Who Were Some of the Most Important American Presidents?


Quick Answer

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are commonly ranked among the most important American presidents by political historians. These three men helped to shape American history and left a lasting influence on modern Western civilization.

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Full Answer

George Washington's importance stems mostly from the many precedents he set as the first president. Washington made it clear to those who drew up the Constitution that the new country would have no monarch, but a chief executive who shared power. He also famously stepped aside after completing his second term, turning over the powers of his office in cordial fashion to John Adams. This two-term limit would eventually become codified in the Constitution by the 22nd Amendment, while the peaceful transfer of power has become a trademark of democratically elected governments across the world in the years since.

Abraham Lincoln is often rated as the greatest of American presidents. His handling of the Civil War helped determine that the union of states was a binding contract no territory pledged to the Constitution could voluntarily break. It was Lincoln who also made the war not just a fight about states' rights, but more importantly a war to eliminate the blight of legalized slavery from the United States forever.

Franklin Roosevelt's importance can be best illustrated by noting that he served four terms as president during the two most tumultuous periods of the 20th century. First, his activist government helped to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression in America; soon after, his leadership and guidance steered the country through the darkest early days of World War II and helped establish America as a global superpower.

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