April 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 3
In the 167 years since George Washington was his first inaugurated, the presidency has risen greatly in power and prestige. The chart on these pages, continuing onto the following two pages, is an attempt to present this rise in graphic form.
The rise of the presidency has not been a steady one but has occurred in sudden spurts, most notably when strong Presidents have held office in critical limes. An important fact. stressed by Professor Rossiter, is that the inherent power of the office, once advanced to a new level, has not declined even under weaker Presidents. It has reminded latent, to be used when needed by strong Presidents.
The size of of the heads on this chart indicates the rating of outstanding Presidents by Professor Rossiter. In each case the rating is based not on the man’s natural ability or any other achievements bur solely on his performance as President. Thus Washington and Lincoln are in a class by themselves, while Jefferson and Jackson loom largest among the other early Presidents. Polk the author calls “the one bright spot in the dull void between Jackson and Lincoln.”
Between Lincoln and Coolidge two Presidents—Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson—are rated “great” by Professor Rossiter. Three others are rated “strong but not quite great”: Andrew Johnson, “a man few talents but much courage, whose protests against the ravages of the radicals in Congress were a high rather than a low point in the progress of the presidency”: Rutherford B. Hayes, ”a vastly underrated President”; and Grover Cleveland “whose repeated displays of integrity and independence” during his two nonconsecutive terms (before and after that of Benjamin Harrison) “brought him very close to greatness.”
The four most recent Presidents, whose place in history is still uncertain, are not rated on this chart, although Professor Rossiter believes that Roosevelt at least is assured of rank as one of the “greats.”