The top 20 presidents in US history, according to historians

It should come as little surprise to anyone that, for the third time in a row, historians agree that Abraham Lincoln was the best U.S. President.

But what about our newest former president?

As part of C-SPAN's third Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership, almost 100 historians and biographers rated the 43 former presidents on ten qualities of presidential leadership: Public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with congress, vision, pursued equal justice for all, and performance within the context of his times.

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Top 20 presidents in US history
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Top 20 presidents in US history

20. George H. W. Bush

Best leadership quality and rank: international relations, No. 8

19. John Adams

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 11

18. Andrew Jackson

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 7

17. James Madison

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 9

16. William McKinley Jr.

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, No. 10

15. Bill Clinton

Best leadership quality and rank: economic management, No. 3

14. James K. Polk

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership and administrative skills, both No. 9

13. James Monroe

Best leadership quality and rank: international relations, No. 7

12. Barack Obama

Best leadership quality and rank: pursued equal justice for all, No. 3

11. Woodrow Wilson

Best leadership quality and rank: vision, No. 7

10. Lyndon B. Johnson

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, No. 1

9. Ronald Reagan

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 5

8. John F. Kennedy

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 6

7. Thomas Jefferson

Best leadership quality and rank: relations with Congress, vision, both No. 5

6. Harry S. Truman

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership, pursued equal justice for all, both No. 4

5. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Best leadership quality and rank: moral authority, No. 4

4. Theodore Roosevelt

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, No. 2

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Best leadership quality and rank: public persuasion, international relations, both No. 1

2. George Washington

Best leadership quality and rank: economic management, moral authority, performance within the context of his times, all No. 1

1. Abraham Lincoln

Best leadership quality and rank: crisis leadership, administrative skills, vision, pursued equal justice for all, all No. 1

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Scores in each category were then averaged, and the ten categories were given equal weighting in determining the presidents' total scores.

Notable top presidents include George Washington at No.2, Thomas Jefferson at No. 7, and Barack Obama at No. 12. 

While some historians weren't entirely surprised Obama didn't rank higher on the list — "That Obama came in at No. 12 his first time out is quite impressive," Douglas Brinkley of Rice University says — others were surprised by his lower-than-expected leadership rankings, including No. 7 in moral authority and No. 8 in economic management.

"But, of course, historians prefer to view the past from a distance, and only time will reveal his legacy," Edna Greene Medford of Howard University said.

See Also:

SEE ALSO: Abraham Lincoln didn't finish the Gettysburg Address until just hours before he spoke — and that might be why it was so great

DON'T MISS: The 17 weirdest jobs of US presidents

SEE ALSO: 29 American presidents who served in the military

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