Frequently described as the most powerful people in the world, American presidents lead the largest economy and the largest military, with command authority over the largest active nuclear arsenal.
However, the development of the United States was not one that came overnight. Even the idea of a Presidency was one of much decision making. Founders adopted the word “president” over “governor” and other alternatives because it suggested a light hand, as in one who presides, rather than rules. Indeed, the Constitutional Convention first agreed to a weak chief executive elected by congress for one seven-year term, later calling for independent election and separation of powers.
It is worth noting that the United States of America was the first country in the world to put a president on the head of the executive power of a republic. Today, this type of polity is widely spread in many countries, making the American President a pioneer and a role model for the other state leaders. It is the success of such a unique political model which made author Charles Jones to remark that “In 200 years, the presidency had changed from that of a person, Washington followed by Adams, then Jefferson, to a presidential enterprise with a cast of thousands.”
Despite the growing importance of this “presidential enterprise” with a power now exercised in recognition of legitimate functions of other executive branches, the influential figure of the President himself, along with his personal and intellectual traits, virtues and flaws, is often what drives different branches together to build a common consensus. It is also what personifies the state.
In the eyes of the public, the individual Presidential personality and state merge. And there have definitely been moments in history when the personality of a President became the defining factor in shaping the world perception of the country and the others’ attitude towards its policy.
Below is a short history of the American presidents, with a final infographic of all the presidents to date including their legacy and the way they changed the course of history.
American President #1? John Hanson
John Hanson (April 14 1721 – November 15, 1783) was a merchant and public official from Maryland during the era of the American Revolution. He was elected President of the Congress of the confederacy on November 5, 1781. Whilst the United States then had no executive branch and that the president of Congress was a mostly ceremonial, some historians have since made the claim that Hanson is the first President of the United States.
George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was the first President of the United States (1789–1797).
He was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War against the authority of the British Crown, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He presided over the convention that drafted the United States Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and maintained the supreme law of the land.
John Adams (October 30 1735 – July 4, 1826) was the second President of the United States (1797–1801), having earlier served as the first vice president of the United States (1789-1797) under George Washington. Like Jefferson, his vice president, both promoted republicanism, a political thought that opposes inherited political power like aristocracy, and embraces liberty as its guiding principle. He also believed in maintaining a strong central government. He was strongly opposed to slavery, and never owned a slave.
Thomas Jefferson (April 13 1743 – July 4, 1826) was the third President of the United States (1801–1809). As one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, he was famed for being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). He was a spokesman for democracy, and embraced the principles of republicanism and the rights of the individual with worldwide influence.
At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia, and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). Elected Vice President in 1796, he took over John Adams in 1801.
James Madison, Jr. (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836) was the fourth President of the United States (1809–1817). He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution. He also wrote the United States Bill of Rights, notably the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
As president (1809–1817), he waged the War of 1812 in response to British encroachments on American honor and rights and ended the influence of the British among their Indian allies, whose resistance blocked United States settlement. After realising that the United States lacked a strong army and financial system, he supported a stronger national government and a strong military, as well as the formation of the national bank, which he had long opposed in the past.
James Monroe (April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was the fifth President of the United States (1817–1825). Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States After studying law under Thomas Jefferson from 1780 to 1783, he served as a delegate in the Continental Congress.
As an anti-federalist delegate to the Virginia convention that considered ratification of the United States Constitution, Monroe opposed ratification, claiming it gave too much power to the central government. He took an active part in the new government, and in 1790 he was elected to the Senate of the first United States Congress, where he joined the Jeffersonians.
Facing little opposition from the fractured Federalist Party, Monroe was easily elected president in 1816, winning over 80 percent of the electoral vote and becoming the last president during the First Party System era of American politics.
