C-SPAN’s 2021 ranking locations Trump close to the bottom of the list. Obama, approve rises higher, while Lincoln holds stable in first


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Abraham Lincoln (left) claimed an initial place, while william Henry Harrison (right) came in 40th. Nationwide Portrait collection

United states presidential background is rife v complexity: every leader governed follow to (or against) his very own mores, channeled his unique skills (or lack thereof), was buffeted through the social, economic, and political winds that his time, and also made decision both great and bad for the nation.

You are watching: Historians rank presidents best to worst

How deserve to historians wring order native the chaos? It helps to start with a list. Since 2000, in ~ the end of every administration, C-SPAN has asked a team of presidential scholars to rank each U.S. President on a scale of 1 (least effective) come 10 (most effective) in ten areas: windy persuasion, crisis leadership, financial management, moral authority, international relations, governmental skills, relations with Congress, vision/setting an agenda, search of same justice because that all and also performance within the context of the times.

These anonymized scores are then averaged to develop a list of presidents ranked from best to worst. The fourth such report card, published this week, considers all 44 presidents no much longer in office: native George Washington, who maintained his number 2 position, come Donald J. Trump, that debuted at a dismal 41st place.

Trump was no ranked worst overall, though part historians, such as survey participant and NYU historian Tim Naftali, argued he need to be. The 45th president earned his highest scores in “public persuasion”; in the categories because that “moral authority” and also “administrative skills,” that ranked last.

As Gillian Brockell notes because that the Washington Post, Trump to win out just three people: Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan, who came in dead last. All 3 men have been extensively condemned by chroniclers for severely mishandling the beginnings and results of the civil War, the worst dilemm in nationwide history, as Jeremy Stahl writes for Slate.

Buchanan’s “disastrous” presidency and failure to challenge the budding Confederacy brought about secession and also civil war, every Slate. as journalist Robert W. Merry told Smithsonian magazine’s Megan Gambino in 2012, the 15th president exacerbated recurring debates around slavery, to the point that that “festered and got worse.”

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historians ranked chairman James Buchanan critical in this year"s C-SPAN presidential survey, i beg your pardon orders presidents from ideal to worst. NPG

By comparison, Buchanan’s successor, Abraham Lincoln, preserved his chop grip on the height spot because that leading the country through the polite War and abolishing slavery. He is the standalone figure in a string of worst-ranked presidents that stretches from 1837 come 1869, notes the Post.

In general, time tends to it is in on the next of presidents choose Ronald Reagan and also Dwight Eisenhower, that were unpopular with chroniclers at the moment of leaving office however are extremely ranked ~ above 2021’s survey, as participant and Lyndon Johnson chronicler Mark K. Updegrove points out in a New York Times op-ed. Through regards to recent presidents, George W. Shrub debuted at 36th ar in 2009 but jumped 7 places this year come spot 29; and also Barack Obama climbed two spots come break into the optimal 10 presidents this year.

Ulysses S. Grant likewise seems to be on track for a sort of redemption: He increased 13 places to number 20 this year, a jump the Brockell of the Post attributes in component to a spate of sympathetic biographies that give him much more credit because that the Reconstruction.

“Grant is having his Hamilton moment,” quipped Rice college historian and survey adviser Douglas Brinkley in the C-SPAN statement.

New information and also shifting social mores can additionally have the opposite impact on a president’s reputation, every Updegrove in the Times. Andrew Jackson fell from number 13 to number 22 this year, possibly a authorize that historians are acquisition his well-documented role as the engineer of a genocide against Native Americans more seriously.

The C-SPAN list is not definitive or even scientific. The perform of surveyed scholar has adjusted from year come year, together Rachel Katz, survey project coordinator, speak the network’s Pedro Echevarria in one interview. Rather, the results have the right to serve as a springboard into deeper discussions around what makes a effective leader and also the tricky task of assessing historical figures.

is a means to start a conversation, get human being talking about it, get them thinking around what provides for a great president,” Katz adds.

Ulysses S. Give came in 20th place. NPG

This year, C-SPAN sent out survey packets to a swimming pool of 142 historians or “professional observers” that the presidency. Contrasted to 2017’s selection of 91 scholars, this group was selected with an eye toward “reflecting new diversity in race, gender, age and also philosophy,” per a C-SPAN statement.

Yet also with an increased group that scholars, prejudices endure. At the very least 12 guys on the list enslaved people during their lifetimes, consisting of Washington, Grant, thomas Jefferson (ranked 7th) and James Monroe (ranked 12th).

“Despite the truth that we’ve become an ext aware the the historical implications of racial injustice in this country and we’re proceeding to grapple v those issues, we still have slaveholding presidents in ~ or near the height of the list,” stated Howard university historian and also survey torture Edna Greene Medford in the statement.

“So also though we may be a bit an ext enlightened about race today, we space still discounting its definition when assessing these presidents,” Medford adds.

Alexis Coe, a biographer that Washington invite to get involved in the survey for the first time in 2021, composed in her newsletter Study Marry death that chroniclers were provided “months” to take into consideration their ratings. She “agonized” over some decisions, such as exactly how to measure up the scandals the Warren G. Harding against the poor choices the made in his an individual life.

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Even Lincoln, who chroniclers ranked first in the “moral authority” classification this year, was far from perfect. Amongst other faults, that espoused racist views and also was no a full-throated supporter of equality for African Americans.