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Historians Rank Abraham Lincoln #1 in Presidential Leadership

By David J. Kent

Washington D.C.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Abraham Lincoln is #1. Again.

C-SPAN began surveying historians, professors, and other professional observers of the presidency back in the year 2000. They have repeated the survey following changes of administration in 2009, 2017, and 2021. This year's advisory teams includes Lincoln Group member Edna Greene Medford, along with Douglas Brinkley, Richard Norton Smith, and Amity Shlaes. This year 147 participants completed the survey, and the result wasn't even close.

The survey asks participants to rate each president on a scale from 1 (not effective) to 10 (very effective) for ten qualities of presidential leadership: Public Persuasion, Crisis Leadership, Economic Management, Moral Authority, International Relations, Administrative Skills, Relations with Congress, Vision/Setting an Agenda, Pursued Equal Justice for All, and Performance Within the Context of the Times.

As can be seen, Abraham Lincoln comes in as the top choice, overwhelmingly beating the next two challengers of George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lincoln has placed first in every one of the surveys C-SPAN has conducted beginning in 2000. While more recent presidents tend to be more fluid in their position until enough time has passed for a historical perspective, former President Barack Obama came in at #10. The current president, Joe Biden, is not eligible for the survey until he is out of office.

The full list is shown here. Here are the bottom five:

Like the top, the bottom has been relatively consistent over time. James Buchanan, the president immediately before Lincoln and who did nothing to stop the Civil War, is usually ranked as the nation's worst president. Andrew Johnson, who followed Lincoln and the first to be impeached, is close behind. Donald Trump managed to come in fourth from worst in his initial entrance to the survey.

The fact that historians consistently consider Abraham Lincoln to be our greatest president reflects similar polls done among the general public. Both of today's major parties claim the mantle of Lincoln. There is a reason for that. Check out our resource page for essays on "Why We Honor Lincoln."


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