John Quincy Adams (July 11, 1767 – February 23, 1848) was an American statesman who served as the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. He also served as a diplomat, a Senator and member of the House of Representatives. As President, his term in office was hampered by a Congress controlled by his enemies, and his lack of patronage networks helped politicians eager to undercut him. He lost his 1828 bid for re-election to Andrew Jackson. He was also able to foresee a civil war within the union over slavery issues.
Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767 – June 8, 1845) was the seventh President of the United States (1829–1837). This president was primarily responsible for strengthening the Democratic Party. His actions during his term was what led to his opponents to form the Whig Party, which merged with others into the Republican Party. The two-party system of the US began with this.
Jackson gained national fame through his role in the War of 1812, where he won decisive victories over the Indians and then over the main British invasion army at the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson’s army was sent to Florida where, without orders, he deposed the small Spanish garrison. This led directly to the treaty which formally transferred Florida from Spain to the United States.
Martin Van Buren (December 5, 1782 – July 24, 1862) was the eighth President of the United States (1837–1841). He took over from Andrew Jackson, and was the last Vice President to be elected directly to the presidency until George H. W. Bush in 1988.
His administration was largely characterized by the economic hardship of his time, the Panic of 1837 – the financial crisis that touched off a major recession, lasting until the mid-1840s. Van Buren was scapegoated for the depression and called “Martin Van Ruin” by political opponents. The President was blamed for the crisis even though his inauguration preceded the Panic by only five weeks.
Van Buren’s refusal to use government intervention to address the crisis (emergency relief or increasing spending on public infrastructure projects to reduce unemployment), according to his opponents, contributed to the hardship and duration of the depression that followed. Van Buren was voted out of office after four years, losing to Whig candidate William Henry Harrison.
William Henry Harrison (February 9, 1773 – April 4, 1841) was the ninth President of the United States (1841), an American military officer and politician, and the first president to die in office. He was 68 years, 23 days old when inaugurated, the oldest president to take office until Ronald Reagan in 1981. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office of complications from pneumonia, serving the shortest tenure in United States presidential history.
His death sparked a brief constitutional crisis, but its resolution settled many questions about presidential succession left unanswered by the Constitution until the passage of the 25th Amendment in 1967. He was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, who was the 23rd President from 1889 to 1893.
John Tyler (March 29, 1790 – January 18, 1862) was the tenth President of the United States (1841–1845). He was elected vice president on the 1840 Whig ticket with William Henry Harrison, and became president after his running mate’s death in April 1841.
Tyler believed in manifest destiny and sought to strengthen and preserve the Union through territorial expansion, most notably the annexation of the independent Republic of Texas in his last days in office. While academics and journalists have both praised and criticized Tyler, the general American public has little awareness of him at all. Several writers have portrayed Tyler as among the nation’s most obscure presidents and his presidency is generally held in low esteem by historians
James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the 11th President of the United States (1845–1849). Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He later lived in and represented Tennessee. A Democrat, Polk served as the 17th Speaker of the House of Representatives (1835–1839) and Governor of Tennessee (1839–1841).
Polk was the surprise (dark horse) candidate for president in 1844, defeating Henry Clay of the rival Whig Party by promising to annex Texas. Polk was a leader of Jacksonian Democracy during the Second Party System.
Polk oversaw the opening of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution, the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument, and the issuance of the first postage stamps in the United States. He promised to serve only one term and did not run for reelection. He died of cholera three months after his term ended.
Zachary Taylor (November 24, 1784 – July 9, 1850) was the 12th President of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Before his presidency, Taylor national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican-American War won him election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the Union, but he died sixteen months into his term, before making any progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions in Congress.
Millard Fillmore (January 7, 1800 – March 8, 1874) was the 13th President of the United States (1850–1853), the last Whig president, and the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties. Fillmore was the only Whig president that did not die in office or get expelled from the party, and Fillmore appointed the only Whig Supreme Court Justice.
Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804 – October 8, 1869) was the 14th President of the United States (1853–1857). Being a well-spoken erudite, his priority was the nation’s unity. However, his unsuccessful attempts to stem the intersectional conflict and the fact that as a Northern democrat he signed the Kansas–Nebraska Act, set the stage for the Southern secession. That made him widely regarded as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.
Although Pierce fully expected to be renominated by the Democrats in the 1856 presidential election, he was abandoned by his party and his bid failed. His reputation in the North suffered further during the Civil War as he became a vocal critic of President Abraham Lincoln. Pierce, who had been a heavy drinker for much of his life, died of severe cirrhosis of the liver in 1869.
James Buchanan, Jr. (April 23, 1791 – June 1, 1868) was the 15th President of the United States (1857–1861), serving immediately prior to the American Civil War. He is, to date, the only president from Pennsylvania and the only president to remain a lifelong bachelor. By the time he left office, his popularity had suffered, and the Democratic Party had split.
Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th president of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. Lincoln led the United States through its Civil War—its bloodiest war and its greatest moral, constitutional and political crisis. In doing so, he preserved the Union, abolished slavery, strengthened the federal government, and modernized the economy.
Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875) was the 17th President of the United States, serving from 1865 to 1869. Johnson became president as he was the Vice President at the time of President Lincoln’s assassination. A Democrat who ran with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, Johnson came to office as the Civil War concluded.
The new president favored quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union. His plans did not give protection to the former slaves, and he confronted the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives. The first American president to be impeached, he was acquitted in the Senate by one vote.
Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was the 18th President of the United States (1869–1877). In 1865, as commanding general, Grant led the Union Armies to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War. He then implemented Congressional Reconstruction, often at odds with President Andrew Johnson. Twice elected president, Grant led the Republicans in their effort to remove the vestiges of Confederate nationalism and slavery, protect African-American citizenship, and defeat the Ku Klux Klan.
Rutherford Birchard Hayes (October 4, 1822 – January 17, 1893) was the 19th President of the United States (1877–1881). As president, he oversaw the end of Reconstruction, began the efforts that led to civil service reform, and attempted to reconcile the divisions left over from the Civil War and Reconstruction.
In 1876, Hayes was elected president in one of the most contentious and confused elections in national history. He lost the popular vote to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden but he won an intensely disputed electoral college vote after a Congressional commission awarded him twenty contested electoral votes, becoming President only after the Compromise of 1877.
Hayes believed in meritocratic government, equal treatment without regard to race, and improvement through education. He ordered federal troops to quell the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. He implemented modest civil service reforms that laid the groundwork for further reform in the 1880s and 1890s.
James Abram Garfield (November 19, 1831 – September 19, 1881) served as the 20th President of the United States. He is thus far the only sitting Representative to have been elected to the presidency. He was killed on July 2, 1881 when he was on his way to Williams College, where he was shot twice from behind by an assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, a rejected and disillusioned Federal office seeker.
The immediate cause of his death is much disputed, although poor medical treatment methods were thought to have been the main cause for his death.
Garfield’s legacy as President includes a controversial resurgence of Presidential authority above Senatorial courtesy in executive appointments; energizing U.S. naval power; and purging corruption in the Post Office Department. Garfield made notable diplomatic and judiciary appointments, including a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Chester Alan Arthur (October 5, 1829 – November 18, 1886) was the 21st President of the United States. He succeeded James Garfield upon the latter’s assassination.
Suffering from poor health, Arthur made only a limited effort to secure renomination in 1884; he retired at the close of his term. Journalist Alexander McClure later wrote, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired … more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe.”
Stephen Grover Cleveland (March 18, 1837 – June 24, 1908) was the 22nd and 24th President of the United States; and, therefore was the only US president to serve two non consecutive terms (1885–1889 and 1893–1897) and to be counted twice in the numbering of the presidents.
He was the winner of the popular vote for president three times—in 1884, 1888, and 1892—and was one of the two Democrats (alongside Woodrow Wilson) elected to the presidency in the era of Republican political domination dating from 1861 to 1933.
In his first term, he opposed high tariffs, free silver, inflation, imperialism, and subsidies to business, farmers, or veterans. His crusade for political reform and fiscal conservatism made him an icon for American conservatives of the era.
Born in North Bend, Ohio in 1833, Benjamin Harrison (1933-1901) was the grandson of the 9th US President, William Henry Harrison. Raised by a family with a legacy of Political Activism, Benjamin assumed office in 1889 under the banner of the Republican Party where he defeated Grover Cleveland.
During his term, the McKinley Tarriff was enacted which started a new era of protectionism for the country, fair competition was also ensured with the Sherman Antitrust act, and the Land Revision act of 1991 was amended to help create National Forests. He also enforced voting rights for African Americans. The Navy was also greatly modernized and strengthened during his term.
Cleveland did not have initial success in running for his second term. He was defeated by Harrison. He went on to become a private citizen for 4 years. He was nominated by the Democrats again and won his rematch against Harrison in 1893.
His second term was riddled by the economic panic of 1893 where an economic depression ensued by market overbuilding. He sought Tariff reform and strengthened voting rights. It was also during his second term that Utah was admitted to statehood.
William McKinley (January 29, 1843 – September 14, 1901) was the 25th President of the United States, serving from March 4, 1897, until his assassination on September 14, 1901, six months into his second term. McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish–American War, raised protective tariffs to promote American industry, and maintained the nation on the gold standard in a rejection of inflationary proposals.
Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt, Jr. (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was an American politician, author, naturalist, soldier, explorer, and historian who served as the 26th President of the United States. He was a leader of the Republican Party (GOP) and founder of the Progressive Party insurgency of 1912.
It was popularly known as the “Bull Moose Party”, which got its name after Roosevelt told reporters, “I’m as fit as a bull moose.” Even though he was the reason for the split of the Republicans, historians credit Roosevelt for changing the nation’s political system by permanently placing the presidency at center stage and making character as important as the issues. His notable accomplishments include trust busting and conservationism.
William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930) was the 27th President of the United States (1909–1913) and later the tenth Chief Justice of the United States (1921–1930). He is the only person to have served in both offices.
Supported by fellow Republican Theodore Roosevelt, Taft won very easily in 1908. In his only term, Taft’s domestic agenda emphasized trust-busting, civil service reform, strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission, improving the performance of the postal service, and passage of the Sixteenth Amendment.
Overseas, he enacted Dollar Diplomacy for economic development of countries in Latin America and Asia, and showed his strong resolve in the revolution of Mexico. He was so focused on his tasks that he was blind to the political ramifications of his decisions. He often alienated his own key constituencies and so was defeated by a landslide running for his second term in 1912.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and leader of the Progressive Movement. To date the only U.S. President to have held a Ph.D., he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910. He was Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913, and led his Democratic Party to win control of both the White House and Congress in 1912.
Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was the 29th President of the United States (1921–23). His own lack of vision and poor sense of where he wanted to take the country caused historians consider Warren G. Harding to be one of America’s worst presidents. He is believed to have seen the role of president as mainly ceremonial.
Revisionists have re-examined his role as an important transition between the Progressive Era and the years of prosperity in the 1920s. However, Harding is also credited for his broad-minded views on race and civil rights. Still, his term was revealed to be riddled with corruption, which includes the Teapot Dome Scandal which was deemed as the greatest scandal in American politics — after Watergate involving President Richard Nixon.
American President #30: Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (July 4, 1872 – January 5, 1933) was the 30th President of the United States. The president of a few words, Coolidge was a conservative who advocated for small government. He fought for the cause of the middle class and the emergence of a free and uninterrupted market. During his time at the White House he busied himself in restoring public confidence resulting from the scandals of his predecessor Warren G. Harding. He left office with high popularity.
