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The Great Presidents of the United States and their Achievements

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The president of the United States is by far the best known politician both within the United States and around the world.  Presidents enjoy one important advantage because of a constitutional practice rather than the Constitution as such. The president is uniquely positioned to claim to be the person who can speak for the United States and the national interest, particularly during crises and emergencies. This reflects the fact that, contrary to the plan for electing the president set out in the Constitution, the president is in practice elected directly by the people voting state by state. Thus the president can claim with some plausibility to be the only politician to have been elected by all the people, in contrast to legislators elected by a single state or district. Yet all these Constitutional advantages must be set against the constraints the Constitution provides and that we have discussed above (USPRE 2008).

The most obvious are worth reiterating. Presidents cannot legislate without Congress. Presidents cannot even implement established policies unless Congress, which has the power of the purse, provides the funding. A success varies over the course of a presidency. Even those presidents regarded as the most successful in gaining support from Congress have found that toward the end of their presidencies their success has faltered. Both Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson experienced dramatic success in obtaining legislation from Congress only to experience subsequent periods of frustration and failure.  a president’s success may be influenced by reactions to events that occurred under his predecessors. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter both suffered from the belief that under their predecessors an overly powerful “imperial presidency” had developed. Ronald Reagan benefited from a fear that under Carter and Ford the presidency had become “imperiled, not imperial” (USPRE 2008)

Great presidents were not only stubborn and disagreeable, but were also more extraverted, open to experience, assertive, achievement striving, excitement seeking and more open to fantasy according to Steven Rubenzer, Ph.D (Holmes 2008).

 George Washington was the first President of the United States took his oath at his office on April 30, 1789 (McDougall 2008).  The first President of the United States of America from 1789-1797 refused to be affiliated with any party.   He is among the most loved American presidents as he set America on-course to become a great democratic republic through such acts as Judiciary Act of 1789, Residence Act of 1790, Bank Act of 1791, Coinage Act of 1792, and Naval Act of 1794. His most notable contribution has been voluntarily relinquishing power after two terms, in spite of being the only President to be unanimously elected twice (Schultz 2008).  He defined the office of the Presidency in terms of its limits as well as its powers, and is more responsible than anyone else for translating the theoretical wisdom embodied in the Constitution into pragmatic, enduring reality. His Farewell Address is still the greatest state paper in American history (McDougall 2008).

John Adams was the next President to George Washington.  He became the President of United States in March 14, 1797.  He sought political harmony (Adam 2006). He is a patriot, a diplomat, and a political philosopher he deserves his place among the greatest of the Founding Fathers His quasi-war with France and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were his most famous accomplishments (McDougall 2008).  John Quincy Adams served only one term as president. He supported internal improvements including the extension of the Cumberland Road. In 1828, the so-called “tariff of abominations” was passed. Its goal was to protect domestic manufacturing. It was strongly opposed in the South and led Vice President John C. Calhoun to argue again for the right of nullification – to have South Carolina nullify it by ruling it unconstitutional (Kelly 2008).

Thomas Jefferson is a radical ideologue with too loose a tongue in the 1790’s, he performed as President with statesmanlike skill and bipartisanship, and kept his eyes fixed on national, not factional, interests. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase was a coup, and the Lewis and Clark Expedition a triumph of vision. He practiced libertarianism at home and “no entangling alliances” abroad, and placed his stamp on the emerging Democratic Party (McDougall 2008). Simplicity and frugality became the hallmarks of Jefferson’s administration.  Jefferson’s second administration began with a minor success–the favorable settlement concluding the TRIPOLITAN WAR (1801-05), in which the newly created U.S. Navy fought its first engagements. The following year the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which the president had dispatched to explore the Louisiana Territory, returned triumphantly after crossing the continent. The West was also a source of trouble, however.

