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Presidential Power In Hindsight

With the current state of politics, you might not find many parents encouraging their children to study hard and apply themselves in hopes that they may someday rise to become president. Most enterprising young minds are more likely focused on inventing the next YouTube, becoming the next big mogul or just being the first on the block to secure the new Playstation. But in case you doubted how history judges individuals and their impact on the nation, presidents take a back seat to no other group.

The Atlantic Monthly asked "ten eminent historians" to rank the 100 most influential figures in American history and, sorry Gates, Einstein and Elvis, but you all look pretty lonely in this club. Not only do presidents dominate the list (17 of the 43 made it), but they are joined by a large group of political figures in general. Four of the top five on the list, headed by Abraham Lincoln, are presidents and 10 of the top 20. Only three presidents merited a spot at number 50 or lower (Richard Nixon barely cleared the list at 99).

While industrialists, writers and scientists get some spots, the list of political figures swells the ranks with additions like Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander Hamilton, Susan B. Anthony, William Jennings Bryant and Eleanor Roosevelt. The great thing about these lists is they give us so much to argue about – Ulysses S. Grant at number 12? In this case though, it's also sort of comforting to know that whatever our current political atmosphere looks like to us contemporaries, political leaders can make a difference – at least to historians.

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