American President #31: Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) was the 31st President of the United States. The 31st American President was a mining engineer and gained prominence after serving as head of the US Food Administration during World War I. His term was greeted by the Great Depression of 1929 which he sought to resolve by moderate public works projects like the Hoover Dam.
However hard he fought the economic turmoil, he still has a country to run that is going through a downward spiral. His inability to deal with the turmoil led him to a defeat against Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.
American President #32: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945) was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd President of the United States. America’s 32nd president assumed office after defeating incumbent Herbert Hoover during the depths of the Great Depression. He had the longest tenure for a president serving 12 years in office.
During his term, he was able to bring back America from the depths of her economic troubles. He has also laid the foundations of stability and prosperity for the future. Because of his success in bringing back America from the depression, he was re-elected in 1940 because the people expected him to be as good at leading the nation through the perfidious environment of international relations at that time.
After the attack of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt used his wits and charisma in inspiring and leading the Americans in their war effort. His term was the turning point for America in starting to become a major global superpower.
American President #33: Harry S Truman (1945-1953)
Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the 33rd President of the United States. Vice president Harry Truman assumed office in the final years of the second World War. Truman was the president who approved the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, leading the latter to surrender and sparing lives of Americans in the before-planned Operation Downfall.
He steered the US into an internationalist approach in foreign policy with its Allies in Europe. He assisted in the establishment of the United Nations, and made efforts to prevent communism from spreading with the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. On the domestic side of his tenure, he led the nation in rising from post-war economic trials.
American President #34: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was the 34th President of the United States. A five-star general who served in the second world War, he entered the race to the presidency to crusade against communism and won by a landslide. He authorized the establishment of NASA that led to the so-called “Space Race” against the Soviet Union. He is also a tough player in international relations. He forced the UK, France and Israel to end their invasion of Egypt.
American President #35: John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963) was an American politician who served as the 35th President of the United States. Kennedy was president at a period of time of heightened tensions between the USA and USSR in the Cold war, coming close to nuclear brinksmanship when events like the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis took place.
Later he also proceeded over Project Apollo and the Civil Rights Movement. The 35th President’s term cut short by an assassination, and much mystery is shrouded around the Kennedy family till date. Kennedy’s campaign also marked the start of presidential candidates fully utilizing the media for campaign purposes.
American President #36: Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973)was the 36th President of the United States.The 36th President’s tenure was defined by great improvements in civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, the arts, urban and rural development, and his “War on Poverty”. Historians argue that Johnson’s presidency marked the peak of modern liberalism in the United States after the New Deal era.
American President #37: Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913 – April 22, 1994) was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961.
The year 1973 saw an Arab oil embargo and a continuing series of revelations about the Watergate scandal. The scandal escalated, costing Nixon much of his political support, and on August 9, 1974, he resigned in the face of almost certain impeachment and removal from office. After his resignation, he was controversially issued a pardon by his successor, Gerald Ford. In retirement, Nixon’s work authoring several books and undertaking many foreign trips helped to rehabilitate his image. He suffered a debilitating stroke on April 18, 1994, and died four days later at the age of 81.
American President #38: Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
Gerald Rudolph “Jerry” Ford, Jr. (July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was the 38th President of the United States. When he became president upon Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974, he became the first and to date only person to have served as both Vice President and President of the United States without being elected by the Electoral College.
As President, Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, marking a move toward détente in the Cold War. With the conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam nine months into his presidency, U.S. involvement in Vietnam essentially ended. Domestically, Ford presided over the worst economy in the four decades since the Great Depression, with growing inflation and a recession during his tenure.
Ford lived longer than any other U.S. president, living 93 years and 165 days, while his 895-day presidency remains the shortest of all presidents who did not die in office.
American President #39: Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr. (born October 1, 1924) is an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who served as the 39th President of the United States from 1977 to 1981.During Carter’s term as President; he pursued the Camp David Accords, the Panama Canal Treaties, the second round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II).
