The office of President of the United States carries with it the understanding and reality that the person holding the office is the most powerful man in the world. Their successes and failures resonate throughout history. Among these exceptional men you will find some whose influence and profound impact have resonated throughout history. This list aims to highlight some of the most influential Presidents in American History.
#10. President Andrew Jackson / 7th President / (1829 – 1837)
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the first President to deal with the issue of states threatening to secede from the union? I give you Andrew Jackson versus the state of South Carolina in 1831’s “Tariff of Abominations” crisis. Long story short, South Carolina threatened to secede over the issue and Jackson said absolutely not. In fact he put the clamps on the notion of a state trying to secede from the union period. He also said that states couldn’t nullify federal law. The Battle of New Orleans hero was not to be trifled with politically, as well as militarily. Future President Abraham Lincoln would not be as fortunate in this regard. Jackson’s influence was complex but suffice it to say that he was among the first in a long line of populist politicians. He made his bones portraying himself as a defender of the common citizen in their struggle with the wealthy ‘Nuevo’ aristocracy, otherwise known as financiers and their banks. It would seem that the 99% have had issues with the 1% for time and memorial.
#9. President Thomas Jefferson / 3rd President / (1801 – 1809)
Thomas Jefferson is best known as one of the main authors of our own Declaration of Independence. He was perhaps the most intellectually brilliant of our founding fathers. Jefferson was always a champion of democratic ideals and a stalwart proponent of the rights of the individual. His democratic fervor was the catalyst that influenced American colonists to get out from under the rule of Great Britain in favor of a new nation of free men and women. Influential is an understatement when discussing Jefferson’s legacy.
#8. President Theodore Roosevelt / 26th President / (1901 – 1909)
Theodore Roosevelt was a figurehead and motivational force during the Progressive Era of American politics throughout the early 20th century. Operating in the same vein as Andrew Jackson, Roosevelt was a staunch advocate against the unbalanced power and predatory intrusion of corporate businesses. He used his power to create and enforce antitrust law(s), bringing at least 40 antitrust lawsuits against imposing monopolistic corporations such as Standard Oil. In addition, Roosevelt successfully tackled health and hygiene abuses being perpetrated in the food manufacturing industry, including fraudulent labeling and the use of harmful chemicals in processed food. He aided Congress in passing the ‘Meat Inspection Act of 1906’ as well as the ‘Pure Food and Drug Act’. Teddy was also a driving force in the conservation movement, using his influence to protect wildlife and public lands. He created the United States Forest Service. He also established some 150 national forests and dozens of national monuments. In total Roosevelt was responsible for the protection of over 2oo million acres of pristine American land.
#7. President Ronald Wilson Reagan / 40th President / (1981 – 1989)
Depending on which side of the political spectrum you might find yourself, Ronald Wilson Reagan was either lucifer incarnate or conservative political icon. There seems to be little room for anything in-between, although this is not exactly a surprising reality for the actor turned Governor, turned President. He was famous for his ‘supply-side’ economic policies affectionately, or dubiously (depending) referred to as ‘Reaganomics’. Policies which advocated for a reduced tax rate for top earners, in an effort to stimulate economic growth with ‘top down’ movement. Increased control of the money supply to curb inflation, economic deregulation, and a large reduction in government spending (typically in social welfare programs). Controversial? Certainly. Proven as a successful policy? Hardly. Constantly used (and misused) by modern conservatives? Absolutely. The reason Reagan finds himself at #7 on our list is due in no small part to his deification by hard right conservatives. The irony of course is that if he were alive today, he wouldn’t be anywhere near conservative enough according to modern criteria. Apparently major parts of his political record have been either ignored, cherry picked, or omitted outright. Ronald Reagan’s legend closely resembles the embellishment of Hercules from Greek mythology.
#6. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy / 35th President / (1961 – 1963)
John F. Kennedy‘s two plus years in the White House were among the most turbulent, precipitous, and compelling of any comparable two year presidential period in history. Unfortunately, it culminated with his murder in Dallas November 22nd of 1963. Marking the last successful Presidential assassination to date, and spawning the greatest murder mystery in the history of the world. That is if you reject the ‘Warren Commission’ and understand that Lee Oswald didn’t act alone, if at all. His influence? How about leading us safely through ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’, ‘The Bay of Pigs’ fiasco, the ‘Nuclear Test Ban Treaty’, as well as the creation of our beloved ‘Peace Corps’. There was also that little moon landing thing to win the space race with Russia, and let’s not forget his progressive actions dealing with the white hot issue called the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ which was starting to tear the nation apart, again. Yes, John Kennedy had a very eventful presidency in a time that was cut much too short. His influence is unmistakable, his mark indelible.
