Thursday, February 27, 2003

A Tribute to Our Great Presidents
By Alexander Marriott
UNLV Rebel Yell: February 20, 2003

It's time now to appreciate the greatest presidents of the United States and depending on one's philosophy, the presidents each individual appreciates will be quite different. I'm no Marxist/socialist/fascist apologist, nor am I a cultural relativist, I think that quite simply this country is the greatest to have ever been created, it's not perfect, but in terms of world history there is no question in my mind which one is unequivocally the best.

Therefore, this country's greatest presidents must necessarily rank in the top echelons of the world's greatest people. Yet we cram them into one day of celebration with all of the sub-par and worthless presidents that have also held the office. Ridiculous? You bet, but that's an article for another day.

My criterion for a good president starts with the oath of office he swears upon his inauguration in which he pormises to uphold, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States. With this being the main criteria I must regrettfully eliminate all the presidents of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as all of them have failed in this task, except William McKinley, who didn't really have much of a chance, though he did a pretty lackluster job in the nineteenth century. I say regrettfully because there were some really amicable people holding the job in this time period, such as Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, and Calvin Coolidge. But they failed in their primary task and are therefore cut.

Next, since I'm put in the ninteenth and eighteenth centuries I'm must ferret out all the presidents in this era who also failed in their primary job. They list as follows, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S Grant, Rutherford B Hayes, Chester A Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley. Of the remaining presidents I will eliminate William Henry Harrison and James Garfield because they died early in office and had no chance to do anything. Zachary Taylor was ok, but he also died in midterm so therefore I can't call him "great." John Tyler was a morally abhorrent individual whom I will discard. Martin Van Buren, James K Polk, Milliard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and Andrew Johnson were basically inoffensible, though Polk did conquer Mexico, which is a plus on his side, but as a one termer I'm reluctant to call him "great." James Buchanan let Lincoln get elected by not unifying the democratic party behind a single candidate, not to mention his presidency was one of little to no accomplishment. Grover Cleveland was a break in Republican tyranny, but he did little to stem the tide of a corrupt and growing government while in office.

Those of you who know your presidential history know I'm now down to the first five presidents, who are the only presidents I can call great, and now here is why in order of greatness, from least great to most great:

John Adams, a one term president whose greatness had more to do with his actions outside the presidency, had intellectual brilliance that was quite marvelling, few in his own day matched it, and none today even come close (in the political realm anyway.) Of course his two biggest mistakes were passing the Alien and Sedition acts, acting on a precedent of George Washington not to veto bills unless truly henious, but these acts were truly heinous and out of keeping with the doctrine of individual rights upon which our government is based. His adament opposition to slavery and his great defense of the rule of law are two valuable legacies he left with the country. The latter though has been neglected by some of his more recent colleagues in office. Also, after the first (and coincidentally most) bitter and contentious election in history in which Adams lost, he stepped down and eventually reconciled with his rival, Thomas Jefferson.

James Monroe, the only Anti-Federalist elected to the office, was a perfect candidate, an Anti-Federalist would be even more diligent in making sure unconstitutional laws weren't passed. This is exemplified by the fact that he once vetoed a road bill, as his predecessor had done, as roads were not the responsibility of the federal government. The Monroe doctrince was his one failure, but it was crafted by the nationalist John Quincy Adams and I can therefore forgive him for it.

Thomas Jefferson- A truly great leader, in a time when the United States had to fight a war against Barbary Pirates and a quasi naval war with France, one could always look to Thomas Jefferson for principled leadership. Also the man who penned the Decalration of Independence as well as being quite possibly the single most important thinker in American history would have to be on any respectable list of great presidents. I disagree with some of his views on farmers and such, but overall, the purchase of Louisiana and his other dealings internationally were appropriate and constitutionally sound.

James Madison- His crafting of the constitution and the Bill of Rights earns him the distinction of greatness no matter any deficiency he may have had as president. Personally, I find his handling of the War of 1812 quite remarkable as he was able to effectively beat a much stronger country and secure the rights of American ships at sea from being stopped and looted of both cargo and personnel. And he faught this quite dangerous war without giving himself any extra-constitutional powers or violating the rights of any Americans in the process.

George Washington- The father of this country is still its greatest president for two reasons. His personal courage and integrity have never been matched by any president after him, and only the previous four I've listed come anywhere near to him in that respect. His moral courage and ideological greatness are proven time and again when one reads of the American Revolution, how he kept the American army alive during its darkest days and eventually ended the war at Yorktown in 1781. Then quelling a potential officer rebellion by the sheer force of his character and then, when he could have followed so many victorious generals before him and taken the dictatorial reigns of the country he surrendered his command to the continental congress instead. After a short retirement he came back to public life to chair the constitutional convention because his presence alone would grant the body unquestionable legitimacy. After another short retirement he came back after a unanimous election in the electoral college to lead his country in two terms of office, a precedent follwed up by his predecessors until one of the great villains of American history, a person with not even half the moral integirty or a third of the brains as Washington, broke it. There is no question in my mind that with his track record, no other American leader has since come to do as much for their country, or do it in such a moral and courageous way.

I salute these, the greatest American presidents. This country surely could use men of their calibre now, with all the crises we are facing, but unfortunately they are gone and if we still appreciate liberty and individual rights then we ought to elect people who are more like them in the future.

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