Ranking Presidents will be determined by what history show about their accomplishments. And historians make mistakes. Dwight Eisenhower was ranked a mediocre President when his administration was over but years later, we view Eisenhower in a different light as he presided over peace and prosperity throughout the 1950’s. He was that bridge between the end of the Korean war and the 1960’s and a new generation of leaders. Bill Clinton was another President similar to Eisenhower in that he presided over peace after the cold war end and prosperity result of the technology explosion. He was the last true moderate Democrat and served as a bridge from the Reagan years to the new century.
Reagan was considered the affable dunce by historians in 1989 after his Presidency ended but you have to view him as one of the greatest President in the 20th century as he ended the cold war in victory and his economic policies lead to a quarter century of economic growth that spread world wide.
Woodrow Wilson was considered by many historians as a great if not very good President due to his progressive views. We know now he was the most racist President over the past century, his record on civil liberties was horrendous and he blew the peace after World War I when he refuse to work with Republicans on the League of Nations and nor did he see their concerns. The irony is that he spent the last two years of his administration incapacitated by stroke and he was not even in charge of his administration. He presided over a pandemic worse than the present pandemic and the economy slipped in to a recession that some economists classify as a depression. (Harding economic policies actually led to a recovery and the depression of the 1920’s didn’t happen.)
Presidents that historians underrated include Warren Harding whose presidency was considered a failed President but his policies led to a decade of recovery and he oversaw the Naval treaty of 1922 which restricted battle ships development. Harding also was a voice for Black’s civil rights in contrast to his predecessor who was outright racist.
William McKinley oversaw an era of prosperity and America became a world power after the Spanish-American War but his successor would be one credited with much of his accomplishment, Theodore Roosevelt. His achievements overlooked, McKinley may be consider a nearly great President and Harding a better President than many historians view him.
While it is easy to view as Lincoln and Washington as our two greatest Presidents, there are others who should not be forgotten. James Polk was a one term President but under him, the United States expanded to California and he solved a major treaty with Great Britain over the borders of Canada and the United States in the West plus he won a war with Mexico that led to the final expansion on the continental United States.
Coolidge was another underrated President but his accomplishment disappear with his successor handling of the economy as Hoover’s policies led to the Great Depression.
FDR is considered a great President and maybe one of the top two of the 20th century, my own view his policies delayed recovery from the Great Depression but he also defeated fascism in World War II. He set in policies that changed and transform America.
Some of the worst include Buchanan, Fillmore and Pierce, the three Presidents who presided America right before the Civil War and I gave my view of Wilson. Hoover was a good man who was one of the most intelligent man to hold the office but he found himself in a economic morose that he managed poorly and you may put him as one of the worse of 20th century and Jimmy Carter was a mediocre President but you could still rate him higher than Obama or Hoover. (You can argue that Reagan economic policies rescue Carter and engineered a recovery and we were spared the result of a second Carter term that may have proven more problematic.)
Historians as a group tend to be liberal and often rate liberal Presidents higher than conservative which is why Harding is rated low. My own top ten today would be Washington number one and Lincoln number two with others including Reagan, FDR, McKinley, Harry Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and James Monroe. I haven’t put these eights in order and certainly in a few years, I may rethink this list.
Others who should be given more credit include Harding, Coolidge, Grover Cleveland, and Eisenhower. There are those whose own record are incomplete or still being reviewed even after many years. Kennedy had very few accomplishments but he set in place policies that Johnson followed up on including tax plans and civil rights. The question is would JFK followed a similar policy toward the Vietnam war and would he done his own war on poverty similar to LBJ or a more modest version? And would he been as aggressive on civil rights as LBJ was? A more modest war on poverty and following through on the civil rights may have cemented his place in history as a more modest war on poverty may have been more successful with less damaging to those it was suppose to help. His tax plan led to a decade of recovery.
There are those whose record was incomplete including William Henry Harrison and James Garfield who died early in their administration before they had a chance to accomplish anything. (Harrison lasted only a month and Garfield was murdered seven months into his Presidency.)
Chester Arthur passed civil service reform, totally unexpected based on his past political history and Grant was a determine fighter for blacks in reconstruction era plus he defeated the original KKK during his administration. Neither men are highly rated as Presidents but maybe they should be. As for Andrew Johnson, he didn’t deserve to be impeached but he was also very poor President who fail to follow up on the Lincoln legacy.