Friday, October 31, 2008

THE TOP HALF

This compilation was published by a UK-based site so there is some credence that they were filtering the history more objectively than by merely resorting to their own political inclinations. Their Euporeness seeps through with the elevated ranking of LBJ and FDR who did their best to turn us into Europe, and a love for JFK which belies his actual accomplishments. They published the list with a caveat that the top ten and bottom ten are more easily separated from the field than actually being able to accurately list each man. When in doubt, points were deducted for slave ownership and whatnot, so the bottom half is littered with men boasting beards and slaves. Here is the cream of the crop, listed in reverse order:

21. James Monroe 1817-25 (Democratic-Republican)
Monroe led a non-partisan domestic agenda and argued that unless the colonial powers entered conflicts in the Americas he should not intervene in their affairs. He oversaw the expansion of the United States to include Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine and Missouri.
20. George H.W. Bush 1989-93 (Republican)
Reagan’s economic legacy left President Bush facing an enormous national debt and, with the country in recession, he was pressurised by Democrats in Congress to raise taxes. Success in Iraq, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of the Berlin Wall were not enough to restore his popularity.
19. Grover Cleveland 1885-89 and 1893-97 (Democratic)
Cleveland is the only man to have served two non-consecutive terms as President of the United States. He was also the only Democrat to be elected between the American Civil War and the 20th century. His pragmatic approach was seen as honest but his reputation suffered during a second term dominated by economic hardship and strikes.
18. Ulysses S. Grant 1869-77 (Republican)
Grant was a successful general who had led the Union to victory in the American Civil War. He was elected President to oversee the radical Reconstruction of the southern states and succeeded in restricting the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, granting Freedmen voting rights and establishing a public school system. His reputation was destroyed, however, by his administration’s failure to deal with a lengthy economic depression and a string of scandals that affected his officials.
17. William McKinley 1897-1901 (Republican)
McKinley’s period in office coincided with an upturn in the American economy, leaving the President free to pursue his energetic foreign policy. After a 100-day war with Spain, he was able to annex the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and Puerto Rico as well as seizing temporary control of Cuba.
16. John Quincy Adams 1825-29 (Democratic-Republican)
Adams attempted an ambitious modernisation of the country despite an extremely slender victory in the race to be President. His plans included an expanded network of roads and canals, a national university and an astronomical observatory but many of the reforms were never realised because of an uncooperative Congress.
15. James Madison 1809-17 (Democratic-Republican)
Madison wrote key sections of the Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights, particularly the sections which laid out his theory of checks and balances, but as President he was a far more controversial figure. He led the US into the divisive and bloody War of 1812 against the British Empire. Despite very few material gains it has been argued that the war was a pivotal moment in the birth of a strong and independent America.
14. Andrew Jackson 1829-37 (Democratic)
A hero of the War of 1812, Jackson was a polarizing frontier President responsible for the shaping of the modern Democratic Party. His populist attacks on the national bank alienated rich supporters, but he was one of the first Presidents to actively and successfully court the public vote, strengthening the standing of popular democracy in the US.
13. John Adams 1797-1801 (Federalist)
After serving as Vice President throughout George Washington’s time in office, he lasted only one term as President. Adams succeeded in steering an outwardly peaceful course through the international conflict between Britain and France but his best-known domestic policies were the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, which restricted the rights of government critics.
12. Lyndon Johnson 1963-69 (Democratic)
Johnson proved remarkably adept at harnessing the surge of public emotion following JFK’s assassination. He used it to convert his predecessor’s rhetoric into law, including the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, which outlawed segregation, and the Medicare and Medicaid bills that allowed millions access to healthcare for the first time. By the end of his presidency he was extremely unpopular, however, as he became bogged down in the Vietnam War, race riots convulsed urban centres and voters grew tired of his expensive “great society” program.
11. John F. Kennedy 1961-63 (Democratic)
Although Lyndon Johnson was the man to turn his words into law, JFK pipped him by a single place in our list. Kennedy had a troubling and not entirely successful foreign policy record that included the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the escalation of the Vietnam War. His radical domestic reputation was built on intervention in Alabama to uphold desegregation, his civil rights speeches and rhetorical support for the space program. He had actually passed very little in the way of funding or legislation when he was assassinated.
10. Woodrow Wilson 1913-21 (Democratic)
A radical first term included anti-trust legislation, tariff revision and the creation of the Federal Reserve. Wilson’s reputation, however, was built on his destruction of America’s cherished non-interventionist policy in his second term. He was reluctant to lead the US into the First World War, but was then instrumental in building a multi-lateral post-war consensus which included the League of Nations, even if Congress never allowed America to join it.
9. James Polk 1845-49 (Democratic)
Polk was one of the greatest presidential advocates of the idea that expanding the Union from the Atlantic to the Pacific was “manifest destiny”. Victory in the war with Mexico allowed the United States to acquire California, Nevada, and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
8. Ronald Reagan 1981-89 (Republican)
He was elected with a clear mandate for radical economic policy to tackle high inflation and unemployment rates. His tax cutting, budget slashing, laissez-faire strategy known as “Reaganomics” became extremely popular as the US economy recovered. Even though he was seen as a hawk when he took office, Reagan managed to grasp the historic opportunity brought about by Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power in the Soviet Union to help bring an end to the Cold War.
7. Harry Truman 1945-53 (Democratic)
Truman entered the White House after just 82 days as Roosevelt’s Vice President and with very little foreign experience. He was soon called upon to make some of the most significant international policy decisions in American history. He sanctioned the use of atomic weapons over Japan, signed up to the United Nations and NATO as well as formulating the Truman Doctrine, which shaped America’s anti-Communist policy for decades to come.
6. Dwight Eisenhower 1953-61 (Republican)
The popular Second World War commander succeeded in bringing his military might to bear on US domestic reform. Eisenhower continued most of the existing “new deal” and “fair deal” policies and introduced some radical reforms of his own. In the face of huge Southern opposition, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the desegregation of schools as well as ending segregation in the armed forces. He also created the interstate highway system.
5. Theodore Roosevelt 1901-09 (Republican)
The youngest ever President, Roosevelt, 42, was a progressive Republican and tried to move the GOP into more radical territory. His “square deal” policies included greater regulation to protect consumers, attacks on corporate monopolies and conservationism to safeguard wildlife and the American wilderness. In foreign policy, he oversaw a major expansion of the Navy, ordered the construction of the Panama Canal and won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War.
4. Thomas Jefferson 1801-09 (Democratic-Republican)
A political philosopher and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence was narrowly elected as the third President in a disputed contest settled by the House of Representatives. A proponent of small government, Jefferson succeeded in reducing the national debt, as well as the size of the army and navy. However, he almost doubled the size of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase, which annexed land now encompassing part of 15 states.
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt 1933-45 (Democratic)
The longest-serving of all the presidents, Roosevelt was in office for more than a decade until his death. He was re-elected four times during one of the most tumultuous periods of the 20th century. His radical, big-government spending program designed to kick-start the US economy became global consensus after the Second World War, but it was widely mistrusted before the conflict. FDR also ended US isolationism by leading America into battle in Europe.
2. George Washington 1789-97 (No party)
Washington led the army that vanquished the British during the American Revolutionary War before presiding over the drafting of the Constitution. When it came to elect the first US President he was chosen unanimously by electors representing the 11 states of the Union. He was celebrated as the Father of the Nation after expanding the Union and overseeing the creation of a taxation system, a national bank and the first Supreme Court judges. His Farewell Address also became one of the cornerstones of American democracy.
1. Abraham Lincoln 1861-65 (Republican, National Union)
The first Republican President, Lincoln led the defeat of the Confederate states in the American Civil War and freed around four million slaves by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. The formal abolition of slavery in the US was ratified soon after his death. He succeeded in unifying the nation militarily as well as laying out a moral imperative for its governance in his Gettysburg address.

