I was thinking of doing this list leading up to the election, but never got around to it. Now that Skooch wants to see one, I figures, why not? NOTE: this isn't a "best" list per se, as deciding the criteria for greatness is too difficult. Many of the men considered to be the GREATS happened to have the good historical fortune of having a major issue (usually a war) during their term, their success in which has propelled them to greatness. Did that truly make them better than presidents who may have averted crisis unknown during their terms? Also, the role of the presidency has evolved significantly since WWII, making it a more involving job, yet we are more likely to bestow greatness on the men of antiquity that didn't have that big a role to play. Instead of getting deeper into the debate of greatness, consider this a list a mix of my favourites and the best.
5. Bill Clinton (Democrat, served 1993-2001, 42nd President)- the main reason why I didn't want to do a Best of 5 was so that I could include Clinton. He wouldn't fall into the best five, but he's one of my favourites. He's the only President that I've liked and supported during my conscious lifetime (as a child, I didn't really follow politics). I think history will remember Clinton well (depending on who's writing it, of course), and I long for the good old days when the U.S. President exported ideas of freedom and goodwill, whose State of the Union addresses were filled with hope and the idea that government could be a tool of the people. Damn September 10th mindset. Fun fact: William Jefferson Clinton is the only Rhodes Scholar to serve as President.
4. Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican, served 1953-1961, 34th President)- I like Ike. He provided the country with much-needed peace and prosperity, expanding the middle class while keeping the Cold War from escalating. He fought his advisor's suggestions of using nuclear weapons against the Soviets, to pull back New Deal policies of social spending, and managed to keep military spending from skyrocketing (in part, by not spending money on rockets), all the while establishing the Interstate highway system. It's funny, I think today's Republican party would call the man who lead the greatest invasionary mission in history a weak-kneed pussy. Karl Rove would get some "independent" interest group to claim that he didn't deserve 2 out of his 5 stars as General. Fun Fact: the U.S. Armed Forces have only bestowed the rank of five star general on 9 individuals, Ike is one of only four army generals to receive the rank.
3. Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican, served 1801-1809, 3rd President)- Perhaps the finest philosophical mind America has ever produced, Jefferson is the author of the Declaration of Independence, one of the foremost documents of the Enlightenment. During his time as President, Jefferson oversaw the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Louisiana Purchase, and even fought with pirates! (Well, not himself, but America did under his direction. Arrrrr). He's featured on Mount Rushmore, the nickel, and the $2 bill. Fun Fact: Jefferson's 1800 election was a tie between he and Aaron Burr, each winning 73 electoral votes. The House named Jefferson President and Burr Vice-President (which led to the 12th Amendment, which made it so people voted for the Vice President. Prior to that, the second place finisher in the election was named Vice President, as Jefferson had been in 1796). Burr would gain historical infamy when he would kill Alexander Hamilton, who once served with Jefferson in George Washington's cabinet, in a duel. Zell Miller misses those days.
2. Franklyn Delano Roosevelt (Democrat, served 1933-1945, 32nd President)- Before FDR, the Presidency was only exceptional when held by exceptional individuals. The role of the Chief Executive in the U.S. was largely an administrative one, with the U.S. playing a small role on the international stage. With the introduction of his New Deal policies during the Great Depression, FDR saw the role of the government create and expand social spending to what is now referred to as the welfare state. These reforms made the President the most powerful individual in the country. His role in leading the U.S. into WWII, brought the U.S. back into the international stage, leading a military and industrial force unseen before him, making the President of the United States the most powerful individual in the world. Not bad for a guy in a wheelchair. He was elected four times, giving him 12 years in office. He would have kept winning, but he died in office and then the U.S. passed the 22nd ammendment, limiting presidents to two terms (dumb law, I say). He's featured on the dime. Fun Fact: throughout his lifetime, most Americans did not know that their president used a wheelchair, as his advisers and even the media, kept it hidden. During public appearances, he would have aides (or secret service) stand on each side of him to use as crutches.
1. Abraham Lincoln (Republican, served 1861-1865, 16th President)- He united the warring country and freed the slaves. Nuff said. He's featured on Mount Rushmore, the penny, the $5 bill, and has a big statue in Washington (something called the Lincoln Memorial). Fun Fact: Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865 while attending the play Our American Cousin. Okay, that fact wasn't so fun. Try this one, the historical site known as Lincoln's Cabin was built thirty year's after his death. "Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."