#5. President Lyndon Baines Johnson / 36th President / (1963 – 1969)
Known throughout political circles historically and beyond as LBJ, Lyndon Baines Johnson found himself thrown into the position of worlds most powerful man. This following the tragic and diabolically sudden late November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Johnson was a hard-nosed politician who used a combination of brute political coercion and a velvet touch to get important legislation passed. In many ways his no nonsense style called the ‘Johnson treatment’ is something that is sorely missing from modern Democratic party politics. It was expressly his talent and ability to move political chains that enabled the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His ‘Great Society’ platform paved the way for profound civil rights legislation. Johnson was also responsible for the birth of Medicare and Medicaid as we know them today. His ‘War on Poverty’ was earnest and effective as it led to the rise of millions of Americans above the poverty line. Without question Lyndon Baines Johnson was one of the most influential Presidents in American history. The country becoming a much better society because of his efforts.
#4. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt / 32nd President / (1933 – 1945)
If a person were born in 1933, they would have only known one President by the time they turned 12 in 1945. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, aka. FDR was the first and last 4 term President in American history. Roosevelt and his administration was a major player in many of the pivotal occurrences of the 20th century, including the ‘Great Depression’, ‘World War II’ and his ‘New Deal’ program for economic relief, recovery, financial reform, and a social safety net. Which involved the unprecedented expansion in the role of the federal government in socio-economics. His radio speech to the nation after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which included the famous quote ‘A date which will live in infamy’, galvanized Americans in our successful fight against the axis powers. His leadership and diplomacy in dealing with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin during WW II was indispensable to the ‘Allies’ as they soundly defeated Adolf Hitler and the Axis powers. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s influence is still felt today.
#3. President Harry S. Truman / 33rd President / (1945 – 1953)
If for no other reason Harry S. Truman‘s presidency will always be influential due to the fact that he presided over the first and only offensive use of nuclear weaponry in war. Truman ascended to the presidency on April 12, 1945 following the untimely death of F.D.R. It was during the final stages of World War II that he made the fateful decision to drop the atomic bombs that eviscerated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those actions effectively ended Japan’s involvement in the war as they officially declared their unconditional surrender the day after the bombing of Nagasaki. The decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan was not an easy one at the time, and is still controversial today.
#2. President Barack Hussein Obama / 44th President / (2008 – 2016)
Barack Obama‘s presidency was the 44th in American history but even more historically significant than that was the fact that he also became the first African American President of the United States. A monumental achievement given America’s long, sorted, and shameful history in terms of race relations. The fate of the African American in America and the very existence of the union itself, having once been hanging perilously on the strings of the Civil War. Obama’s election grows beyond the concept of influential and into the annals of American exceptionalism. A shining example of the world’s greatest social experiment meeting the ideals set forth in the American Constitution. His stewardship in getting the Affordable Care Act passed and enacted as law carries huge influence in and of itself, as millions of Americans who didn’t have access to affordable healthcare, now do. However, his 2008 election in the first place is one for the ages.
#1. President Abraham Lincoln / 16th President / (1861 – 1865)
It would be difficult to fully encompass all that Abraham Lincoln‘s presidency has meant to the United States of America, however we can start with the fact that it still exists as a milestone marker. From the moment Lincoln was elected as the 16th President of the United States in 1861 until his ruthless assassination in 1865. President Lincoln had the unenviable task of holding together a fledgling nation that was literally tearing itself apart. The Civil War remains the worst self inflicted wound in the history of the United States. Lincoln’s entire presidency was an exercise of political crisis in the gymnasium of moral rectitude. His influence? Successfully preserving the union, the abolition of the scourge of slavery and the triumph of human morality. Had Lincoln failed, the United States of America too, would have been a ‘house divided’ failure less than 100 years into it’s existence. His ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ of 1862, effectively freed all American slaves and the 1865 passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution made their freedom constitutionally legal for time and memorial. How’s that for influential?