George Washington - First President
George Washington (February 11, 1731 – December 14, 1799), was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, serving as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and later as the new republic's first President. He also presided over the convention that drafted the Constitution. Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is named for him, as is the State of Washington on the nation's Pacific Coast.
Washington was elected the first president by unanimous choice in 1788, and he served two terms in office. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality in the wars raging in Europe, suppressed rebellion, and won acceptance among Americans of all types. His leadership style established many forms and rituals of government that have been used since, such as using a cabinet system and delivering an inaugural address. Washington is universally regarded as the father of his country.
Washington was born into the provincial gentry of Colonial Virginia; his wealthy planter family owned tobacco plantations and slaves. After both his father and older brother died when he was young, Washington became personally and professionally attached to the powerful William Fairfax, who promoted his career as a surveyor and soldier. Washington quickly became a senior officer in the colonial forces during the first stages of the French and Indian War. Chosen by the Second Continental Congress in 1775 to be commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, Washington managed to force the British out of Boston in 1776, but was defeated and almost captured later that year when he lost New York City. After crossing the Delaware River in the dead of winter, he defeated the British in two battles, retook New Jersey and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. Because of his strategy, Revolutionary forces captured two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Historians laud Washington for his selection and supervision of his generals, encouragement of morale and ability to hold together the army, coordination with the state governors and state militia units, relations with Congress and attention to supplies, logistics, and training. In battle, however, Washington was repeatedly outmaneuvered by British generals with larger armies. After victory had been finalized in 1783, Washington resigned rather than seize power, proving his opposition to dictatorship and his commitment to American republicanism. He retired from the presidency in 1797 and returned to his home, Mount Vernon, and his domestic life where he managed a variety of enterprises. He freed all his slaves by his final 1799 will.
Dissatisfied with the weaknesses of Articles of Confederation, in 1787 Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution. Elected unanimously as the first President of the United States in 1789, he attempted to bring rival factions together to unify the nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton's programs to pay off all state and national debt, to implement an effective tax system and to create a national bank (despite opposition from Thomas Jefferson). Washington proclaimed the United States neutral in the wars raging in Europe after 1793. He avoided war with Great Britain and guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. Although never officially joining the Federalist Party, he supported its programs. Washington's Farewell Address was an influential primer on republican virtue and a warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.Washington had a vision of a great and powerful nation that would be built on republican lines using federal power. He sought to use the national government to preserve liberty, improve infrastructure, open the western lands, promote commerce, found a permanent capital, reduce regional tensions and promote a spirit of American nationalism. At his death, Washington was hailed as first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. The Federalists made him the symbol of their party but for many years, the Jeffersonians continued to distrust his influence and delayed building the Washington Monument. As the leader of the first successful revolution against a colonial empire in world history, Washington became an international icon for liberation and nationalism, especially in France and Latin America. He is consistently ranked among the top three presidents of the United States, according to polls of both scholars and the general public.
Thomas Jefferson - Third President
Thomas Jefferson (April 2, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the third President of the United States (1801–1809). At the beginning of the American Revolution, he served in the Continental Congress, representing Virginia and then served as a wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781). Just after the war ended, from mid-1784 Jefferson served as a diplomat, stationed in Paris. In May 1785, he became the United States Minister to France. Jefferson was the first United States Secretary of State (1790–1793) serving under President George Washington. With his close friend James Madison he organized the Democratic-Republican Party, and subsequently resigned from Washington's cabinet. Elected Vice-President in 1796, when he came in second to John Adams of the Federalists, Jefferson opposed Adams and with Madison secretly wrote the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which attempted to nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Elected president in what Jefferson called the Revolution of 1800, he oversaw the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France (1803), and sent the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806) to explore the new west. His second term was beset with troubles at home, such as the failed treason trial of his former Vice President Aaron Burr, and escalating trouble with Britain. With Britain at war with Napoleon, he tried economic warfare against them; however, his embargo laws did more damage to American trade and the economy. In 1807, President Jefferson signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the United States. Jefferson has often been rated in scholarly surveys as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, though since the late-twentieth century, he has been increasingly criticized by historians, often on the issue of slavery.A leader in the Enlightenment, Jefferson was a polymath who spoke five languages and was deeply interested in science, invention, architecture, religion and philosophy, interests that led him to the founding of the University of Virginia after his presidency. He designed his own large mansion on a 5,000 acre plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia, which he named Monticello. While not a notable orator, Jefferson was an indefatigable letter writer and corresponded with many influential people in America and Europe. Jefferson was a tobacco planter and owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime and practiced the domestic trade; yet, he was opposed to the ultimate continuation of the institution of slavery throughout his life and privately struggled with the dilemma of slavery and freedom and its compatibility with the ideals of the American Revolution. After Martha Jefferson, his wife of eleven years, died in 1782, Jefferson remained a widower for the rest of his life; his marriage produced six children, with only two surviving to adulthood. In 1802 allegations surfaced that he was also the father of his slave Sally Hemings' children. In 1998, DNA tests revealed a match between her last child and the Jefferson male family line. Although some historians have noted that the evidence can also support other possible fathers, most have concluded that Jefferson had a long relationship with Hemings and fathered one or more of her children.
Abraham Lincoln - Sixteenth President
Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.
