Skip to main content

Teddy And Bill

June 2024
1min read

I enjoyed the discussion of Clinton’s place in history in “In the News” in December 2000 (“Clinton’s Legacy,” by Kevin Baker). Calvin Coolidge is definitely an interesting comparison. I would like to offer another one.

I agree that some great Presidents are made by their circumstances, and FDR is definitely one of those, made by the Great Depression and World War II. My impression is that there is one important difference between Coolidge and Clinton: Clinton wanted to make his place in history, and Coolidge never pondered such personal laurels. In this respect, I think Clinton better compares to President Theodore Roosevelt.

TR happens to be at the top of my list of favorites, but he admittedly had a presidential-sized ego. And he faced a problem in establishing a lasting legacy. There was no great crisis for him to solve during his Presidency, so he made his own: trustbusting, national parks, the Panama Canal, and so forth. That is one of the reasons I admire him. He set a vision for the country and, in the midst of contentment (which often produces apathy toward big causes), made it happen. I think Clinton attempted to do the same thing, but unfortunately he became mired in the petty, and never got his vision off the ground. In that sense, he is the antithesis of TR.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate