Mexican War

The Top Ten Transformational Presidents

The issue of “transformational” Presidents has revived lately, as it is clear that we are living through a “transformational” Presidency of Barack Obama, with still a year and a half to go in his tenure in the Oval Office.

With all of the controversy that surrounds Barack Obama, there is no doubt now that Obama has been a transformational President in so many ways.

So the question arises, who among our Presidents has been “transformational”? And in what order would Presidents on this list be ranked?

It seems clear that the top of the list would have to be George Washington, for having established standards and traditions that would be long lasting; and Abraham Lincoln, for keeping the Union together during the Civil War, and ending slavery.

Following Washington and Lincoln would be Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took America through the Great Depression and the Second World War, and changed the relationship of the federal government with the population of the nation, promoting a safety net that would help those most needy. He also created a large federal government that would never become smaller again, due to the Great Depression and the Second World War, and then the Cold War.

Once we go beyond Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, ranking gets much more difficult, but this author thinks the rest of the top ten would be as follows from number four to number ten:

Theodore Roosevelt, who would revive the Presidential office from slumber and use the “bully pulpit” to accomplish reform and federal government regulation of the economy, and started America’s role in world affairs.

Lyndon B. Johnson, who would promote the passage of massive reforms, including civil rights laws, Medicare, and a War on Poverty.

Woodrow Wilson, who would promote major reforms domestically and involvement in world affairs, taking America out of isolationism as a policy during the First World War.

Ronald Reagan, who changed the direction of the nation to Conservatism after a half century of Liberalism, and negotiated arms agreements with the Soviet Union, and helped to bring down the rival super power.

Barack Obama, who brought about health care coverage for most Americans; avoided a massive war; promoted social change in many areas; presided over a major revival of the economy only matched by FDR; and became a major environmental supporter.

Harry Truman, who responded to the Cold War with the Soviet Union in an effective way and determined the direction of foreign policy for a half century, and institutionalized the New Deal of FDR.

James K. Polk, who accomplished the great expansion of American territory by treaty with Great Britain and war with Mexico, creating the continental United States.

Notice that Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton do NOT make this list!

Commentary on this analysis is welcomed!

American Presidents And The Institution Of Slavery

Yesterday, the author was watching the reenactment of the funeral of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, on C Span 3–American History TV, and the question has arisen, while watching the event, of the truth about America’s Presidents and the institution of slavery.

It turns out, through further research, that more Presidents than once thought, owned slaves in their lifetime, and that others showed lack of concern about the institution, and compromised on it in their Presidencies.

So it turns out that 12 of the first 18 Presidents owned slaves, including

George Washington
Thomas Jefferson–some expressed discomfort in his writings, but sill benefited from the institution
James Madison—some expressed discomfort in his writings, but still benefited from the institution
James Monroe
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
James K. Polk
Zachary Taylor
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant.

Additionally, three Presidents, all Northerners, referred to as “doughfaces”, who went along with the institution through their actions, also supported continuation of slavery, including

Millard Fillmore–the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850
Franklin Pierce–the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854
James Buchanan–support of the Dred Scott Supreme Court Case, and the Kansas LeCompton Constitution of 1857

It should be pointed out that Martin Van Buren had a few slaves at one point through family members but not while being President, but defended the institution while in office, and theh later had a change of heart, and ran as the Free Soil Party candidate for President in 1848, at that point opposing slavery,

Also, James Buchanan, technically, owned one slave for a brief period of time through his family, but not while President.

The same holds for Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, ownership of slaves through family at some point, but neither while President. Grant, in particular, felt uncomfortable about the slavery heritage of his wife’s family.

The point is that only THREE Presidents always condemned slavery and worked against it

John Adams
John Quincy Adams
Abraham Lincoln

JQ Adams was extremely active against slavery, participating in the Amistad Supreme Court Case of 1839-1841 as one of the lawyers defending the slaves on that slave ship, in their bid for freedom, and sponsoring the move to condemn slavery in the House of Representatives, in his years after the Presidency. While a member of the House from Boston, he was censured for fighting the “gag rule”, which forbade discussion of the institution in House debate from 1836-1844. He also opposed the Mexican War as a war for slavery expansion.

Eleven Foreign Policy Presidential Elections In American History, And Now 2016!

America has had foreign policy affect eleven Presidential elections, overshadowing domestic policy issues. This has usually been centered about military intervention and wars. The list of foreign policy dominated Presidential elections follows:

1812—With the War of 1812 having begun, it became the major issue under President James Madison

1844—With the issue of Texas annexation a major issue, and with James K. Polk running on expansionism and “Manifest Destiny”, the issue of relations with Mexico became a major issue under John Tyler and Polk.

1848—With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo after the Mexican War under James K. Polk granting so much new territory to the United States, the issue of what to do with these territories became the major issue of the campaign.

1900—With the Treaty of Paris ending the Spanish American War under William McKinley granting new territories to the United States, the issue of what do to with those territories reigned during the campaign, and the Filipino Insurrection was a hot issue as well.

1916–The issue of keeping America out of World War I dominated, with Woodrow Wilson campaigning on the fact that he had kept us out of the war.

1940—The issue of isolationism and World War II in Europe and Asia, and Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigning on keeping us out of war, but offering some assistance to Great Britain, dominated the campaign.

1944—The fact that we were still in World War II, and what to do about the postwar world and the Soviet Union, were key issues of the campaign.

1952—The debate over what to do about the limited nature of the Korean War under Harry Truman was a major factor in this campaign which elected Dwight D. Eisenhower.

1968—The debate over the Vietnam War under Lyndon B. Johnson, and the resulting split in the Democratic Party, and Richard Nixon declaring he had a secret plan to end the war, dominated the discussion in the campaign.

2004—The Iraq War and Afghanistan War under George W. Bush dominated the discussion in this campaign, as September 11 transformed the issue of national security.

2008—The continued intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan became a major issue, along with the Great Recession emerging during the campaign, and benefited Barack Obama, who promised to end the war in Iraq and downgrade the war in Afghanistan.

Now 2016 seems likely to be centered much more than many people want over foreign policy, particularly the threat of Iran in the Middle East, along with the danger of ISIL (ISIS) Terrorism, and the growing menace of the Russian Federation under Vladamir Putin, overall adding to the image of growing threats to national security.

And in these circumstances, one needs a steady hand at the helm, and only Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have the experience and the judgment needed, along with Jon Huntsman, who, although listed by many as a long shot nominee for the Republicans, has indicated he is not a candidate. In any case, the Republicans are not smart enough to realize that the true treasure in their midst is Jon Huntsman!

Civil Liberties And The Presidency: From John Adams To Barack Obama

When it comes to the issue of the Presidency and the Bill of Rights, many Presidents have scored at an alarmingly low rate, often despite many other virtues that these Presidents have possessed.

John Adams set a terrible standard when he signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

Andrew Jackson forcibly decreed the removal of five Native American tribes (The Trail Of Tears) from their ancestral lands and relocation in Oklahoma, supposedly forever, but with the discovery of oil in Tulsa, the territory was opened to whites in 1889, and reservation life became the norm.

John Tyler, through negotiation to add Texas to the Union, and accepting its institution of slavery, helped to create the slavery expansion issue as one which would divide the nation and lead to Civil War, and Tyler was part of the Confederate government and gave up his American citizenship.

James K. Polk further promoted the expansion of slavery through war with Mexico, and had no issue with slavery anywhere and everywhere.

Millard Fillmore, signing the Compromise of 1850, allowed the South to pursue fugitive slaves in the North.

Franklin Pierce, signing the Kansas Nebraska Act in 1854, made the expansion of slavery develop into the Kansas Civil War, which led to the Civil War.

James Buchanan endorsed the Dred Scott Decision, which allowed expansion of slavery everywhere in the nation, if a slave owner chose to move to the North with his slaves.

Abraham Lincoln suppressed press freedom; allowed preventive detention; and imposed a military draft that one could escape only by paying a fee that only wealthy people could afford.

Andrew Johnson wanted to restrict the rights of African Americans after the Civil War, and was an open racist, much more than anyone.

Grover Cleveland promoted the reservation life and adaptation to white culture for Native Americans through his signing of the Dawes Act in 1887.

