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How Do Historians Rate Former U.S. Presidents?

Updated May 16, 2024
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Becoming the president of the United States is one of the world's greatest accomplishments, but it loses a lot of luster when you get ranked as one of the worst in history.

C-SPAN recently surveyed 142 historians who are experts in presidential matters to find out how they rate the nation's former presidents. Interestingly enough, the top four (Lincoln, Washington, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt) haven't changed since 2009, and neither have the three lowest-ranking presidents (Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan).

The infamous spot at the very bottom of the list belongs to Buchanan, who has long been criticized for not doing more to prevent the U.S. Civil War. Just above Buchanan was Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached, followed by Franklin Pierce, who was in charge when 55 people were killed during fighting between pro- and anti-slavery forces in the "Bleeding Kansas" episode.

For the record, Donald Trump ranked as the fourth-worst president on this admittedly informal survey.

More about the bottom three commanders-in-chief:

  • James Buchanan was the only U.S. president to remain a bachelor.

  • Andrew Johnson had no formal education, choosing to work rather than go to school.

  • Franklin Pierce wasn't sworn in during his inauguration, but instead "promised" to fulfill his duties as president.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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