10) James K. Polk: He did it by picking a fight, but the Southwest part of the country was added under his tenure. What would the history of the U.S. been without the gold found in California?
9) John Tyler: He set the precedent for the vice president succeeding and filling out the rest of a dead president's turn. The constitution was rather vague on this. Tyler's insistence that he finish out Harrison's term became the model followed ever since.
8) Theodore Roosevelt: Do we ever need a trust buster like him today, and the first president to try and preserve our natural treasures for future generations. He was a good century ahead of his time.
7) Thomas Jefferson: There were many problems in his tenure, mostly beyond his control, but doubling the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase created manifest destiny.
6) James Madison: Father of the Constitution, but his presidency is remembered more for his wife than for him. Dolly Madison created the office of the First Lady.
5) John F. Kennedy: No president before or since went to the brink of total planetary destruction. His finding a way to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis makes his thousand days very important.
4) George Washington: He set the stage for the office for centuries. His impatience with congress set the precedent for making the office take the lead in legislation, his warning of avoiding entangling foreign alliances held until WWII, and stepping down after two terms. All other countries that have adopted our style of constitution have had the first president destroy the document and become a dictator. He's the one who made our experiment work.
3) Abraham Lincoln: Here's where I disagree with the other historians. He saved the union, but he didn't free the slaves. The emancipation proclamation only freed the one in the states in rebellion. The thirteenth amendment passed after his death ended slavery.
2) Harry S. Truman: Years after leaving office he was asked if he ever second guessed his decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. He answered he'd been told that using this weapon would save one million American lives. He signed the order, ate dinner, went to sleep and never missed a wink the rest of his life. Perhaps the most fateful decision any president ever made. Agree or not he made it, and the war ended.
1) Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Republicans never miss a chance to slime the opposition. There is much made today about how the New Deal failed. Really! The elderly today aren't living on Social Security? It may not be much, but it's better than starving to death. Bank investors count on the FDIC to guarantee their deposits. Many of the other aspects of the New Deal have been gutted since Reagan, and now it is coming clear just how important those regulatory agencies were and need to be restored. The New Deal made the post WWII boom possible and our prosperity depends on an SEC that does it's job. An FDA that does it's job. We don't need a new New Deal, we just need to restore it for consumer confidence to be restored. We need to know that the con men aren't running Wall Street and our banks anymore.