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Mark Juddery

Mark Juddery

Posted: September 3, 2010 05:41 AM

Having knocked a few overrated people off their pedestals, it's now time to restore some balance by presenting a few underrated people. By the way, this isn't one of those "unsung heroes" lists. Chances are, you've heard of some of these people. Still, here's a list that corresponds to the recent list of the most overrated people -- people whose greatness was overshadowed by the hype of others. It's time to celebrate Bhose instead of Gandhi, Tesla instead of Marconi, Marion Davies instead of ... well, nobody in particular. I just wanted to include her.

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James Madison
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If Ronald Reagan is the most overrated US President in history, who is the most underrated? To ensure I had the authority to answer this, I asked an American friend who is a political history scholar. He said that, hands down, it would have to be #4: James Madison. Like his predecessor and mentor, Thomas Jefferson, Madison is perhaps best-known for his pre-presidential career. But though he’s a founding father, known as the “Father of the Constitution”, and often ranked in the top 10 Presidents, he seems to be the only President whose wife is more famous than he is! Still, even though he probably couldn’t bake cherry pie as well as she could, he was the first president to lead a nation into war (reluctantly, after negotiations and embargoes had failed), the first president to face enemy gunfire while in office, and the first (and only) president to exercise in battle his authority as Commander in Chief. He did all this while presiding over a divided cabinet, a factious party, a difficult Congress and useless generals. In 1814, as the (by then somewhat misnamed) War of 1812 continued, he was forced to flee Washington when British troops burned down the White House and the Capitol.

Yet he still signed a peace treaty with Great Britain later that year. In that war, the so-called “Second War of Independence”, the US lost no territory. Madison miraculously brought peace to America (despite the near-treasonous actions of New England), and showed that the new nation still had what it took.

In between these international incidents, he also created the second Bank of the United States, a stronger military, a high tariff to protect the new factories opened during the war, and a federally subsidized road and canal system. When Madison stepped down in 1817, ex-President John Adams wrote to his friend Jefferson that Madison had “acquired more glory, and established more union, than all his three predecessors … put together.”

Care for a reappraisal?
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