In 1948, Arthur Schles-inger Sr. wrote for Life magazine a controversial article on a subject that has been the cause of spirited debate ever since. He listed the consensus of our academic elite as to which American presidents had been Great, Near Great, Average, Below Average and Failures.
Leading the list were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and FDR. Below, but also among the Greats, were Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The Near Greats were Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, John Adams and James K. Polk.
In 1962, Schlesinger followed with a New York Times piece, also based on the responses of historians, political scientists and journalists. This list had the same top seven. But Jackson had fallen to Near Great and Polk had risen from 10th to eighth.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others have since produced their own rankings. The latest in the field is Robert Merry, a lifelong journalist and now editor at The National Interest. In "Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians," Merry adds new criteria: Did this president win a second term and was he succeeded by a man of his own party?
In the 20th century, William McKinley, twice elected but assassinated in 1901, left his office to Theodore Roosevelt, who won in his own right in 1904 and was succeeded by his friend and ally William Howard Taft.
FDR won four terms, and on his death in 1945 was succeeded by Vice President Harry Truman, who won in his own right in 1948.
Ronald Reagan won two landslides, pulled us out of the economic malaise of the Jimmy Carter presidency, won the Cold War and was succeeded by his vice president, George H.W. Bush, who swept 40 states in …