2 comments:

Sir Saunders said...

How absurd! There is no way Lincoln is #1 perhaps in the low top 20, but Washington should remain at the top of the list. The only American Dictator should be removed from this status. Indeed sir! I'm now going to put on my black tie, sit on the front porch and drink my mint juliup sir!

Tom said...

Fewer surprises but some big ones. No way that LBJ is in the top half. The Civil Rights legislation passed due to the country mourning Kennedy not because of Johnson. His domestic policy put us on the road to spending $10 trillion on poverty without ending it. Vietnam speaks for itself.

Woodrow Wilson should probably be in the top half, but ten seems too high. Much of what people hate about Bush 43 is present in Wilson only the war was shorter and the infringements on civil liberties greater. The League of Nations begat the U.N. an organization that gives nations the cover to do nothing while patting themselves on the back.

I'm surprised to see Grant at 18. Great General, but the corruption by his people usually puts him in the bottom 10 here in the states.

James Monroe seems low. The Monroe Doctrine was still in effect with Reagan's policy in Nicaragua.

I'm happy to see Ike high on the list. He looks better and better with age. I think I would rate him behind Reagan though and ahead of TR.

GW has to be first. He could have been king and showed us the lesson of Republican government. Lincoln was important, but had we split in two we would still be two better countries than any monarchy that might have resulted from a greedy Washington.

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