make any kind of a Civil Rights speech in the South (tepid by modern times, but major for that time). d. An eight-hour day for steel workers. e. The Washington Disarmament Conference in 1921 was a serious attempt to reduce the means to create machines of war. f. Hiring of Charles Dawes and the implementation of modern accounting and budgeting practices to the nation’s finances. I’m not saying Harding was a good president by any stretch, but I’d match up his accomplishments any day with numbers 26, 32, 33 and 37 on your list. P.S. : I am not related to this president. Though for purposes of full disclosure, I share common ancestors with number 5 on your list.

    • Editor’s Note: We can’t disagree with the critiques thus far. They have been superb. This was precisely the reason for publishing our First Annual Presidential rating list in the first place. We all have opinions. Perhaps after a read of the book on Chester Arthur he will move up a couple of slots. The State of Maine needs something to crow about. Jefferson’s high standing has most to do with his aggressive acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase at the most favorable moment. It not only more than doubled U.S. territory, it removed France from the Mississippi River border. As to his and other President’s policy to Native-Americans all we can do is note that it was racial in character and not better than policy toward African-Americans or Native people South of the Rio Grande. Jefferson also exhibited a contrasting style to the first two presidents, Washington and Adams by adopting less formality and greater acess. His fondness for wearing a dressing gown and slippers when greeting guests and his love of French wines,AND The importation of a French chef at $4,000 per year, don’t say much in his favor unless you were a frequent guest at his table. As a Bibliophile, Dr. Sobottke has to like Jefferson’s book collection forming the basis for the Library of Congress. Remember, the list is not with regard to the modern and even contemporary memory of the compiler. Grant gets a boost as more than one biographer has revived his reputation in the last ten years. He presided over a still deeply divided nation over a good deal of Reconstruction. Yes, many of his lieutenants were corrupt, and his venture in Santo Domingo were not pluses. He was received well in foreign capitals however both during and folloiwng his Presidency. FDR could indeed be moved up. Political conservatives are resurrecting Calvin Coolidge but that is NOT one of the criteria for the list. Obama could be dropped a couple or even more slots lower due to a lot of things. But the compiler is a Lincoln scholar and is overly familiar with the contemporary criticism of the 16th President. It is eerily familiar with that of Obama; particularly in regard to both Lincoln and Obama’s excessive moderation–the active courting of not only moderate but somewhat conservative political interests in the pursuit of some sort of ability to hold together a deeply polarized and divided nation. Both Presidents moved slowly in the direction of social justice but when they acted, they acted with decision—or so has Obama’s modus operandi been thus far. Thus far both respondents have well argued points that deserve applause!
      Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
      for Struggles for Justice

    • One More: Richard M. Nixon’s low position reflects is almost total lack of a connection to the masses of the American people. Few loved him. And, there is the serious undermining of the United States Constitution during his two terms in office. They are some of the most egregious of any President and the mischief he did struck at the heart of legal justice and hence social justice as well. Woodrow Wilson gets low marks as his policy toward people of color was so horrible. He did help pass into law the first serious Child Labor Law in 1915, pushed a low tarriff benefiting American consumers and provided real moral leadership on Democracy and the League of Nations system to keep the peace. Yet, he had a poor relationship with the Congress, was very aloof too. And Yes, Mr. Harding does point out a real scandal. Yet, in those days 1919-20, the glare of media lights was much less. The news cycle often lapsed into a more Nineteenth century pace. Warren G. Harding did little or nothing. You should be lauding Andrew Mellon, and Charles Evans Hughes, along with Secreatary of Commerce Herbert Hoover–again he did best when NOT President.

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