February 16th, 2009
02:50 PM ET
5 years ago

Lincoln wins: Honest Abe tops new presidential survey

 Historians have ranked Bush the seventh worst president.
Historians have ranked Bush the seventh worst president.

(CNN) – It's been 145 years since he appeared on a ballot, but America's admiration for the man who saved the union and sparked the end of slavery is stronger than ever, according to a new presidential survey.

Abraham Lincoln finished first in a ranking by historians of the 42 former White House occupants released over Presidents Day weekend.

The news wasn't quite as good for the latest addition to the nation's most exclusive fraternity; George W. Bush finished 36th in the survey, narrowly edging out the likes of historical also-rans Millard Fillmore, Warren Harding and Franklin Pierce.

James Buchanan - the man who watched helplessly as the nation lurched toward civil war in the 1850s - finished last.

"As much as is possible, we created a poll that was non-partisan, judicious and fair minded," said Rice University professor Douglas Brinkley, who helped organize the survey of 65 historians for cable television network C-SPAN.

The survey - which asked participants to rank each president on 10 qualities of leadership ranging from public persuasion and economic management to international relations and moral authority - was the network's second since 2000.

The hero of Springfield, Illinois, finished first nine years ago as well.

"It's fitting that for the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln that he remains at the top of these presidential rankings," Brinkley said.

"Lincoln continues to rank at the top in all categories because he is perceived to embody the nation's avowed core values: integrity, moderation, persistence in the pursuit of honorable goals, respect for human rights, compassion," Howard University's Edna Medford added.

Founding father George Washington finished second in the new survey, followed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, in that order.

Bill Clinton registered the greatest gain among recent presidents, jumping from 21st to 15th in the survey. Ronald Reagan edged forward from 11th to 10th overall, while George H.W. Bush moved up from 20th to 18th.

The prize for the greatest jump in approval from historians over the last nine years, however, went to a president who has often sat near the bottom of such rankings: Ulysses S. Grant. The Civil War general jumped 10 notches, from 33rd to 23rd.

"Bill Clinton and Ulysses S. Grant aren't often mentioned in the same sentence - until now," historian Richard Norton Smith said. "Participants in the latest (survey) have boosted each man significantly higher than in the original survey conducted in 2000. All of which goes to show two things: the fluidity with which presidential reputations are judged, and the difficulty of assessing any president who has only just recently left office."


Filed under: President Bush
soundoff (127 Responses)
  1. Scott, Tucson

    Come 2012 when we had four years of Obama and his Nationalist-Socialist programs and do nothing Change... he would be making Bush look pretty good.

    February 16, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  2. Ray Ray

    I wonder if the 60 historians fall into the same category as 90% of all "journalists"?? (Democrat)

    February 16, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  3. henry in tx

    yes, wait 10 to 20 years to get a more objective assessment. there's no way there were 6 people that were worse than bush.

    February 16, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  4. J Davis

    I disagree with their ranking of Bush...I think he should be rated the absolute worst President in U.S. history.

    February 16, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  5. chuck

    IN MY MIND ,AS CLEARLY AS POSSIBLE GEORGE W BUSH WAS THE WORST PRESIDENT IN AMERICAN HISTORY. HE WAS A DICTATOR WITH HIS BUDDY DICK CHENEY .

    February 16, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  6. Anonymous

    I would love to know why CNN is posting such a sided story from a source like "C-SPAN"....I would love to see the so called "historians" who are already determining a president's legacy one month after being out of office. REal historians actually wait to make such determinations.

    February 16, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  7. Rob Love

    Bad presidents don't get elected to two terms! He's just being blamed for the economy...wait a minute who controlled congress???

    February 16, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  8. Mike S.

    Chris, I feel sorry for you. It must be depressing to go through life constantly paranoid and thinking the worst about people. Not everyone is a socialist liberal out to re-write history.

    February 16, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  9. Obama - NOPE

    I wish he could have served a 3rd term in office.

