Americas Four Best Presidents
To Be Fair
Most professional researchers do not rate a holder of High Office until 20 years have elapsed since departure.
This allows the effect of that leader to be stripped of hype and transient 'good feelings' and stand or fall on events and effects seen from the pinnacle of the future.
If one looks at ratings done over the years, one finds that many who have held the office of President have moved up or down, according to 'fashion' or reassessment of their contributions.
The Top Four Presidents have altered only in placement, not in perception. For the past 60 years, no matter which organisation has done the Poll, these four have remained.
The criterion for Best is based on;
1) Did they leave the country better than they found it?
2) Have their policies persisted?
3) Is it likely they will remain in the top ten sixty years from now?
I have listed the Four Best Presidents in chronological order of their incumbencies. At this moment in time, historians rank them as; Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson.
It must be understood, that when George Washington became President of the United States in 1789 there were no 'precedents'. Everything he did had to be carefully constructed so that those that followed him would have a 'blue print'.
Fully aware of the burden of history, Washington established customs for the Presidency. Aware of the dangers for a new country just beginning its existence, his unilateral Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793 prevented involvement in foreign conflicts.
He desired to build a strong central government, implement an effective and fair tax system, and create a national bank. Washington.warned against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.
The fact he stepped down after two terms was taken as a precedent until the incumbency of Franklin Roosevelt.
What makes George Washington such an example is in this last act. He could have held office until he died, (Mugabe style) but showed that sense of decency, proof that he was not planning to make himself defacto 'king'.
An active Presidency
Thomas Jefferson had been Vice President under John Adams, and became the 3rd President of the United States. This was not actually based on his positive traits, it is attributed to Hamilton's hatred of Aaron Burr, with whom he had tied. Hence whomever ran against Burr would have gotten Hamilton's vote.
This quirk of history is often ignored. If Hamilton voted for Burr, Jefferson would not have been the Third President.
Once in office, Jefferson repealed a number of federal taxes, thinking to rely on customs revenue. He pardoned people who had been imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts which Adams had passed and he had considered unconstitutional.
He began and won the First Barbary War, (1801–1805), which was America's first significant overseas war.
Although largely forgotten this War against the Pirates of the Mediterranean is commemorated in the Marine Corps Hymn in the line '...to the shores of Tripoli ',
In 1803, despite his misgivings about the constitutionality of Congress's power to buy land, Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the United States.
More recently his involvement with Sally Hemmings, one of his slaves has garnered a lot of attention. It is pretty clear that after the death of his wife, when he was 44 years old, he began a long term relationship with Sally Hemmings and was the father of her children.
DNA testing has confirmed this.
Times that Try Men's Souls
When elected President in 1860, the Southern States had already begun to secede from the Union.
Abraham Lincoln presided over the greatest internal crisis, the Civil War. He preserved the Union, ended slavery and began reconstruction.
He wanted to unite the nation, willing to adopt many moderate policies so the South could be brought back into the United States as quickly as possible.
Six days after the surrender of Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln became the first American president to be assassinated.
It must be recalled that before Lincoln was sworn in, the Southern States had left the United States and formed the Confederacy.
He believed that it would destroy America if States could vote to leave the Union. The Civil War was fought to reunite the States.
He made no move to end slavery until 1863, when most slaves were in another country... that is the Confederate States of America.
From Depression to World War II
Franklin Roosevelt was a central figure in world events. He led America during the Depression, through World War II. He was the only President to serve more than two terms.
What is so important is that he brought hope during the Depression. He implemented many social policies. He brought a sense of 'rightness' with America's entry into World War II.
Although many of his programs were ended between 1975 and 1985, the Securities and Exchange Act and Social Security still remain.
Although we can debate whether or not these four deserve the acolyte of being considered 'The Best', the fact is that for the past Sixty years they remain the top four.
Washington and Lincoln have special holidays in their name and while the first has always been held up by the entire country, Lincoln was only beloved in the North and not in the South.