History recognizes its most loved and hated characters. Ceasar, Napoleon, Hitler and Churchill are a few names of men that’ll never be forgotten. But in honor of President’s Day, a little time should be taken to remember some of the most influential – both positively and negatively – presidents of the United States.
Beginning in kindergarten, nearly every student knows who the beloved first president was. When Washington came into office in 1789, serving as president for eight years was not even the first of his great accomplishments. Commander-in-Chief of the American Army during the American Revolution, this man is often attributed as a key factor in America’s victory.
During his presidency, Washington managed to normalize trade and create a cautious peace with Great Britain through the Jay Treaty.
“Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages,” said Washington.
And indeed, he seemed to have lived that way.
Another well-known president, Abraham Lincoln is best known for his involvement during the Civil War, which resulted in the abolition of slavery. He was president from 1861-1865, and led the Union as Commander-in-Chief.
“It is easy to see that, under the sharp discipline of civil war, the nation is beginning a new life,” Lincoln said, in an 1863 message to congress.
Lincoln’s second term was cut short by his assassination by southern confederate John Wilkes Boothe.
Ulysses S. Grant
Rising as the 18th president of the United States in 1869, Ulysses S. Grant had established leadership in paving the way for the North’s victory in the American Civil War over the Confederate South.
As president, he supportfed Native American policy, civil service reform and African American rights.
Grant attended United States Military Academy at West Point in New York and fought in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848.
Grant became a renowned general during the American Civil War, and his support from Republicans led to his position as president.
As president, Grant rejected party politics and appointed people to his cabinet whom he considered trust worthy and responsibility. Some members were corrupted and caused problems in parts of his administration. This damaged Grant’s reputation during his second term, and he didn’t run for president for a third term.
“My failures have been errors of judgment, not of intent,” Grant said in his Eight State of the Union Address.
Despite this, he’s still remembered as a figure of Union victory during the American Civil War who fought courageously.
Referred to as Teddy Roosevelt, the 43-year-old became president after his predecessor, William McKinley, was assassinated while serving his second term. Previous to his political career, Roosevelt served as a lieutenant colonel in the Spanish American War. Famous for his popularization of the proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick . . .”, Roosevelt is credited for leading America onto the stage of world politics.
His most notable achievement included being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War, protecting natural habitats and wildlife through the creation of national parks and beginning the construction of the Panama Canal which was completed in 1914 under Woodrow Wilson’s presidency.
When Herbert Hoover was nominated as Republican Nominee for the 1929 election, he said
“We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.”
He won the election, and eight months later, the stock market crashed, forcing the country into one of the greatest periods of poverty ever seen. Facing the opposition of a economically crumbling country, Hoover combated the depression through tariffs, the increase in corporate tax and public work projects.
The Quaker born president is rarely remembered fondly, but his largest public work project ensures his name will never be forgotten. The Hoover Dam finished construction in 1936 and was named by President Roosevelt in honor of the man who started its construction.
Warren G. Harding
President shortly after WWI, Warren Harding is famous for a series of failures and inconsistencies. President during the prohibition, he served bootleg whiskey at White House parties.
Harding’s First Secretary accepted bribes to help acquire natural gas, causing a scandal called the Teapot Dome, which was not made public until after Harding’s death. Journalist Carl S. Anthony asserted that Harding had four extra-marital affairs. Harding died in office of congestive heart failures, though some speculate that his wife poisoned him.
Mrs. Harding refused an autopsy for her husband and burned all his private papers within a year of his death.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The only president to serve more than two terms, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 12 year presidency began during the Great Depression and ended just before the end of WWII. From his personal battle to Polio to the battle against the axis powers, Roosevelt faced some of the greatest struggles America has seen. His “New Deal” is largely credited for bringing America out of the Great Depression, and along with his duties as Commander-in-Chief during WWII, he worked tirelessly to create the United Nations – a global effort to create peace.
Harry S. Truman
It’s controversial as to whether this president had a positive or negative effect on American history. Whatever one believes, it can’t be denied that his decisions caused rippling effects. Truman came to office in 1945, facing a country still finishing up WWII.
“Truman learned about the atomic bomb soon after becoming president. Now, he agonized over whether to use the weapon against the Japanese,” PBS Presidential Biographies said.
In June, the president, in mutual agreement with a special committee, decided to drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leading the world into a nuclear era.
It’s almost impossible for the 37th president’s name to be said without being instantly followed the term Watergate.
The Washington Post explains the Watergate scandal as “A burglary at a Washington office complex called the Watergate in June 1972, grew into a wide-ranging political scandal that culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon two years later. ‘Watergate’ is shorthand for this tumultuous time in America and its enduring impact.”
Aside from the scandal, Nixon is noted for beginning the withdrawing of American troops in the Vietnam War, and his foreign policy which strove to create a good relationship with China. The only president to resign, Nixon’s second term ended in 1974 after lying about his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Most famous for his peaceful war against communism, Ronald Reagan’s presidency in alliance with Great Britain’s Margaret Thatcher are credited for ending the Cold War. Beyond his fight against communism, Reagan instituted tax reform, stimulated economic growth, increased employment and strengthened national defenses.
The former actor’s wit and charm won over the American people, and at the end of his two-term presidency, America was in the midst of its longest record period of national peace without recession or depression.
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