01 October 2009

Greatest Presidents

1. George Washington. His leadership was remarkable in all ways, and he was rightly called first in war and first in peace. While the immense brunt of American resources would probably have assured independence from a distant oppressor, it was only with Washington's skill at managing the war that it was won in such a short time and with so few losses. Indeed, he lost several times quite badly, scrambling to create an army while still engaging and holding off the enemy, but his management of his losses was magnificent. He turned a war that might have lasted decades into a decisive and short conflict.

Afterwards, he enforced the laws of the land with magnanimity and swiftness, putting down the Whiskey Rebellion. Further conflict, such as the nascent officer's coup, he defused by his nobility alone. His foreign policy was inspired and almost certainly preserved America from meek vassalage. He created the traditions of humility and reticence which made the Presidency such a perfect office (prior to modern extensions of power). His farewell speech was a guide for all time.

Not just the father of the country, but its soul.

2. Thomas Jefferson. If Washington was America's soul, then call Jefferson its mind. His brilliance plucked the ideas of republicanism, limited government, and separation of church and state from their lettered abodes and made them into an effective plan for government. His understanding of the rights of men and the nature of the state found and presented the just cause of revolution. Just as Washington set forth the virtues of the federal government's central hand in such matters as the military and financial, Jefferson demonstrated the benefits of local government and state's rights.

Some of his "defeats" led to fundamental advances. His noble acknowledgment of a court subpoena established that not even the President was above the law, and the exposure of a long-term affair with his slave Sally Hemings showed that an impulse towards equality resided in America's elite from its start.

Jefferson was a master of a thousand crafts, and these thousand masteries helped make the nation.

3. Teddy Roosevelt. He broke the first mega-companies down when they threatened the welfare of the people, he practically created the conservation movement in America, and he was as potent a force as ever sat in the Office. While the Spanish-American War might have been unjust, he served in it as a soldier with astonishing distinction and courage and remains the only President to have the Medal of Honor. He is the only person to have ever gotten that highest aware for bravery as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.

They were flawed, but it's good to know that heroes have lived.

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