Was 2020 the worst year in US history? Historians say no, give nod to 1862

No one will argue that 2020 was a miserable year. But was it the worst in U.S. history?

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A group of historians says no. In fact, 2020 is not even in the top three.


To recap, 2020 spawned the coronavirus, nationwide protests and violence after the killing of several unarmed Black Americans by police. President Donald Trump was acquitted in only the third impeachment trial of a U.S. chief executive, and since November has been contesting a presidential election he appeared to lose to Joe Biden. Wildfires in California and hurricanes along the northern Gulf Coast brought devastation.

Kobe Bryant was one of several marquee athletes who died, perishing with his daughter and seven other people in a helicopter crash. Paul Hornung, Gale Sayers, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock and Diego Maradona also passed away.

In music and film, 2020 bade farewell to Eddie Van Halen, Alex Trebek, Sean Connery, Chadwick Boseman, Olivia de Havilland, Charley Pride, Diana Rigg and Carl Reiner.

Even Mary Ann Summers of “Gilligan’s Island” -- Dawn Wells -- is gone.

In politics and government, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis and Herman Cain died.

Time magazine ran a cover earlier this month that mournfully declared 2020 “The Worst Year Ever,” with a red “X” drawn through 2020.

>> Time magazine declares 2020 the ‘Worst Year Ever’

What could be worse?

According to a panel of historians, 1862 is No. 1. And 2020 is ranked eighth.

Bloom, a self-therapy app, recently polled 28 historians from Yale, Oxford, Stanford and other major universities to choose the worst year in U.S. history, The Washington Post reported. The app actually asked the historians to choose the most stressful year, the newspaper reported.

The effort was led by British historian Philip Parker, who compiled a list of the worst of the worst. The historians then decided, the Post reported.

The darkest year of the Civil War was 1862, and it is the historians’ “winner.”

“It’s a symbol of a time when the nation almost broke apart,” Parker told the Post. “And that, really, goes to the essence of what it is to be a country and a society. It’s almost like a dagger to the heart of the country.”

Here are the seven years that ranked between 1862 and 2020, according to the panel:

1929 -- The year the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression.

1838 -- Native Americans were forced west from their homes during the infamous “Trail of Tears.”

1918 -- The flu pandemic proved to be deadly in the United States and around the world.

1968 -- A year of riots, racial unrest, the Vietnam War and political assassinations.

1962 -- The Cuban Missile crisis highlighted a year when the United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war.

2001 -- The attacks of Sept. 11 jolted the U.S. out of complacency and brought terrorism close to home.

The worst year in world history, by the way, was not even close, the panel said.

The height of the Black Death, 1348, when as many as 200 million people died, ranked No. 1, the Post reported. The Holocaust, in 1944, ranked second, followed by 1816, when a volcano eruption in Indonesia blocked out the sun. Millions of people died from starvation.

Parker said 2020 could rise in the rankings with the passage of time.

“As Chairman Mao is reputed to have said about the French Revolution,” Parker told the Post, “it’s a little too early to say.”