Prepare into a massive post, partly shitpost.
I shall split into three (Sum up)
1777 - 1860 (Worst: Washington/Tyler, Best: Buren/Madison)
1865 - 1945 (Worst: Harding/Grant, Best: Roosevelt/Coolidge)
1945 - today (Worst: Obama/BushII/Johnson, Best: Roosevelt/Reagan/Nixon)
Worst of period one
George Washington, one of the shittest post-war administrators as the worst President of this chapter of American history, namely for killing four Americans because they disagreed with a heavy whiskey tax and failing to create key institutions due to ideological madness, and taking place second to last is John Tyler, whose presidency inflamed the Southern-Northern strife to boiling point and was only saved because of his foreign policy achievements that gave the US land at the expense of Britain.
Both are the only pre-Civil War presidents to have had undergone several attempts by Congress to impeach them.
War management does NOT always translate to executive prowess. See Churchill post-war shittiness as an example. Military leaders and politics seldom should mix.
Best of period one
A hard draw between Martin Van Buren and James Madison. Both were effective administrators who led their nation out of an economic slump and supported domestic industry rather than foreign imports.
Martin Van Buren’s most notable achievements include pulling the nation out of the Panic of 1837, by committing to pro-growth programs, as well as simultaneously developing a domestic industry. At the beginning of his term, more than three in four locomotives on American railways were imported from Britain. By the end, the stats totally turned on their heads as 75% of American locomotives were made in the US. He is also coincidentally known for the takeoff in the rapid boom of building railways in the United States.
He used government funds to expand telegraph use in the United States which aided commerce extraordinarily, and made the US one of the most advanced nations through this at the end of his term. He also aided the steamboat industry and set up the machine tool industry in Ohio. It can be said that Martin Van Buren was the person who led the United States through China’s 1970-1990, as the rapid industrialisation put the United States ahead of the world. Although no statistics exist at the time of his presidency, it is known that by 1852, the United States had 6x as many miles of telegraph wiring as all the other nations on the planet put together.
James Madison was a political giant in US history. Before he entered Presidency, he was the brainchild of the House of Representatives and the Senate and the system of checks and balances. Furthermore, he was the source of the Louisiana Purchase as Jefferson’s Secretary of State, probably the most consequential decision in US history.
As POTUS, he succumbed to the calls of a need of a central bank, and issued a charter in 1816 for the Bank of the United States. Through this, he both raised government spending from the bank rather than the people, and also used the bank to expand the economy by encouraging an expansion of loans. Madison approved a Hamiltonian national bank, an effective taxation system based on tariffs, the first standing professional military, and began navigational and economic “internal improvements” in the US. He was the reason of the so-called “Era of Good Feelings” when, in the repelling of British invasions in War of 1812, the American people found a new purpose and unity amidst prosperity.
Special mention to James Polk, the most consequential one-term President in US history, who navigated the US through war with Mexico, doubled the territory of the nation to include California (and triggered the Gold Rush), opened the US Naval Academy, supported culture by opening the Smithsonian and slashed tariffs to help the South.
The worst award goes to Warren Harding, 1921 - 1923. And no wonder, since he is the most common President to be considered to worst. Where do we even start? He was quite possibly the most corrupt President in US history, with three members of his cabinet being jailed, and he himself was involved in edgy dealings such as transferring government properties from departments not run by his friends to departments that were.
Then we have the famous Bonus Bill. Bonus Bill was the precedent of the GI Bill in WW2, passed by Roosevelt. It included subsidised mortgages on the return of soldiers, subsidised loans, gave free grants and stipends to attend vocational trade schools and universities and was in general the single biggest step to expand human capital in history. Except that the famous argument goes that WW2 soldiers received what they deserved and WW1 soldiers were treated like shit despite serving and saving the nation. Why?
Oh, it’s because Harding vetoed the bill.
Then we have the nationwide strike of railroad workers in 1922, which resulted in deaths and the complete closure of the US, basically.
