There are many qualities that make up what it takes to be a leader. There is really no experience that can provide a guarantee that a President will respond to a crisis in a wise and judicious manner. But there are personal qualities of character, and wisdom that you hope your President will show in a crisis or how a President faces the challenges that each and every President faces. You hope that a President will be able to communicate with the people in times of trouble to seek their support and understanding. Charisma helps but charisma can be for good or evil. The wisdom to not get caught up in the fog and haze of Washington helps. Getting the best people to provide the best advise is hugely important. The willingness to listen is an overlooked skill. Having great timing is a key. It is often so important that a President has his or her finger on the pulse of the people and thereby knows when it is the proper time to propose the needed changes when the public is ready for those changes to take place.. The skill to work with others is a key. After all a President will have to deal with Congress and with foreign leaders. One can not exaggerate the importance of being smart enough to understand the complexities of the modern world. It also helps if a President is not fixated on some ideology and above all it helps to have common sense. The ability to build a consensus to pass needed legislation is a big asset, or in a overly partisan world, it is important to know how to reach the people and go around Congress. If you have the people backing you, the evils of partisanship can be overcome.
Historians are currently in agreement with the top 3 on the list of rating the Presidents. Abraham Lincoln rightfully sits atop of the list. He faced the ultimate test as a President, the issue of preserving the Union, and overcoming the festering source of many years of turmoil in America, the existence of slavery. How a President deals with a crisis is a key element in placing a President among the leading lights of how history judges a Presidency. There is a great story that Doris Kearns Goodwin tells of the wide influence that Lincoln had. The great Russian author Tolstoy was visiting a village in the Caucus Mountain area where he encountered some villagers who wanted to hear about the great leaders of the world. Tolstoy talked about many who he had met and read about. When he was seemingly finished with his account, a villager asked him about someone he had not mentioned. What about Abraham Lincoln he asked Tolstoy, the great humanitarian? The story of Lincoln had even reached these remote villagers in a far away land. He did as Secretary Stanton said upon Lincoln’s death belong to the Ages.
Franklin Roosevelt had two huge historical events shape his Presidency and test his mettle and the character of the United States, the Great Depression and World War II. His impact on history and the United States was immense. Even if you disagree with what he did, one should be able to objectively admit that a President could not have faced a larger set of problems. To me his greatest attribute was his willingness to try anything to end the horrible effects of our Greatest Depression. He was the Julia Child of Presidents. He was willing to throw an idea on the wall and see if it stuck. He was pragmatic and a great politician who built a consensus around his plans for the New Deal. After his presidency America could no longer be the nation it had once been isolated from the world stage. From that point on the world has looked to the United States and to the President of the United States for leadership and guidance. The President has been the leader of the Free World since his Presidency.
George Washington set the tone for future Presidents. He could have been crowned King if he wanted to. Washington by being a President for 2 terms, started a tradition. With our being a new country surrounded by empires he saw the need to not have entangling alliances so as to not endanger our own development and growth as a nation. He was a wise and humble leader who has been rightfully called the father of our country.
Theodore Roosevelt was a larger than life person and leader, whose progressive thinking led to many of the social and economic advances that we take for granted today. If anyone is interested, a great read on who Teddy Roosevelt was and what his impact on our nation was, Edmund Morris’s books on Roosevelt are a great help in understanding President Roosevelt.
The early Presidents and Theodore Roosevelt shared a common thought. They were all wealthy but they shared the idea that if you were lucky enough to be one of the haves, it was your duty to serve and to serve nobly the people of this nation. Being wealthy and with their sense of duty and honor they did not owe anyone any obligation to do any one else’s bidding. Their wealth and their since of honor and duty motivated them to serve the people and not themselves.
Andrew Jackson’s stature has diminished in recent years because our own since of morality, today, is repelled by what President Jackson did to Native Americans and in particular the Cherokee. Regardless of this black spot on his record you need to look at the totality of his contributions to understand why he still belongs in the pantheon of Presidential leadership.
Andrew Jackson was the first President to grow democracy in the United States. For years, voting was limited to only those white males who owned a certain amount of property. By his actions all white men could vote, and from that point forward America was on a never ending march to enfranchise the rest of America. Democracy evolved from his Presidency onward. Jackson came from humble origins and he had a special connection with the masses. Up to that point in our history, there was a fear of giving power to our fellow citizens who did not have a certain economic and social standing. Our own aristocracy ruled the country up to the day of Andy Jackson. His stance on ending the National Bank was also greatly important. Every President has had failings and no one is perfect, so regardless of Jackson’s very wrong actions regarding Native Americans, he still belongs in the top 10.
More to come in Part III.