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

Lincoln wins: Honest Abe tops new presidential survey

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/16/art.bush1.gi.jpg caption=" 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. Ted

    Just wait until Obama's term is over and Bush will look real good.

    February 16, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  2. Sensible Joe

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

    February 16, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  3. Steve, Chelsea, MI

    Give it time. Reagan and GWB will rank lower as history judges them better.

    February 16, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  4. Lisa in Naples

    I agree with Joe in Austin. Lets wait 20 years to judge "W". By then he will be the very bottom of the list. Putting him at 36 is way to high.

    February 16, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  5. demwit

    60 historians put Abraham Linclon at the top for freeing 4 million from the tryanny of a oppression government.

    Yet the same 60 put Bush near the bottom..., the man that accomplished 14 times more than Lincoln??

    February 16, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  6. Jenny

    We are now seeing the effects of Clinton's administration and foreign policies and he's #15? What a joke... Definitely way to early to tell.

    February 16, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  7. bill


    February 16, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |

    I saw this coming!

    February 16, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  9. Tom

    Hit the nail on the head, although Bush should be lower and Clinton should be higher. Why wait 10 to 20 years for what all Americans know is true or have you not been paying for those last 8 years

    February 16, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  10. The Truth

    The fact that Jimmy Carter was not dead last tells you that this is just a political hack job.

    February 16, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  11. Jane

    Socialist Liberals, lol! Wow and they named Regan as 10th good lord Chris, please clean out your head for a few seconds. Sorry to say but I am a republican and I too believe W will not recieve high marks. He did not stay true to his party values. Anyone who calls out the teacher because they made an F on the test is usually the real problem. I recall many of those types in my school days. The fact of the matter is, Bush 2 was not a great President, you don't need 1, 2, 20 or 100 years to understand this. I lived through him myself like others before him and I am 55 years old.

    February 16, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  12. Dominic

    Better than I thought it would be for him. I thought he would be at the very bottom. Oh that's right we were safe so that should give him a better place in history isn't that what Republicans say right? Well he was in office for a year and the worst attack on American soil ever happened. People seem to forget that he was in office for a while when Sep 11 happened so all you Bushies go pound sand when you say he kept us safe He is between the Iraq war and 9-11 responsible for about 10000 Americans lives and God only knows how many Iraqi civilian's as well. ............7th shoot how about #1 worst ever!!!!!!

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  13. obama-mama

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha......

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  14. Kenneth

    When policies go into effect they don't start impacting the country right away. It takes years to see the results. Clinton had a great presidency because of things that Reagan did. Bush had a bad presidency because of things that Clinton did.

    If Iraq and Afghanistan become democratic societies and peace and democracy spreads throughout the middle east Bush could be considered one of the greatest presidents of all time. I believe that Bush knows this and he did what he thought would be best for the world and not just America. What happens in the rest of the world does affect America.

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  15. Proud American

    Republicans are a joke, there now saying you have to wait 10 to 20 years to judge a former president. Even a Idiot knew Bush was the worst president in our history, why would anyone have to wait 10 years to say what's all ready known?

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  16. Bill

    LOL. Whether it's now or 20 years from now, Bush will certainly be a candidate for the worst president in US history. As events of the past unfold in the next several years even Bush's biggest supporters will be hard pressed to defend his record. This man should be in prison along with Cheney and Rove.

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  17. demwit

    I wonder if these hisotians are from the same progressive schools whose economic professors are now saying that deficit spending is good for America..

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  18. Stephen


    Are you kidding? You think Clinton was better than Reagan...you must be drinking the cool-aid. Reagan led the US to the best economic period ever...which came right after President 25 (who should be 43), Carter, who led us to 13% interest rates and over 18% unemployment. That's the liberal policy. Clinton is just as culpable as Bush for this economic crisis. He began the policies that Bush couldn't get rid of, such as mandatory minority lending. C'mon, nobody saw that making banks loan money to a certain faction of people regardless of credit risk was going to be a problem.

    Think about things before you say them.

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  19. Larry

    Poor Mr. Bush...catching it from all directions...

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  20. Paul, CA

    Move over Mr. Buchanan, here comes BHO!!!!!

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  21. David

    On a list of Presidents ranked by I.Q., George W. Bush would be at the bottom.

    Actually, George W. Bush should not even be on any list of Presidents because, he is a War Criminal, responsible for the death of 4000 US Troops.

    February 16, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  22. mh

    Chris, do you know the difference between a socialist and a liberal? Obviously not. Stop calling names and get an education.

    February 16, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  23. Mike Jurkovic

    Does it matter? Must everything be an E Best Of list or a VH! Topp 100 list? It only shows that Bush managed to do what he set out to do: Dumb down America,

    February 16, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  24. Independent chicago man age 25

    This is funny and i'm actually not surprised he rated that low, but I do believe it may be to early to judge. I definately wouldn't say that the historians are socialist liberals because I would think that there is some sort of metrix that they go on, i mean it's not just heresay.

    February 16, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  25. KC

    Ahh....just more liberalism at its best. Tired of yellow-dog journalism. CNN, try something new. Try reporting the news without a spin.

    February 16, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
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