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A statesman or stateswoman is a respected, skilled and experienced political leader or figure. In most respects a statesman is the opposite of a politician. Politicians are thought of as people who will say or do anything to get elected or to gain power. A statesman is someone who does everything for the common good of the people he or she represents. To call a person a statesman is a mark of high regard for that person's integrity. To call someone a politician usually implies the person is worthy of very little esteem. For example, George Washington is almost always called a statesman. An elder statesman is a term often defined as an older politician or advisor who is thought to be above normal politics.[a]
In 51 BC, Cicero published his work De re publica (On the Republic). The dialog was about what made a true statesman. It was about the virtues and ideals such a leader must have. Cicero wrote that a great statesman did not have to descend from aristocrats. But he must have virtus (virtue), iustitia (a sense of justice) and wisdom. He must also have dignitas (roughly translated as dignity), temperance and must show generosity and be magnanimous.
A statesman has certain core values and will not change beliefs simply to advance a political career. If a change in policy is necessary for the good of the people he or she serves, the change will be made no matter how much it is criticized. According to Hans J. Morgenthau, author of Politics Among Nations, statesmen see things realistically; as they really are. They look at how a policy will affect a nation. A statesman is not the same as a monarch or king because their goals are not the same. A statesman does not want to dominate or control people, he or she wants to educate them so they are fit to live in a democracy. Like Plato before him, Alexis de Tocqueville believed that a statesman not only educated his or her people, he somehow shaped their character.
When Abraham Lincoln became President of the United States in 1861, most people saw an awkward, rumpled country bumpkin. He had never traveled to Europe and was seen by the American people and foreign dignitaries alike as crude and unsophisticated. The Dutch minister reported of Lincoln: “He and his wife seem like . . . western farmers, and even in this country, where one has no right to be fastidious, their common manners and their ways expose them in unfortunate fashion to ridicule.” While many do not remember Lincoln as a great foreign-policy president, he actually was. Like a true statesman, Lincoln adeptly guided foreign policy at a time of great peril during the Civil War when the United States was vulnerable to foreign intervention. According to Kevin Peraino, Lincoln "should be considered one of America’s seminal foreign-policy presidents — a worthy model for students of global affairs." Historians have long shown Lincoln to have been a great statesman who worked tirelessly to build his country into something greater than it was. He laid the groundwork for America's later rise to become a world power.
Notable statesmen and stateswomen
- Aung San Suu Kyi
- Lee Kuan Yew
- Nelson Mandela
- Margaret Thatcher
- Noam Chomsky
- Dalai Lama
- Simón Bolívar
- Hans Blix
- Otto von Bismarck
- Benjamin Franklin
- John Marshall
- Martin Luther King
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Many U.S. Presidents who had very poor approval ratings while in office, are sometimes thought of with more charity after they left office. Former presidents are sometimes thought of in non-political terms. People remember their accomplishments more than their misdeeds, mistakes or shortcomings. For example, most Americans rate Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Regan higher after they left office. Other presidents have raised their poor ratings while in office by what they did after they were president. These include Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. If not called statesmen, they might be considered to be elder statesmen. Some ex-presidents may never be thought of as anything more than a politician and are not treated kindly by history. These include James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon.
- "statesman". Oxford University Press. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/statesman. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
- Johnny Kilhefner (2016). "Statesman vs. Politician". Hearst Newspapers, LLC. http://work.chron.com/statesman-vs-politician-21103.html. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
- Andrew Effrat, Perspectives in Political Sociology (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1972), p. 53
- Hsing Yun, Life: Politics, Human Rights, and What the Buddha Said About Life, tr. Robert H. Smitheram (Los Angeles: Buddha's Light Publishing, 2011), p. 70
- Jeffrey M. Jones (25 April 2013). "History Usually Kinder to Ex-Presidents". Gallup, Inc. http://www.gallup.com/poll/162044/history-usually-kinder-presidents.aspx. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
- "The 10 Worst Presidents". CBS News. 20 February 2007. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-10-worst-presidents/. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
- William Safire, Safire's Political Dictionary (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 211–212
- Bronwyn Hopwood. "The Art of Roman Government; What was Cicero's Ideal of the Perfect Statesman? How Did Both Caesar and Pompey Measured Up To It?". University of New England, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, School of Humanities. https://www.academia.edu/4928820/Ciceros_Ideal_of_the_Perfect_Statesman_and_How_both_Caesar_and_Pompey_Measured_Up_To_It. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
- Brian Danoff, Louie Joseph Hebert, Alexis de Tocqueville and the Art of Democratic Statesmanship (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011), p. 2
- Stephen Budiansky (27 December 2013). "‘Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power,’ by Kevin Peraino". The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lincoln-in-the-world-the-making-of-a-statesman-and-the-dawn-of-american-power-by-kevin-peraino/2013/12/27/549b18e8-5e85-11e3-be07-006c776266ed_story.html?utm_term=.8a22ca16049f. Retrieved 23 October 2016.
- Jason Cowley. "Heroes of our time - the top 50". NewStatesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2014/04/heroes-our-time-top-50. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
- "World leaders remember 'visionary statesman' Lee Kuan Yew". The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/world-leaders-remember-visionary-statesman-lee-kuan-yew/articleshow/46662874.cms?from=mdr. Retrieved 2021-06-26.
- Jon Kyl (3 July 2006). "America's Elder Statesman: Benjamin Franklin". Real Clear Politics. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/07/americas_elder_statesman_benja.html. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
- Jonathan Emord (1 February 2000). "Why Are There No Great Statesmen Left in America?". NewsWithViews.com.
- J.R. Nyquist (22 June 2000). "What Makes a Great Statesman". WND. http://www.wnd.com/2000/06/6456/. Retrieved 25 October 2016.