The Presidency: Trying to Measure Greatness

The Presidency

Presidential greatness has been pondered by amateurs and experts for two centuries. In 1948 Harvard Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. conducted the first formal survey, asking 55 "experts," the majority of whom were professional historians, to rate the Presidents. Lincoln, Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Wilson and Jefferson topped the list in that order.

Since then there have been six other reputable surveys, the latest just published by the Journal of American History. Hundreds of questions were sent to 1,997 historians by Robert K. Murray and Tim H. Blessing of Pennsylvania State University. Answers from 846 historians, a good return from this cantankerous...

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