Since its independence from Britain in 1776, it took the US more than a decade to elect its first President, when George Washington took the first presidential oath of office on April 30, 1789. Until 2018, the United States had witnessed the tenure of 45 presidents. However, there are just a few who can be ranked among the best. Some were tested by international conflict, others by the domestic crisis, but all left their impression on history. This list contains the US presidents that transformed America, and in some cases the world.
1. Abraham Lincoln (1861 – 1865)
- Abraham Lincoln is admired not only in the United States but throughout the world. America’s 16th President was a paragon of ‘simple living, high thinking.’ He came from a very humble background and never had enough money to get any formal education.
- He led the country through one of its most trying periods, the Civil War when the country was passing through a moral and political crisis. Without him, America which we see today would have been broken on color and ethnic basis. In 1863, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation paving the way for the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, which ended slavery in America.
- He also holds the distinction of being the only U.S. President to receive a patent in 1849. He designed a system for lifting riverboats off sandbars.
- Lincoln’s personal life was full of misfortunes. At the early age of nine, he lost his biological mother and the next year his father. In young age, he was in a romantic relationship with Ann Rutledge. He suffered a nervous breakdown when his sweetheart died. After few years, he married to Marry Todd, and the couple had four kids together, out of which only one could survive to the adulthood.
- Unfortunately, he could not live to see a united America. A few days before the war was officially ended in 1865, Lincoln was assassinated while attending a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington by John Wilkes Booth.
2. George Washington (1789-1797)
- George Washington was the First President of the United States, also known as ‘Founding Father.’
- During the American Revolutionary War (1777-1783), he was the Commander-in-Chief of Continental army. He was a great general and led the colonial forces to victory over the British, and became a national hero.
- Following the war, Washington withdrew for a time from public life, though he returned to serve as president of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. After the ratification of the Constitution, Washington was elected president.
- In his presidential tenure, he faced many challenges as there was no precedent available to him. He tended to see himself as a nonpartisan figure, mainly above the political fray.
- During his tenure, the U.S. established rules for federal spending, normalized relations with its former foe, Great Britain, and laid the groundwork for the future capital of Washington D.C.
- The legacy of the president’s office left by George Washington is still observed.
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933 – 1945)
- Roosevelt is regarded as one of the most efficient US Presidents handling foreign relations and public persuasion. He is also the longest-serving president in the US history.
- As the 32nd President of US, he led the country at the time of two significant events- Great Depression and the Second World War.
- To fight against Great Depression, he started the New Deal program, which focused on providing new jobs, building roads, bridges, dams, parks, schools, and other public services. Depression-era federal programs like Social Security still exist, providing essential financial protections for the nation’s most vulnerable.
- During World War II, he gave weapons and money to the Allies as a part of the Lend-Lease program. Although, in the initial period of War, America abstained from the War. However, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US fully into the War.
- For overcoming the difficult challenges of a depression and a world war, historians consider him one of the best U.S. presidents.
4. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
- Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th United States President, became the youngest President, after the assassination of President William McKinley. Theodore Roosevelt is remembered for his foreign policy, corporate reforms and ecological preservation.
- His policy, “Square Deal,” included the reduction of railroad rates, guaranteeing pure food and scheduled drugs along with breaking up capitalism. Under the Sherman Altruist Act, he acted strongly to curb the power of large corporations and monopolies like Standard Oil and Northern Securities Companies.
- To protect the consumers against the Food packing industry, he beefed up Pure Food and Drug Act, which paved the way for modern-day FDA.
- Roosevelt was the first environmentalist President and did several acts to preserve countless wildlife sanctuaries, national forests and federal game reserves. He also spearheaded the beginning of construction of the Panama Canal.
- Roosevelt won a Nobel Peace Prize for his negotiations to end the Russo-Japanese War.
5. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
- In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower became the 24th US President. During his tenure, US experienced tremendous economic growth. USA built up both a sizeable nuclear arsenal and the CIA.
- On the home front, Eisenhower strengthened Social Security, created the massive new Interstate Highway System and maneuvered behind the scenes to discredit the rabid anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy.
- At that time, many civil rights movements took place – Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, and the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
- NASA was also set up during his tenure.
6. Harry Truman (1945-1953)
- After the death of Roosevelt in 1945, Harry Truman became the 33rd President of the country. Truman wins praise from historians for his crisis leadership.
- After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Truman guided the US in the World War II and carried out a nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Under his leadership, US emerged victorious in World War II.
- But after the War, relations with the Soviet Union started deteriorating with the start of the Cold War. In 1949, he created NATO bringing the west European countries together to curb the Soviet Union.
- Truman started $13 billion Marshall Plan to reconstruct Europe after the World War II. During the war between North and South Korea, he sent the U.S. troops and got the UN approval to join the War.
7. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
- Thomas Jefferson was the third president of US and one of its founding fathers. He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. At the time of American Revolution, he was the Governor of Virginia. During George Washington’s tenure, he served as the Secretary of State.
- During his presidency he acquired the Louisiana Territory from France, vastly expanding the size of the country, and slashed the national debt by a third. To explore the further west, Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark Expedition.
- Although Jefferson was a proponent of individual liberty, he was also a slave-owner. After leaving office, he established the University of Virginia.
8. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
- John F. Kennedy was the 35th and the second youngest president in the US history. He was born into a wealthy family with significant political ties. He wrote a best-selling book while he was studying the Political Science at Harvard University.
- Kennedy had joined naval forces and also served during the World War II. His role in the war made him a national hero.
- During his tenure, Cold War tensions were at the peak. Kennedy successfully handled Cuban Missile Crisis. He also increased the number of American military advisers in South Vietnam.
- Domestically, he favored civil rights cause and income tax cuts but was unable to pass legislation for the same. By initiating The Apollo Project, he also joined the “Space Race” and vowed to sen a human on the moon.
- He was assassinated after serving a thousand days barely in office. His death brought shockwaves around the world. Until today, Kennedy is considered one of the most charismatic and beloved leaders in the US history.
9. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
- Ronald Reagan was the 40th President of the United States. Before entering the politics, Ronald was a successful Hollywood actor. He also served as the 33rd Governor of California.
- Ronald’s term as President is remembered for his instrumental role in ending the Cold War and negotiating a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Soviets. Although, he had increased defense spending as well.
- Through his policy, which is known as Reaganomics, he introduced tax cuts, deregulated the economy to spur economic growth, and decreased expenditure on social sector. Over his two terms, the economy saw a reduction of inflation from 12.5% to 4.4%.
- During his first term, he survived an assassination attempt. He also spurred the War on Drugs and fought public sector labor.
10. Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921)
- Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of US, who led the country in the First World War. Wilson was an advocate of world peace and democracy. He is credited with the formation of the League of Nations, which was later renamed as the United Nations.
- Wilson was a college professor, university president, and a Democratic governor of New Jersey before winning the White House in 1912. While at the White House, Wilson started Progressive Movement. His legislative agenda included the establishment of the Federal Reserve and Federal Trade Commission.
- Initially, he wanted to keep America out of the War, but he had to face the World War I. At the end of the War, to prevent any future conflict, he negotiated a peace treaty that resulted in the formation of League of Nations.
- Unfortunately, Senate rejected U.S. membership in the League. But Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in bringing world peace.
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