The Five Best Presidents

February 17, 2002

by Bruce Walker

Only the utterly politicized, hopelessly leftist "official historians" could dream up the list of best and worst presidents which routinely pop up each February. Who winds up high on these lists? Men like Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Truman. As political correctness poisons the wells of academic truth, the traditional reputation of men like Washington and Jefferson become sullied.

Who have been the best American presidents? Who have been the worst? Here are my five best, along with the reasons why each man deserves his place on the list. Terms like "greatness" apply to some of these men, but according to the measures of some leftists, Stalin and Mao would be "great." America was founded on different values than these liberals use, and greatness in American terms is associated more with great and good deeds done, not horrors inflicted on the inhabitants of a nation.

George Washington is clearly the greatest president our nation ever had. George Washington, in chronological order, did each of the following wonderful things - unprecedented in history - which independently merit his special place:

• He won a Revolutionary War based upon revolutionary ideas.
• Having commanded through peril his armies to victory, he gave up power.
• He suppressed Shays Rebellion and preserved the Articles of Confederation.
• He presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
• He created the informal term limits for presidents.

Not just the father of his country, but in many ways the father of limited and representative government, Washington changed political history forever and for the better.

Thomas Jefferson should be next on the list of best presidents. His purchase of "Louisiana" did not just double the size of the United States, but it meant that the refugees from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia, and Germany would have land to settle and - with all the risks inherent in true freedom - to thrive.

Jefferson also defeated the first, and in many ways the greatest, threat to our constitutional liberties. When the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, it was serious business. One Congressman was jailed for violating this clearly unconstitutional law. Jefferson broke the power of those statutes without any help from the useless federal judiciary. Instead he used the state governments of Virginia and Kentucky - which passed resolutions proclaiming those federal laws unconstitutional - along with smashing electoral victory over the Federalists in the next election to end this most direct threat to our freedoms: the states and the people, not the courts and the bureaucrats, Jefferson showed, would protect individual rights.

Jefferson could have been re-elected for life, but he honored the request of Washington for two term limits (and strongly influenced by his actions, James Madison and James Monroe chose to do the same) so that subsequent presidents, however popular after eight years in office, turned the Presidency to other men.

Our third greatest president is Ronald Reagan, who turned 91 this month. He won a Cold War without bloodshed and restored the principles of limited government to their proper place. Ronald Reagan faced the nearly mortal gunshot wound from a would-be assassin not just with courage, but with humor.

Ronald Reagan was very successful before entering politics (which in liberalís weird mind makes men "dummies"). Thank goodness we now can read in manuscript his daily essays on the world, morality, and history so that the real genius of this inspirational leader is clear to all but the terminally liberal. Happy birthday, Mr. President.

Abraham Lincoln should be fourth on the list of great presidents. His tenacity preserved the Union and his vision began the process of emancipation. Lincoln was a very political animal, but he was also a very benevolent man whose fundamental goodness has been an inspiration to later presidents.

Lincoln also should receive high praise for leading the Republican Party - the first political party in history founded specifically on universal moral principles - to electoral victory. The strong civil rights legacy of the Republican Party continued from Lincoln to the present day (there are no "gaps" in time when Republicans were indifferent to the Ku Klux Klan or lynching).

Why does Lincoln not rank higher than Reagan or Jefferson? Because those two men, and Washington during his presidency, managed to achieve their objectives without bloodshed. Lincoln was great in every sense of the word, but doubling the size of the United States as Jefferson did or winning a global war without carnage as Reagan did simply must rank even greater.

Lincoln also selected as his running mate in 1864 one of the worst presidents in American history - Andrew Johnson - and when Lincoln died, the hope of much of America for a gentle, just peace died too.

George W. Bush has already established himself as at least our fifth best president, and he may well end up higher than fifth. That is, of course, the obvious fact about George W. Bush. He has always done much better than expected. Al Gore was supposed to whip him in the debates. Democrats were supposed to steal Florida, while Bush fumbled around. Washington was supposed to be immune to his charm. Long before September 11, George W. Bush had shown all sensible people that he was much more talented than liberals liked to think and that he wanted political power to do good.

President Bush has the confidence to surround himself with men and women who would be great presidents themselves - Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice - and this willingness to trust that other people also can carry the banner of liberty is the perfect bookend to our first president.

The president is also proving his greatness by defining evil and focusing his attention on that evil. It is easy to paint with broad strokes, and men like Clinton and FDR were great at lumping people together. It is hard - intellectually and morally - to pinpoint what needs to be done. President Bush is relaxed, good natured, but above all he is focused.

Those are the five best. America has generally been blessed with good presidents. Dwight Eisenhower, Calvin Coolidge, James Madison, John Kennedy, George H. Bush, and Harry Truman should probably be on a short list of very good presidents.

Clinton is an aberration - a man who was not raised up by the presidency (as was Chester A. Arthur or Harry Truman) but who managed to lower himself. History will judge Election 2000 as a watershed for our nation, and President Bush, like the great presidents before him, will bring to us what Abraham Lincoln so eloquently described as "A new birth of freedom." Let us give thanks.


Bruce Walker has been a dyed in the wool conservative since, as a sixth grader, he campaigned door to door for Barry Goldwater. Bruce has had almost two hundred published articles have appeared in the Oklahoma Bar Journal, Law & Order, Legal Secretary Today, The Single Parent, Enter Stage Right, Citizen's View, The American Partisan, Port of Call, and several other professional and political periodicals.

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For more of Bruce's articles, visit his archives.

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