Presidents Day Special

This is a post that I intend to do every year where I rank all of the Presidents that I consider to be rankable. Even though I haven’t finished my full official rankings yet, there are only two Presidents left, so I don’t believe that there is too much suspense as to who they are and what the probable ranking will be. In the future new Presidents will be added as well as possible changes within the rankings as new information is learned and new events happen, which can change a Presidents standing. Without further ado here are my 2020 Presidents Day presidential rankings:

  1. George Washington
  2. Dwight Eisenhower
  3. Abraham Lincoln
  4. Ronald Reagan
  5. Harry Truman
  6. Ulysses Grant
  7. William McKinley
  8. James Madison
  9. George H W Bush
  10. Warren Harding
  11. John Tyler
  12. James Monroe
  13. Calvin Coolidge
  14. Benjamin Harrison
  15. John Kennedy
  16. Thomas Jefferson
  17. Milliard Fillmore
  18. Rutherford Hayes
  19. Chester Arthur
  20. Bill Clinton
  21. Richard Nixon
  22. James Polk
  23. Gerald Ford
  24. Franklin Roosevelt
  25. Zachary Taylor
  26. John Quincy Adams
  27. William Howard Taft
  28. Herbert Hoover
  29. Franklin Pierce
  30. Jimmy Carter
  31. Grover Cleveland
  32. James Buchanan
  33. Martin Van Buren
  34. Theodore Roosevelt
  35. John Adams
  36. Lyndon Johnson
  37. Andrew Johnson
  38. Andrew Jackson
  39. Woodrow Wilson

As you can see I have already made some changes to my rankings as I have re-evaluated the Presidents as I have been making the posts in my Presidential Rankings series. The biggest drop was Franklin Roosevelt, chiefly because he knew the Holocausts was happening and did nothing to stop it. He even refused Jewish immigrants, sending them back to Nazi Germany. Roosevelt was also against anti-lynching laws, because he thought that they would hurt him politically in the south. The biggest riser was Bill Clinton, mostly for his fiscal conservatism.

3 Abraham Lincoln

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

Abraham Lincoln became President during the most dire of circumstances, as states decided to leave the country in protest of his election, and he was tasked with bringing the country back together again. The election of Lincoln signaled to the southern states that they no longer held the balance of power in the country, and that the old Jackson coalition of the south & the west could no longer control national politics. The biggest difference between the North & South was slavery. In the North Slavery was illegal and in the south it was an embedded institution. Northerners wanted to end the spread of slavery and southerners wanted to extend it. The other political differences between the north and south were their views tariffs, internal improvements and distribution of public lands. At its heart the civil war was about slavery, but it wasn’t only about slavery, it was also about power, especially political power.

In the time between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration seven states decided to leave the Union and form the Confederate States of America. The first state to secede was South Carolina on December 20th 1860, and was soon followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. There were several attempts at a compromise to bring the states back into the Union, but they all failed for the same reason: Both sides were unwilling to compromise on the extension of slavery into new territories.

By the time Lincoln became President every federal fort in the South had been abandoned by northern forces except two: Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina and Fort Pickens near Pensacola Florida. On his first full day in office Lincoln read a letter from Major Robert Anderson, the commanding officer at Fort Sumter, stating that he only had 4-6 weeks of supplies left. Lincoln was left with the decision to either resupply the fort or surrender it to the Confederates. Lincoln decided to resupply to fort rather than abandon it, as surrendering it would have lent credence to the legality of secession and the legitimacy of the Confederacy. Lincoln informed South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens that he was resupplying the fort. The Confederacy decided to take the fort before it could be resupplied and bombarded the fort on April 12th 1861 with forces led by General P.G.T. Beauregard. The fort was surrendered the next day before the resupply mission could reach it.

After the attack on Fort Sumter Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve 90 days to quell the rebellion. The call for troops pushed four more states into the Confederacy: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. Lincoln called Congress into a special session to begin in July. On advice from Winfield Scott, Lincoln asked Robert E Lee to command the Union forces, but Lee decided to join his home state of Virginia in the Confederacy. On April 19th a riot broke out in Baltimore when a mob attacked militiamen from Massachusetts. Due to the riot, and the fact that if Maryland seceded it would surround the capital of Washington DC by Confederate states, Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus in Maryland. On May 18th, Union General Benjamin Butler sent troops to Baltimore and declared martial law. Lincoln set up a naval blockade of the South and went about raising a large army once Congress was back in session.

During the war the Union army faced many setbacks, especially in the eastern theater after Robert E  Lee took over the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee beat back the Union forces in a series of stunning victories, which caused Lincoln to search vainly for a General that was able to match Lee. Eventually Lincoln found his general in Ulysses Grant, which he put in charge of the army in March of 1864. In May of 1864 Grant started his overland campaign against Lee from May 4th 1864 to June 12th 1864 which ended with the battle of Cold Harbor. Even though Lee won the battles, Grant kept pressure on Lee’s army and eventually Grant was able to maneuver into a position that forced Lee into Petersburg, a city that was critical to the supply of both Lee’s army and the Confederate Capital of Richmond. The siege of Petersburg lasted from June of 1864 until April 2nd of 1865 when it ended in a Union victory. Lee was forced to surrender his army on April 9th 1865 at Appomattox Court House. At that point the Civil War was all but over.

