This is arguably my first post on a serious subject. I am working on another, but it’s a bigger project that will take some time.
I understand that a few of the men on this list are not viewed as politically correct and did things that are considered heinous by today’s moral standards. But I have a strongly negative view of judging figures from past eras by today’s standards. These presidents all had a huge impact on the country and were responsible for great accomplishments while in office. I’m not going to get into the negative things that are associated with them. This is a list about what made these men and their presidencies great.
While choosing these ten presidents was not that difficult for me, as this is a topic I’ve given a great deal of consideration to over the years, ranking them was not an easy task; particularly with numbers 4-9. There were a few close calls and I may make some changes in the order if I were to do this list again a year from now.
10. James K. Polk (1845-1849): Polk greatly expanded the size of the nation by fighting and winning the Mexican-American War, annexing Texas and craftily reaching a deal with Britain to gain the Oregon Territory for the U.S.
9. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): Ike was a very effective Cold War leader without getting us into any major military confrontations in the process. Just the fact that he had been such an effective military leader was probably a significant deterrent with our adversaries. He also established the system of Interstate highways that made it so much easier for Americans to maneuver around the country. And he sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of school integration in Brown vs. Board of Education to ensure that the Court’s ruling was carried out.
8. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): Truman was thrust into one of the more difficult set of circumstances faced by an American president with very little preparation and managed to get us through that period with a great deal of success. In addition to seeing us through the end of World War II, he established that we were in a Cold War with the Soviet Union and began the policy of Containment that lasted through many administrations. He also stood tall with the Berlin Airlift and prevented the Kim family from controlling the entire Korean Peninsula.
7. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): While Reagan didn’t single-handedly win the Cold War for the United States, he played a leading role in its successful and peaceful conclusion. He did more than any other president to reduce the number of nuclear weapons on the planet and lessen the tensions that kept the world on edge for decades. He was also a brilliant communicator whose leadership style was the best of any president during my lifetime, which goes back to the Lyndon Johnson administration. But first and foremost, he demonstrated the legitimacy of the principle of Peace Through Strength. A weaker or less staunch leader would not have accomplished what he did. And like Eisenhower, he did it all without getting us into any major military confrontations.
6. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809): As was the case with Polk, Jefferson significantly increased the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. He also arranged for Americans to be present in that territory, initially by sending Lewis and Clark to explore it. The two of them were responsible for the U.S. becoming a continental power. He saw the need for a national military academy and established West Point. He also stabilized the nation’s economy and fought and won the war against the Barbary Pirates.
5. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837): This may be the most controversial pick in today’s social landscape, but Jackson had a huge impact on the nation’s political and social fabric. By being the first candidate to appeal to the little man, rather than the coastal elites, he changed the nature of the country. He founded the Democratic party. And he established that states may not disregard federal law by resisting South Carolina’s nullification effort.
4. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909): Teddy raised our foreign policy profile greatly, putting us on the global map as a world power and international force. He fought the influence of the robber-barons, breaking up the huge monopolies that dominated the country in many ways during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He also established the National Parks system.
3. George Washington (1789-1797): First and foremost, the father of our country set the standard and pattern of what a president should be in so many ways. One of the most important ways he did that was by giving up power voluntarily after two terms. Another was by creating a cabinet of advisors. He established federal power by personally leading the effort to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
2. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945): FDR is known primarily for leading the nation through the Great Depression and most of the way through World War II. His optimistic leadership and mass communication style set him apart from all other twentieth century presidents, with the possible exception of Reagan, and kept millions of Americans looking up when there was little reason to do so. He also established the Social Security system.
1. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865): For a man with Lincoln’s humble origins to make himself into a national leader of supreme confidence and ability was one of the great accomplishments in human history. His determination and wisdom had much to do with the country remaining one and slavery coming to an end. Had he lived to serve out his second term, perhaps we would have avoided some of the greatest problems – including Reconstruction and Jim Crow – that plagued the nation over the next century.