These are the top 20 US presidents (and why you won’t find Trump on the list)

Historians say Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and FDR were the top 3 US presidents.

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Historians say Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and FDR were the top 3 US presidents.
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Getty Images

  • Abraham Lincoln was voted the best US president in a survey.
  • Nearly 100 historians and biographers rated 43 US presidents on 10 qualities of presidential leadership.
  • Notable best presidents include George Washington at No. 2, Thomas Jefferson at No. 7, and Barack Obama at No. 12.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Historians agree: Abraham Lincoln was the best US president.

For C-SPAN’s third Presidential Historians Survey in 2017, nearly 100 historians and biographers rated 43 US presidents. The survey is released after a sitting president’s term, so C-SPAN will likely include current President Donald Trump in the ranking only after he leaves office.

The survey measures 10 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.

Read more: 50 maps that explain how America lives, spends, and believes

Scores in each category were then averaged, and the 10 categories were given equal weighting in determining the presidents’ total scores.

Notable top commander-in-chiefs include George Washington at No. 2, Thomas Jefferson at No. 7, and Barack Obama at No. 12.

While some historians weren’t shocked that Obama didn’t rank higher overall on the list – “That Obama came in at No. 12 his first time out is quite impressive,” Douglas Brinkley of Rice University said – 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.

Here are the top 20 presidents, according to historians surveyed by C-SPAN.


20. George H. W. Bush (41st president) ranked high in how he handled international relations.

Bush conducted military operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf during his tenure.


19. John Adams (second president) ranked highly for his “moral authority.”

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Wikimedia Commons

18. Andrew Jackson (seventh president) had strong public persuasion during his tenure, according to historians.

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Wikimedia Commons

Jackson’s supporters helped found the Democratic party after he lost the 1824 presidential election, despite getting the popular vote.


17. James Madison (fourth president) ranked highly for moral authority.

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Wikimedia Commons

James Madison drafted and helped ratify the Bill of Rights before becoming president.


16. William McKinley Jr. (25th president) ranked highly for his relations with Congress.

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Public domain

With the help of Congress, McKinley passed the Dingley Act, the highest protective tariff in US history.


15. Bill Clinton (42nd president) ranked high for economic management.


14. James K. Polk (11th president) ranked highly for his crisis leadership and administrative skills.

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Wikimedia Commons

Polk led the US to victory in the two-year Mexican-American War.


13. James Monroe (fifth president) ranked highly for his handling of international relations.

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Wikimedia Commons

The president lent his name to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted Latin America was under the US’s sphere of influence.


12. Barack Obama (44th president) ranked highly for his pursuit of equal justice for all.

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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.


11. Woodrow Wilson (28th president) ranked highly for his “vision,” according to historians.

Wilson led the country during World War I and was instrumental in crafting the League of Nations, a precursor the United Nations.


10. Lyndon B. Johnson (36th president) ranked highly for his relations with Congress.

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Wikimedia commons

Johnson passed legislation including Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


9. Ronald Reagan (40th president) ranked highly for his public persuasion.

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Wikimedia Commons

Domestically, Reagan is best known for cutting income taxes via two different federal laws: the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986.


8. John F. Kennedy (35th president) ranked highly for public persuasion.

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JFK Library

Kennedy became the youngest man and first Catholic elected president.


7. Thomas Jefferson (third president) ranked highly for his relations with Congress and his vision.

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Wikipedia

Jefferson vastly expanded the US borders through the Louisiana Purchase with France.


6. Harry S. Truman (33rd president) ranked highly for his crisis leadership and his pursued equal justice for all.

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Getty Images

Truman took over as president when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. He led the US through the final stages of World War II.


5. Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th president) ranked highly for his moral authority.

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Getty Images

Eisenhower founded NASA and signed a law that would create the Interstate Highway System.


4. Theodore Roosevelt (26th president) ranked highly for his public persuasion.

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Reuters

Mount Rushmore depicts Roosevelt’s face, alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.


3. Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd president) ranked highly for his public persuasion and handling of international relations.

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Wikimedia Commons

FDR is the only president to have served more than two terms, dying in April 1945 at the start of his fourth term.


2. George Washington (first president) ranks highly for his economic management, moral authority, and performance within the context of his times.

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Wikimedia Commons

Washington remains the only president to not have been affiliated with a political party during his time in office.


1. Abraham Lincoln (16th president) ranks best for his crisis leadership, administrative skills, vision, and pursued equal justice for all.

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Wikimedia

History.com calls Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address “arguably the most-quoted, most-memorized piece of oratory in American history.”