Lincoln’s foreign policy consisted mainly of keeping other countries from recognizing and aiding the Confederacy. The first major policy that Lincoln enacted that would affect relations with other countries was the naval blockade of the south. Due to the blockade, many foreign nations recognized the Confederacies belligerent status and declared neutrality. Controversy arose over the blockade with foreign governments, but Lincoln was able to convince them to view the blockade as a legitimate tool of war. Even though the blockade was porous, it was effective in limiting the Confederacies ability to acquire arms and munitions as well as sell its goods overseas. One particularly sticky incident was the Trent Affair. On November 8th 1861 Charles Wilkes, U.S. Naval Captain boarded the British mail ship the Trent and captured two Confederate envoys, James Mason and John Slidell, that were heading for Great Britain. The British were outraged and demanded the release of the prisoners and an official apology. Britain ordered troops to Canada and additional ships to the western Atlantic. The United States agreed to release the prisoners, but without a formal apology. Britain was satisfied and normal relations were continued.

In 1857 Mexico became embroiled in a civil war, and by January of 1861 the forces of Benito Juarez captured Mexico City which greatly strengthening his position and legitimacy. Juarez soon suspended repayment which led to the intervention of European powers in Mexico. Initially Britain, France and Spain intervened to collect the unpaid debts but eventually Napoleon III installed a puppet monarch, Ferdinand Maximilian, as emperor of Mexico, and backed him up with 40,000 French soldiers. Even though Lincoln was against Frances actions, there was little he could do while fighting the Civil War. Not only did Lincoln not want to fight two wars at once, but he also didn’t want to draw the French into the Civil War on the side of the Confederates, which could have drawn the British in on the Confederate side as well. The French and British were both waiting for the other to act on the Confederacy, the action of one could have set off events where the whole of Europe might have recognized the Confederate States of America as an official country. The situation in Mexico would have to wait until after the Civil War.

The Emancipation Proclamation was mainly a foreign policy initiative to keep European powers, especially Britain and France, from aiding the Confederacy during the war. There was little chance that the Confederacy would have changed course and ended the war when the proclamation was made. It turned the war from one where the Union was trying to deny the Confederacy national self-determination to one where the Union was trying to free an enslaved people. Clearly the Union and Lincoln took the moral high ground in the conflict after the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation made a Confederate alliance with Britain or France highly unlikely, as the European powers couldn’t intervene on the South’s part for moral reasons. Even though the proclamation only covered areas in active rebellion as of January 1st of 1863 it led to the abolition of slavery after the war ended.

One of the biggest obstacles facing Lincoln was how to finance the war. The previous administration under James Buchanan had ran up the massive debts in his four years, bring the total federal debt from $28 million to $95 million. The Revenue Act of 1861 was passed to help pay for the war. The bill raised certain import duties, levied new property taxes and introduced a 3% income tax on all wages earned above $800, the equivalent of $23,000 in 2019 dollars. The income tax was to expire in 1866. This act was followed up by The Revenue Act of 1862, which placed new excise taxes, created the office of Commissioner of Internal Revenue, which was a precursor of the IRS. The income tax was redid so people making $600-$10,000 would pay 3% and people with an income above $10,000, the equivalent of $259,000 in 2019 dollars, to pay a 5% rate. The revenue act of 1864 further raised income tax rates. The income taxes only raised a total of $54 million out of the $3.4 billion of total revenue raised to fight the war. Considering the small amount that income taxes contributed to paying for the war, the government would have been better off not passing these dubious laws. The bulk of money raised was from the issuance of war bonds, which were mostly sold by Jay Cooke and Company in many ingenious ways. The remaining way that the war was financed was through the issuance of “Greenbacks”, which was paper money that wasn’t backed by either gold or silver. These Greenbacks caused inflation and led to later problems, but they were a necessary evil. The National Banking Acts of 1863, 1864 and 1865 created a national banking system for the United States and created a uniform currency. The national banks eventually replaced the state banks without forming a centralized bank.

On April 14th 1865 Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Boothe while attending the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s theater. Lincoln was moved to a rooming house across the street and died on the morning of April 15. The assassination of Lincoln was part of a larger conspiracy that was planned to decapitate the Union government. Secretary of State William Seward was attacked in his bed and stabbed several times by Lewis Powell, but he missed any vital organs and Seward survived. George Atzerodt was supposed to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood House in Washington, but he lost his nerve and got drunk at the bar.

With the assassination of Lincoln, any hopes of a smooth transition after the Civil War were dashed. Andrew Johnson became President, he butted heads with Congress and undermined reconstruction, setting race relations back 100 years. Had Lincoln lived reconstruction and the country would have been far different.

4 Ronald Reagan

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

Ronald Reagan became president during a period of economic chaos and when America’s prestige was shrinking at home and abroad. Reagan led the country out of Jimmy Carter’s malaise and return prosperity and America prestige. Reagan didn’t see the United States as just another nation among many, but as a Shinning City on a Hill, a beacon of light, and a country to lead the world in defeat of the evils of communism. How did Reagan achieve this? He recognized American exceptionalism and he was willing to call the Soviet Union what it was, an evil empire that enslaved it’s people in a system of despair and poverty.

Reagan first had to tackle the economic disaster left behind by the previous administration. The economy was in a shambles.  During the 1980-1982 recession unemployment went above 10%, inflation above 14% and the prime lending rate went above 21%. Couple this with the energy crisis, and Reagan have a four headed economic beast that needed to be slayed.

