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Mon May 4, 2020, 10:01 AM

The Historian Eric Foner: "Buchanan did not recommend drinking Lysol.

I confess that I have a certain fondness for these polls of historians ranking Presidents. In general I more or less agree with most of them, with the exception of the rating of U.S. Grant as a poor or mediocre President. I consider Grant to have been the second greatest President of the 19th century, after Lincoln himself. (Good luck with that, NNadir!)

Yesterday on CSPAN there was a discussion between Harold Holzer, a well known expert on Abraham Lincoln, Amity Shlaes, a Calvin Coolidge scholar, moderated by Brian Lamb, designed to market the new CSPAN book on the Presidents, beginning with the top (Lincoln) and working the way down. The discussion was held in FDR's New York City Residence, now owned by Hunter College. Ms. Shlaes argued that President Coolidge deserves placement among the top 5 Presidents because of his wonderful work on the economy and budget. (Good luck with that Ms. Shlaes!)

We can, of course, in general disagree with these rankings, but it does seem there will be one case pretty clear cut:

This commentary was in Bloomberg's this morning, comparing Lincoln and, um, Trump, since Trump smeared Lincoln simply by being near his memorial:

Trump and Lincoln Are Opposite Kinds of Presidents

It concludes with the comments of the famous historian Eric Foner, of Columbia University on worst Presidents, generally taken to be James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Warren G. Harding (Coolidge was his VP who assumed office when Harding died) and John Tyler, (and let's not forget Franklin Pierce.)

The Bloomberg article concludes with this comment on Buchanan vs Trump vs Johnson.



Division and dithering: These are the chief reasons why Buchanan ranks near the bottom, and the reasons why Trump, post coronavirus, is poised to sink beneath him. Of course, some believe Trump, encumbered by corruption, has already sunk to the lowest depth of presidential history. Yet his catastrophic inaction amid the pandemic suggests he has more room to descend. I wrote Eric Foner, an expert on Reconstruction, to ask what he makes of the competition at the bottom of the presidential pile. It seems fitting to give the last word to one of America’s greatest historians.

Buchanan’s involvement in the infamous Dred Scott decision and then support for the fraudulent Lecompton Constitution certainly push him toward the bottom,” Foner wrote back. “On the other hand he refused Southern demands to recognize the legality of secession and ironically ended up as head of a northern, pro-Union administration. His annual message to Congress made a strong argument that secession is unconstitutional. I rank Andrew Johnson below him as well as our current president. Buchanan did not recommend drinking Lysol.”


The bold is mine.

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