With Fresno State students receiving a much-needed reprieve from school on Monday on account of Presidents’ Day, it seems appropriate to write about presidents.
My favorite president is John Adams. He is one of the most distinguished men this country has ever produced. He served on the Continental Congress, as a diplomat to France, Holland and Great Britain and as the country’s first vice president along with being the second president.
In addition to all that, he nominated George Washington to be the commander in chief of the Continental Army, Thomas Jefferson to be the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence and John Marshall to be our fourth Supreme Court justice. He even wrote the Massachusetts state constitution, the world’s oldest active constitution.
His most important accomplishment, however, may have been keeping America out of war with Britain and France during our precarious early years. It was fitting that he and Thomas Jefferson both died on the same day — July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Our two most indispensable presidents are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. If anyone but Washington was the nation’s first president, the job may have never made it to John Adams. Washington was the only one who had enough support from every opposing faction to keep the country together, and his lack of ideological rigidity greatly served the country in its early years.
He was also great for stepping down after two terms when he could have served until he died. When told George Washington would simply go home after the revolution, King George III said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.” Sounds about right.
Lincoln was the only man who could have kept the nation together during the Civil War. His combination of steadfastness, wisdom, wit and willingness to change when circumstances required it served America greatly during those perilous years. Though he made many mistakes during the early years of the war, if he had not served, either slavery would have existed much longer or the Confederacy may have survived.
The two worst presidents in our history have been Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson. Andrew Jackson was our first non-statesman president. Every president before Jackson had distinguished careers as diplomats, governors, congressmen and cabinet members. Jackson was none of these, only a war hero. His presidency was the first that descended into populism and set us on the path we are on today, where politicians are beholden to special interests and presidential campaigns are an all-encompassing feature of our republic.
Wilson’s policies are what make him one of the worst. His administration was the triumph of the progressive era, and along with that came the advent of the 16th Amendment, which instituted a national income tax, and the 17th Amendment, which usurped the original design of the Constitution by making senators directly elected, the creation of the Federal Reserve, which has been the cause of many of our economic woes, and the entrance of the U.S. into World War I, the worst, most pointless war ever fought. He jailed dissenters and was a virulent racist.
Somehow, both of these men consistently do well in rankings of the presidents.
Out of our 43 presidents, we have had many very different men serve in that distinguished position. Our tallest president was Lincoln at 6’4”; our shortest was James Madison, one foot shorter. Our oldest president was Ronald Reagan; our youngest was Theodore Roosevelt. We’ve even had eight presidents who never attended college (there’s luck for all of us yet).
But the best of them all may have been William Henry Harrison. He served only 30 days in office before he died — he did the least amount of damage.