He also created two new cabinet-level departments: the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He was also remembered as the president who ended détente in response to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, which caused tensions to re-escalate and this led to the international boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow
American President #40: Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American actor and the 40th President of the United States. In his first term he survived an assassination attempt, took a hard line against labor unions, escalated the War on Drugs, and ordered an invasion of Grenada to reverse a Communist coup.He was re-elected in a landslide in 1984. His second term was primarily marked his intervention in foreign affairs, such as the ending of the Cold War and the revelation of the Iran–Contra affair.
American President #41: George H.W Bush (1989-1993)
George Herbert Walker Bush (born June 12, 1924) served as the 41st President of the United States. In his term he ran a successful campaign to succeed Reagan as President, defeating Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis. Foreign policy drove the Bush presidency: military operations were conducted in Panama and the Persian Gulf; the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the Soviet Union dissolved two years later.
Domestically, Bush reneged on a 1988 campaign promise and after a struggle with Congress, signed an increase in taxes that Congress had passed. In the wake of a weak recovery from an economic recession, along with continuing budget deficits, he lost the 1992 presidential election to Democrat Bill Clinton.
American President #42: Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton (born August 19, 1946) is an American politician who served from 1993 to 2001 as the 42nd President of the United States. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president.
After failing to pass national health care reform, the Democratic House was ousted when the Republican Party won control of the Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years. Two years later, Clinton became the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to be elected president twice. He passed welfare reform and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing health coverage for millions of children.
In 1998, he was impeached for perjury before a grand jury and obstruction of justice due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He was since acquitted by the U.S. Senate and served his complete term of office. The Congressional Budget Office reported a budget surplus between the years 1998 and 2000, the last three years of Clinton’s presidency. Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II.
American President #43: George W. Bush (2001-2009)
George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is an American politician and businessman who served as the 43rd President of the United States from 2001 to 2009. Bush was elected president in 2000 after a close and controversial election against Democratic candidate, the former Vice President Al Gore, becoming the fourth president to be elected while receiving fewer popular votes nationwide than his opponent.
Eight months into Bush’s first term as president, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred. In response, Bush launched the War on Terror, an international military campaign which included the war in Afghanistan, launched in 2001 and the war in Iraq, launched in 2003. Nationally, Bush was both one of the most popular and unpopular presidents in history, having received the highest recorded presidential approval ratings in the wake of the September 11 attacks, as well as one of the lowest approval ratings during the 2008 financial crisis.
American President #44: Barack Obama (2009-present)
Barack Hussein Obama II (born August 4, 1961) is the 44th and current President of the United States, and the first African American to hold the office. His term was marked by efforts to undo the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and following revelations of the torture tactics used by operatives overseas. Economically, he signed into law economic stimulus legislation in response to the Great Recession that had happened as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, and worked to reduce the huge budget deficits that had racked up during Bush’s term.
While most of the excerpts above summarized each President’s term in office, as well as major events that took place during that period of time, there were also some interesting facts to be noted about each of the presidents, which are encapsulated in the infographic below:
Over the course of USA’s independence over the past 2 centuries, national and international developments have also reformed the very idea of the presidency, most notably by imposing a 2 term limitation. It has now become a system where influence and individual charisma matters, for they are what makes presidential power effective.
As historian E Pendleton Herring described it so well,” We have created a position of great power but made full realization of that power dependent on power rather than legal authority.” The study of presidency should thus acknowledge the president’s political status and style within the constitutional structure.
As there is no one perfect metric to rank the success of the presidency, it is only natural that people will debate for the next hundred years about who is the best and worst President of all time, with Democrats and Republicans having different answers and everybody valuing traits in different ways.
It is sometimes unfair of us, who have the benefit of hindsight, to commentate on some of the hard decisions that the presidents had to make during their reign, bearing in mind the politics and its evolution over the years. One should thus embrace the USA as a land of opportunities and liberty, and to that the Presidents should all take credit for.