We’ve seen more than a few terrible presidents over the course of American history — and we’ve seen a good share of great ones as well. Ultimately, however, even the greatest presidents have their faults, and it’s pretty clear that some of the greatest presidents have enormous stains on their record. With that understood, here are nine of the more impressive presidential specimens — in no particular ranked order.
1. Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln’s name brings to mind almost immediately the cessation of slavery and the ultimate preservation of the United States union. He also deserves an enormous chunk of criticism — one The Daily Caller gladly doles out, citing his violation of the constitution and pointing out that he wasn’t a spotlessly moral anti-slavery proponent.
Even with all the tarnish liberally spread on his character, it cannot be denied that Lincoln was a power figure, with brave and bold political stances at a time when they were much needed. Could he have been braver, bolder, and all around better? Absolutely. Still, considering the period he lived in and the opinions that were commonplace at the time, we should be grateful it was him at the head — and not another.
2. Thomas Jefferson
How many of us don’t like the middle third of our country? Let’s take a second to thank President Jefferson for the Louisiana purchase. He may not have the best track record with slavery — but we have him to thank for Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and many other states. The purchase was not entirely constitutionally supported, making the move a bit gutsy as well. Jefferson also cut a giant chunk out of the country’s national debt — slicing up the budget and heavily decreasing high expenditures of the military.
3. Barack Obama
While I may be jumping the gun a bit — his presidency isn’t over yet — I’d place President Barack Obama up there with respected leaders. Whether you loath him or his policies now or not, I’d posit that in ten years time after everyone has had a chance to cool down and look at things objectively, he’ll be well liked and respected.
When you look at healthcare affordability in most other first world countries, America is abysmal by comparison. Whether the Affordable Care Act ends up as workable legislation after its bumpy start or it crashes and burns, the fact that Obama made a solid attempt at reform that is very much needed in our healthcare system is impressive — and even should it ultimately fail, it may very well spur on other efforts toward the same goal. What’s more, he stepped into a very difficult role at very difficult time.
4. Bill Clinton
Let’s just clear the air — Monica Lewinsky was not a highpoint in Bill Clinton’s political career. Yet Clinton’s career did have a number of very high points, even so. His personal life aside, Clinton’s policy achievements were nothing if not dramatic. Clinton’s time in office led to incredibly low unemployment and inflation rates, high home ownership, and an impressively well-balanced budget. Welfare and crime rates both dropped as well during his time in office. Despite the rather messy family history, the Clinton name may not be out of politics with rumors of Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential campaign in 2016 flying about.
5. Franklin D. Roosevelt
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said Roosevelt during his inaugural address. Quite the line from quite the president. Roosevelt would have been an incredible example of the American presidency even without his disability — however his ability to persevere and succeed despite polio. Roosevelt was responsible for the New Deal economic stimulus plan, and led the United States through a difficult and complex period of instability and war in Europe. He was at the countries head during Pearl Harbor, responsible for the nations response, and made some major and long lasting changes in governmental economic influence.
6. Ronald Reagan
Reagon started his career as an actor — and a liberal. Years later, he found himself the conservative governor of California, and just over ten years following that, he was president. He sought to ensure peace through strength, and worked to improve economic conditions and growth in America. He was also one of five presidents to be shot during their presidencies. As Fox News points out, Reagan has become rather a shining light for the Republican party, and is very much a president that the party aspires to match even to this day.
7. Dwight Eisenhower
Consider for a moment just how integral the interstate highway system has been in America. Can you even imagine the country without it? If for nothing else, Dwight Eisenhower deserves a hand for this. Add to that his role in the Cold War, dealing with the strained international situation as he did, and it’s clear that he more than earned that heart attack just before being elected to his second term. Can you imagine anything more stressful?
On top of that, Eisenhower was responsible for the total desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces — no small accomplishment. “There must be no second class citizens in this country,” Eisenhower wrote, according to Whitehouse.gov.
8. George H. W. Bush
While there are certainly criticism to be had regarding Bush Senior’s foreign policy, the fact remains that he stands among the greats for his decision making and ability to maintain the stability and security of America. Kuwait has been considered everything from a shining success to a dismally poor choice of involvement — but, ultimately, it was a strong leadership decision at a time when one was needed. The same could be said of President Bush Senior’s actions in Panama, staving off an external threat to Americans and preventing drug trafficking. On the home front he was also rather successful, creating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act amendments.
9. Woodrow Wilson
Finally, we come to Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth president of the United States. Wilson passed the Federal Reserve Act — which has had major economic effects on the country, and worked to increase state’s rights. According to Whitehouse.gov, Wilson considered himself the sole individual speaking for the needs of the American people.
“No one but the president seems to be expected to look out for the general interests of the country,” said Wilson. Wilson passed legislation that both ended child labor and limited the number of hours that railroad workers could be on the job — and in that sense he very much did as he promised.
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