The economic war was waged upon several fronts, but in recent years, it has came into vogue to give full credit for the economic recovery to Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Historians, in turn, give credit to Jimmy Carter for appointing Volcker, even though Carter worked against Volcker and Reagan worked with him. It is true that Volcker’s tight monetary policy was vital to curing inflation, but it was not solely responsible. Volcker also had to work within the political realities of the day, and he has admitted as much. Reagan provided Volcker with cover and support which allowed Volcker to stay the course on his tight monetary policy, and Reagan took the heat for it. In May of 1981, Reagan’s approval rating was 68%, by January of 1983 it was down to 35%. In 1980 Carter convinced Volcker to lower interest rates slightly and use other devices at his disposal to fight inflation. Volcker raised reserve requirements and restricted consumer credit, which, along with Carter’s economic program, reduced consumer spending and plunged the economy into a recession. Volcker, realizing his mistake, went back to his original remedy for inflation.  The caricature of Carter selflessly sacrificing his presidency to cure inflation is a false one. When people were asked during Carter’s presidency about the biggest issue facing the country, the number one answer was “inflation and the cost of living”. If Carter didn’t at least address the issue and appear to be doing something about it, he would certainly lose the election. There was no gallant martyrdom by Jimmy Carter.

Volcker’s tight money policy combined with two of Reagan’s policies to bring inflation down. The first was Reagan’s policies towards oil. When Reagan became president there was an intricate system of price and allocation controls in the oil market which he removed in January of 1981. These controls had been amended hundreds of times to “fix” new issues that arose from the regulations themselves. This system of price controls was fruitless, because the world market sets oil prices, not the United States government. Carter combined these price controls with a “windfall profits tax” that was to take any additional profits earned from domestic oil producers above oil prices since before the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Reagan lowered this “windfall profits tax” in August of 1981 and later removed it altogether. These two programs combined to reduced domestic oil production below what it would have otherwise been. The end result of the tax and regulations was that they increased dependence on foreign oil and raised prices for consumers. Gas prices in 1976 were $0.59 per gallon, by 1980 they had went to $1.19 a gallon, Reagan was able to get them down to $0.90 a gallon by 1988, and these numbers don’t account for inflation. Certainly cheaper energy prices served to undermined inflation.

The other way that Reagan beat inflation was through tax cuts, which were phased in from October 1981 through 1983. By cutting taxes, Reagan encouraged people to invest in productive endeavors, before that people were speculating against inflation. Getting the economy going again was the key. Volcker even had to reverse policy and add money back into the system to keep up with the booming economy. Tax cuts work in two ways to spur economic growth. First they give consumers more money to spend and investors more money to invest. The second way is that they allow investors a greater percentage of the reward when their investments work out. In 1980 the top tax rate was 70%, meaning that investors would only keep 30% of additional profits before they started paying state, local, sales and excise taxes. Today the top tax rate is 37%. meaning investors get to keep 63% of additional profits. It’s easy to see which tax rate will induce a greater amount of investment. To give an idea of how well the tax cuts worked, in 1980 the workforce participation rate was 63.8% and unemployment was 6.5%, meaning that there were 57.8 jobs for every 100 Americans. By 1988 the workforce participation rate had increased to 66.4% and the unemployment rate went down to 4.6%, meaning that there were 63.4 jobs per 100 Americans, an increase of 5.5 jobs for every 100 Americans. Had the workforce participation rate stayed the same, unemployment would have been below 1%.

Reagan has been derided for the increase in federal debt during his term, but due to circumstances, there wasn’t much that he could have done about the debt. There were several reasons for the debt increases:

  • Reagan was the first President to serve eight full years since Eisenhower, who left the White House twenty years before Reagan entered it. He had more time to pile on debt than his five predecessors.
  • Inflation was especially bad between Eisenhower and Reagan. What a dollar would buy in 1960 would cost $3.07 in 1981.
  • Reagan served after the passage of The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. This act was passed in the wake of Watergate and forced Presidents to spend all appropriated money. Before this act, Presidents going back to Thomas Jefferson, had impounded government funds to control spending.
  • Reagan served after the passage of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs, which had the affect of constantly increasing in cost, but before welfare reform under Bill Clinton in the 1990s
  • He increased military spending to defeat the Soviet Union which allowed subsequent Presidents to lower military spending.
  • Reagan had higher spending forced on him by Congress than what he had wanted.

The real, inflation adjusted, average rate of growth in federal spending fell from 4% under Jimmy Carter to 2.5% under Ronald Reagan, which was a slower rate of growth in inflation adjusted spending than any of his five predecessors. Some people try to blame the tax cuts for “lost revenue” but this is dubious at best. Tax receipts went up after the tax cuts. Even though people kept a larger share of their income, taxes as a share of GDP were basically the same. Total federal revenues averaged 17.7% of GDP from 1981–88, versus the 1974–80 average of 17.6% of GDP.

Reagan’s handling of the Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) strike has been wrongly blamed for causing the decline of Union labor, but the decline of unionized labor started long before Reagan became president and was already significantly eroded at the time of the PATCO strike. The percentage of workers in unions in 1954 was 34.8%, by 1981 it had declined to 21%. Unions have been on the decline in the United States for various reasons, but the chief one is the decline of the American manufacturing sector, which typically uses unionized labor. Reagan told his negotiators to offer the PATCO workers a pay raise even before the strike occurred, the first time a president offered so much to a federal union. PATCO went on strike anyways, which was illegal under federal law. Reagan warned the workers that he would fire them if they did not return to work, as they had no right to strike against the public safety. When most refused to return Reagan was forced to fire 11,345 strikers. Reagan had to keep his word, or it would have showed everyone across the globe that he would back down in tough situations.

