Top Five Presidents Term Paper

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Presidents in My Opinion

My choice of the top five U.S. Presidents ranked in descending order of importance is: Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, and George H.W. Bush. Since ranking of Presidents is always a subjective call, I am aware that this list may differ substantially from most others'; however, I shall try my best to justify my selection in this paper.

Thomas Jefferson

The third U.S. President and a prominent founding father of the country, Thomas Jefferson is widely recognized as one of the most brilliant individuals in history. An ardent believer in democracy, popular rule, and the rights of the people, he had greatly influenced the history of his country even before he brought his varied talents to the Presidency in 1801.

Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, for instance, encapsulates the general principles of a civil government, justification for the American Revolution, and a formal claim of independence in a surprisingly concise piece of writing. Few others could have drafted such a masterful draft, which galvanized internal support for the Revolution by removing any ambiguity about the direction of the struggle and established the "unalienable right" of each individual to rebel against a government that fails to work for his or her benefit.

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Having written in 1800, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man," (Quoted by Bonwick, 1993), he vigorously advocated the protection of the rights of the people against the "tyranny of the government." The incorporation of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution through the first ten amendments in 1791, which guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to fair trials such rights, became possible mainly due to Jefferson's ideas.

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Jefferson never abandoned his philosophy of promoting individual freedom, fear of governmental tyranny, and distrust of centralization of powers throughout his political career. He served his country well in his official capacity as the Secretary of State under George Washington when he fought against the Hamiltonian policies favoring the moneyed elite; as the Vice President in John Adam's Federalist government when he opposed the "Alien and Sedition Acts" that severely restricted the individual freedoms and freedom of the press; and during his two terms as the President when he sought to unite the country by moderating his policies, and gained for his country a huge territory stretching from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains through his skilful handling of the "Louisiana Purchase" with France. (Peterson, 1975)

At the end of his two-term Presidency, he chose to follow the "sound precedent" set by George Washington, by declining to run for another term, as he did not wish to see the presidency become "an inheritance." Even after his retirement, Jefferson made a significant contribution to posterity by setting up the University of Virginia. True to his vision of equal opportunity in education, the University set the precedent of accepting not only wealthy students, but also capable students too poor to pay. (Ibid.)

Jefferson, for his enormous contribution to the cause of democracy and the rights of the people at a crucial time in the country's history, is to my mind, the No. 1 U.S. President.

Ronald Reagan

When Ronald Reagan defeated the incumbent Jimmy Carter in the Presidential elections of 1980, the fortunes of the United States were at a low-ebb. The economy was in deep recession; unemployment and inflation ran high; the country's image as a super-power had been tarnished by the open defiance by Iran, which had held 53 American diplomats as hostage since November 1979; the Soviet Union was confidently expanding its sphere of global influence and had recently invaded Afghanistan. In the words of President Carter himself, the Americans were facing "a crisis of confidence" and most commentators were calling the state of affairs as, "America in Retreat."(Busch, 1997). After 8 years of Reagan's watch that ended in 1988, the American economy was vibrant, America had regained, or even exceeded its previous role as a superpower, and the Soviet Empire was teetering on its last legs before its eventual collapse. The astonishing turn-around in the country's fortunes was not coincidental. It was made possible by the policies followed by a seemingly simple man who made no tall claims about being a great intellectual, but was clear-headed, knew exactly what he wanted, and did not fall into the trap of micro-managing the Presidency.

At a time when lesser men would have followed a policy of isolationism and appeasement, Reagan realized the extent of Soviet Union's economic weakness and put in place a strategy to tighten the economic screws. He increased the U.S. defense budget from $134 billion in 1980 to $253 billion in 1985; announced the start of Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") that the Soviets could not compete with; and put in place a long-term diplomatic strategy to drive down world oil prices on which the Soviet Union was so heavily dependant for its hard currency earnings. (Ibid.) Hence, even if we disregard all his other achievements, Reagan's central role in hastening the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resultant eclipse of Communism as an attractive alternative to Capitalism and democracy is enough to place the "great communicator" among the top most U.S. Presidents.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Another often under-estimated President who, in my book, belongs among the top-most bracket, is Dwight D. Eisenhower -- the man who presided over a dangerous period of the Cold War with supreme level-headedness.

Ike" as he was popularly known had earned his spurs during the World War II as the supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe and was highly popular in his country for what he had achieved in the War. At the time of the U.S. Presidential elections, the Republicans had lost 5 straight elections in a row, and the Party was looking for a 'winnable' candidate; they found one in the likeable "Ike" who duly won the elections in a near-landslide against the Democratic candidate, Adlai E. Stevenson.

When he became the President in 1953, the U.S. was bogged down in the stalemated Korean War. Some war hawks had expected Eisenhower, the soldier, to escalate the war. Instead, he did the opposite, promptly ending the war with honor. The 1950s were the peak of the Cold War era when nuclear confrontation between the U.S. And the Soviet Union, was a very real possibility. Eisenhower was determined to avoid such a war at all costs, and he did so successfully. Like Reagan, Ike was also a great believer in delegation of powers to competent assistants as he realized that the job of a President had become far too complex for one individual to direct all its details. (Kengor, 1998). Because of his deliberate laid back style, Eisenhower was often erroneously regarded as a lazy, intellectual lightweight. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Just as the "proof of the pudding is in its eating," Ike's presidency "gave America eight good years during which there were no wars, no riots, no inflation -- just peace and prosperity." (William Ewald, quoted by Kengor, 1998) His ranking at No. 3 is, therefore, well earned.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt was the longest serving U.S. President, having been elected an unprecedented 4 times to the office. He steered the country out of the Great Depression and the Second World War and was indeed one of the most influential presidents in the U.S. history. When FDR first became the president in 1933, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. More than 16 million Americans were unemployed and the whole banking system had collapsed. Urgent action was called for and Roosevelt, declaring that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" in his inaugural address, took on the crisis head-on. He implemented his New Deal program through a series of legislation during the first 5 years of his presidency, which was unprecedented in its scope and effect. (Rozell and Pederson, 1997)

Apart from providing urgent relief and initiating recovery measures, Roosevelt introduced far reaching reform measures that made U.S. A welfare state. A Social Security System that provided unemployment insurance and age-old benefits, minimum wages, and limited working hours were introduced for the first time. Innovative development programs, such as the setting up of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), helped to improve economic conditions in some of the most economically depressed states of the country. Roosevelt led an "isolationist" United States into the Second World War after an effective build-up of the U.S. military and performed the role of a wartime leader with unflagging determination. It is remarkable that the American people continued to support Roosevelt over such a long period and his popularity ratings never fell significantly until he died in the office in 1945. (Borden, 1961, pp. 232-235)

FDR's ability to give the American people hope… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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