Rating the Presidents?

The other day while reading my twitter timeline, I saw Mike Shaw from theexecutivepower.com asking if a president could be rated.  The conversation of who the best or worst president is always a fun discussion, but there are many variables when reviewing agencies give their opinions.  How many of the historians are liberal versus conservative thinkers?  How can a President in the 19th Century compare to a 21st Century 24/7 news cycle Chief Executive?  Is revisionist history playing into the minds of the people rating our former Presidents when the country had different morals?

Many presidents seem boring and are skipped over- Chester A. Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison just to name a few.  The war presidents are recognized by the general population as great presidents- Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR immediately come to mind.  John F. Kennedy may get many positive reviews, but this based on the ideal of Camelot or actual achievements?  Could it be the president who seems mundane be a better overall president than one who seems exciting?

I wanted to read presidential biographies to 1) learn about each man who was the president and 2) to learn more about American history.  I desired to rate each chief executive based on their merits prior to starting my first book and the blog.  I reviewed many different polls- from C-SPAN, Sienna College, and others that listed out their rating criteria, but none of them fit what I wanted to do.  So- I gave up and plunged into Washington: A Life (review here) by Ron Chernow deciding to devise a list of what makes a great president at a later date.

I determined my criteria earlier this week after my twitter exchange with Mike.  He posted his own (link here) that is outstanding and easy to understand- I recommend checking it out.

Upon completion of reading books about each president- I will do a brief Ranking the Presidents blog based on the following categories:

  1. Contribution to the United States prior to becoming president
  2. Integrity
  3. Scandals during their administration
  4. Military Service
  5. Popularity
  6. Party Leadership
  7. Legacy
  8. Foreign Policy
  9. Domestic Agenda
  10. Economic Policy
  11. Respect of the Constitution
  12. Supreme Court selections
  13. Cabinet choices
  14. Executive Ability
  15. Overall Impression of Presidency- success or failure

I will use a 5 (excellent) to 1 (failure) scale for each category with a brief explanation of why the points were awarded.

I will see how my thoughts stack up against some of the purported experts in the field.  If you have recommendations or comments- please let me know!  While you are at it- if this is your first time visiting my blog- please look around and let me know how to make it better and of course- hit the subscribe button!

Matt

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George Washington: Wrap Up

I should have done a quick review of who George Washington was to me, prior to reading my list of biographies.  I felt like I knew more than most on Washington, since I was a history major in college, but now realize I knew very little.  I knew he was born in Virginia, lived at Mount Vernon, and fought in the French and Indian War.  I knew Washington was the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army who won the Revolutionary War.  Later, he was our first President, setting a precedent of only serving two terms prior to a peaceful transition of power.  I have been to the top of the Washington Monument, collected quarters, used a dollar bill, and laughed about his wooden teeth (which were not really made of wood).

Washington was a selfless man, living an active and exciting life that history books do not convey very well.  He participated in bloody battles, had horses shot out from underneath him and consistently exposed himself to enemy fire.  Washington was not a tactical genius as a commander, but held together an army during Valley Forge.  Upon retiring from public life, his sense of duty to his country, led him back into the spotlight during the writing of our Constitution.  When it came time to elect the nation’s first chief executive- only one man was up to the task- George Washington.  He wanted to leave after his first term, but was persuaded to stay for another four years.  The fledgling nation required this man to stay in power or it could easily have died a quick death.  He lived his life for his country- elevating the needs of every American over his own.  The country could have no better friend than George Washington.  The best summation of George Washington was by Congressman Henry Lee, “First in war-first in peace- and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

The first book I read was Washington: A Life (review here) by Ron Chernow.  This book is the most detailed and lengthiest of the biographies I read.  Chernow wrote the most academic book out of the four.  Washington: A Life is the standard for the other presidential biographies that I will read.  Anyone who is willing to invest the time to read about Washington must purchase this book above the others.

His Excellency: George Washington (review here) by Joseph Ellis was second on my list.  Coming on the heels of Washington: A Life– the early part of this book was slow going for me.  Adjusting from Chernow’s writing style to Ellis’ made it difficult.  Ellis does a very nice job of detailing Washington’s life and I do recommend this book.

The third book George Washington: The Wonder of the Age (review here) is the latest release of a biography on Washington.  If a reader desires a book almost solely focused on just Washington, this is a good option.  However- it did rate a distant fourth on my list of books.

I finished my journey with Washington: An Indispensable Man (review here) by James Flexner.  The author has written a four-volume biography of Washington, this being an abridged version.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Any reader who wants a compact 400 page book on Washington can invest in this book without worry.

Thank you to all who have read my previous review and please hit the subscribe button.  Now onto John Adams!

Favorite Book: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Honorable Mention: Washington: An Indispensable Man

My Future reading: James Flexner’s 4 volume epic and Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman