Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
The recent Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump reminds us just how important that peaceful transition of power is to the function of our democracy. Such a time honored tradition is naturally steeped in history. With a chance to think back about past Presidential Inaugurations, it is also natural to reminisce about the other 43 (not 44, Grover Cleveland had two separate, nonconsecutive terms!) men that have been elected to our nation’s highest office since 1789.
If you ask the average American to name the U.S. Presidents, they might offer you George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and our most recent former President Barack Obama. Historians might be more willing to go into the depths of men like Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. When it comes to popularity in recent history, Democrats may reminisce about Bill Clinton or John F. Kennedy, while Republicans may think of Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhower.
But these are the usual suspects. Great men, one and all, who served their nation admirably, and are remembered among the masses for good reason. But because of this, some of our other former Chief Executives get lost in the shuffle. So without further delay are the four most underrated Presidents in American history, complete with some of their most notable accomplishments, listed in chronological order.
- James Monroe: 5th U.S. President, 1809-1817
Photo Source: biography.com
He is often only remembered as being the last of the Founding Fathers to serve as President. The third member of the trio that included Jefferson and Madison known as the “Virginia Dynasty.” Because he is often overshadowed by his more recognized predecessors, President Monroe is often overlooked. But he should be remembered if only for a couple, though very good, reasons. In his first term he oversaw American expansion with the acquisition of Florida. Later, expansion continued as Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine and Missouri entered the Union. In his second term, came one of the most influential Presidential acts the country has ever seen: The Monroe Doctrine. As History.com describes it, “Monroe declared an end to European colonization in the Western Hemisphere and forbid European countries from intervening in the American continents, including any U.S. territories and Central and South America.” This act allowed the United States to begin a formal relationship with the countries in Central and South America that remains to this day. Never again did Europe interfere in “the New World,” allowing America to grow and prosper. The Monroe Doctrine has been and remains a key part of American policy today.
- William McKinley: 25th U.S. President, 1897-1901
Photo Source: Wikipedia
Lincoln and Kennedy are the two Presidents we associate with assassinations, leaving Garfield and McKinley out. If it weren’t for McKinley’s assassination in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt may have never become President, which is at least the silver lining to come out of his death. But with this, many often forget just how he paved the way for Roosevelt and his successors in the Oval Office. America went to war with Spain in 1898, and after three short months of fighting, became one of the world’s leading powers. The treaty to end the war saw Cuba gain independence from Spain, while becoming a U.S. protectorate. Additionally, the U.S. acquired the Spanish territories of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. During the conflict, the Hawaiian island were annexed at the President’s request. During his time as Commander-in-Chief, McKinley sent troops to China to help put down the Boxer Rebellion and intervened in Nicaragua. Work with China continued to make the U.S. a global power through the “Open Door” policy pushed by the administration to further American interests.
- Harry S. Truman: 33rd U.S. President, 1945-1953
Photo Source: Wikiwand
82 days into his term as the new Vice President of the United States, Harry S. Truman was thrust into the role of leader of the free world with the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. “I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me” Truman said upon taking the impromptu oath of office. Considering the tremendous pressures he faced immediately with regards to dropping the Atomic bomb on Japan and bringing a swift end to WWII, Truman did very well. With the A-bomb came the Cold War, and Truman’s policy of Communist containment is one which shaped American foreign policy for decades. Though conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam were bloodier than anyone could have thought, the United States eventually won the Cold War, becoming the world’s leading superpower. Truman signed the charter ratifying the United Nations after WWII, another move which has shaped the country and the world in years since.
- George H.W. Bush: 41st U.S. President, 1989-1993
Photo Source: WTOP.com
From WWII hero, to UN Ambassador, to CIA Director, to Vice President and a host of other roles and accomplishments, the man today by many remembered as “George W.’s dad who was also President” had a remarkable, though short lived Presidency. On his watch, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall fell; two feats which of course can be linked back to the work of the Reagan administration he served in. A very successful Commander-in-Chief, Bush 41 intervened in Panama, and freed Kuwait after rallying the United Nation and the American people behind his efforts to promote freedom across the globe. The Gulf War came to a quick end with the successful implementation of Operation Desert Storm. Despite these successes, a tough 1992 election season would cost him another term in office.
Everybody’s lists are different. Whether you rank by military might, economic success, or just the cool factor, you could be ranking Presidents all day long. But in it all, these four men of the Executive Mansion may have been forgotten. In a world that is ever changing, and as time marches on, history often reevaluates people. It’s time Madison, McKinley, Truman and Bush Sr. have their moment to shine.