War and Presidential Greatness
Independent Review 17:4, 2013
20 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2012 Last revised: 29 Aug 2013
Date Written: March 26, 2012
Historians and journalists commonly survey other historians on the relative 'greatness' of American presidents, and these rankings show remarkable consistency between surveys. In this paper we consider commonalities between highly ranked presidents and compare plausible determinants of greatness according to historians. We find that a strong predictor of greatness is the fraction of American lives lost in war during a president’s tenure. We find this predictor to be robust and compare favorably to other predictors used in previous historical research. We discuss potential reasons for this correlation and conclude with a discussion of how historians’ views might affect policy.
Keywords: American history, presidency, American economic history
JEL Classification: N4, H56
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation