Who Are the Most Moderate Presidents in U.S. History?

10/16/2012 12:20 pm ET | Updated Dec 15, 2012

This question originally appeared on Quora. 2012-10-16-jcassie.jpeg By Jonathan Cassie, Educator,

James Monroe, Chester Arthur, and Dwight Eisenhower. Mindful that moderate is itself a loaded (and potentially not very helpful) term, I would argue that these three presidents' administrations were marked by decisions which, in hindsight, seem to reflect a uniquely American consensus.

Monroe (1817-1825) had the advantage of being president during what was America's only real period of one-party rule. Monroe's presidential appointments crossed the fading party lines that only just barely existed anyway; his decisions contributed to the disappearance of both the Federalists and, frankly, his own party. One might also look at the Missouri Compromise, negotiated during his presidency, as an example of a typical, antebellum, moderate compromise.

Arthur (1881-1885), who became president upon the death of James Garfield, is certainly an unlikely figure to be on this kind of list. My argument in Arthur's favor is that he was responsible for ensuring the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, the law that professionalized government institutions and that, for better or for worse, created the depoliticized bureaucracy. What we have now is, undoubtedly, better than what we'd have if hundreds of thousands of government jobs were meant to be dispensed by new administrations. And for that, we have Arthur to thank.

Eisenhower's (1953-1961) claim is to be the sole Republican during a high water mark for New Deal Democrats. Certainly one of the great achievements of his administration was to set in motion the construction of the Interstate Highway System, and this is the sort of legislation that during the Industrial Age of the United States, was bipartisan and moderate (it was contentious in the pre-industrial age and is contentious again now).

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