Archive for September, 2006

This was a persuasive essay I wrote for an academic planning class I took a while back. Even in academic planning class I have to turn it into a history assignment. I may be ill. I hope it persuades you.

A Gallup poll conducted in February of 2005 asked people who they thought the greatest U.S. President was. The results were surprising to say the least. Finishing at the top was Ronald Reagan, followed by Bill Clinton, Lincoln, FDR, and then JFK rounding out the top five. The current President placed sixth. Where did George Washington place? A disappointing seventh, barely ahead of Jimmy Carter! CSPAN did a survey of historians as to who the greatest President was and the results were quite different (American Presidents: Life Portraits n. pag.). Lincoln finished at the top, followed by FDR and then Washington; a far more reasonable ranking. What does this say about how we view history in this country? The Gallup poll indicates an “out of site, out of mind” attitude. Wartime Presidents not withstanding, the public favored more recent Presidents. But, how could our first President, the Founding Father, whose face we see everyday on our currency, have placed so low? Though his face in familiar, his accomplishments are not so, sadly. Despite the lack of familiarity and though he is often passed over for those in office during wartime, George Washington is our greatest President.

George Washington established the roll of the executive branch of the government. Prior to the government of the newly independent colonies, there had never been such an office as President. Though the duties of the President were outlined in the Constitution, how those duties were to be applied and to what affect was a matter of question. Washington left the powers of legislating to the legislators and, instead, concerned himself, as President, primarily with foreign affairs. He held firmly to the belief that the young nation should avoid entangling itself with foreign allegiances (The White House n. pag.).

Washington believed in a strong Federal government and was prepared to exercise the power and authority of the Federal government over the states in order to preserve the union. After Shay’s Rebellion in 1787 he believed that a new constitution would be needed that would allow a standing army to prevent such incidents (under the Articles of the Confederation, a standing army was prohibited) (Encyclopedia Britannica n. pag.). In 1794 he raised up 12,000 militia to quell an uprising in Pennsylvania over the collection of an excise tax on whiskey (National Park Service n. pag.). The “Whiskey Rebellion,” as it came to be known, was one of the first major crises that threatened the young nation and Washington’s decisive leadership was able to suppress it.

After his tremendous leadership as the commander of the Revolutionary Army, Washington’s popularity was fantastic. Many in the colonies, especially those in the army, wanted to make him King. Though it was his for the taking, he refused to accept it saying, “I didn’t fight George III to become George I.” (George F. Smith n. pag.).

In conclusion, George Washington was our greatest President because he defined the office, used the power of the Federal government to preserve the Union, and refused to be named King. He was a man of unquestionable character and leadership who held fast to his vision of a land that would be free. All of these things make George Washington our best and inexplicably overlooked President.

Works Cited

American Presidents: Life Portraits. “CSPAN Survey of Presidential Leadership.”
American Presidents.org. 26 March 2005 http://www.americanpresidents.org/survey>

National Park Service. “The Whiskey Rebellion.” NPS.gov. 26 March 2005

Smith, George F. “The Man Who Could Have Been King.”
freedom.orlingrabbe.com. 26 March 2005

The White House. “Biography of George Washington.” Whitehouse.gov. 26 March
2005 http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/gw1.html>

“Washington, George.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopædia Britannica
Premium Service 26 March 2005 http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=24513>

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Open the Archives

While sweeping up the Halls last night, I stumbled across this box of old film reels from the National Archives. It’s a whole bunch of newsreels from WWII as well as some about the history of NASA and Department of the Interior motion pictures that ran during the Depression. It’s a pretty nifty way to get in touch with Americas past the way my grandparents got in touch with it’s present. There weren’t a bucketload of 24 hour news channels back in those days. Unfortunately the Halls do not posess the technology to post any of the films here, but fortunately Google Video has been kind enough to host them here.