    February 16, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  10. USNinja

    Abraham Lincoln the best? That's probably because we now live in the Federal States of America, rather than the United States of America like what George Washington and Thomas Jefferson tried to achieve.

    February 16, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  11. jack debrot, new york, new york

    your "surveys" are propaganda and bunk, pure and simple. this one is like your previous survey of "3,000" respondents which was trumpeted by you as showing that most of of the country was eager for president bush to leave office. who were the "historians" whom you surveyed this time? probably a bunch of left liberals.

    February 16, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  12. Marc L

    I am surprised at the short sightedness of these historians. I figured, that of all people, historians were the ones who understood that the legacy of a President takes years to develop. Truman is a perfect example. There is no way what so ever to accurately rate President Bush's legacy right now. A President's legacy is not determined by emotion. It is determined by facts, and the fact is, we don't have all of the facts on the Bush years. We have feelings. We have media reports feeding those feelings, but we don't have all of the facts. And we don't yet know the final outcome of many of his policies. Maybe these historians just want some attention. I don't know, but I just wonder if there are any objective minds left in this Nation.

    February 16, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  13. John

    I agree that judgement should wait a bit longer. I am sure he will then claim his rightful place as the worst

    February 16, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  14. eric

    definitely should wait a good 8-10 years or so.... THEN put Bush on the bottom of the list where he belongs.

    February 16, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  15. Bryan

    That is much much to high for Reagan and Bush Jr. I guess if you ruin an economy it gets you points with historians these days. Both of these men did their best to get us where we are today and we (the American people) suffer for their incompetence.

    February 16, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  16. Cleaning up after W

    Wait a second...I'm about to channel my inner conservative....OK. I'm ready....

    THOSE HISTORIANS ARE A BUNCH OF MAIN-STREAM MEDIA LIBERALS! HOW DARE THEY?!? REAGAN AND DUBYA SHOULD BE TIED FOR #1!!! JIMMY CARTER SHOULD BE LAST! IT'S ALL GOTCHA POLITICS! DEMOCRATS ARE ALL SOCIALISTS AND NONE OF THEM WANT TO WORK!!!

    There, how's that? Whew, that tired me out.

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  17. Wishy-washy people

    When more bad news rolls in and after the next terrorist strike, people will long for the relative security of the Bush years. Give him credit where it is due and stop blaming Bush for the corrupt morals of society at large.

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  18. LUISA FROM NYC NOW IN MD

    WHERE IS THE "SURPRISE!!" FACTOR IN THIS MOST OBVIOUS OF STATEMENTS?????

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  19. funnyCNN

    I could not believe that a media could be more bias than CNN.
    Maybe you could have another report or survey claiming that obama is the greatest one in US history next week.
    I am very disspointted by u, CNN

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  20. Brian

    That's right all you conservative boneheads... presidential historians are all morons and "socialist" liberals because they actually KNOW SOMETHING. Typical republican defense. The crusade against intelligence goes on, as it was championed by this clown for eight years.

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  21. Sensible Joe

    Yesterday or 20 years from now, rotten fish is still going to be rotten. Economically, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally, Bush's performance as president was bad. That's the reality of it, and it's not going to change.

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  22. Neicey in Ohio

    I agree with the historians Ha-Ha... THAT'S FUNNY.

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  23. Billy

    Its not too early to judge G.War.Bush he is the worst president in the american history.Without any survey or poll one can tell he is the BS president MF president of american history

    February 16, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  24. Marc

    None of them was perfect, even Lincoln and washington had their share of bad decisions and moments, but isn't it a bit too early? I mean, GWB was a disgrace (no doubts about it) but he's been out of office for less than a month!
    It's very unlikely he'll have a comeback like Truman had (even if we wait for... say... 50 years!), but still, it's too early.

    February 16, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  25. Nakita

    Apparently, the media needs to keep printing stories about Bush to distract us from the mess his successor is making.

    February 16, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
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