President’s Day Special: My Personal Favorites…Good and Bad

Carved into Mount Rushmore for eternity: two slave-owners, a supporter of sterilization, and a tyrant. Have a nice day.

For the first time in my life, I am going to publicly reveal who my favorite president is, in honor of President’s Day weekend. Not once during the six years I have been teaching in various locations and settings, or in two years as a history lecturer, have I ever said who it is. The reason? Well, it is just so hard to narrow them down. I have more that I do not like than like, but I think that is the same for most people. After all, has there been a president that was ever truly honest to a fault? No. Has there ever been a president not corrupted in some way? No. Has there ever been a president that truly gave a damn about the American people, instead of his political cronies? Hell no. So, you can see why it has taken me so long to come to an answer. I have known for some time now, but just wanted to double-check and make sure. He is not perfect either, you can be sure, but you will find him to be a rather adequate choice when you look at some of the other brilliant commanders-in-chief we have had over the years.

So, here it is. Consider yourselves lucky. My favorite president of all-time is:

That’s right, Zachary Taylor! The reason for this selection is because he died before he had a chance to screw anything up. Sure, he did not really do anything to settle the hot-boiling slavery issue in this country, but he left a compromise of any kind in the hands of Henry Clay, arguably one of the greatest negotiators and politicians in American history. I must also admit, I have quite a soft spot in my heart for him after watching his portrayal by the wonderful James Gammon in One Man’s Hero, my favorite line being: “My dear General Scott, when you return to your kennel, may your mother bite you.” Okay, back to the idiots, err, I mean presidents. You may be thinking, why not William Henry Harrison instead? He was only in office for a month, as opposed to Taylor’s three. Well, the one unforgivable act of Harrison’s presidency was the stupidity he showed at his inauguration. You know how much we appreciate stupidity on this blog, but this is a grotesque display, even for me. This president decided that even though there was a driving rainstorm in Washington, he would still give his inaugural address outside. On top of that, he railed on for two hours and refused to wear a hat and coat. He caught sick from this days later, and soon developed pneumonia and died. Idiot. So, I guess you could say the only thing this guy accomplished in office was his own death. I might as well just come out and say it: how come more presidents haven’t followed his lead? Okay, okay, I’m only joking, though Taft tried to eat his way there.

  • While we’re here, let me give my thoughts on my other favorite presidents, one at the top of my list being Abraham Lincoln. Make no mistake, I am referring to Lincoln the man, father, and husband, NOT the president. Some of his actions were tyrannical, such as his unconstitutional suspension of Habeus Corpus, and decision to quell the southern rebellion by force, when perhaps, a more peaceful method could have been sought. He also did not do anything to end slavery (Andrew Johnson is probably looking down [or up] at us saying, “How come Obama didn’t use my bible?”), contrary to popular belief, and is probably our most overrated president. That aside, is there a more fascinating man to ever hold office? You have to feel bad for the guy, being that he suffered through the loss of a child and saw his wife Mary Todd lose her grip on reality faster than Ronald Reagan. He is such a tragic figure, and waited in the telegraph office at all hours of the day, depriving himself of sleep, so he could get word of how the army was doing, and how many soldiers had died. Also, he had to be a pretty good guy if he saved our country from being taken over by those pesky vampires.
  • Next comes Dwight D. Eisenhower and his ominous warning for us to beware of the military industrial complex. Don’t let industry have a hand in the military and let it get too powerful, this tells us. Well, conspiracy theorists, come on down! The price is right on this quote right after the JFK assassination and our entrance into Vietnam…oh, and the Middle East in more recent years.
  • Now, who would you consider to be our nation’s most beloved president? Washington? No, too stupid. Jefferson? Nah, too hypocritical. Grant? That’s a negative (and he still hasn’t returned from Sharpsburg yet, where they are re-dedicating the Dunker Church in his honor—I hear they’ve renamed it the “Drunker” Church.) Wait, wait! I got it! It must be Franklin Pierce! Again, you are wrong; after all, he never even existed. His entire life was created out of thin air by famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne (seriously, go look it up. It’s on the internet, dude!). The most beloved president in American history is, without a doubt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After all, we elected him four, count ’em, FOUR times. Heck, we should have given him the title of King. Maybe they could have searched White House inventory for Lincoln’s crown and given it to him; how impressive a sight that would have been.
  • Before I wrap things up, I must hand out an award of some kind. How about a trophy for our quietest president? Drum roll, please. Congratulations to Calvin Coolidge, our nation’s quietest president! Apparently, Cal hated to talk so much, that while at a White House dinner, a colleague went up to him and said, “I made a bet that I couldn’t get you to say one word the entire evening”, and Coolidge responded glumly, “You lose.” He didn’t say anything the rest of the night. I guess you could say he is the antithesis of Joe Biden.

7 thoughts on “President’s Day Special: My Personal Favorites…Good and Bad

  1. Wes M.

    People loved to give long speeches in the 19th century. Can you imagine a president giving a two-hour inaugural address now? It would never happen. The country doesn’t have the attention span for it. Of course, now address now would be anywhere as good as a 19th century inaugural. They were orators. Even if you didn’t like what they had to say, you could like how they said it.

  2. Wes

    Yikes! Sorry for the horrible typos! I meant to say nowadays an inaugural would not be near as interesting as one from the 19th century. When Lincoln and Douglas had their famous debates, they would each take turns speaking for 2 hours. The people stayed and listened. Neil Postman talks about the gradual shortening of American attention spans in his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.”

    1. I agree. Our debates are now what, an hour or two for ten candidates who get 90 seconds to speak, if even that? There is no attention span. No one reads anymore, and no film epics can be made (longer than two hours) unless they are CGI laden bonanzas about aliens.

      1. Wes M.

        Thank goodness for the cable mini-series format so we can have something like HBO’s John Adams or the forthcoming To Appomattox. Yeah the debates are way too short and the candidates don’t get equal time to speak. Most of those candidates would be lost (except Ron Paul, in my opinion) anyway without their notes or their advisers telling them ahead of time what to say on each position.

  3. Gettysbuff

    Don’t wanna argue with you here Greg, as you know i like you – but…I can’t let you make a statement like “Lincoln did nothing to end slavery” when that is just your opinion and is false. Sorry. Thought you were better than that. OK, i will agree that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t immediately free all the slaves (as he couldn’t free slaves in the Border States because it would be unconstitutional and Lincoln feared they would go to court and/or secede), but did you realise that Lincoln had been trying HARD to free slaves since 1861? The Emancipation Proclamation was a last resort, after 2 years of trying. That’s why the Proclamation sounds pretty dull in comparison to say, the Gettysburg Address – his heart wasn’t in it because he didn’t mean it. He didn’t want to issue the Proclamation but he did. He believed in better and more gradual ways to free the slaves but was unable to do them legally and constitutionally. Military action was his last option by 1863. I could go on and on but i’ll stop there. I just don’t think you can say that Lincoln did NOTHING. Slaves were freed eventually in 1865 you know.

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