The disaffected Aaron Burr engaged in a conspiracy, the details of which are still obscure, either to establish an independent republic in the Louisiana Territory or to launch an invasion of Spanish-held Mexico. Jefferson acted swiftly to arrest Burr early in 1807 and bring him to trial for treason. Burr was acquitted, however. Jefferson’s main concern in his second administration was foreign affairs, in which he experienced a notable failure. In the course of the Napoleonic Wars Britain and France repeatedly violated American sovereignty in incidents such as the Chesapeake affair. Jefferson attempted to avoid a policy of either appeasement or war by the use of economic pressure. The Embargo Ace (Dec. 22, 1807), which prohibited virtually all exports and most imports and was supplemented by enforcing legislation, was designed to coerce British and French recognition of American rights. Although it failed, it did rouse many northerners, who suffered economically, to a state of defiance of national authority. The Federalist Party experienced a rebirth of popularity. In 1809, shortly before he retired from the presidency, Jefferson signed the act repealing the embargo, which had been in effect for 15 months (Thom 1994).

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, he was President from 1861-1865 and rightfully deserves kudos for his skillful leadership during the Civil War to preserve the Union (Schultz 2008). Aside from his war leadership (which was brilliant in terms of morale, though marred by numerous false starts and errors) and generous plan for Reconstruction, he pushed through the Transcontinental Railway, Homestead Act, and Land Grant College system, thus laying the geographical and institutional foundations for a continental super state. But he was able to do so much in domestic policy because the Southern contingent had walked out of the Capitol; hence there is probably no point in wondering what sort of peacetime President he would have made (McDougall 2008).

Lincoln’s emphatic and strong rejection of the Southern states decision to breakaway from the union and his armed relation against the Confederates, not only ended slavery but preserved and strengthened the Union (Schultz 2008).  In foreign policy, he and his canny Secretary of State William H. Seward kept the Europeans out of the American conflict and expanded U.S. trade with Asia. No other President had to overcome such extreme peril, and it is hard to imagine how he could have done so without those arrogations of power to the Federal Government for which some conservatives now fault him (McDougall 2008).

Andrew Jackson, a Democrat, occupied his office from 1829-1837. He greatly increased the power of the American Presidency by defusing the South Carolina attempt to nullify a federal law passed by the U.S. Congress. He encouraged political participation by American citizens (other than women and slaves) (Schultz 2008). Jackson left a legacy of a strong presidency. Since his time it has been commonplace for presidents to repeat his assertion that the president represents the will of the people better than Congress does. His example has also made it mandatory for presidents, as well as other American politicians, to appeal to the people at large rather than special interests (Andr 2007).  He was the first U.S. president to come from the area west of the Appalachians and the first to gain office by a direct appeal to the mass of voters. His political movement has since been known as Jacksonian Democracy (Andr 2008).

James K. Polk is a Democrat.  He occupied the office of President during 1845-1849 and exhibited his political acumen during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), annexation of Texas, acquisition of Mexican territories (like California, etc.) and settled conflict with the British over Oregon territory (Schultz 2008).  Polk’s administration lived up to its campaign promises. In 1846 Polk reached an agreement with Great Britain over the disputed Oregon Territories. While the treaty did not provide the full territory to the United States, the area that is now the states of Washington and Oregon was formally placed under the control of the United States. The issue of Texas was not solved as peacefully. In the Texas debate America wanted to establish the southern border of the nation at the Rio Grande while Mexico favored the Nueces River for the national boundary. In 1845 Polk sent federal emissaries to offer compensation for the disputed area of Texas as well as the territories of New Mexico and California.

When the Mexican government rejected the offer, Polk sent troops under General Zachary Taylor into the Texas Territory. Mexican troops attacked Taylor’s force, and Polk claimed this action as a provocation of war. Congress approved Polk’s decision, and the Mexican War began. The decision to go to war was not unanimous. Some legislators, including Representative Abraham Lincoln, felt that the Mexican War would be used as a tool to spread slavery into new states and territories in the west. After a year and a half of fighting, and another 6 months of civil unrest and negotiation, the combatants signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, ending the Mexican War.

