Monday, February 16, 2009

Question of the Day: President's Day Edition

Today, on Presidents' Day, the National Review solicited short answers from contributors about their favorite Presidents. Washington and Lincoln, of course, feature prominently. But there is also tongue-in-cheek praise for the contributions of William Henry Harrison, who was President for only one month before dying. Jacob Sullum lifts up Harrison "because he left office before he could do much damage."

Two contributors, quite rightly, praise the underrated Chester A. Arthur, who served less than one term in office after President Garfield died. Although he was a product of New York machine politics, Arthur created the civil service system to replace the open spoils system of government employment. And after a diplomatic crisis with Chile, Arthur led the reconstruction of the badly-decayed U.S. Navy.

There is not a lot written about Arthur, compared to other Presidents. In part, this is because he had his private papers burned shortly before his death and rarely discussed personal business. Arthur did not have vain exhibitionism which has led so many modern Presidents to record their every conversation or build enormous libraries as monuments to themselves.

Which U.S. President is your favorite?


larry said...

Interesting how we judge our presidents in a media age; it may be somewhat easier to think highly of those presidents who didn't have to deal with modern media because we don't know their personal lives as well. Arthur probably made a smart move in burning those papers, although historians would certainly love to have them now. Imagine if Clinton had been president 100 years ago or more - with the political skills he had, by today he might be considered one of the truly great presidents, but the Lewinsky scandal playing all across the media and subsequent impeachment proceedings will forever tarnish his presidency. I didn't follow the link to read it, but I would be curious whether any "modern" presidents were among those listed? Perhaps FDR or LBJ would make somebody's list, or JFK. I personally give Reagan relatively high marks for handling the Cold War the way he did, although no modern president has been able to tame spending or consistenly have the federal government live within its means.

Keith Taylor said...

I like President Theodore Roosevelt.

larry said...

Did anyone see the ranking of all the presidents done by a C-SPAN survey of 64 historians? I kind of liked their methodology - each president was ranked on a scale of 1-10 on ten different aspects of leadership, etc. Check it out at:

Earl said...

My favorite U.S. President is Ronald Reagan.

John said...


If Clinton had been President a century before, I doubt that the Monica Lewinsky issue would have come up. Gentlemen were more discreet about their vices back then, and it was generally considered boorish to point out the affairs of leading men. Grover Cleveland's love child issue was a notable exception, and perhaps Clinton should have taken a page from Cleveland's notebook and admitted the affair from the very beginning.

I saw the historians' rankings. Not bad, but anything like this is bound to be biased. As some of the NR contributors pointed out, presidents were being praised for expanding executive and federal power, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Keith --

I like TR's personality, but he was the first big government President during peacetime, and deserves a sound thrasing for the leviathan he unleashed upon the American people.

Earl --

Well, he did break the Soviet Union. And as a communicator, he was unmatched. I only wish that he had lived up to the small government rhetoric that got him into the White House.

John said...

Oh, Larry-- I got your voicemail. I'll call you this weekend.

The Ironic Catholic said...

I read the McCullough book on John Adams a couple of years ago, and it really left me impressed with Adams as a president.

BruceA said...

Lincoln. He brought the nation back together after James Buchanan had let it be ripped apart. If Lincoln hadn't taken us through a bloody civil war to restore national unity, the U.S. would never have become the global leader that it remains to this day.

bob said...

I think Eisenhower gets overlooked he was not only was he a great military leader. He had a bearing of calm resolve and could manage to start the building of our interstate highway system while balancing the budget.