Results are in: Historians Elect Lincoln


The last photograph taken of Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime.
The last photograph taken of Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime.
AP Photo/Alexander Gardner

After the United States elected Barack Obama as its 43rd president, Historians went to the polls to pick their favorites of the last 42. The television network C-SPAN tabulated surveys from 65 presidential historians who graded each former president on scale of 1-10 on ten different factors, including "Crisis Leadership," "Pursued Equal Justice for All" and "Performance Within Context of His Times."

After all the scores were averaged, Abraham Lincoln emerged victorious, receiving the highest marks. Next came George Washington at number two, followed by Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman. George W. Bush entered the ranks at 36.

This was the second time C-SPAN conducted their survey (the last time being in 2000), and the second time Lincoln won. Compared to the first poll, historians seem to be looking at a few presidents in a kinder light. Those who climbed in rankings include Bill Clinton (21 to 15) and the elder Bush (20 to 18). Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter fell from 22 to 25.

Hindsight's interrogative light is usually too bright to be flattering. It's testament to Lincoln's political brilliance that he was able to preserve the Union during the crisis of the Civil War -- all the while making ethically gray decisions and juggling the question of slavery -- and yet still come out relatively unscathed from historians' harsh scrutiny.

More than anything else, how a president deals with a national crisis, whether it's the Civil War or 9/11, dictates his historical reputation. It'll be interesting to see how George W. Bush fares in the years to come. Will distance make the heart grow fonder?

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