Of the 44 men who have been president of the United States, there are some truly clear choices of who were the most important and influential presidents. There were also many who would never have made the list. My picks for the top ten influential presidents were based on their historical influence and their actions while in office. This was a tough list to create – especially once we move past the 7th president. If one more could be added it would be Ronald Reagan. He helped bring the Cold War to an end after years of struggle. He definitely gets an honorable mention for this list of influential presidents.
1. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln saved the Union during the American Civil War. His leadership during the war was one of no compromise but at the same time understanding that he would eventually have to unite the states once the North won the war. His actions eventually led to the abolition of slavery across the United States.
2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Having won four terms as president, FDR was sure to have a huge impact on the United States. His leadership throughout World War II was key to our victory. Further, he worked tirelessly to end the Great Depression including the creation of numerous programs through his New Deal to help Americans get back on their feet.
3. George Washington
As the first president, Washington couldn’t help but set precedents that were followed by later presidents. His lack of a desire to be seen as a ‘monarch’ was an extremely important part of creating a citizen president. Also, the fact that he retired after two terms set a precedent only broken by Franklin Roosevelt. After Roosevelt’s death, the two-term limit was added as the 22nd amendment to the Constitution.
4. Thomas Jefferson
Through Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, the size of the United States doubled overnight. Jefferson was a strong states’ rightest who also realized the need for consolidating power in the federal government in certain instances.
5. Andrew Jackson
Jackson’s election showed the rise of the common man. He was the first president elected from humble beginnings. His popularity was huge. Further, he was a strong nationalist who often made controversial decisions such as the removal of Native Americans east of the Mississippi. He was president during the ‘Trail of Tears’. He also fought against the national bank.
6. Theodore Roosevelt
TR was an extremely influential president. Not only did he earn the title of ‘Trust Buster’ as president by fighting against corrupt businesses, but he also was deeply committed to conservation. He established numerous national parks to preserve the wildlife that was quickly being overtaken through industrialization.
7. Woodrow Wilson
Wilson piloted the ship that brought America onto the world stage. He made the first steps of leading us out of isolationism, violating Washington’s tenet of avoiding foreign entanglements. He led America during World War I. His fervent hope was for the US to join a League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.
8. Harry S Truman
Harry S Truman took over after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He made one of the hardest decisions in American History by deciding to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He presided over the end of World War II and set precedents for leadership during the beginning of the Cold War.
9. James K. Polk
After Thomas Jefferson, James K. Polk increased the size of the United States more than any other president through the acquisition of California and New Mexico as a result of the Mexican-American War. He also claimed Oregon Territory after a treaty with England. He was a key figure in Manifest Destiny. He was also an extremely effective leader during the the Mexican-American War. He is considered to be the best one-term president.
10. Dwight Eisenhower
During Eisenhower’s time in office, America experienced a great amount of economic prosperity. Eisenhower also provided crucial leadership during the Cold War.