There are few persons who can read this record of the lives of the first 20 Presidents of the United States without the conviction that there is no other nation which can present a consecutive series of twenty rulers of equal excellence of character and administrative ability. Probably the least worthy of all our Presidents would rank among the best of the kings whom the accident of birth has placed upon hereditary thrones; and not an individual has popular suffrage elevated to the presidential chair, whom one would think of ranking with those many royal monsters who have in turn disgraced all the courts of Europe. This record settles the question that the choice of rulers is a far safer reliance than hereditary descent.
With us, the freedom of the press is so unlimited and political partisanship so intense, that few persons have been able to take really an impartial view of the characters of those who have been by one party so inordinately lauded, and by the other so intemperately assailed. But as we now dispassionately review the past, most readers will probably find many old prejudices dispelled.
The writers have not thought that impartiality requires that they should refrain from a frank expression of their own views. It is an essential part of biography, that faults as well as virtues should be honestly detailed. No man is perfect. There have certainly been errors and wrong-doings in the past administration of this government. It is not the duty of the impartial historical biographer to ignore such, or to gloss them over. This should be distinctly brought to light as instruction for the future.
The materials from which the writers have drawn these biographical sketches are very abundant. Whatever of merit they possess must consist mainly in the skill which may be exhibited in selecting from the great mass those incidents which will give one the most vivid conception of the individual. The writers have attempted with much labor, to present a miniature likeness of each character which shall be faithful and striking.
They have not deemed it expedient to incumber these pages with foot-notes, as most of the important facts here stated are unquestioned; and all will be found substantiated in the memoirs and works of our Chief Magistrates, contained in most of our large libraries.
(From the preface, by co-author Russell H. Conwell)
About the Authors: John S. C. Abbott (1805-1877) was a renowned American writer, best known for his popular historical works. History of the Civil War in America (1863-66), History of Napoleon Bonaparte (1855) and History of Frederick the Great (1871). Russell H. Conwell (1843-1925) was an American Baptist minister, orator and writer, and founded Temple University in Philadelphia.
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