As the author of biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, I was invited to be one of 91 presidential historians and commentators to participate in C-SPAN’s 2017 Historical Survey of Presidential Leadership. Two previous surveys were published in 2009 and 2000. We ranked the 43 occupants of the presidential office on 10 attributes of leadership: “Public Persuasion,” “Crisis Leadership,” “Economic Management,” “Moral Authority,” “International Relations,” “Administrative Skills,” “Relations with Congress,” “Vision/Setting An Agenda,” “Pursued Equal Justice for All,” and “Performance Within the Context of His Times.”

This years’ C-SPAN Presidential Historians Survey included for the first time Barack Obama, who was ranked #12th. As a historian, I think it not possible to rank presidents who recently completed their term of service.

What surprises or insights did this year’s rankings produce?

Of special interest for me was the ranking of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Lincoln, to no one’s surprise, ranked #1 as he did in the two previous C-SPAN surveys.

A major purpose of writing AMERICAN ULYSSES was to advocate for an upgrade for Grant. In 2000 Grant was ranked #33. He ranked #23 in 2009. For 2017 he moved up one rank to #21, but actually, one more rank since Barak Obama was added to the rankings for the first time.

It is especially noteworthy that Grant ranked 10th of 43 presidents in the category “Pursued Justice For All.” I emphasize Grant’s vigorous defense of the rights of African-Americans against the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and other White League movements. Grant won the popular vote for President in 1868 only with the more than 400,000 votes of African-Americans. The Klan and their Democratic Party allies practiced an early form of voter suppression. They knew that the recently freed African-Americans would vote overwhelmingly Republican.

I commend the C-Span Historians Survey of Presidential Leadership to you.

To see the survey results visit

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