America's Eleven Greatest Presidents

America's Eleven Greatest Presidents

America's Eleven Greatest Presidents

America's Eleven Greatest Presidents

Excerpt

"The office of President," Alexander Hamilton predicted in 1788, "will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. . . . It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters preëminent for ability and virtue." None of America's presidents can properly be described as evil; indeed, it is a remarkable tribute to this country's political sagacity that while many demagogues have aspired to that office, none has yet succeeded. On the other hand, it is also unquestionably true that most presidents have not possessed the stature envisioned by Hamilton.

Hamilton, in fact, would not have approved of several presidents included in this volume; nor will every reader. All such selections are comparative; tastes differ, values change, and measuring rods come in assorted sizes and colors. If public popularity were an important basis for deciding America's greatest presidents, Dwight Eisenhower would rate higher than Lincoln who was convinced he could not win a second term in 1864. If courage, devotion, or hard work were the sole criteria, John Quincy Adams would be outranked by few. If creativity or brilliance were the prime indices, Washington would fail to qualify. If a sense of moderation and an ability to compromise were crucial, Andrew Jackson must be struck from the list. If the projection of a favorable image were instrumental, Polk failed. If political leadership were the ultimate test, Cleveland was lucky and Wilson was inept in his second term. Finally, if the use of democratic means and a regard for legal and constitutional scruples were considered as sine qua non for presidential greatness, half the men included in this volume--and the better half--would not belong.

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