The best US presidents, as ranked by presidential historians

#2, #7, #4, and #1.
#2, #7, #4, and #1.
Image: NPS/Reuters
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Abraham Lincoln remains America’s best president, if the opinion of presidential historians is anything to go by. In C-SPAN’s latest survey of presidential leadership (pdf), which polled 91 presidential historians, Lincoln retained “top billing” as the country’s most esteemed leader. James Buchanan came in last place, beating out William Henry Harrison, who only served for 31 days.

In his first appearance in the survey, last conducted in 2009, Barack Obama was ranked 12th, sandwiched between Woodrow Wilson and James Monroe. George W. Bush “benefitted somewhat from the passing of the years,” moving to #33 from #36 in 2009.

The survey ranked the former leaders on 10 ”attributes of leadership.” These ranged from the moral categories of ”crisis leadership,” “moral authority,” “pursued equal justice for all,” to the more technical ones of “economic management,” “administrative skills,” “performance within context of times,” and “setting an agenda,” and included relations with the public, Congress, and other governments.

“The golden age of the American presidency, according to this survey, is 1933-1969,” writes presidential scholar Richard Norton Smith. “Five presidents from this era each rank in the top 10 which tells you something about the criteria that historians tend to use. It reinforces Franklin Roosevelt’s claim to be not only the first modern president but the man who, in reinventing the office, also established the criteria by which we judge our leaders.”

Here is the full ranking of US presidents from the latest survey, which you can read more about at this link.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said Barack Obama was ranked 13th in the survey. He was ranked 12th.