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THERE are few persons who can read this record of the Lives of the Presidents of the United States without the conviction, that there is no other nation which can present a consecutive series of seventeen 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 sufrage 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 popular suffrage, in 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.
In writing these sketches, the author has endeavored to be thoroughly impartial, and to place himself in the posi tion which the subject of the sketch occupied, so as to look from his stand-point upon the great questions which he was called to consider. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were in political antagonism; but no man can read a true record of their lives, and not be convinced that both were inspired with the noblest zeal to promote the best interests of their country and of the human race.
The writer has not thought that impartiality requires that he should refrain from a frank expression of his 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. They should be distinctly brought to light as instruction for the future.
The materials from which the writer has 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 writer has attempted, with much labor, to present a miniature likeness of each character which shall be faithful and striking. If he has failed, he can only say that he has honestly done his best. He has not deemed it expedient to encumber these pages with footnotes, as most of the important facts here stated, it is believed, are unquestioned; and all will be found substantiated in the memoirs and works, more or less voluminous, of our Chief Magistrates, contained in most of our large libraries.
We have just passed through one of the most terrible storms which ever desolated a nation. Its surging billows have not yet subsided. Every reader will appreciate the delicacy of the task of writing now, in the midst of all the excitements which agitate our country, an account of the characters, which necessarily involves the administrations, of Presidents Buchanan, Lincoln, and Johnson; and yet the writer feels such a consciousness that he has endeavored to be just to all, and at the same time to be faithful to the principles of a true democracy, that he cannot doubt that the final verdict will sustain his record. Neither can he doubt that every candid reader must admit that there is no government upon this globe better adapted to promote the great interests of humanity than our own. With these few words, the author submits to the public these results of many months of incessant yet delightful labor.
NEW HAVEN, CONN., November, 1866.
JOHN S. C. ABBOTT.