When Reagan entered office most people seen the Soviet Union as undefeatable, which led to the policy of détente. This was a policy of peaceful coexistence and conciliation of communist countries. Reagan saw the Soviet Union as an evil empire that needed to be defeated and he wasn’t afraid to say so. Reagan saw the underlying weakness in the Communist system and was willing to exploit it. Reagan put pressure on the corrupt Soviet system at every turn. He raised military spending, forcing the Soviets to try to keep up. He invested in new technologies, especially the Strategic Defense Initiative, which the Soviets tried vainly to duplicate. He helped countries fighting against Soviet aggression across the globe. Even Reagan’s work to drop oil prices put pressure on the Soviet Union, as their economy depended on petroleum exports. The pressure on the Soviet Union eventually led to the promotion of a reformer, Mikal Gorbachev, as General Secretary of the Politburo. In Gorbachev Reagan found someone that he could work with. Reagan negotiated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Treaty with Gorbachev, which eliminated all land based Ballistic and cruise missiles under 5500 KM (3400 miles) range. This was the first time a treaty eliminated nuclear weapons and it removed an entire class of weapons. Reagan’s Pressure caused the Soviet Union to first loosen it’s grip on the satellite states in Eastern Europe and the eventual collapse of the Soviet system altogether. Some detractors try to say that the Soviet system was corrupt and doomed to failure. Whereas Communism and socialism is by its very essence corrupt, several other communist countries still survive today, including North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Venezuela. Others try to give all the credit to Gorbachev, even though Gorbachev himself credits Reagan. Gorbachev just recognized that the system was collapsing and he tried to save what he could, Reagan caused the collapse.

In 1983 the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States appealed to the United States about the situation in Grenada. The island government had been overthrown by a communist regime in 1979. The new regime was getting aid from Cuba and the Soviet Union to build the Point Salines International Airport, which could accommodate the largest Soviet aircraft. The small country already had the Pearls Airport, which was more than enough to serve the nations needs. It was obvious that the Soviets were building a military base. On October 25th 1983, the invasion commenced to rescue American citizens, other foreign nationals and to restore Democracy to Grenada. The invasion took eight days and was met by nearly 800 Cuban soldiers and the Communist People’s Revolutionary Army which was armed with Soviet weapons. The invasion was a smashing success and proved that the United States didn’t need to fear “another Vietnam” if America was fighting to defeat rather than outlast its opponents.

The Iran-Contra Affair started when Israel approached the U.S. about selling its American built arms to Iran and then replenishing them with new weapons from the United States. Israel ensured that the arms were going to moderate groups within Iran, and it made little sense that Israel would sell arms directly to the Islamic extremist. It was hoped that these moderate groups would take over when the elderly Ayatollah Khomeni died. Israel’s real motivation was to keep the Iran-Iraq war raging to weaken both sides. Colonel Oliver North, without Reagan’s knowledge, started diverting profits to aid the Contras fighting against the Communist Nicaraguan government. The Boland Amendment, which was of questionable constitutionality, had disallowed any aid to the Contras. Reagan has been assailed for having too lax of a leadership style which allowed the scandal to take place, but no president can watch every member of the executive branch all the time. Too much has been made out of Iran Contra, it should be but a small footnote in history. 

Reagan returned prosperity, hope and defeated the Soviet Union, without firing a single shot. He was truly a great president.

What is wrong with the current impeachment hearings

In order to impeach and remove someone from office a law has to have been broken. You can’t remove someone from office because you think that they are “obnoxious”. Thomas Jefferson tried to remove a Supreme Court justice, Samuel Chase, for this reason and failed. When Andrew Johnson was impeached, Congress first passed the Tenure of Office Act, knowing that he would break it, so that they could impeach him. Seeing that the Tenure of Office Act was a trap, enough Senators voted to dismiss even though Johnson was utterly unfit to be president.

Every President since Kennedy, and some before him, have asserted executive privilege against congress, yet none were impeached for “contempt of congress”. Why? Because the issue was always settled in the courts, or Congress dropped it. This time, however. the house rushed impeachment because they didn’t want Trump on the ballot in 2020. Even Schiff said in his presentation before the House that Trump couldn’t be allowed to run again and allow the voters to decide the issue.

Many presidents have withheld foreign aid in the past. In fact Obama withheld aid from Pakistan, Colombia, the Philippines, Egypt, Honduras, Mexico and yes The Ukraine. Why wasn’t Obama impeached, because a President withholding or delaying foreign aid isn’t against the law, it’s common practice.

There is no defined definition of “Abuse of Power” and most presidents could have been impeached for this reason if you twist the definition. Even Washington and Lincoln were said to have abused the power of the office by their detractors, so this one can’t seriously be considered.

Basically, even if everything that the Democrats are saying is 100% true, it is still not cause to remove a president from office, which is why there is no reason to call additional witnesses or allow them to drag out the trial any longer for political purposes. If Trump were removed from office it would set a precedent where Congress could remove any President that they found obnoxious, annoying or simply in their way.

5 Harry Truman

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

Harry Truman assumed the presidency on April 12th 1945 after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Truman faced three major issues as president: how to end of World War II, what role the United States would take internationally and how the United States would adjust domestically after the war.

The war in Europe was already winding down as Germany surrendered less than a month after Truman took office. This still left the war in the Pacific raging on. In July of 1945 the first atomic bomb was successfully tested in the New Mexico desert.  At the time Japan still held a vast empire in the Pacific, China and Southeast Asia. The estimated deaths of invading the Japanese homeland was over 250,000 American soldiers and over one million Japanese soldiers and citizens. Truman was given the choice between a costly and drawn out invasion of Japan and using the Atomic bomb to quickly end the war. Truman decided to use the bomb, first on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945 and then on Nagasaki on August 9th. On August 10th Japan declared it’s intention to surrender. The fact that the first bomb didn’t force their surrender says quite a bit about Japanese resolve.

