How should we rank America’s presidents? C-SPAN asked ninety-one “professional observers of the presidency,” including historians Douglas Brinkley, Edward Crapol, Robert Dallek, Annette Gordon-Reed, Allen Guelzo, David Kennedy, and Walter McDougall. Each participant ranked our previous chief executives in ten equally weighted categories. You can find the full results here, but a few highlights:
• The top four remained unchanged from 2009, the last time a presidential transition prompted this survey: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt.
• The bottom three is also the same: James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, and Franklin Pierce, with Buchanan claiming the lowest rating in seven of the 10 categories.
• Dwight Eisenhower made the biggest move, jumping from #8 to #5, with John F. Kennedy dropping two spots (to #8) and Harry Truman one (to #6).
• Apparently the impact of Hamilton on historians has been overstated, since its less-than-flattering characterizations of them didn’t hurt either Thomas Jefferson (steady at #7) or James Madison (up three to #17).
• I wonder if the 2016 election had presidential scholars rethinking the merits of the populist Andrew Jackson, whose five-spot drop was largest in the pool. (Though he still stayed in the top 20.) By the same token, it’s worth pointing out that the last Republican president before the current officeholder gained three spots and climbed out of the bottom ten.
• Other presidents falling significantly in the rankings: John Tyler (#35 to #39), Gerald Ford (#22 to #25), Martin Van Buren (#31 to #34), Chester Arthur (#32 to #35).
Then here are ten categories, with the top- and bottom-rated presidents and those whose status rose or sank the most since the 2009 survey:
|Category||Top-Rated||Largest Gain||Bottom-Rated||Largest Drop|
|Administrative Skill||Lincoln||Madison, Taft, L.B. Johnson (+5)||A. Johnson||Jackson, Van Buren (-5)|
|Crisis Leadership||Lincoln||Reagan (+4)||Buchanan||Ford (-5)|
|Economic Management||Washington||Grant (+5)||Hoover||Tyler (-8)|
|International Relations||F.D. Roosevelt||Madison (+9)||Buchanan||Hoover (-6)|
|Moral Authority||Washington||J.Q. Adams, Grant (+4)||Buchanan||Ford (-10)|
|Performance within Context of Times||Washington||Grant, Hayes, Garfield (+4)||Buchanan||Arthur (-5)|
|Pursued Equal Justice for All||Lincoln||G.W. Bush (+5)||Buchanan||Wilson (-8)|
|Public Persuasion||F.D. Roosevelt||G.W. Bush (+11)||Buchanan||Ford (-11)|
|Relations with Congress||L.B. Johnson||G.W. Bush (+9)||A. Johnson||Jackson (-7)|
|Vision/Setting an Agenda||Lincoln||G.H.W. Bush (+7)||Buchanan||Taylor (-6)|