Bush knocks Franklin Pierce out of last place

Is Franklin Pierce due for a promotion? Pierce, the only New Hampshire man elected to the White House, is a perennial nominee for Worst President Ever. But as that office's current occupant finds his own reputation under attack from many historians and the public, Pierce could move up a notch from the bottom of the presidential rankings - a boost Pierce partisans say is long past due.

"When I speak to groups, somebody always asks, 'How does it feel to know your man is no longer the worst?' " said Peter Wallner, author of a recent two-volume biography of Pierce. "I take a little bit of pleasure in the fact that (President George) Bush is viewed by them as worse than Pierce."

With less than a month left in his presidency, Bush has been getting plenty of on-the-fly assessments from historians, journalists and pundits. A group of political analysts, including former Bush adviser Karl Rove, gathered in a New York City auditorium earlier this month to debate the proposition that "Bush 43 is the worst president of the past 50 years." In an informal poll of professional historians conducted by the online History News Network, two-thirds of participants ranked Bush at the bottom of the presidential list.

Such rankings, of course, are meaningless when set against the long sweep of history, and historians warn against premature judgments. Still, Bush's slide may bring some measure of justice for Pierce advocates who feel their man has been wrongly maligned by history.

"This whole rating presidents is very, very subjective, but I've always thought it was unfair to put Pierce at the bottom," said Jayme Simoes, chairman of the committee that commemorated Pierce's 200th birthday in 2004....

Michael Holt, a history professor at the University of Virginia who's writing a new Pierce biography, warned Pierce fans against hopes of historical redemption. Bush's slide in the presidential rankings"may move Pierce up a notch, but I'm not sure it will move him out of the bottom five," he said.

Still, Holt said some of the criticisms against Pierce are unjust. Pierce did try to rid the executive branch of corruption, for instance. And accusations that Pierce was anti-Catholic simply aren't true, he said. Holt offered another compliment:"Franklin Pierce was probably the handsomest man to ever serve as president."

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