Presidents Day: Professors pick the best, worst presidents

Historians in the News

Like most professions, presidents vary in quality. There are the good, the bad and the forgettable. But who is the best? The worst? And just how does Pennsylvania’s James Buchanan stack up?

Professors at colleges around the midstate shared their opinions. While the majority of history professors named Lincoln as the best overall, when it came to judging for economic, homeland security or international issues, his name is absent from the “best” or “worst” slot.

Here are the verdicts of the professors interviewed.

The best

Abraham Lincoln

“Most scholars would say he faced the most awesome challenges and handled them in a way that was as good as it can possibly get. Lincoln’s ability to manage a war to a successful conclusion, a very complex and bloody war, and to redefine the meaning of America — that’s pretty good stuff.” — Michael J. Birkner, professor of history at Gettysburg College.

“Lincoln was both the greatest communicator and also the best decision-maker. He was responsible for saving the union more than any other individual. He created a series of speeches and letters that explain American civic life more than anyone else has ever done.” — Matthew Pinsker, professor of history at Dickinson College.

“Lincoln is the best. The Civil War — that’s the crisis in American history. And the more you study him, the more you realize he could have let the nation fall apart.” — Peter Levy, professor of history at York College.

“I would put him No. 1 in the sense that there are probably other people who could have gotten the country off on the right foot the way Washington did. But it’s hard to imagine anybody as capable as Lincoln in the Civil War.” — James Broussard, professor of history at Lebanon Valley College....

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