America's Greatest President

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frontrank2

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Whenever academics and scholars tickle their fancy by putting forth yet another poll of historians on presidential rankings, there is little doubt about which president will top the list—Abraham Lincoln. In the numerous such polls executed since Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. pioneered the genre in 1948 for Lifemagazine, Lincoln has come out as number one in nearly all of them. Of the seven surveys I pulled together for my 2012 book on the subject, Where They Stand, the Illinois rail-splitter was judged the nation’s greatest president in six of them. In the seventh (a 2005 Wall Street Journal poll), George Washington came out on top, with Lincoln in second place. (Franklin Roosevelt almost always occupies the number three slot.)

As the nation prepares to observe Memorial Day, it might be a fitting time to ponder just what constituted Lincoln’s greatness. One could begin with his personal qualities and note the encomium of the political historian Thomas A. Bailey of Stanford. Lincoln, he wrote in 1966, was “undeniably a great man…in spirit, in humility, in humanity, in magnanimity, in patience, in Christlike charity, in capacity for growth, in political instincts, in holding together a discordant political following, in interpreting and leading public opinion and in seizing with bulldog grip the essential idea of preserving the Union.” What Bailey seems to be saying is that Lincoln was a political genius who also happened to be saintly.

To read the rest of the article: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/americas-greatest-president-abraham-lincoln-12957
 

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E_just_E

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I know that we all like rankings and lists and the like, but to throw all US Precidents in a singular bucket and vote one who is better or worse, regardless of the era and its circumstances, looks to me more like something that might happen in a high school class and not among academic historians...
 

BillO

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The polls prove that academicians are silly creatures at best. Mr. Washington pretty much invented our form of Government and set down the guidelines in his farewell address that should have been our guiding light going forward, but we completely ignored his advice and that brings us to Mr. Lincoln. He conducted a war that destroyed a good 1/3 of the Country and ruined the lives of millions of his citizens. I think I'll vote for Mr. Washington.
 

ForeverFree

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The polls prove that academicians are silly creatures at best. Mr. Washington pretty much invented our form of Government and set down the guidelines in his farewell address that should have been our guiding light going forward, but we completely ignored his advice and that brings us to Mr. Lincoln. He conducted a war that destroyed a good 1/3 of the Country and ruined the lives of millions of his citizens. I think I'll vote for Mr. Washington.
I respect your opinion, and have no problem with what you say. I will point, though, that the reasons why you find Lincoln so troubling are the same things that some people find him heroic.

If some nut, say a 250 lb guy with an axe, attacks a next door neighbor; and someone in the neighborhood uses deadly force to subdue the attacker and save the neighbor; that someone might be seen as a hero. Because he did what had to be done, no matter the consequences, to save that which needed to be saved.

The fact that Lincoln did not shy away from the sacrifices needed to save the Union - many people find that admirable. Whereas they might castigate someone like Buchanan, who seemed to lack the will (the courage?) to do the same.

- Alan
 
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theoldman

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Is there any record of Lincoln ever losing his temper? My readings about the man are general in nature relating to the ACW. Despite issues with his cabinet, generals, family, or life I cannot recall a single incident where he just simply blew his top. Again, I have not studied his life so my knowledge is lacking in this area.
 

kevikens

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I understand why there could be a disagreement over where Washington and Lincoln belong on this list. Washington's task was difficult but he generally had a forgiving following. and he himself was willing to be flexible and not dogmatic and should he make a mistake it could readily be rectified without undue difficulty.

Lincoln faced a more difficult presidency with a third of the populace in open arms against his holding the chief executive's office and the other two thirds ready to pounce on him no matter what he did (or did not do). Lincoln had little maneuvering room and a really bad mistake could have resulted in the end of his presidency, not to say the Union itself. I think no other person holding that office could have done better than Lincoln and probably no other as good a job as he did.
 
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Rob9641

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Washington did not invent our way of government on his own. There were dozens of founding fathers all around him, floating their ideas, reaching compromises, writing a Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution. They worked like hell for years and years, invented and reinvented and came to an agreement that set us on our way and set Washington on his way as President.

Lincoln had only a handful of people around him and most of them were not in love with him. Keeping democracy together and the nation going fell almost on his shoulders alone, politically. I wonder sometimes if Washington or any other President could have held it together as well as Lincoln did, under the horrible circumstances he was handed.

