As we pause to celebrate Presidents’ Day, let’s take a look at the Top 10 Greatest Presidents from a conservative point of view.
1. George Washington (1789-1797): After leading the Continental Army to victory in the American Revolution, Washington was instrumental in setting the United States on a course of liberty and limited government. By eschewing attempts to make him a monarch, Washington ensured the American experiment would indeed be democratic. His words, “The Constitution is the guide, which I never will abandon,” should be the motto of every U.S. President.
2. Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Reagan stared down the Soviet Union, bringing the Cold War to an end at long last. He championed free markets and limited government, and his across-the-board tax cuts breathed new life into a faltering economy. The Gipper’s constant reminder that the United States was a “shining city on a hill” gave rebirth to the notion of American exceptionalism.
3. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865): Conservatives may not like his suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War or his disregard of states’ rights, but preserving the Union warrants Lincoln’s inclusion on this list. Few have been as eloquent as Lincoln when he said at the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”
4. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929): “Silent Cal” presided over a booming economy as he slashed income and corporate taxes, limited regulations on private business, and retired a major part of the national debt. He once astutely said, “Nothing is easier than spending the public money. It doesn’t appear to belong to anybody,” and his presidency was a testimony to that philosophy of government thrift.
5. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897): Cleveland was a pro-business Democrat who supported lower tariffs and battled government corruption, patronage, and high taxes. He broke the Pullman Strike of 1894, which was threatening to paralyze the nation’s transportation system. He vetoed 584 bills in his eight years mostly to cut excessive spending, yet had only seven vetoes overridden.
6. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961): America’s postwar economy boomed during the Eisenhower presidency. Ike stood firm in opposition to the menace posed by the Soviet Union and repeatedly warned against deficit spending. After two decades of turmoil marked by the Depression and war, the Eisenhower Era of peace and prosperity was just the tonic America needed to emerge as a global superpower. The building of the interstate highway system is one of the few massive federal projects that conservatives can applaud.
7. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809): Jefferson served the country better before he became President as author of the Declaration of Independence. His troubled second term left the nation’s military unprepared for the ensuing battle with the British in the War of 1812. But he favored states’ rights and a limited federal government, repealed many federal taxes, and was a fierce opponent of government debt. If a tenet of conservatism is getting the best bang for the taxpayers’ buck, then Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase qualifies as one of history’s great bargains.
8. James Monroe (1817-1825): The Monroe Doctrine in 1823 was a warning to the European powers to stay out of the New World and it kept the United States from becoming involved in foreign entanglements for most of the rest of the century. Monroe opposed excessive government spending and vetoed a bill to make repairs on the national Cumberland Road, saying that “Congress does not possess the power under the Constitution to pass such a law.”
9. Harry Truman (1945-1953): Truman brought a swift end to World War II by approving the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and then navigated the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe. He started the transition from a wartime economy and stood firm against the threat of communism.
10. George W. Bush (2001-2009): He certainly has a mixed record by allowing spending to soar, but conservatives can applaud the Bush tax cuts, Supreme Court nominees, and strong response to 9/11.