When a well-informed Japanese Army officer in Yokohama was interrogated, he was asked about an allied invasion of Japan: “Could you have repelled this landing?” He answered: “It would have been a very desperate fight, but I do not think we could have stopped you.” He was further asked”What would have happened then?” He replied: “We would have kept on fighting until all Japanese were killed, but we would not have been defeated,” by which he meant that they would not have been disgraced by surrender.

Many have questioned Truman’s decision to use the bomb, but I believe it was the correct one. The biggest argument was that Japan was already basically defeated, so using the bomb was unnecessary. It is true that Japan’s fate was already sealed, but they were either unwilling to accept their defeat or unwilling to surrender under normal circumstances. Others claimed that the use of the bomb was racist, as it wasn’t used on Germany. This completely ignores the fact that Germany surrendered two months before the first successful bomb test. Others claim that it was only used as a show of force to Communist Russia, this was just an advantageous unintended consequence. The use of the bomb to end World War II might have also aided in avoiding a larger nuclear war, as it showed the power and after affects of the bomb. Imagine the destruction if two countries with the bomb fought it out.

After World War II Truman faced a Communist Soviet Union that was bent on controlling much if not all of Europe. In defeating Hitler we gained another power hungry dictator to deal with, Joseph Stalin. The Yalta Conference in some ways drew up the lines in the Cold War. Franklin Roosevelt was naïve about Stalin, believing that he could later charm Stalin into a better deal, and he foolishly gave the Soviet Union dominion over Eastern Europe. Truman held no such illusions about Stalin. When Senator, Truman said that in the event of a war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, that the United States might want to aid whomever is losing and watch the two fight each other to the death.   Truman announced the “Truman Doctrine” which stated that the United States would aid countries fighting against communist domination. He formed NATO to stop a further spread of Soviet domination in Europe and he sent aid to Greece and Turkey under the Truman Doctrine. The Marshall plan further gave over $13 billion in aid to rebuild war torn countries in Europe. When the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin as a way to force the Western Allies, Truman came up with the ingenious Berlin Airlift. Rather than risk a war with the Soviets he supplied the city via the air. After a year the Soviets relented and withdrew the blockade.

Whereas Truman had an excellent foreign policy in Europe, his policies in Asia were far more mixed. The first issue in Asia was what to do with Japan. From 1945 to 1952 occupation forces in Japan instituted widespread reforms that transformed Japan from an absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system like the United Kingdom. In China Truman made a major mistake in implementing an arms embargo that left the Nationalist Chinese led By Chiang Kai Shek at an disadvantage to the Communist led by Moa Zedong which were backed by the Soviet Union. George Marshall felt that could force a peaceful resolution to the Chinese civil war with this embargo, but his miscalculation led to the fall of the Nationalist on mainland China. Chiang Kai Shek and his forces were forced to flee to Taiwan in December of 1949. People say that Truman was unfairly accused of losing China, but had he followed his own Truman Doctrine and containment policies, the Nationalist wouldn’t have been completely defeated, and might have been able to completely defeat the Communist themselves.

On January 12, 1950 Secretary of State Dean Acheson made a speech before the National Press Club that outline the United State’s defense perimeter in Asia that left out both South Korea and Taiwan. This speech combined with the withdraw of most American Troops in South Korea emboldened the North Koreans, backed by their Soviet allies, to invade the South in the hopes of uniting the peninsula under a communist regime. Truman entered the war without congressional approval as part of a United Nations “police action” to repel the invading forces. Once the United States got the upper hand in the war, it was quickly turned from one to expel the Northern Communist to an offensive war to take the whole Korean Peninsula. The Chinese warned the U.N. forces to not push to the Yalu River, which is the border between Korea and China. MacArthur convinced Truman that the Chinese would not enter the war if the U.N. forces took all of Korea up to the Yalu River. MacArthur was wanting China to enter the war so that an invasion of China could commence. As forces marched towards the river China entered the war, where it eventually stalemated near the 38th parallel. This was the situation that Truman bequeathed to Eisenhower.

MacArthur was wanting an all out war with China, even if it meant pulling the Soviets into the war. Not being able to convince Truman to give him what he needed to “win the war” in Korea, which consisted of dozens of nuclear weapons, MacArthur turned to public statements to undermine the Truman administration. Truman had no choice but to relieve the popular general of command.

In April of 1950 NSC-68 was issued, which stated that the United States should use military force to contain communism regardless of the strategic or economic value of the country being defended. Truman pledged to defend Taiwan and to support French Forces in Indochina, which planted the seeds of the Vietnam war.

In 1917 the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, which called for the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Declaration was formally approved by the League of Nations in 1922, and passed as a joint resolution in the United States Congress and signed by Warren Harding. When the time was coming for the partition of Palestine and the formation of Israel, Truman backed the process and the United States was the first country to officially recognize Israel as a country. Some historians have faulted Truman for his “choice” of creating a Jewish state in the middle east, and blame him for the subsequent violence. As you can see, it was the British that chose the location, and it was widely backed up by the international community long before Israel became a country.

After World War II Truman was tasked with transitioning from a wartime economy back to a peacetime economy. This was a rough transition, but it was far superior to that after the two other big wars the United States had fought: The Civil War and World War I. After the civil war Andrew Johnson’s policies and defiance of reconstruction set African Americans back over 100 years. Woodrow Wilson allowed the country to go into an economic tailspin and he never demobilized in the two years he served after World War I ended. In 1949 both unemployment increased during the first six months of the year. To fight this slowdown Truman cut taxes and the economy recovered in 1950. Truman did propose his “Fair Deal” domestic program in January 1949, except an increase in the federal minimum wage these measures were largely ignored.