I don't think any of them could have. Lincoln gets my vote.
 

Arioch

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Is there any record of Lincoln ever losing his temper? My readings about the man are general in nature relating to the ACW. Despite issues with his cabinet, generals, family, or life I cannot recall a single incident where he just simply blew his top. Again, I have not studied his life so my knowledge is lacking in this area.
The closest I've ever heard was the incident while he was on his way to Washington, the first time, after being elected Pres. ….It happened in early 1861 when he was in Harrisburg Pa. He was confronted by Alan Pinkerton, with intelligence of an assassination plot to occur while Lincoln was traveling through Baltimore…

During this tense confusion, Lincoln had entrusted the draft of his inaugural speech to his son Robert….who cavalierly 'misplaced' it….Abe was not happy with his son….and let him know about it in the midst of others.
 

hrobalabama

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According to the title of this post it is singular not plural.
So I could not settle on just one. There have not been a whole lot of great presidents in this great country.
Maybe four or five. But to call one the greatest of all, is perhaps an injustice to the other great ones.
Also being a great politician and a great president are not synonymous terms.
 
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JeffBrooks

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I agree with those who say that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest President. No other President - indeed, no other major figure in American history that I can think of - could have done what Lincoln did between 1861 and 1865.
 
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Is there any record of Lincoln ever losing his temper? My readings about the man are general in nature relating to the ACW. Despite issues with his cabinet, generals, family, or life I cannot recall a single incident where he just simply blew his top. Again, I have not studied his life so my knowledge is lacking in this area.
During Feb. 1862 McClellan planned an offensive to secure Winchester Va. to protect the B&O rail lines. Part of his plan was to provide canal boats so they could be used in conjunction with heavy timbers to secure a permanent bridge that was to be built over the Potomac River. Michael Burlingame in his second volume of Abraham Lincoln: A Life, describes what happened next:
"On February 27, when those vessels tried to enter a lift lock in order to move from the Chesapeake and Ohio canal to the river, they proved six inches too wide. The entire operation had to be called off, prompting the usually humorless Chase to quip that the Winchester expedition had died of lockjaw. Horace White of the Chicago Tribune, who aptly described the fiasco as 'Ball’s Bluff all over again, minus the slaughter" reported that Lincoln was in 'a h[el]l of a rage' and 'swore like a Phillistine' upon learning of it. He banged his fist on a table and exclaimed: 'Why in hell didn’t he
measure first!' This was the only time Nicolay heard his boss swear, and his assistant, William O. Stoddard, said he 'never knew Mr. Lincoln so really angry, so out of all patience.' The president, Stoddard recalled, 'was alone in his room when an officer of McClellan’s staff was announced by the doorkeeper and admitted. The president turned
in his chair to hear and was informed, in respectful terms, that the advance movement could not be made."
‘Why?’ he curtly demanded. 'The pontoon trains are not ready –’ ‘Why in [hell] ain’t they ready?’ The officer could think of no satisfactory reply, but turned very hastily and left the room. Mr. Lincoln also turned to the table and resumed the work before him, but wrote at about double his ordinary speed.”
 

ole

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I'm a touch reluctant to name anyone the greatest -- even, Mohammad Ali.

I do agree that Lincoln was one of the greatest, and I can readily recognize those qualities and accomplishments that put him in strong contention for the honor, but recognizing one as the greatest tends to minimize those who had moments of greatness and ought to be honored for them.
 
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hanna260

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I don't really have anything to add except agreement with other posters, who have posted very interesting things- Lincoln saved the Union. I don't know if too many other men could have done it. Surely that makes him great, if perhaps not the greatest.
 
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Mint Julep

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I see Lincoln as a great lawyer and politician, but for me his failure is equal to that of our country during a time of war against each other.
 

Eagle eye

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The polls prove that academicians are silly creatures at best. Mr. Washington pretty much invented our form of Government and set down the guidelines in his farewell address that should have been our guiding light going forward, but we completely ignored his advice and that brings us to Mr. Lincoln. He conducted a war that destroyed a good 1/3 of the Country and ruined the lives of millions of his citizens. I think I'll vote for Mr. Washington.
-----------------
Washington created the Union
Lincoln saved the Union
 
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