During Wilson’s last week as president, his reputation was already trending upward, due to blunders by President-elect Harding. As this March 1921 New York Times Magazine article noted:
The President’s unpopularity had been so violently expressed by the election of Nov. 2 that it was bound to be mitigated soon after, and this natural reaction was aided by the failure of the Republican Congress to accomplish anything in the short session and by President-elect Harding’s slowness in deciding among candidates offered for the Cabinet and policies put forward for his attention. As President Wilson prepared to turn over the executive duties to his successor there was already evidence that the American public was returning to a greater appreciation of his services.
Indeed, in C-SPAN’S 2017 survey of historians, Wilson ranked as America’s #11 president; Harding only ranked #40 of 43.
Wilson has certainly slipped a bit, from #6 in 2000, down to #9 in 2009, down again to #11 in 2017. If the survey is ever conducted again, he will almost certainly fall further from that #11 spot, given increasing criticisms of his views on race in recent years. Last year, for example, Princeton University renamed their Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Still, it’s impossible to imagine Wilson ever ranking in the bottom half of presidents. No matter how much historical revisionism drops his rank, he’s in no danger of ranking anywhere close to Harding, whose standing has shifted a few spots over the years but perpetually remained among the bottom five presidents all time.
Woodrow Wilson’s Administration: Eight Years of the World’s Greatest History (PDF)
Published: Sunday, February 27, 1921