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. Jim

    They're being too kind. He belongs at the very bottom.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. Independent Paul

    While I agree that Bush should be given years before his legacy is determined (ask Truman), I can guarantee that he wasn't worse then Carter.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  3. Charles

    Not only will time cause W's ranking to slide even farther, it will cause Clinton's to rise. I seem to remember Reagan's ranking was much higher 10 years ago. Talk about "trickle-down."

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  4. Maggie

    The 7th worst? Really?

    I'd have thought he'd have made the top 3 at least.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  5. Jerry Kelly

    Buchanan did not try to destroy the Constitution or end the rule of law. Bush went out of his way to do both. Bush is the worst president this country has ever had, and proof that you should never elect an amoral moron to any office. Especially not the Presidency.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  6. Blinker

    jimmy carter at 25th?! he was the most disappointing president!

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  7. Steve

    It's difficult to imagine any president worse than Bush; maybe he just seems worse because we had to live through his presidency. Depressing.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  8. Terry for Obama

    I think they are right. I don't hate President Bush. I respect somebody that can stand up for their beliefs and fight for them. But yet he has been one of the worst Presidents in the history of this country. It is entirely his fault, with regard to the economy. President Obama has already stood up and said, "I screwed up" with regard to the Daschle appointment. That takes integrity to admit that you were wrong. George Bush never apologized for anything or admitted that he was wrong for anything. History will not be kind to him.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  9. Justin from New Haven, CT

    Chris February 16th, 2009 11:16 am ET

    This is a waste of time. You cannot judge a president until after he has been out of office for at least 8 years. These historians are nothing more than socialist liberals

    Oh yeah because socialists really love Ronald Reagan (who is at #10). Give me a break, chump.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  10. cody

    how in the world would Bill Clinton go down as a better President than Reagan. Come on...

    Yes its way too early for this kind of survey.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  11. Dee Nimetz

    WOW! He lucked out~~~they should have asked ME.

    February 16, 2009 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  12. Ben from Canada

    I'm sure across the world you'll have a hard time finding someone who would like to see Bush still in the Whitehouse, but it's way too early to judge on a scale like that. We're gunna have to wait at least a couple decades – let the next generation be the judge. Everyone alive during the Bush admin will have a subjective opinion.

    February 16, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  13. linda

    Leave it to academia to judge Bush within a 4 week period. Facts about his administration unknown to the public will take years to surface. The economic aspect relates directly to Mr Clinton and Mr Carter's terms. Me personally, I'll wait another 10 to 20 years after the facts are available. as history has showed. Do you honestly think we are privy to all information inspite of what the media wants us to believe?

    February 16, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  14. Ted Filmore

    If "W" is the 7th worst, I'd love to know the story of the 6 below him. To be worse than George W is some feat. Historically, I just judge by where he started in 2000 and how he left the Whitehouse in 2008. It pretty much speaks for itself. He was actually so bad and left such a mess, I don't want Obama to blame him if he can't get any results going forward...

    Although a monumental task lies ahead.

    February 16, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  15. Andrea

    Hahaha serves him right.

    February 16, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  16. art

    36th worst out of 43. Are you kidding me? That's to kind for for him.

    February 16, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  17. Jennifer

    I think the historians are being VERY generous indeed.

    February 16, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  18. chuck

    It seems to me that anytime there is a thing that is discussed the conservatives are always crying about socialist and liberals. If everybody is against conservatives why don't they leave the country and form a new nation. They have the constitutional right to do so.

    February 16, 2009 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  19. Sharon

    Ronald Reagan 10th??? You should read the book "Tear DownThis Myth....How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future" by Will Bunch!!! He stunk! And W. should be on the Top Ten List of Worst Criminal Presidents!!

    February 16, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  20. Art S.

    How do they know how he will be judged decades from now. This is just another cheap shot against a Republican President.

    I am sure they think Obama will be a right up there with Lincoln after only 3 weeks!

    February 16, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  21. Indiana Voter

    That is because they are voting with emotion. You can't really be objective until he has been out of office for years and years, far detached from current events. Plus, when looking at the last time they did this "survey," they all ranked differently.

    February 16, 2009 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  22. Steve

    No surprise that W ranks among the worst presidents in U.S. history.

    Injected politics and ideology into every government agency; launched a war under misleading pretenses and then bungled its aftermath; consistently favored big business at the expense of the consumer and environment; presided over a huge financial meltdown; polarized the nation to unprecendented levels; ran up record deficits; showed a total lack of leadership in the federal government's response to Katrina, relied on fear to manipulate congress and the American people to support his domestic and foreign policy actions; severely diminshed America's moral and political standing in the world, and showed total disdain for the American constitution to which he was sworn to protect.

    Ranked as the seventh worst president? History's verdict will no doubt be even harsher.

    February 16, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  23. Victoria

    Well chris take a bath in some piss this was the worst president ever. What if you were left without clean running water and no home. You need to reevaluate this president. That goes for Joe in Austin also!

    February 16, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  24. Dave in DC

    Historians? Any historian worth anything would wait to make a judgment like this. To say Jimmy Carter is twenty fifth shows these fools don't know what they speak about.

    As for Dutch in the Hamptons, partisan poison darkens clear mine to judge.

    February 16, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  25. H Holcomb

    I Personally think Geo Bush is #1 worst president. And His dad was
    #2 worst. They were both bad presidents.
    Pres William Jefferson Clinton was much better than he is getting credit!

    February 16, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
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