With all the presidential hullabaloo the past few weeks (impeachment, caucuses. primaries, etc.), like you, my mind also drifted back through history to the 45 men who have held that office, and I thought about the top five. You may have your own. But this is mine, of which I share with you.
In fifth place is Thomas Jefferson. The writer of the Declaration of Independence is known during his presidential years as recognizing a sweet real estate deal when he sees one. When Napoleon agreed to sell him the Louisiana territory for a song and a dance, mainly to finance an ongoing war, Jefferson couldn't resist and overnight he more than doubled the size of the nation.
Fourth place goes to John F. Kennedy. During WWII, he was injured when an enemy boat rammed his PT boat. Despite his injury, he displayed tremendous courage by leading his men to an island for safety until they could be rescued.
In 1962, he rejected Soviet Premier Khrushchev's explanation of why Soviet missiles were being installed in Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida. In a confrontation, Khrushchev blinked first. Rather than gloat in victory, Kennedy downplayed it, giving the Soviet premier an opportunity to save face. Privately, Kennedy was thrilled that a nuclear war had been averted.
Third goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Afflicted with the paralyzing disease of polio long before the Salk vaccine was perfected in 1954, FDR in his first term took on the great depression, building roads, dams, putting people back to work and establishing Social Security. He was the only man to run four times and win each time, ending his presidency after successfully guiding America and the greatest generation to victory in WWII.
And he did it all while sitting in a wheelchair.
Second place goes to the father of our country, George Washington. More than six feet tall, Washington's height made him a formidable figure. Upon his entering a crowded room, heads turned and all conversation stopped. His dedication and sense of responsibility to his position, and the citizens he represented, are legendary.
During the first part of his second term, he led his troops – the only president ever to do so – to western Pennsylvania to squelch an uprising over whiskey taxes. Washington needed funds to settle Revolutionary War debts, but residents refused to pay.
When the citizens saw the president leading an army, they knew he meant business. The taxes were paid in full, the residents went home, Washington and his troops returned to the capital and not a single shot was ever fired. That's leadership.
My number one president is the man with the stovepipe hat, the Amish style beard and a dedicated penchant to save the Union. To many, Abraham Lincoln seemed humorless. Rarely do you ever see a photo of him smiling. But he did have a good sense of humor.
During a campaign event, so the story goes, his opponent went on and on under a hot, blistering, summer sun. Finally it was Lincoln's turn. As he stood up, wiping the perspiration from his brow, he promised to keep his remarks short and to the point. Mentioning his opponent's speech, he said there was one point in which he did agree.
"What my most worthy opponent said was true,” Lincoln told the scorched and thirsty crowd. “I was standing at the bar downing a glass of cold beer, while my opponent was on the other side selling them.”
With the exception of the last three days, Lincoln's entire time in office was during a war which he hated. But he loved his country and aimed at saving it.
“If I could save the Union by not freeing the slaves, I would do it,” he once told an aide. “If I could save the Union by freeing all of them, I would do that.”
And he did.
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