Abraham Lincoln was America’s greatest president. Period. I will brook no argument or discussion …
But then again, I guess if you are a latter-day devotee of the Lost Cause (I mean REALLY dedicated), you may think, in his zeal to keep the Union together even at the expense of certain Constitutional rights, that Lincoln ranks as one of the worst presidents.
See, it all depends on your perspective. But is also depends on the QUESTION. Make a list of your top five favorite presidents and I doubt it will agree with anyone else’s, and it would be different from a list of the top five most consequential presidents. Note the word “consequential,” by which I mean having the greatest impact, for better or worse.
So let’s say my favorite presidents, in order, are:
- Roosevelt, Theo.
- Roosevelt, Franklin D.
- Clinton (hey, we share an alma mater and he’s an electric personality)
But I’m the first to admit that my list of the most consequential presidents cannot include Bill Clinton–too soon for history to judge, etc. So here is a new list:
- Lincoln (like I said …)
- Roosevelt, Franklin D.
- Reagan (!)
That’s right, my friends, our #1 Founding Father drops to fourth, TR is off (though in the top ten) and Ronald Reagan shows up. I can’t deny that the former governor of California has become a towering figure of 20th century American history, attributable not only to his legion of dedicated deifiers. Look, he did arms control with the Soviets, told Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and generally brought an infectious swagger to a nation feeling dark economic times. I’m not saying his policies ushered in American greatness (though many believe that), but that his presidency was consequential. (See Robert Merry’s NYT piece on some presidential rankings, which, interestingly, omits Reagan all together).
Similarly, Andrew Jackson’s presidency was quite monumental for the 19th century, second only to Mr. Lincoln’s. Why? Not because he was a nice guy (ask the Cherokees, or Mr. Calhoun) but because his policies and presence utterly changed early America. In fact, he’s the ONLY American president to have an “Age” named for him.
Finally, George Washington. THE Founding Father; the indispensable man. I cannot but assert that Washington is the most important figure in early American history, one of the few individuals in history, in fact, who single-handedly affected the course of history. He was a “great man.” But somewhat forgettable as president, except for that ceding power thing. Stepping down voluntarily after two terms keeps him in any list of the top five.
And FDR? Well, he simply led America and the Western allies against the greatest threat to liberty in modern times. And his domestic achievements still profoundly affect us today, in such income programs as Social Security and cultural programs as CCC and WPA.
So, go make your own list, of bests, worsts, favorites, etc. And be glad that we have the power to choose them.