The best and worst U.S. President

22 02 2009

WASHINGTON – Just days after Americans honored the 200th anniversary of his birth, 65 historians ranked Abraham Lincoln as the best U.S. president.

Former President George W. Bush, who left office last month, was ranked 36th out of the 42 men who had been chief executive by the end of 2008, according to a survey conducted by the cable channel C-SPAN.

Bush scored lowest in international relations, where he was ranked 41st, and in economic management, where he was ranked 40th. His highest ranking, 24th, was in the category of pursuing equal justice for all. He was ranked 25th in crisis leadership and vision and agenda setting.


In contrast, Lincoln was ranked in the top three in each of the 10 categories evaluated by participants.

Compared to C-SPAN’s only other ranking of presidents, in 2000, former President Bill Clinton jumped six spots from No. 21 to 15. Other recent presidents moved positions as well: Ronald Reagan advanced from No. 11 to 10, George H.W. Bush rose from No. 20 to 18 and Jimmy Carter fell from No. 22 to 25.

This movement illustrates that presidential reputations are influenced by present-day concerns, said survey adviser and participant Edna Medford.


“Today’s concerns shape our views of the past, be it in the area of foreign policy, managing the economy or human rights,” Medford said in a statement.


After Lincoln, the academics rated George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman as the best leaders overall. The same five received top spots in the 2000 survey, although Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt swapped spots this year. 

Rated worst overall were James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison and Warren G. Harding.

The survey was conducted in December and January. Participants ranked each president on a scale of one, “not effective” to 10, “very effective,” on a list of 10 leadership qualities including relations with Congress, public persuasion and moral authority.


List of presidential rankings

Historians rank the 42 men who have held the office

President: 2009 rank, 2000 rank

Abraham Lincoln: 1, 1

George Washington: 2, 3


Franklin D. Roosevelt: 3, 2

Theodore Roosevelt: 4, 4

Harry S. Truman: 5, 5

John F. Kennedy: 6, 8

Thomas Jefferson: 7, 7

Dwight D. Eisenhower: 8, 9

Woodrow Wilson: 9, 6

Ronald Reagan: 10, 11

Lyndon B. Johnson: 11, 10

James K. Polk: 12, 12

Andrew Jackson: 13, 13

James Monroe: 14, 14

Bill Clinton: 15, 21

William McKinley: 16, 15

John Adams: 17, 16

George H.W. Bush: 18, 20

John Quincy Adams: 19, 19

James Madison: 20, 18

Grover Cleveland: 21, 17

Gerald R. Ford: 22, 23

Ulysses S. Grant: 23, 33

William Howard Taft: 24, 24

Jimmy Carter: 25, 22

Calvin Coolidge: 26, 27

Richard M. Nixon: 27, 25

James A. Garfield: 28, 29


Zachary Taylor: 29, 28

Benjamin Harrison: 30, 31

Martin Van Buren: 31, 30

Chester A. Arthur: 32, 32

Rutherford B. Hayes: 33, 26

Herbert Hoover: 34, 34

John Tyler: 35, 36

George W. Bush: 36, NA

Millard Fillmore: 37, 35

Warren G. Harding: 38, 38

William Henry Harrison: 39, 37

Franklin D. Pierce: 40, 39

Andrew Johnson: 41, 40

James Buchanan: 42, 41




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