Good news for former President James Buchanan. Buchanan, who has long been ranked by most experts in presidential history as the worst president in U.S. history, has dropped to second-worst in the latest survey of experts on the presidency and its history. I won’t mention who is the new worst, but if you can’t guess you can read it in Gail Collins’ fairly hilarious column in the New York Times. Her column is headlined “Everyone’s Better than You-Know-Who.”
For those less-steeped in presidential history, Democrat Buchanan, the 15th president, who served from 1857 to early 1861, gets his low ranking because he did nothing to deal with the crisis over slavery and the drift into Civil War.
In fact, although all the secessions of southern states occurred after the 1860 election, the first six southern states to secede did so before the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln (although all of them occurred after Lincoln’s election).
Since I’m taking the day off from referring to You-Know-Who, and since I’m a history nut, I’ll seize the occasion to make my favorite other point about Buchanan, which is that he helps make the case against too much credentialism in thinking about who would be a good president.
Buchanan ranks high, possibly at the top among presidents in terms of credentials. He served in both the U.S. House and Senate (from Pennsylvania) and as minister to Russia, ambassador to Britain and as secretary of state.
Notwithstanding all those experiences, he has long been a near-consensus choice as worst-president-ever, until now.