‘Men Of Good Quality’: Six Most Influential Presidents in U.S. History

In July 2017, the United States will have been independent for 241 years. In that time, there have been 45 Presidents. Throughout that history, there have been a lot of ups and downs. The path between the first elected President of our nation and today is awash with both good times and bad. With three different branches of government, it seems a folly to give all the credit for those ups and downs to the executive of the nation. However, that seems to be what we all tend to do. Let’s examine the six most influential presidents in the history of the United States.

George Washington
George Washington. Ron Chernow

George Washington

It makes sense that George Washington would make our list. After all, he was the first of many, and that alone would make him very influential over the post of President of the United States. For one thing, he stepped down when his term ended, something that made almost all the difference. At that time, most nations were ruled by Kings or Queens, and these were lifetime, inherited posts. If Washington had wanted to, it would have caused some problems if he hadn’t stepped away peacefully when John Adams was elected to become the second President. Most often in history before that time, any transfers of power between leaders had been very bloody.

There is a fresco in the Capitol Building called the “Apotheosis of Washington” which depicts George Washington becoming a God. For a nation that, at the time, was running away from a religious oligarchy, it is interesting that Washington is thought of in such a light. As a nation, we have put George Washington on a pedestal as the example of what a president should be. Most non-history buffs would likely be unable to name a single flaw if you were to ask them about George Washington.

It is quite hard to explain exactly how popular Washington was after the Revolutionary War ended. He was seen with awe amongst the colonies as they came together to ratify the Constitution. He was seen as a leader that all could look up to, and that he should rightfully lead the nation as the first president. This was exhibited by the results of the first election where Washington was voted in by all thirteen colonies.

There is a myth perpetuated by some historians that George Washington was offered the monarchy of the United States. This, as far as records show, is not true. However it does go to show exactly how exalted Washington was, and still is, in the United States.

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  • Robert Evans

    (Jefferson) “These included the founding of the first non-secular university (University of Virginia)”

    I think “non-religious” was meant, was it not?

    • Matthew Weber

      I did. Thank you for pointing that out. I’ll get into the editor and change it when I get a chance.

  • David Teesdale

    Washington wasn’t elected by all thirteen “colonies”. He was elected unanimously, but NY, NC and RI didn’t vote.

  • Paul O’Brien

    I do have a question about Woodrow Wilson: Did his sending the US Navy to Veracruz in 1914 topple the Huerta government, or was that a coup de grace? A million Mexicans died in the Revolution, and if Huerta could otherwise have survived, Wilson has his share of the blame. Of course, we should also examine the possibility that if Wilson had accepted Huerta, that might have kept Germany from sending the Zimmermann Telegram, and without the US support, France would have collapsed in the wake of the June 1917 mutinies.

  • Billy Walker

    The University of Georgia was founded in 1785 as a State University by the state legislature, making it older than the University of Virginia.

  • Robert McIntire

    FDR didn’t preach isolationism. Before the U.S. became directly involved in WWII he was successful in getting Lend-Lease enacted, as international a policy as he could accomplish given the isolationism of Congress and the populace at large. Your example of Japanese-Americans being placed in camps has nothing to do with isolationism. By then we were involved in an international conflict FDR had foreseen as inevitable. Rather it had to do with concerns that there might be traitors in their midst.

  • THEFred

    I only take slight issue with the last paragraph on Washington; Why even bring up the allegation that Washington was never offered a monarchy? It seems to be the trendy thing for “historians” to do these days, to give the impression that they never buy into any historical legends or misinformation.

    And they are always insinuating that the “myth that Washington was offered the monarchy” was based primarily on some perceived need of the public to exaggerate Washington’s admirable qualities – as if George Washington, of all people, needed propping up!

    First of all, more than any person in history, Washington is responsible for the decline of monarchies in the world in general. Among things too numerous to mention, the United States would not have existed without him. That he risked and dedicated his life to this, is more important than any individual historic event.

    Secondly, it was in fact suggested to Washington by a Colonel (Nicola) that Washington should be monarch of the U.S. and that there was a great deal of support for that within the army. And Washington did in fact immediately quash the idea.

    The fact that Nicola didn’t actually hand Washington a crown is irrelevant. Washington should not be diminished simply because he stopped the idea quickly and immediately in its infancy. No serious historian doubts that a monarchy would have been Washington’s for the taking if he hadn’t been completely opposed to it on principle, which is of course the paramount point.

    So enough with the narrow historical knit-picking. It’s not a “myth” that shows “how exalted Washington was.” It’s a historical fact – which has sometimes been imperfectly stated or characterized — which shows how virtuous Washington was.

    • Matthew Weber

      My source was this “The Nicola Affair: Lewis Nicola, George Washington, and American Military Discontent during the Revolutionary War,” Proceedings of The American Philosophical Society Vol. 146, No. 2, June 2002, pp. 139-169,

      The entire book by Robert F. Haggard states that it is a myth that has been exaggerated throughout history..

      Now, granted this is one source, and there is a lot on the Internet that says its true. But From the little I’ve read, Nicola was an officer in the Revolutionary army. If he did in fact suggest a crown for George Washington, that isn’t the same as Washington actually being offered to sit as king by a majority of people.

      Thanks for the comment! I love honest and interesting conversation, especially given that a lot of comments on the internet are nothing but hateful drivel.

  • Richard Miller

    Wilson was a blatant racist and he threw an unprepared U.S. Army into the trench quagmire of WW1 resulting in 320,000 casualties. I lay this disaster at his feet. Additionally, Wilson was more arrogant than Barack Obama which in itself is astounding. Theodore Roosevelt would be a better choice.

    • bob jacobi

      also a racist that resegregated the military.