Saturday, September 11, 2004

The American Presidents

The American presidents

Updated 07:06am (Mla time) Sept 11, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the September 11, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AS has become habitual with him, my son Caloy brought me another book he knew would interest me. It's "The History of the American Presidency," a new work by John Bowman that immediately appealed to me because I was born and grew up during the US administration of our country although I am not at all an Amboy. It's the size of a coffee-table book and beautifully printed in China with color portraits and reproductions of some popular paintings. Its most important parts are, of course, the articles about the 42 presidents of the United States from George Washington to George W. Bush. The length of each article depends on the importance of the subject.

I finished reading the book and looking at the pictures in one sitting. I learned a lot about the men who have occupied, deservedly or not, what is now the most powerful office in the world. For example, many people, including the Americans themselves, hardly knew Harry S. Truman when he became president upon the death of the popular Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected all of four times, the only one who holds that record. Yet Truman is now rated as one of the great presidents although, and this is another supposed shortcoming, he was not an intellectual like Woodrow Wilson or at least entered college, even a third-rate one, like Richard Nixon.

In fact, there were presidents who did not receive little or no formal schooling and yet received the trust of the American electorate. Among them were George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the foremost US heroes whose faces are immortalized in granite in that famous sculpture at Mount Rushmore. Washington stopped going to school when he was 15, and Lincoln attended school for less than a year. But as president, Washington had as advisers the erudite Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, who also both became president, and Alexander Hamilton, the learned leader of the Federalists. Lincoln, by self-study, became a lawyer; he was one of the wisest statesmen among his peers and saved the Union during the Civil War. His excellent English has not been equaled by other presidents before or after him.

Besides Washington, several other generals followed him to the presidency, namely, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, and Dwight Eisenhower. None of them was known for scholastic distinction although Eisenhower was president of Columbia University before he became president of the United States. Jackson was also a lawyer like Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. He introduced the spoils system in American politics besides vulgarizing his high office, which was occupied before by the aristocrats and intellectuals from Virginia.

Most of the 42 presidents graduated from college. The others stopped formal studies at a young age or started it late in life, among them, in addition to Washington and Lincoln, Jackson, Van Buren, Taylor, Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Cleveland, and Truman.

Those who were denied a second term are Adams, his son John Quincy, Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hayes, Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, Taft, Hoover, Ford, Carter, and Bush Sr. Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated, while Harding and William Harrison died in office of natural causes. As initially constitutional successors, Coolidge, Truman and Lyndon Johnson later won presidential election in their own right but all three declined re-election.

Only two of the presidents have been impeached--Andrew Johnson, who escaped conviction by one vote, and Clinton, who was acquitted. Nixon avoided impeachment and almost certain removal because of the Watergate scandal; he chose to resign, the only president in American history to do so. Warren Harding was generally disfavored for his incompetence that he himself admitted. His term was marred by the Teapot Dome scandal involving some of his top cronies and members of his Cabinet, and he died under suspicious circumstances at the height of the exposé.

Among the least controversial presidents were Eisenhower, who served during "the era of good feelings" after World War II and Ronald Reagan, the former actor who was also reelected with the highest electoral vote so far. John F. Kennedy was popular because of his style and charisma, as well as his beautiful First Lady, the enchanting Jackie. His worst embarrassment was the Bay of Pigs fiasco and his most notable achievement was his confrontation with Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis.

History has yet to give its verdict on current President George W. Bush, who is now running for another term. He got a dubious victory over Al Gore in 2001 who won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote in Florida where Dubya's brother was the governor. Bush launched that unpopular invasion of Iraq which he is now hard put to explain to the American voters.

The book offers the longest articles to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Nixon, obviously because of their achievements, and George W. Bush, probably as a courtesy to the incumbent.


Post a Comment

<< Home