Theodore Roosevelt spoke and wrote often about superior and inferior races, seeing only intellectual accomplishment and military strength as the basis to admire individuals of other races, but believing in white supremacy and the “Anglo Saxon” race.

Woodrow Wilson backed restrictions on citizens during World War I, and presided over the Red Scare under Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer after the war, as well as showing racist tendencies toward African Americans and Japan. He signed the Sedition Act of 1918, and issued an executive order segregating African Americans in Washington, DC.

Franklin D. Roosevelt interned Japanese Americans under executive order during World War II, and did little to deal with the racial problem in the South.

Richard Nixon arranged for bugging and wiretapping of his “enemies”; arranged break ins and “dirty tricks”; and became engaged in obstruction of justice and abuse of power, leading to moves toward impeachment and his eventual resignation from the Presidency, due to the Watergate Scandal.

Ronald Reagan cut back on civil rights enforcement, and showed insensitivity on the issue of apartheid in South Africa.

George W. Bush pushed through the Patriot Act, and the government engaged in constant civil liberties violations as part of the War on Terror.

Barack Obama also promoted violations of civil liberties, as part of the continued threat of international terrorism.

So 17 Presidents, at the least, have undermined our civil liberties and civil rights, often overlapping.

The Wartime Presidency: From James Madison To Barack Obama

Now that it seems evident that America is to be engaged in a long drawn-out war against ISIL (ISIS), it means that we can expect the war to last possibly a generation, 20 years, and affect every Presidential election from 2016 through at least 2032.  It will also transform the Congress, and change the direction of American history, and it comes at a terrible time, as we have greater inequities economically now than even in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

But national security and defense always trump anything else, inevitably and necessarily!

So Barack Obama, who came into office determined to end the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars started by George W. Bush, is to be the promoter of a new war, against his desire.

So this is a good time to reflect on how many Presidents have chosen or been forced  to wage war!

James Madison reluctantly took America through the War of 1812, often depicted as “The Sorry Little War”, which led to the burning of the US Capitol and the White House by the invading British forces.

James K. Polk willingly took us through the Mexican War, leading to the acquisition of the American Southwest and California.

Abraham Lincoln took us into the Civil War, believing there was no alternative to “preserve the Union”.

William McKinley was convinced that the Spanish American War was a moral cause, and it led to the development of the “American Empire” in an age of expansionism and imperialism.  He also waged war to force the Philippines to accept American overlordship, after being “liberated” by the United States from Spanish control.

Theodore Roosevelt continued the fight against the Filipino revolutionaries, in what was well hidden for years and not taught in schools below the college level,, but was known to history as the Filipino Insurrection.

Woodrow Wilson took us into the First World War, after trying to avoid direct involvement for more than two years.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took us into the Second World War against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan,  after isolationists bitterly opposed  such entrance, but forced by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,  Hawaii.

Harry Truman continued our engagement in the Second World War, and used the atomic bomb against Japan, but also took us into the Korean War.

Dwight D. Eisenhower continued US involvement in the Korean War for the fist six month of his Presidency.

John F. Kennedy escalated our involvement in Vietnam, from 2,000 “advisers”under Eisenhower,  to over 16,500 Green Beret Special Forces by the time he was assassinated.

Lyndon B. Johnson massively escalated our involvement in Vietnam, reaching a grand total of 549.500 troops in 1968.

Richard Nixon continued the Vietnam War for four long years, causing a massive split in the nation, not seen since the Civil War.

George H. W. Bush took us into the Persian Gulf War, to force Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from keeping control of Kuwait, and being a threat to Saudi Arabia.

George W. Bush took us into war in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, and they became the longest wars in American history.

Barack Obama inherited both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, and ended our involvement in Iraq, and is soon to end involvement in Afghanistan.  But now the war against ISIL (ISIS) is forecast to last a generation!

So 15 Presidents were commanders in chief in wartime, and this does not include invasions or bombings,  or undeclared naval wars, or wars against Native Americans!

Eight Presidents Who Had A Major Role In The Military

Many of our Presidents, about two thirds, have served in the armed forces of the United States, but eight were involved in particularly notable roles in the military that stand the test of time.

These are:

George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

Ulysses S. Grant during the Indian Wars, Mexican War, and Civil War.

Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish American War.

Harry Truman during World War I.

Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II.

John F. Kennedy during World War II.

Jimmy Carter in the early Cold War years.

George H. W. Bush during World War II.

Other Presidents served of course, and Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, and Zachary Taylor were generals; Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley served in the Civil War; and Hayes and Franklin Pierce (in the Mexican War) and Kennedy were wounded. But these eight listed above particularly stand out in their military service of all of the Presidents who served!

Shame And Embarrassment Over Hatred And Prejudice Displayed Against Central American Children And Women Refugees In Murietta, California!

This entire nation should hold its head in shame and embarrassment over the outrageous, ugly, prejudicial display of behavior by so called “good Americans”, many of them probably quite devout Christians, who blocked buses in Murietta, California, which were carrying Central American children and women refugees to a Border Patrol facility to deal with the growing migration crisis into America’s borders.

These women and children, some as young as infants, are escaping bloodshed and violence in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, not trying to undermine US security, but seeing America as their last hope for survival!

We have an ugly history of nativism, of anti immigrant bigotry, throughout our history, but that does not excuse this kind of behavior in a humanitarian crisis as this one is! Carrying the American flag and shouting “USA, USA” is something that makes one want to vomit, as this is not patriotism, but rather pure hate and poison by people who seem unwilling to recognize that this experience will scar the lives of those children, something these bigots would not wish to be visited upon their own children!

America has become a nation with a hardhearted manner, due to the viciousness of the right wing talk show hosts, and the Tea Party Movement in Congress and the states, and nothing is beyond the pale to these hateful, sick elements in our society!

We must not allow such hate to consume us any further, and this is not freedom of speech or assembly, and future such demonstrations must be cracked down upon by police and the Border Patrol.

It is most ironic that these despicable people are sure to be ignorant of the fact that their town is named after an Hispanic land owner, and that the land they call “their own”, was stolen from Native Americans, and then controlled by Mexico, until the US went to war in an aggressive manner in the Mexican War of 1846-1848, and took the land away from our southern neighbor. If anything, we, as a nation, are the true “intruders”, not people from Central America trying to save their lives and those of their children!

Abraham Lincoln And Barack Obama Comparisons

The more one studies Abraham Lincoln and witnesses the Presidency of Barack Obama, the more one can see comparisons.

Both of these Presidents faced more hate than any other Presidents, and both faced more assassination threats than any other Presidents.

Both of these Presidents faced the greatest crises in American History, along with Franklin D. Roosevelt, and dealt with them effectively, although not appreciated at the time of the events.

Both of these Presidents used their executive authority to effect change, and in so doing, divided their own nation, but did what they felt they must do.

Both of these Presidents came from comparatively little background in national government, with Lincoln having just two years in the House of Representatives, and Obama having four years in the Senate.

Both of these Presidents picked their chief rival for the nomination, New York Senators William Seward and Hillary Clinton, to be their Secretaries of State, with both cabinet members being significant in their roles on foreign policy.

Both of these Presidents came from Illinois, the only two Presidents elected from that state, although Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois, but elected from California.

Both of these Presidents were anti war, Lincoln in the Mexican War, and Obama in the Iraq War, and yet both waged war in office.

Both of these Presidents stretched civil liberties in reaction to threats to the nation–Lincoln with the Civil War and Obama with the war on terrorism.

Both of these Presidents had the gift of oratory, and the making of memorable statements.

Both of these Presidents had an excellent sense of humor, and could make fun of themselves.

Both of these Presidents showed compassion and empathy, crucial character strengths for any President.

Both of these Presidents demonstrated great courage in the face of challenges internally and externally, and could make decisions and live with them.

Both of these Presidents made mistakes, admitted to them, and moved on to other challenges without regrets.

Both of these Presidents were ridiculed, lampooned, denounced, abused in oratory, and yet kept their dignity and class as human beings, never giving in to petty responses.

Both of these Presidents were attacked by Southerners, and both worked against the racism and narrow mindedness so prevalent in the 19th century South, and, sadly, in the 21st century South.

Both of these Presidents were very devoted to their children, and found adequate time to be good dads while serving in the most stressful job any American can have, the honor of being our President.

