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Ranking Presidents by Their Lifetime Contributions to the Country

US Presidents Challenge (USPC)

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Aug 19, 2009, 9:10pm Top

I'm wondering if folks think our Presidents would be rated differently if their total efforts were evaluated. I'm not far into the challenge (up to Adams in Paris), but it seems already that some certainly contributed much more than "just" whatever they accomplished during their years (or months) in office.

Aug 20, 2009, 9:53am Top

good point.

I think that when I am ranking mine, I am already taking that into consideration - in essence I am ranking them as men, presidents, statesmen, patriots, etc. not just as Presidents.

I wouldn't say that Washington was thegreatest president of the first 6 that I have read, but overall he was the greatest at this point in my reading. So, I guess I need to go back and indicate that my rankings are on such and such so that it is clearer.

Aug 20, 2009, 4:09pm Top

It's an interesting point but I'm not sure if it doesn't raise more questions than it answers. Jefferson and Adams both contributed far more outside of their respective presidential terms than they did while in executive office. Lincoln, on the other hand -- probably the greatest of the great as Presidents go -- would hardly be remembered at all had he not become President. Taking into account Carter's post-presidential career certainly raises his estimation after a rather poor showing in office. There's a long string of late nineteenth century Presidents who are hardly blips on the radar, in office or out.

Aug 20, 2009, 5:28pm Top

Hi Garp,

>I'm not sure if it doesn't raise more questions than it answers

Absolutely. I was just wondering what you much-more-well-read folks thought. Carter, as you say, has made a good showing since leaving office (he's a saint, if you ask me), and while it doesn't change his Presidential record, it is only his position as ex-President which has made possible the success of his current activities. It does seem to be of one cloth, especially since he didn't have to do any of it and could have just slunk away after his defeat.

I'm unsatisfied with my knowledge of Washington's time in office, but the combination of his devotion to the military and independence for the 8 years of the Revolution, and his insistence on stepping down twice, as general and as president, leads me to view the total of his contributions as far greater than the sum of the parts.

They (and Lincoln) make quite a contrast to our recently-departed ex, who, at least from this vantage point in time, seems to have left us with nothing positive to balance the negatives: undistinguished going in, a disaster in office, and, so far, no indication that he has anything to offer out of office. He's got time, though, if he cares to make effort.

Now I'm reading about Adams, and while I saw the HBO (PBS?) series, I'm still shocked at what he and his family sacrificed (not just golf.)

Character certainly seems to have a lot to do with it.

Aug 20, 2009, 5:29pm Top

True, we'll all have to make sure that we are clear as to why we rank them where we do. My ranking will be different from someone else's because I take one aspect and feel that it is a higher value than something else. It will be interestring to see how things develop.

Aug 20, 2009, 8:20pm Top

Marge -- I don't think we're suppossed to talk about the ex- whatever he is unless we have something balanced to say and I think you know my position on this ... however, going back in time Washington was a not only a great President but a great man despite the many individual aspects of the man you can naturally find fault with. In a very different sense, I think we can say this of the highly flawed but great Adams and Jefferson as well, although what distinguishes Washington is the fact that he was absolutely essential to the success of the United States, warts and all. The amazing thing about the Founders -- adding Franklin, Madison, Hamilton into the group that includes the three we already mentioned -- is that they were all greater than the sum of their individual parts and al of those individual parts combined worked masterfully together for our greater good. It was our amazing fortune that these were the six that came together and not a half-dozen like the ones in France in 1790's or Russia in the late nineteens.

Aug 20, 2009, 11:18pm Top

Hi Garp - Regarding our ex, I thought I gave him an out. He does still have the opportunity to make a positive contribution, as others have done as ex-Prez. Or maybe the recent past is just too raw to make any observations about him at all.

I have to say I'm dreading getting into the biographies after, say, Carter.

Aug 21, 2009, 10:33am Top

#7 "maybe the recent past is just too raw to make any observations about him at all" I think this is an important truth. It takes time for actions and events to lose their emotional impact and gain a measure of objectivity.

Aug 21, 2009, 12:17pm Top

Part of the benefit of reading the presidential bios in order is that maybe, by the time we're through, a little distance and perspective might be helpful, though for some, the rest of my lifetime may not be enough.

I think the subject of post-presidential careers is a fascinating one and I certainly think it should count some towards the totality of a president's accomplishments. In many cases, he could not have done what he did afterwards otherwise.

Things like Clinton/Bush 1 and their charitable efforts after Katrina should count for something. For me, what they did as president should count for the greatest part though.

Aug 23, 2009, 1:50am Top

OK, I'm in. All human beings must have something fascinating about them and, likewise, all countries. I am a New Zealander who has chosen to live here in the United States. In order to get a feel for why the US is like it is, I have chosen to read at least one biography of each President.
I started with George Washington and am now on LBJ and, yes, they are all fascinating in some way. In thinking about how I would rank them, I have concluded that I am going to work on the concept of "Who would I most like to invite to my home for dinner one night". I should probably read more than one bio on each to perhaps get a better balanced view of each before I send out the invitations because most biographers, whether they intend to or not, have given a bias to their treatments that is at least based on their own egos. I'm sure that I would do that. It would be hard not to.
Like most of the contributers above, I find myself looking to see what each man achieved before and after office. In that light, I find myself greatly admiring JQA and Herbert Hoover. They will get my first invitations to dinner (I haven't got to Jimmy Carter yet).

Aug 23, 2009, 8:22am Top

>10 gmillar:

Wow, time-wise you're way ahead of most of us, I think.

Let us know what your final invitation list looks like.

Aug 26, 2009, 7:35pm Top

It is interesting that the passing of Ted Kennedy reminded me on this thread. He came very close to being President but it did not work out for him, laegely because of his own deep flaws and perhaps the scars of loss in the untimely deaths of his brothers and sisters. I admired Kennedy. He ended up contributing more after he abandoned his quest for the Presidency than he did prior to that in his life. I recently attended an author event and bought a signed copy of Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy, authored by the Boston Globe news team.Looks good, haven't cracked it yet. He was a fascinating, flawed, brilliant character, an icon for an era that now is finally behind us.

Group: US Presidents Challenge (USPC)

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