A good number of historians are apparently more interested in spinning their personal political views than in objectively evaluating past Presidents of the United States.
Ninety-one people filled out a survey form sponsored by C-Span and ranked the Presidents. Lincoln and Washington were placed at the top; Donald Trump was placed near the bottom, below a President who died after 32 days in office, so didn’t really serve. It validates the bias of much of the media and 90% of academia – a judgment meant to throw Donald Trump into the dustbin of history and send a message of contempt to his supporters.
As eager as historians are to evaluate political leaders, they must wait about one hundred years to thoroughly know a President and the effect on the nation of that President’s policies. It takes this long to uncover what has been deliberately concealed or to discover documents and threads of information thought lost.
What, then, should the criteria be for evaluating American Presidents?
The criteria for evaluation are expressly written in the 4-corners of the Constitution itself. Fiscal responsibility in partnership with Congress is strongly implied but not expressly stated. Did a President adhere to what was promised in taking the Oath of Office? Did a President preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and faithfully execute the Laws of the United States?
Article II, Section 1: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” George Washington added, “So help me God.”
Article II, Section 2:
[H]e shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed
The Constitution is a restraining document. Any President promises not to overreach – to respect the other co-equal branches of the federal government (Congress and the Supreme Court) and the rights and powers of the People who are the ultimate Sovereign. Among other things, the President submits to the Senate for approval any agreement that binds or entangles the nation. The President also defends the nation’s borders and its territories from invasion. Executive power, yes, but with Constitutional oversight from the other branches of government and the public through a free and fair press.
Article IV, Section 4: The United States shall protect each [State] against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.
The Presidency is not a “permission slip” to transform the country into some notion or another through Executive Orders or ignoring federal law. The softer issues such a personality and vision are vetted in the election itself. Once a President is elected, and the Oath of Office taken, stewardship is a President’s primary duty – one of three federal caretakers of our nation and of our People. A custodian, with integrity, who sees the Office of the Presidency as both an honor and a sacred public trust; whose vision, supported by an election, nevertheless remains within Constitutional boundaries.
We now know of all the Presidents, George Washington was the most faithful to the Oath of Office. His personal copy of the Constitution was recently discovered with his personal notes in the margins. The nation under his stewardship steadied itself after the difficult American Revolution. The attempt, in 1812, by the British to re-colonize America failed in part because of Washington’s early leadership. Washington never attempted to bypass Congress where he had a duty to include them. Theodore Roosevelt, on the other hand, in 1905, deliberately negotiated a secret treaty with Japan outside of his Constitutional duty to submit such a treaty to the Senate for approval. The treaty “gave” Korea to Japan. Millions of Koreans died or were enslaved. This was not discovered for decades. He was deemed the fourth-best President on the survey.
TR’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, recognized the Soviet Union in 1933 and supported Stalin’s ambitions in Eastern Europe and in China. He handed over to Stalin American secrets regarding the development of the atom bomb and deliberately sought a Japanese attack on America in concert with Joseph Stalin’s wishes. We now know the facts because Soviet files were released to the public in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Roosevelt was a very popular President but his breach of duty to the Constitution led to millions of deaths and to the rise of Communism in the Soviet Union and in China that has cost America so many lives and so much treasure. He was deemed the third-best President on the survey.
The bottom line is we don’t know the whole story, now, about modern Presidents so evaluating them by survey is impossible. All we can do as citizens is weigh the impact of Presidential policy on our nation and try to assess which Presidents have honored their Oath of Office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and the integrity of our National Sovereignty.