Between 1945 and 1946 there was a large wave of strikes across several industries. The strikes abated until the start of the Korean War. In May of 1946 Truman seized control of the railroads when a national strike was threatened. In April of 1952 Truman seized the Steel Industry. The steel companies to court and won a 6-3 decision stating that Truman’s seizures were unconstitutional. Despite being probably the biggest strike breaking president in history, he salvaged his standing with labor by opposing the Taft-Hartley Act. The Taft-Hartley Act including the following provisions :

  • Outlawing the closed shop, which required workers to join a union and to pay dues before they could even be considered for a job
  • outlawed secondary boycotts, where a union could force members to boycott a third party company
  • Unions were prohibited from charging excessive union dues or initiation fees
  • It outlawed “featherbedding” which is forcing companies to pay for work that wasn’t performed
  • It imposed the same requirement to bargain in good faith on unions that The Wagner Act had imposed on businesses
  • It allowed for right to work states, where people wouldn’t have to be forced to join a union if they didn’t want to

On the front of civil rights Truman created a civil rights committee in 1946. This committee made several recommendations, which Truman supported in his State of the Union speeches in 1947 and 1948, but he never pushed for legislation from Congress. In 1948 Truman made two executive orders, one ordered the desegregation of the military and the other guaranteed fair employment practices in the civil service. It could be argued that Truman’s support for civil rights as well as his opposition to Taft-Hartley were done for political purposes. Once the 1948 election was won, Truman dropped his support of civil rights. Truman had used many of the provisions in the Taft-Hartley Act all the while arguing against it to hold an important democratic constituency, union workers.

Another tactic that Truman used in the 1948 election was to attack the “do nothing” 80th Congress. He used a political ploy to send a bunch of legislative ideas for the Congress to pass in a short time, which he knew was impossible. He didn’t send any fleshed out bills just vague outlines. In reality the 80th Congress passed 906 public bills including many major pieces of legislation including:

  • Aid to Greece and Turkey
  • The Marshall Plan
  • The National Security Act of 1947-restructuring the military and intelligence agencies
  • The Taft-Hartley Act (Over Truman’s Veto)
  • Tax relief (Over Truman’s Veto)
  • Presidential Succession Act of 1947 (Set the current succession for the President)
  • Passed the 22nd Amendment limiting Presidents to two terms (Later ratified)

Overall Harry Truman was a very good president. He followed a mostly excellent foreign policy, with the exceptions of losing China and his setbacks in Korea. He presided mostly over prosperity and added little debt to the federal government. He didn’t have much of a domestic legacy due to his “fair Deal” being rejected by both the Republican controlled 80th Congress and the later Democratic controlled 81st & 82nd Congresses, but he did return the United States to a freer market system than the one during the great depression, which aided future economic growth.

Down to the top five Presidents

I am down to the top five Presidents in this ranking, and I thought that this would be a good time to do a review of where all the previous Presidents Rank. I have actually learned quite a bit as I have written these entries, as I have done additional research on the Presidents as I have written about them, and additional research into events and their causes and consequences. Without further ado, here is the list so far:

  • 6) Ulysses Grant
  • 7) William McKinley
  • 8) James Madison
  • 9) George H W Bush
  • 10) Warren Harding
  • 11) John Tyler
  • 12) James Monroe
  • 13) Calvin Coolidge                                                          
  • 14) Benjamin Harrison                                                            
  • 15) John Kennedy
  • 16) Thomas Jefferson                                                                  
  • 17) Millard Fillmore                                                                  
  • 18) Rutherford Hayes                                                                   
  • 19) Chester Arthur                                                                  
  • 20) Franklin Roosevelt                                                                 
  • 21) Richard Nixon                                                                         
  • 22) Bill Clinton                                                                                
  • 23) Gerald Ford                                                                                 
  • 24) Zachary Taylor                                                                         
  • 25) James Polk                                                                                
  • 26) John Quincy Adams                                                                  
  • 27) William Howard Taft                                                                  
  • 28) Jimmy Carter                                                                             
  • 29) Herbert Hoover                                                                        
  • 30) Franklin Pierce                                                                        
  • 31) Grover Cleveland                                                                        
  • 32) James Buchanan                                                                       
  • 33) Martin Van Buren                                                                    
  • 34) John Adams                                                                                  
  • 35) Theodore Roosevelt                                                                  
  • 36) Lyndon Johnson                                                                       
  • 37) Andrew Johnson                                                            
  • 38) Andrew Jackson                                                            
  • 39) Woodrow Wilson

I will continue and finish the list, even though the frequency of new entries has slowed down. These posts do take a lot of time to write and research, and I have plenty of other interests. My goal is to do at least two posts every month, meaning this should be finished in November. I also plan to continue posting here after the presidential rankings series is finished.

6 Ulysses Grant

This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/presidential-rankings-series/

Ulysses Grant became president due to his service during the Civil War, winning the first post war election. Grant is generally portrayed as an amicable dolt that allowed the country to drift from one scandal to the next. This narrative was created mainly by the Dunning school and “lost cause” southern sympathisers. Grant had three strikes against him in their eyes: He defeated the south in the civil war, he was a republican and he fought for the rights of the recently freed slaves. The true Grant is quite different from the caricature created by the Dunning school.