Polk remained true to his campaign promise and did not seek a second term as president, retiring from office in 1849. During Polk’s presidency, the United States attained the desire of Manifest Destiny. The nation now controlled the land between the two oceans. The states of Texas, Iowa, and Wisconsin were admitted to the Union during Polk’s term of office. It was also under Polk’s presidency that the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland was established. The issue of slavery, especially in the newly acquired lands, continued to haunt the country, and Polk’s administration did little to soothe the turmoil (Jame 2004).

Theodore Roosevelt was the only accidental President to achieve even Above Average, much less great status; he was a leader in every sense and in every arena. His formula of big government to stand as umpire between big business and big labor may be deemed wrongheaded, but his policies of peace through strength (the “big stick”) abroad and trust-busting and conservation at home, not to mention the Panama Canal and the mediation of the Russo – Japanese War in 1905, more than justify his place on Mt. Rushmore (McDougall 2008).

Woodrow Wilson is a Democrat.  He occupied the office of President of the United States during 1913-1921. He gave ample evidence of his political acumen during World War 1 (1914-1918) and of his skillful leadership skills that helped formulate Federal Reserve Act (1913), Federal Trade Commission Act (1914), Clayton Antitrust Act (1914) and Treaty of Versailles (1919 – that ended World War 1). He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for promoting the League of Nations (Schultz 2008). He mobilized a nation – its manpower, its industry, its commerce, its agriculture. He was himself the chief mover in the propaganda war. His speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, on the Fourteen Point was a decisive stroke in winning that war, for people everywhere saw in his peace aims the vision of a world in which freedom, justice, and peace could flourish  (Then c. 2008).

Franklin D. Roosevelt is a Democrat.  He was President from 1933-1945 and gave an account of his brilliant leadership skills during World War II (1939-1945) and the Great Depression (1929-1933). He played a key role in the formation of the United Nations in 1945. He is the architect of the New Deal (a series of recovery measures taken between 1933 and 1938 to get the States out of Depression). His lasting legacy to Americans is Social Security Act (passed on August 14, 1935) and Securities Exchange Act 1934 (created Securities Exchange Commission for regulating publicly traded U.S. firms) (Schultz 2008).  He served four terms spanning crises more acute than any others in U.S. history except in the Civil War, and left a more indelible mark than any other President in this century. To be sure, his New Deal was slapdash, mostly ineffectual, and at times unconstitutional, and his frivolous foreign policy lurched from deep isolationism in the mid 1930s to disingenuous interventionism from 1937 to 1941, to harebrained Wilsonianism and appeasement of Stalin during World War II. But to borrow Tip O’Neill’s line about Reagan, “the people loved him,” and he led them through the most trying of times. FDR, scoundrel and titan: the Pisastratus of American politics (McDougall 2008).

Harry S. Truman is a Democrat.  He was President during 1945-1953. He showed his leadership qualities during World War II and Cold war. He was forced to take many tough decisions and ordered the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings to end World War II. He brought to fruition Roosevelt’s proposal of forming United Nations (Schultz 2008).  He had followed his predecessor’s policies, but he soon developed his own. He presented to Congress a 21-point program, proposing the expansion of Social Security, a full-employment program, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act, and public housing and slum clearance. The program, Truman wrote, “symbolizes for me my assumption of the office of President in my own right.” It became known as the Fair Deal (Harr 2008).

Dwight D. Eisenhower is a Republican.  He was President during 1953-1961 and showed his astute leadership skills during cold war. He also showed his foresightedness by implementing the interstate highway system, emphasized free markets and enforced Supreme Court desegregation (Schultz 2008).  In his term, peace and prosperity for eight years, dangerous Cold War crises averted or managed, a federal budget cut and balanced, the military downsized without risking national security, and not least the Interstate Highway System: more than enough for greatness. He made mistakes (Suez, Earl Warren, the U-2 fiasco), but admitted them as such and took responsibility. He had a temper, but he was shrewd and governed without scandal. Colin Powell’s greatest asset is that people hope he’s another Ike (McDougall 2008).

