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Good day, Madam
My name isn't Adam
I was the man
Who had two plans
The first one succeeded
The second, also needed
Did not work, and at that
A tip of my hat
To the Yanks, who completed
The work that defeated
This good man, never odd or even
Though able was I, I was not quite forgiven

Who am I?

Edit: Here is a first hint to get you started:

I am a historical figure, but you probably never heard of me.

Edit: And here's another hint (added after the riddle was solved):

But you definitely heard of some of the achievements I'm famous for, alluded to in the riddle.

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I think you are

Ferdinand de Lesseps.

Good day, Madam/My name isn't Adam

His first name is Ferdinand, not Adam

I was the man/Who had two plans

De Lesseps came up with the idea for two canals -- Suez and Panama. (This line made me think of Panama because of the famous palindrome "A man, a plan, a canal -- Panama".) More specifically, de Lesseps was a French diplomat who read about the ancient Suez Canal and thought it would be cool to have one again. He had friends in Egypt because of his diplomatic past, and had the influence to make it happen. Later he tried to repeat his success in Panama.

The first one succeeded

In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened and made a lot of money for France (at least it appeared so at first).

The second, also needed/Did not work

The Panama project had problems. Basically it wasn't planned well and had unrealistic assumptions baked in. De Lesseps and his crew ran out of money in 1889.

and at that/A tip of my hat/To the Yanks, who completed/The work that defeated

The US took over the project in the early 1900's (the exact year depends on what you consider "taking over"). The Panama Canal was opened in 1914.

This good man, never odd or even

All I can see here is a description of who was defeated by the Panama Canal, ie, de Lesseps. "Never odd or even" is a palindrome but I don't think it has any other meaning.

Though able was I, I was not quite forgiven

He had to pay a fine and was even sentenced to prison for bribing people related to the Panama Canal. He didn't have to serve the prison sentence but it was still a sign of "unforgivenness".

Afterword: Here is a list of the

palindromes referenced throughout the poem: (I found them unuseful except reminding me of the Panama one, but I could be missing something.)
Madam I'm Adam
A man, a plan, a canal -- Panama
Never odd or even
Able was I ere I saw Elba

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  • $\begingroup$ This is correct - great job! However, it's still a bit terse and doesn't explain the logical path that leads to the answer, the connection to some additional clues mentioned in @Zerris's answer, and a short description of who the historical figure was. For completeness, would you mind expanding your solution a bit to include those details? Once you do I will mark the answer as the accepted one. (There is also an additional clue that both you and Zerris missed - extra karma if you can find it.) $\endgroup$ – Big Black Box Dec 31 '15 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ At work so I can't finish the edits, but I will do it later. Improved a little now. $\endgroup$ – Daphne B Dec 31 '15 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ The first line also refers to another palindrome, "Madam I'm Adam". I can't help wondering if there are further adaptations of well known palindromes. $\endgroup$ – IanF1 Dec 31 '15 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Fantastic solution. A tip of my hat to you (that was another clue ;-)). And what you wrote in the afterword is correct, those clues are only there to guide you more closely towards the topic of the answer. $\endgroup$ – Big Black Box Jan 1 '16 at 0:21
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Well, you appear to be...

A palindrome, or something very close. In order, these clues are:

Madam (In Eden?), I'm Adam

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama

...Missing a few here...

Live not on evil

Never Odd Or Even

Able was I ere I saw Elba

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  • $\begingroup$ Good observations - you're certainly on to some important clues. But as for the answer, no, that's not who I am. $\endgroup$ – Big Black Box Dec 31 '15 at 1:36

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