Survey of historians: Lincoln still best president

Barack Obama ranked 12th best US president in a survey released Friday of presidential historians from C-SPAN, the public affairs broadcasting network.

Obama ranked 12th on the list of 43 former commanders in chief, placing between Woodrow Wilson (No. 11) and James Monroe (No. 12) [sic]. Abraham Lincoln took the top spot, followed by George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt.

The 10 categories were public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, worldwide relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision/setting an agenda, pursued equal justice for all and performance within context of times. Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt retained their top five positions and were joined by Dwight Eisenhower for the first time in the top five.

C-SPAN president Rob Kennedy noted that Jackson's demotion comes after a high-profile debate about whether Jackson should remain on the $20 bill, but also after a new wave of scholarship about the less savory aspects of his presidency, particularly the Indian Removal Act that paved the way for the deadly "Trail of Tears".

"Five presidents from this era each rank in the top 10 which tells you something about the criteria that historians tend to use".

"That Obama came in at number 12 his first time out is quite impressive", he said in a press release cited by Politico.

The 44th president's lowest mark is for his relationship with Congress. Historians ranked him 39th, ahead of only a few others including former presidents Franklin Pierce and Andrew Johnson, who was ranked last. Notably, his leadership category ratings range from No. 3 for "Pursued Equal Justice for All" to No. 39 for "Relations with Congress". But he was bested by his father, George H.W. Bush, who ranked 20th.

However, Edna Greene Medford of Howard University, another adviser, said she would have expected Obama to rank higher, given his high approval ratings when he left office in January, that his administration had been close to scandal-free and his role in steering the economy back from the brink after the financial crisis.

Also of note was the biggest "loser" of the survey, Andrew Jackson, who dropped five places since 2009, from 13th to 18th.

"Of course", she added, "historians prefer to view the past from a distance, and only time will reveal his legacy". The median president rated by the panel of historians is Ulysses S. Grant, who ranks 22nd.

Historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University says that Obama's presidency, despite its weak points, may age well and notch an even higher ranking as time passes.

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