Polls of historians and ordinary Americans generally agree that Franklin D. Roosevelt, the creator of the New Deal, ranks as the greatest U.S. president of the 20th century.
A survey of 65 American historians by C-SPAN completed in 2009 cited FDR as the third best president overall, behind only Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
The Siena College Research Institute has asked 238 presidential scholars to rank the presidents five times since 1982. The most recent poll showed Franklin Roosevelt on top as their favorite.
A report from the National Constitution Center in February of this year also ranked Roosevelt as the best president of the 20th century and fourth best overall behind Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Lincoln.
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A Newsweek magazine survey in 2012 ranked FDR as the best president overall.
"In the last 25 years FDR's reputation seems to have risen higher than ever before," historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes. "While historians have long considered Roosevelt one of our greatest presidents, he has now been embraced by the country as a whole — by Republicans as well as Democrats."
William E. Leuchtenburg observed: "The presidency as we know it begins with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"So powerful an impression did FDR leave on the office that in the most recent survey of historians he ranked as the second greatest president in our history, surpassed only by the legendary Abraham Lincoln."
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Presidential historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote in an essay for Time magazine: "Take a look at our present world. It is manifestly not Joseph Stalin's world. That ghastly world self-destructed before our eyes. Nor is it Winston Churchill's world. Empire and its glories have long since vanished into history. The world we live in today is Franklin Roosevelt's world."
Schlesinger noted that when a movement to replace Roosevelt's image on the dime with Reagan's image was gathering support, Nancy Reagan issued a statement that set the controversy to rest: "When our country chooses to honor a great president as Franklin Roosevelt by placing his likeness on our currency, it would be wrong to remove him and replace him with another."
FDR is hailed for shepherding the nation through two tremendous trials — the Depression and World War II — and instituting Social Security and other government programs that were part of the New Deal.
But he is not without his critics. Some take him to task for misleading the American public about his disability, and accuse him of "selling out" to the Russians at Yalta in part due to his illness.
Others say he could have acted more decisively to admit more Jewish refugees, or to advance civil rights for African-Americans. And many believe he made the wrong decision to intern Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.
But a report analyzing the results of 15 surveys conducted since 1948 showed FDR finishing first or second in eight of the polls and no lower than No. 3 in any of them, the best showing among all 20th-century presidents.
Schlesinger also wrote that "no stouter-hearted Republican than Newt [Gingrich] rates FDR as the greatest 20th-century president. FDR's New Deal is no longer to be condemned as a mortal threat to the American way of life. Instead, as George W. Bush discovered when he tried to fool around with Social Security, New Deal reforms are generally blessed. And their architect is admired and adored."
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