Barack Obama still has three years to go, and as time goes on, he will rank higher in history than he is seen as now by critics, just as Lincoln suffered while in office, but now has been regarded by serious historians as the greatest American President!

Short Term Retirements Of Six Presidents, And How History Might Have Changed Had They Still Been In Office!

Much more attention is paid to longevity of retirement of America’s Presidents, or those who died in office, than those who died within less than a term after leaving the Presidency.

So it is generally well known that some Presidents have had long retirements, including Jimmy Carter (who keeps on adding to his record of retirement, presently 32 years, seven months and two weeks as of today), Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, and John Adams.

And eight Presidents died in office (William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy).

But it is also a fact that five Presidents who retired, died within the next Presidential term, and one died just two days after that next Presidential term ended, so we could have had at least five more Presidents die in office, and likely, due to the stress of the job, a sixth one, as well!

So who are these Presidents who would have died in office had they served another term?

James K. Polk, who died just 103 days after leaving the White House.
Chester Alan Arthur, who died 624 days after leaving the White House.
George Washington, who died 1015 days after leaving the Presidency (The White House was not yet built).
Woodrow Wilson, who died 1066 days after leaving the Presidency.
Calvin Coolidge, who died 1403 days after leaving the Presidency.
Lyndon B. Johnson, who died 1463 days after leaving the Presidency (two days after the next term of office ended).

Try to imagine Washington dying in office, our first President, and a Vice President having to challenge, earlier than John Tyler had to do in 1841, the issue of whether the Vice President could have all the Presidential authority by succeeding to the office, instead of being elected! Also, the reality that Washington would have set a precedent for a third term, which might have affected the views and attitudes of future Presidents on a third term!

Imagine James K. Polk dying in the midst of the controversy over the territories gained in the Mexican War, and how that might have affected the debates which led to the Compromise of 1850!

Imagine Chester Alan Arthur, having succeeded the assassinated James A. Garfield in office, being the second successive President who died in office!

Imagine Woodrow Wilson dying in office, after the American people had decided to elect him to an unprecedented third term, and how it might have affected the political realities of what became the conservative 1920s!

Imagine Calvin Coolidge having to deal with the Great Depression, as compared to Herbert Hoover, and the reality that he would have died just about two months before the end of his term, with his Vice President likely only serving those two months!

Imagine Lyndon B. Johnson in declining health in his extra term, and maybe dying earlier than two days after the end of that term, and his Vice President likely serving only a very short time in the Presidency, had Johnson died from the stresses of that extra term in office!

This is all theory, of course, what is known as “What If”, but it is food for thought regarding the short retirement of six of our Presidents!

Having stated all of the above, the odds are that Polk would not have been reelected due to the controversy over the Mexican War; that Arthur was denied the nomination in 1884, due to the civil service reform bill he signed into law (The Pendleton Act); that Wilson was still recovering from a stroke in 1920, and would unlikely have been reelected, had he been the nominee of his party; and that Johnson would have had trouble being reelected, due to the Vietnam War. Only Washington and Coolidge probably would have had another term, had they sought it, but even there, Washington might have had opposition to a third term on the basis that it would be creating an image of a monarchy for him to have more than two terms in office. So only Coolidge would have been likely to have had smooth sailing for another term in the White House!

More Deaths From Gun Violence 1968-2011 Than All American Wars Combined!

From 1968 to 2011, there were close to 1.4 million deaths from gun violence, and this is before the massacres in Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; and elsewhere in the past year.

But when one looks at all deaths from American wars, we discover the total is slightly less than 1.2 million!

With gun violence escalating in recent years, we had over 32,000 deaths in 2011, about equal to the losses in the three year long Korean War from 1950-1953.

From 1999 to 2010, we had about 365,000 gun deaths, almost equal to the 400,000 losses in the four years of World War II.

The years 1981 to 1998 saw 620,000 deaths from guns, about the same as in both sides of the four year Civil War.

With 2,500 to 3,000 deaths per month on the average now, it means in a year we match the totals of the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, the Persian Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War combined!

Anyone looking at these statistics would have to be troubled by the fact that we are the most violent Western nation by far, and yet there are those who believe nothing can or should be done about this tragedy!