The biggest issue facing Grant upon becoming President was Reconstruction. During Andrew Johnson’s term, Johnson and Congress clashed over reconstruction, with Johnson defying Congress the entire way. Unfortunately Johnson’s defiance of reconstruction emboldened former confederates in the south to be defiant as well. Grant’s goal for reconstruction was to readmit the former confederate states while ensuring their state constitutions protected every citizen’s voting rights. Grant pushed for passage of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits the federal or state governments from denying their citizens from voting based on race, color or previous condition of servitude. It was ratified in 1870. Grant also created the Department of Justice in 1870 to fight paramilitary groups in the South. That department immediately started prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan. Grant further passed three enforcement acts to further protect the rights of former slaves:

  • The Enforcement Act of 1870, also known as The Civil Rights Act of 1870, prohibited discrimination in voter registration and established penalties for interfering in a person’s right to vote. It also gave the President the right to employ the army and to use federal Marshalls to uphold the act.
  • The enforcement Act of 1871 permitted federal oversight of local and state elections if any two citizens asked for it in the local area. The act also more severe punishments and larger fines than the act of 1870.
  • The Second Enforcement Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, made state officials liable for depriving anyone of their rights or equal protections under the law. The act also made a number of the KKK’s intimidation actions federal offenses, allowed the president to call in the militia and to suspend habeas corpus to suppress KKK activities if need be.

Grant oversaw the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided for equal treatment in public accommodations, public transportation and prohibited exclusion from juries. It was the last civil rights act passed until the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The act was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1883, but was very similar to the Civil Right Act of 1964.

Grant was able to break the Klan, which was later revived during Wilson’s presidency, but overall Reconstruction wasn’t successful. Northerners soon lost interest in upholding civil rights for southern blacks, and once Grant left office reconstruction ended. Andrew Johnson’s defiance of congress set an example that former confederates followed by passing Jim Crow laws and instituting segregation.

When Grant became President many in the press and public felt that Indians should be exterminated, but Grant felt that all Indians should be made U.S. citizens. Grant appointed Ely Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, as his Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Parker helped Grant work out the details of his Indian policy, which had the main goal of Indian citizenship. Parker appointed military officers as superintendents, which upset many in Congress, who had been used to appointing their supporters to these plum jobs. Many in the west were upset, stating that Grant was siding with the Indians rather than his own countrymen. Reformers wanted to impose radical changes and wanted to divide reservations into individual plots and do away with tribal identities. They were upset that Grant allowed the Indians to move at their own pace. The Board of Indian Commissioners supported Congresses efforts to overturn Grants Indian policies. In 1870 Congress banned active duty military from serving in government posts, so that Congress could appoint their supporters to the positions. To counteract this move, and to prevent the Indian services from sliding back into the corruption of political patronage, Grant appointed missionaries as superintendents of the reservations. Chairman of the Board of Indian affairs William Welsh falsely accused Parker of corruption in order to take Parker down. Congress obliged Welsh, and Parker was forced to submit to a public trial. Even though Parker was exonerated, Congress passed legislation making the Board of Indian Commissioners as supervisors of Indian affairs. With his powers stripped away, Parker resigned as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1871, and Grant’s Indian Policy fell apart.

Grant was a fiscal conservative and sound money man that believed that the governments money should be backed by gold. When Grant entered office there was a question as to whether the United States would back its money by the gold standard, a bi-metal standard of gold and silver both or through greenbacks. The first step Grant took towards the gold standard was passage of the Public Credit Act of 1869. This act stated that bondholders who bought bonds to help finance the Civil War would be paid back in gold. The Coinage Act of 1873 further enforced the gold standard by eliminating the coinage of the standard silver dollar. During the civil war the government issued paper currency that was not backed by either silver or gold. These notes were called greenbacks because they were printed on the back in green ink. While these notes were needed to finance the war, once the war was over it made sense to remove them from circulation due to their inflationary properties. At the end of the civil war there were $450 million greenbacks in circulation, this number was reduced to $356 million by 1867. Redemption of greenbacks was stopped due to fears that they were being removed too quickly with detrimental effects on the economy. When the Panic of 1873 hit, Congress passed the Inflation Bill, to put $100 million in greenbacks in circulation as a way of stimulating the economy. After much thought, Grant saw that the bill could lead to a downward spiral where inflationary currency would be added to the economy during any downturn, and he wisely vetoed the bill. The veto was quite courageous, as the bill was very popular. Grant further strengthened the currency by signing the Specie payment resumption act 1875, which stated that the U.S. Treasury would redeem all notes in specie as of January 1st of 1879. Since the greenbacks were now backed by gold, there wasn’t a mass stampede to redeem them for gold as was expected. These four acts stabilized the United States currency on a sound backing paving the way for long term economic growth through the end of the 19th century.

After the Civil War there was a boom in railroad construction which was largely fueled government land grants and subsidies. These subsidies were given based on the amount of track laid rather than on selection of optimal routes, which fueled overinvestment, which eventually would need to be liquidated. In September of 1873 Jay Cooke & Company went bankrupt when it was unable to market bonds to build the Northern Pacific Railroad. This triggered a domino affect in which 89 of the 364 railroads in the country went bankrupt. Many banks in the country highly invested in railroads, and once the banks started failing, the country was thrown into the Panic of 1873. Before the panic, the railroad business was the second largest component of the economy, after the agricultural sector. With so much of the economy collapsing at once, there was little Grant could do to stop a recession, except not to panic and allow the economy to rebuild on a solid foundation, which he did.

During the Civil War the Confederacy outfitted several commerce raiders in Great Britain, which was against British neutrality laws. Overall Confederate raiders built in Britain sank or captured over 150 Northern merchant vessels, the most successful of these was the CSS Alabama, which captured 58 U.S. Merchant ships. After the war the United States demanded compensation from Britain for the lost shipping due to vessels outfitted in their ports. After years of unsuccessful diplomatic initiatives by the United States Secretary of State Hamilton Fish worked out an agreement for a joint commission to meet in Washington DC. This commission met in 1871 and came to an agreement known as the Washington treaty. The treaty set an important precedent of using arbitration to settle international disputes. The treaty greatly improved U.S. and British relations as well. The arbitration committee ordered Britain to pay the United States $15.5 million in damages for the Alabama claims.

