Top 10 US Presidents Challenge

18 Oct 2011

I have a friend in Costa Rica, Harry, and it seems that whenever we get together we talk historical politics. I haven’t seen him for over a year, but today I received an email from Harry’s wife & she passed along a question from him. He wants to know who my top ten US presidents are. Harry is very well read, and he knows a lot more about US history than I do. I was a political science major in college and have taught United States history for over ten years, but I haven’t ever given much thought about which presidents were the best in history. My first thought for first & second are Lincoln and Washington. I’m not a big fan of Kennedy (for bringing humanity to the brink of nuclear war), and William Henry Harrison won’t make my list (he only served one month of his term). Beyond that I’m not sure.

This is the type of discussion/debate I love to have in my classes. It really forces the students into a deeper understanding of the history in order to be able to argue in favor of their favorite. Of course, we must define what we mean by “best.” Is it based on leadership, popularity, winning a war, economic prosperity, integrity, crisis management, or some other factor? How would these factors be measured?

I’d like to ask for your help in answering my friend’s question. Leave a comment letting me know what you think are the criteria I should use to judge the presidents, and who your top presidents are. Also, you can collaborate on a Google Doc by adding why you think a president should or should not be included on the list. I’ll post my list when I finish it.