Reagan, Lincoln, FDR among 5 most impactful presidents - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reagan, Washington, Lincoln among 5 most impactful presidents

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are admired as pivotal figures in American history. (Source: MGN Online) George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are admired as pivotal figures in American history. (Source: MGN Online)
George W. Bush's decisions following the attacks of 9/11 spent billions of dollars and cost  thousands of American lives. (Source: MGN Online) George W. Bush's decisions following the attacks of 9/11 spent billions of dollars and cost thousands of American lives. (Source: MGN Online)
Ronald Reagan's views on economic policy have helped frame the national debate for decades. (Source: MGN Online) Ronald Reagan's views on economic policy have helped frame the national debate for decades. (Source: MGN Online)
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(RNN) – Your favorite president may not fall among the five most impactful in U.S. history. The enduring influence of presidential policies and philosophies are the ranking criteria used by James Savage, a University of Virginia professor of politics and public policy.  

And while our most recent past president's policies may continue to influence policy today, Savage said it's too early to assess the legacy of George W. Bush – though his presidency was undoubtedly influential as he responded to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bush's decision to occupy two nations halfway around the world cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives. He pushed through the USA Patriot Act and created the Department of Homeland Security, which brought 22 agencies and more than 170,000 federal workers under one umbrella, according to the federal government.

The national government's growth after the al Qaeda terror attacks mirrors its expansion in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. The yearning for security after 9/11 and the push to end the slide of millions into poverty justified a more activist national government.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was the creator of the New Deal,  was certainly one of the five most influential chief executives, Savage said. The TVA, Social Security, FHA, and the FCC are all  part of FDR's footprint that still affects America today. To read more on FDR, visit http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/education/resources/periodictable.html

On FDR's watch, Americans became accustomed to accepting federal intervention in daily economic life.

Also included in Savage's top five are George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.

Washington opted against a certain third term, thus distinguishing the new American chief executive from European kings and monarchs. He set a precedent that endured until FDR ran for two more terms when on the heels of the Great Depression the U.S. became embroiled in World War II.

Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery and establishing that freedom would be the rule in the U.S. He guided the nation through the Civil War, which threatened its very existence.

Jefferson secured 827,000 square miles of land for a cost of $15 million, or about $19 per square mile, a deal in any era. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the size of the young nation by adding land west of the Mississippi River. Learn more about negotiations behind the scene here.

Savage also ranked Ronald Reagan among his most influential presidents. The fiscal policies and rules that emerged during his presidency continue to have a profound effect on contemporary economic policy, he said.

"Every president since Reagan has had to work within and sometimes confront the ideological framework of that period," Savage said. "The tolerance for federal deficits in favor of tax cuts, the use of large scale budget rules and deals that incorporate such devices as automatic sequesters, and the unwillingness to tackle entitlement spending by both parties may all be traced to the Reagan presidency."

In a near tossup between Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, Savage says the final slot should probably go to Jefferson.

"Jefferson was important for more reasons than the Louisiana Purchase. His theory of politics and society, as contrasted with that of Alexander Hamilton, define American political life," he said.

"Jefferson was the great political thinker who favored decentralized political power. Hamilton was the great political thinker who took the opposite position, favoring the centralization of political power. Almost all American political debate still divides  along those fault lines," Savage pointed out. "Jefferson promoted the natural aristocracy of the working people over the artificial aristocracy of the financial elite."

Savage had much to say about Jackson's influence, as well.  

"Jackson was seen in the 1800s as the great protector of democracy," he said. "Prior to Lincoln, only Washington had more cities and localities named for him. His use of the veto for policy reasons is seen as an important step in the development of presidential power. Jefferson-Jacksonian democracy of the 1800s represented the high point of states rights political philosophy and politics, especially economic public policy.

"Jackson was seen as more like the common man than Jefferson, who was an aristocrat, though Jefferson was obviously revered. Jefferson had the third most cities and localities named after him," he said.

On Presidents' Day it is important to remember that the transfer of power from one leader to the next has been accomplished so peacefully in America.

Copyright 2014 RNN. All rights reserved.

  • Of the following former U.S. presidents, who do you think was the most influential?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    George Washington
    9%
    118 votes
    Thomas Jefferson
    4%
    55 votes
    Abraham Lincoln
    55%
    768 votes
    Franklin D. Roosevelt
    8%
    117 votes
    Ronald Reagan
    15%
    213 votes
    Andrew Jackson
    1%
    9 votes
    George W. Bush
    2%
    21 votes
    Theodore Roosevelt
    2%
    24 votes
    Woodrow Wilson
    0%
    1 vote
    Bill Clinton
    4%
    60 votes
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