Ronald Reagan made some mistakes (Iran – Contra and the deregulation of Savings & Loans without repeal of federal deposit insurance), ran up big deficits, and had the good fortune to follow five consecutive botched Administrations. But he gave America eight years of peace and prosperity, restored the nation’s optimism with a skill at least equal to FDR’s, honored wholesome values to a degree unknown since Ike, broke up OPEC and thus broke the back of inflation, and, together with Thatcher, Walesa, John Paul II, Solzhenitsyn, and Gorbachev, tossed the Soviet empire on the ash heap of history. The leadership void he left behind is eloquent testimony to his stature (McDougall 2008).

A successful president surrounds himself with a strong team.  Think about George Washington.  He started both with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in his cabinet.  He started both [with] Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in his cabinet, two men who hated each other, strong-willed individuals, yet both of them sitting around the table (Rove 2003).

A successful president also organizes advisers to give him what a president most often lacks – solid, straightforward advice. So an effective leader is one who can allow people to give advice that may not be in agreement with his views and values and opinions, and yet to feel secure in the knowledge that they are serving the president by doing so. Creating this environment for rigorous give and take, and minimizing leaks and the use of the press to pay back other members of the staff who said something with which you might disagree, is a difficult thing for a president to do, but a vital thing (Rove 2003).

In my point of view, Franklin D. Roosevelt is the greatest President of the United States.  The unity of the nations today is the result of his role as a President in his terms.  The Social Security Act and Security Exchange Act that was made in his term have great use for the Americans until now.

War can make a President great. But in any ways you see the greatness of a President, the greatness is in how the historians record their achievements and how the historians emphasize their achievements.  There are Presidents who did great because of the achievements that have been made in their term that until now is a great use for the American People.  There are Presidents who achieve greatly because of the strategy and the things they did during the war.  And there are great Presidents because peace, harmony and prosperity maintained during his term. In either way the people views it, every President of the United States is great in their own way.


McDougall, Walter A. “Rating the presidents: being a great president requires the right opportunities, the right choices, and the right historian”. National Review, Inc. 2008.

Holmes, Leonard. “Great Presidents are Stubborn and Disagreeable”.  About, Inc. 2008.

Schultz, Eric.  “Top 10 Great Presidents of the United States of America”.  Ezine Articles. 2008.  < http://ezinearticles.com/?Top-10-Great-Presidents-of-the-United-States-of-America&id=986544>.

“U.S. President”.  Answers. 2008. < http://www.answers.com/topic/president-of-the-united-states-2>.

Rove, Karl.  “What Makes a Great President”.  History News Network.  30 June 2003.  < http://hnn.us/articles/1529.html>.

“Harry S. Truman”.  The White House.  C. 2008. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/ht33.html>.

“Woodrow Wilson The Nobel Foundation Prize 1919”. The Nobel Prize. C. 2008.  < http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1919/wilson-bio.html>.

“James K. Polk”. State Library of North California. 3 October 2004. < http://statelibrary.dcr.state.nc.us/nc/bio/public/polk.htm>.

“Andrew Jackson”. Encyclopedia Britanica. 2008. < http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9043159/Andrew-Jackson>.

“Andrew Jackson”.  Encarta.  2007. http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761569591/Jackson_Andrew.html.

Kelly, Martin H. “John Quincy Adams – 6th President of the United States”. About. 2008. http://americanhistory.about.com/od/johnquincyadams/p/pjqadams.htm

“Adams, John”.  Encyclopedia Americana. Scholastic Library Publishing, Inc. 2006.

“Thomas Jefferson”. 1994. <http://sc94.ameslab.gov/TOUR/tjefferson.html>

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