Any list of America's greatest Presidents is dominated by those who have been elected to a second term. As Michael Beschloss stated: "One of the best things a sitting President can do to burnish his reputation among future generations is to get reelected". It is the second term that not only tests the mettle of the President, but it also offers a lens that focuses on the enduring essence of the presidency itself.
Paradoxically, the elements essential for successful presidential leadership have not changed over time, despite the growth and wider scope of government, the fear of an "imperial presidency", the dilution of party influence and the power of television and the internet,, allowing a comparative evaluation of Presidents from the days of George Washington to the present. Although the final judgment of a presidency is a melding of his two terms in office, the second term provides the best measure of the Chief Executive for it is then that a President has experience in office and should be most comfortable wearing the mantle of authority granted by the electorate. It is then that the President is under the greatest scrutiny and stress that draw forth his true character and temperament.
Twenty Presidents have been elected to a second term, a threshold for greatness, yet for many of these, frustration, failure and even disaster followed their reelection. For a relative few, success meant overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, while for still others apparent success was followed by failure in the judgment of history. The second term has been a time of great stress or travail to such Presidents as Jefferson, Monroe, Grant, Cleveland, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton and George W. Bush. But, for others, such as Washington, Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and even Reagan, their second terms were times of success or even triumph. What caused this great variation; why have Presidents faltered and so few succeeded?