Also, he was only elected because women were given the right to vote and he at the time was deemed the optimal looking man.
God damn it, women.
Second place goes to the man with the weird name, Ulysees Grant. The man who set up the gold standard by taking the US away from bimetallism, and triggered a bank panic that resulted in an economic slump. Towards the end of his Presidency, he presided over the beginning of the Gilded Age, a reprehensible era similar to that of today, where latte elites participated in excess and had little connection to the people, instead of following the routes of Carnegie and Ford.
I don’t think Theodore Roosevelt needs an explanation, but if you need one then know that he pursued pro-culture policies, establishing museums and monuments that basically created the foundations of ‘American culture’, he cleared out the US civil service of corruption and the wider government service and of course for his progressive Square Deal. America’s first, and to date the best, national liberal. RIP Teds.
Calvin Coolidge should enter this list despite being seen as a bad - sometimes very bad - President. I think this is unfair.
Yes, he presided over the Roaring Twenties, where he failed to see and understand the underlying dangers to the US economy that would ultimately result in the stock market crash and the ensuing depression. However, one has to see this in the eyes of the situation at the time of his presidency, namely the lack of understanding of economics at the time in the way we do today. The idea of a fiscal policy, be it contractionary or expansionary, was alien, and monetary policy was basic and more focused on bank reserves rather than base rates (quantitative easing was unheard of). Remember the crash happened before the US Central bank’s 20th birthday. All that was understood was trade policy. It was either free trade (expansionary to consumers, contractionary to industry) or protectionist (contractionary to consumers, expansionary to industry)
However, Coolidge had many non-economic achievements. First of all, as President, he vetoed a bill that would raise Congress salaries by an enormous 50%. He pushed for a $100 bonus pension (roughly $1400 today) for all WW1 veterans, which reduced poverty. He also signed a bill reducing the work week for women and children from fifty-four hours to forty-eight, saying, “We must humanize the industry, or the system will break down.”
He was the first President to establish an industrial policy, pushing Hoover to develop and expand airlines, factory efficiency and usage of radio throughout the US with government support. (So no, Coolidge was not a gung-ho laissez-faire radical as many people think, he was a victim of his own success as all excess ends in a crash)
As Governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge supported wages and hours legislation, opposed child labor, imposed economic controls during World War I, favored safety measures in factories, and even worker representation on corporate boards. Unfortunately, political conditions in the US did not allow him to pursue this as President.
Coolidge was a pusher of civil rights, enfranchising millions of blacks and extending the 14th Amendment to Native Americans, circumventing the anti-native american SCOTUS. He also established the Washington Naval Treaty, which gave the world a short sigh of relief as an arms race was ruled out for at least a few years.
His support of the Immigration Act of 1924, the most important piece of legislation in post-Civil War history that forged national unity, means he avoids has a special place in the heart of every true American. It de facto established American identity, and prevented undesirables from arriving.
That was back in the revolutionary age where the idea that ultrapoor and socially backward people shouldn’t be allowed to immigrate in the millions wasn’t radical. Today that’s fascist. (And by extension, Ted Kennedy and his 1965 Immigration Act means he has a special place in hell.)
[spoiler]Do the day’s work.
If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it.
If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that.
Expect to be called a stand-patter, but don’t be a stand-patter.
Expect to be called a demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue.
Don’t hesitate to be as revolutionary as science.
Don’t hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table.
Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.
Don’t hurry to legislate.
Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation. - Coolidge[/spoiler]
I don’t like ranking post-WW2 Presidents since it is very difficult, as opinions often change, namely what section of politics I consider more important at the time. This is roughly all factors put together.
However, it can roughly be summed up this way in groups of three
(each group has no particular order, they are on the same pedestal)
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (best)
Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton
Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush
George W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama (worst)
Jimmy Carter wasn’t a President, he was found in the White House by mistake.