He successfully led his country through its greatest constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union while ending slavery, and promoting economic and financial modernization. Reared in a poor family on the western frontier, Lincoln was mostly self-educated. He became a country lawyer, a Whig Party leader, Illinois state legislator in the 1830s, and a one-term member of the United States House of Representatives in the 1840s. After a series of debates in 1858 that gave national visibility to his opposition to the expansion of slavery, Lincoln lost a Senate race to his arch-rival Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln, a moderate from a swing state, secured the Republican Party nomination. With almost no support in the South he swept the North and was elected president in 1860. His election was the signal for seven southern slave states to declare their secession from the Union and form the Confederate States of America. The departure of the Southerners gave Lincoln's party firm control of Congress, but no formula for compromise or reconciliation was found, and the war came.
When the North enthusiastically rallied behind the national flag after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Lincoln concentrated on the military and political dimensions of the war effort. His goal was now to reunify the nation. As the South was in a state of insurrection, he exercised his authority to suspend habeas corpus in that situation, arresting and detaining without trial of thousands of suspected secessionists. He prevented British recognition of the Confederacy by skillfully handling the Trent affair late in 1861. His efforts toward the abolition of slavery include issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, encouraging the border states to outlaw slavery, and helping push through Congress the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which finally ended all slavery in December 1865. Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including commanding general Ulysses S. Grant. He brought leaders of various factions of his party into his cabinet and pressured them to cooperate. Under his leadership, the Union set up a naval blockade that shut down the South's normal trade, took control of the border slave states at the start of the war, gained control of communications with gunboats on the southern river systems, and tried repeatedly to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. Each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another until finally Grant succeeded in 1865.An exceptionally astute politician deeply involved with power issues in each state, he reached out to War Democrats and managed his own re-election in the 1864 presidential election. As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican party, Lincoln found his policies and personality were "blasted from all sides": Radical Republicans demanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats desired more compromise, Copperheads despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists plotted his death. Politically, Lincoln fought back with patronage, by pitting his opponents against each other, and by appealing to the American people with his powers of oratory. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history. It was an iconic statement of America's dedication to the principles of nationalism, republicanism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy. At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. But six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. His death was the first assassination of a U.S. president and sent the nation into mourning. Lincoln has been consistently ranked by scholars and the public as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents.
Theodore Roosevelt - Twenty-Sixth President
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was the 26th President of the United States of America (1901–1909). He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity. He was a leader of the Republican Party and founder of the short-lived Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party of 1912. Before becoming President, he held offices at the city, state, and federal levels. Roosevelt's achievements as a naturalist, explorer, hunter, author, and soldier are as much a part of his fame as any office he held as a politician. Roosevelt was 42 years old when sworn in as President of the United States in 1901, making him the youngest president ever; he beat out the youngest elected president, John F. Kennedy, by only one year. Roosevelt was also one of only three sitting presidents to have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Born into a wealthy family in New York City, Roosevelt was a sickly child who suffered from asthma and stayed at home studying natural history. To compensate for his physical weakness, he embraced a strenuous life. Home-schooled, he became an eager student of nature. He attended Harvard University, where he studied biology, boxed and developed an interest in naval affairs. In 1881, one year out of Harvard, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he became a leader of the reform faction of his Republican party (the "GOP"). His The Naval War of 1812 (1882) established his professional reputation as a serious historian; he wrote numerous books on hunting, the outdoors, and current political issues, as well as frontier history. In 1884, his wife and his mother died on the same day. He left politics and went to the frontier, becoming a rancher in the "Badlands" in the Dakotas. Returning home, he ran for mayor in 1886, finishing third with 60,000 votes. He later gained fame by taking vigorous charge of the city police. At the national level, he was a leader in civil service reform. The Spanish–American War broke out in 1898 while Roosevelt was, effectively, running the Department of the Navy. He promptly resigned and formed the Rough Riders – a volunteer cavalry regiment that fought in Cuba. The war hero was elected governor in 1898 and in 1900 was nominated for vice president. He successfully energized the GOP base as a highly visible campaigner to reelect President William McKinley on a platform of high tariffs, the gold standard, imperialism, prosperity at home and victory abroad.
In 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated and Roosevelt became President at the age of 42; he remains the youngest president. Roosevelt attempted to move the Republican Party (GOP) toward Progressivism, including trust busting and increased regulation of businesses. Roosevelt coined the phrase "Square Deal" to describe his domestic agenda, emphasizing that the average citizen would get a fair share under his policies. As an outdoorsman and naturalist, he promoted the conservation movement. On the world stage, Roosevelt's policies were characterized by his slogan, "Speak softly and carry a big stick". Roosevelt was the force behind the completion of the Panama Canal; sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour to demonstrate American power; and negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize.At the end of his second term, Roosevelt promoted his friend William Howard Taft for the 1908 Republican nomination. He toured Africa and Europe. On his return in 1910 he broke bitterly with President Taft on issues of progressivism and personalities. In the 1912 election Roosevelt tried and failed to block Taft's renomination. He launched the Bull Moose Party that called for far-reaching progressive reforms. He lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, as the Taft conservatives gained control of the Republican party for decades to come. Roosevelt led a major expedition to the Amazon jungles but contracted diseases which ruined his health. He died relatively young at the age of 60. Roosevelt has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.