By the 1860s Spain only had two colonies left in the Americas: Cuba and Puerto Rico. In October of 1868 revolution broke out on Cuba. As the rebellion drug on, sympathy for the Cuban rebels grew in America. In August of 1870 John Patterson purchase a captured Confederate blockade runner that he renamed the Virginius. For three years the Virginius was used to transport men, arms and supplies to aid the Cuban Rebels, until it was captured by the Spanish on October 30th of 1873. Spain tried and convicted the entire crew, which was made up of American and British citizens, of being pirates and sentenced them to death. The Spanish executed 53 crew members until the British stepped in and stopped further bloodshed. The executions made the U.S. newspapers and war fever swept the country. Protest rallies across the nation took place encouraging intervention in Cuba. Secretary of State Fish sent a cable to Spain demanding the remaining crew members be released, the return of the Virginius, reparations for the family members of the executed crew members, a salute of the American flag and punishment of the perpetrators. War was averted through negotiation, as Spain returned the crew, the Virginius and agreed to pay reparations for the families of the victims. Grant & Fish both agreed that the Salute of the flag would be dispensed if the Virginius was found to not have legal private U.S. ownership. Attorney General George Henry Williams ruled that U.S. ownership of the Virginius had been fraudulent and it had no right to fly the American flag, however the Spanish had no right to capture the ship in open waters.

In 1869 Santo Dominga, known today as the Dominican Republic, asked to annexed by the United States. Grant wanted to annex the country for several reasons:

  • The U.S. Navy wanted Samaná Bay as a coaling station
  • He feared a European Power would take the island as a colony
  • He thought that it could be a safe haven for recently freed slaves suffering persecution in the south.
  • He speculated that U.S. control of Santo Domingo would compel Brazil, Cuba and Puerto Rico to end slavery

The treaty stated that the United States would annex Santo Domingo, assume its $1.5 million in debt, offer the republic the ability to be come a state and the federal government would lease Samaná Bay for 50 years at $150,000 a year. Before submitting the treaty, Grant visited Senator Charles Sumner, who was chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, to get his support for annexation. Grant left the meeting optimistic as Sumner left Grant with the impression that he favored annexation. Once the treaty was presented to the Senate, Sumner came out in opposition to the treaty. Without Sumner’s backing, the treaty died in the Senate.

Grant is generally faulted with the amount of corruption during his term, and it is true that a lot of corruption came to light during his term, but that is due to the fact that he actively sought ad rooted out corruption. Andrew Jackson‘s creation of spoils system under which government jobs were given out in return for political favors naturally led to corruption in almost every department of the federal government long before Grant became President, yet Grant gets the blame. Lets take a look at the scandals that Grant is generally tarred with:

  • Gold Ring Jay Fisk and James Gould tried to corner the Gold market in 1869, to do this they enlisted Grant’s brother in law Abel Corbin, who was not a member of the Grant Administration. When Grant found out what Fisk & Gould were up to, he sold $4 million of gold on the open market to foil the scheme.
  • Crédit Mobilier This was a sham construction company created by the Union Pacific Railroad that Bribed Congressmen and overcharged the government for construction of the line. This scandal completely transpired before Grant was president, and only involved members of Congress, but because it came to light while Grant was president, he gets blamed for it.
  • Tweed Ring This involved corruption in New York city in which millions of dollars were embezzled. Even though no members of the Federal Government were involved, Grant gets the blame because the Tweed Ring was caught on his watch.
  • Star Routes This was a scandal in the postal service in awarding mail routes in isolated area. Bidders on the routes colluded to overcharge the government and divide the profits. The entire bidding process was put in place in 1845, and was part of the scandals arising out of the spoils system. They were first investigated in 1872 & 1876 and were shut down temporarily, but they reemerged in 1878 only being permanently ended under President Author
  • Salary Grab This was a law passed by Congress in 1873 that increased the pay of the President and Congress that was passed as an Amendment to the governments general appropriations bill. Had Grant vetoed the bill, the government would have had to shut down. The increase for Congress was repealed in 1874. Oddly enough, Congress increases it’s pay today and it’s not considered a scandal.
  • Whisky Ring This one dated back to at least the Lincoln administration, but was an outgrowth of the spoils system. Whisky distillers were evading taxes by bribing Treasury Department agents. Due to its ties within the government, many thought that the ring was impenetrable. On May 13th 1875, on orders from Grant, Treasury Secretary Benjamin Bristow hit the ring hard, seizing distilleries and making hundreds of arrests. Among those indicted was Grant’s personal secretary Orville Babcock. Babcock was exonerated of all charges and was only guilty by association, as he had knew others that were involved in the ring.
  • Trader Post Scandal Secretary of War William Belknap had accepted kickbacks, which were originally set up by his first wife, from the Fort Sill tradership. These traderships held monopolies to sell wares in army camps. Once Belknap was found out, Grant accepted his resignation. All Presidents make a few bad appointments.

As you can see, the accusations of an overly corrupt administration are wildly exaggerated. In most cases Grant actually reduced corruption that had been long standing. The focus on corruption is an outgrowth of the Dunning School trying to discredit Grant. In 1871, Grant signed legislation creating the Civil Service Commission as a way to fight the spoils system and corruption. The original commission outline what would become the Pendleton Civil Service Act in 1883.

Grant was quite an adept President that work to secure the rights of all Americans at home, he sought peace abroad, built the economy on a solid foundation and fought against corruption. The time has come for Grant to take his place amongst the top presidents.