Also, the National Archives and Records Administration has some pretty cool things worth checking out on their website, including many pictures from WWII (like the one above), helps for researching a geaneology or family history, and resources if you’re just brushing up on your knowledge of the Declaration of Independence. It’s a very cool and essential stop for the history buff. Please check them out and enjoy the videos. Until next time……………………

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The Cold War’s end can be traced back to Moscow in the winter of 1985 when an American boxer of Italian decent named Rocky Balboa, sometimes referred to as the Italian Stallion, followed his defeat of the gargantuan and genetically engineered Soviet fighter Ivan Drago with an empassioned speech now widely known as the “If I Can Change Address.” In this singular moment, through the simple slurred words of a pugilist who’s career was marked by continually defying the odds, the absurdities of the decades-old conflict were distilled. The odds were defied once again, as the usually stoic Soviet leader, inspired by Rocky’s burning heart, which was rising like a spire, and his steely gaze, which has been likened to that of a tiger, rose to his feet and began to applaud in the stirring manner of what is known in the US as the “Lucas Applause.” His countrymen, sensing the significance of the drama, responded in kind, thus sparking a series of events that in four years time would lead to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

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Since the Cold War spanned several decades many leaders came and went. More came and went in the West as these countries democratically elected their leaders and they were subject to term limits. Some of the countries under communism saw even less turnover at the top because they were ruled by dictators. In Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito ruled from before the end of WWII until his death in 1980. During the Cold War the United States elected nine different Presidents, none serving longer than eight years. The USSR had seven General Secretaries of the Communist Party during the same period. Leonid Brezhnev was in power the longest, 1964 to 1982. The two leaders following Brezhnev had short reigns as they both died or became very ill while in office, paving the way for the younger reform minded Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev in the USSR and Ronald Reagan, President of the US, were very instumental to the Cold War’s conclusion. Reagan, a virulent anti-communist, attacked the USSR and it’s policies rhetorically from the very outset of his presidency calling it in one speech an “evil empire.” He increased defense spending and floated the idea of a nuclear missile “shield” called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and dubbed “Star Wars” by his critics. SDI caused waves of protest from the Soviet Union, but also from many within the United States. The nuclear doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) had been the centerpiece for keeping the wary peace between the rivals for decades. The idea that no defense against nuclear weapons was best, since both sides understood the devastation that would accompany thermo-nuclear war. Hence the name Mutual Assured Destruction. SDI threatened to upset this precarious balance. With a defense system in place, in theory the US would have the first-strike capability against the USSR without fear of repercussions. For obvious reasons, the Soviets didn’t care for this policy, but the fear in the US was that SDI would ratchet up tensions and the Soviets may feel cornered and would launch a strike before the US had the system in place. As it was, SDI was, and probably still is, years if not decades from being a practical reality. But the idea, and Reagan’s refusal to take it off the table at a summit with Gorbachev in Iceland, caused the USSR to continue to spend a disproportionate part of their treasury on defense and further contributed to the decline of it’s economy. Reagan had even agreed to share the technology with the Soviets, and then both countries would be free to dismantle all of their nuclear weapons.

Despite the rhetoric and hardball tactics, Reagan and Gorbachev connected on a personal level and were able to lead their countries in making the correct decisions that led to a relatively peacful end to the Cold War.

That is a brief snippet of a couple of leaders from the era and a little bit about what made them effective. Maybe this week I’ll have time to cover a few more in detail. What little I’ve read about Kruschev I’ve found to be pretty interesting and the same goes for Richard Nixon. More is probably known about the mistakes of those two men than their triumphs, and both did make colossal and costly mistakes, but their triumphs are equally worth looking into as well. I’ve put a Wikipedia Cold War link in the sidebar, but I hope that doesn’t stop you from asking questions. This is fun! 🙂

Here’s a picture of some Russian nesting dolls my dad got me from Belarus. From left to right:
Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev, Brezhnev, Stalin, Lenin. Technically, Lenin and Yeltsin were not part of the Cold War. Lenin lead the Bolshevik Revolution to oust the Tzar in 1916 (I think) and Boris Yeltsin was the frist Russian president after the USSR fell.

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