With Presidents Day coming up on Monday, this is a good time to assess the Presidents who were transformative in diplomacy and foreign affairs.
The Presidents who truly made a difference in foreign policy would include the following, chronologically:
Thomas Jefferson—who presided over the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 negotiated with France, and the handling of the Chesapeake Affair of 1807, avoiding war with Great Britain, but causing decline in public opinion about Jefferson as he left office, due to the economic decline caused by the Embargo Act.
James Monroe—who, with the brilliant leadership of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, was able to gain control of Florida in 1819, settle much of the Canadian boundary in the same time frame, and promote the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, a major part of American foreign policy in the future.
James K. Polk—under whom the Pacific Northwest was gained by negotiation with Great Britain, and the American Southwest and California by war with Mexico between 1846 and 1848.
William McKinley—under whom Hawaii was added as a territory, and America gained an “Empire” by engagement in the Spanish American War in 1898.
Theodore Roosevelt—under whom America fully engaged with the outside world, including foreign crises and wars in Europe and Asia, as well as growing intervention in Latin America between 1901-1909.
Woodrow Wilson—under whom America fully entered into international war involvement in the First World War in 1917, and then rejected internationalism as Wilson left office in 1921.
Franklin D. Roosevelt—who took America out of isolationism in the late 1930s, and presided over our involvement in World War II between 1941-1945, and the growth of America as a super power by 1945.
Harry Truman—who led us into the Cold War with the Soviet Union after 1945, with transitional foreign policy leadership that set the mold for the next half century until 1991.
Richard Nixon—who moved America toward detente with the Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union, and opened up to mainland China between 1969 and 1974.
George H. W, Bush—who smoothed the end of the Cold War, was receptive to a unified Germany as a result, and created a coalition to prevent Iraqi domination in the Middle East in the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
Other Presidents who had an impact on diplomacy and foreign affairs in a major, if not transformative manner, would include:
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
George W. Bush
Sadly, Lyndon B, Johnson and George W. Bush were mostly negative forces in foreign affairs; Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were mixed in their results; while George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy were much more positive.