A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday's List: 25 Greatest Americans

Reading through The Discovery Channel's dreadful, awful, terrible, revolting list of the 100 "greatest" Americans inspires me to create my own, much, much better (if only because the bar was set so low) list. Not 100, but the standard Friday 25. No annotations on 16-25 because I am out of time.

25) Cesar Chavez.
24) John Glenn.
23) John F. Kennedy.
22) Jonas Salk.
21) Ulysses S. Grant.
20) Jackie Robinson.
19) Audie Murphy.
18) Jesse Owens.
17) Marie Curie.
16) Eleanor Roosevelt.
15) Frederick Douglass. Born a slave, Douglass escaped to freedom and became involved in the abolition and women's rights movements. He rose to prominence as a speaker and a writer, and eventually advised President Lincoln during the Civil War.
14) Harriet Tubman. Born a slave, she escaped via the fledgling underground railroad. Free in the north, she returned again and again to help other slaves to freedom. During the Civil War, she worked as a nurse and a spy, and after the war's conclusion as a strong advocate for African-Americans and women.
13) Benjamin Franklin. Inventor, writer, diplomat, ladies man. Franklin was the Renaissance man of the 18th century, doing a little bit of everything. Well-loved by the French, or he might be higher.
12) Alexander Hamilton. From everything I've read about the man, he was an ass. But he was a very smart ass (no pun intended), and he was dead-on balls accurate (it's an industry term) when it came to creating a Federal Reserve, or national bank, for the fledgling republic of America. Without his influence, our nation might well have collapsed into insolvency before it had a chance to realize the tremendous economic potential it would demonstrate in the 19th century.
11) Theodore Roosevelt. The Panama Canal, the breaking of many of the monopolies that were strangling the American economy, the National Park system. Roosevelt also reinvigorated the Presidency after a string lackluster "party men." Oh, and who else could've given us "Speak softly and carry a big stick" AND the teddy bear?
10) John and Abigail Adams. Bit of cheat, putting them together, but they truly were a team. History hasn't treated John as kindly as it has most of the other Founding Fathers, but it was his stubborn New England practicality that helped make Jefferson's glorious prose into hardnosed reality. Abigail was the prototype for the strong women who were to come in subsequent generations-- intelligent, capable, outspoken, and a confidant for John.
9) Franklin Roosevelt. Much like Reagan, he helped America remember itself during the Great Depression. He was also the driving force behind U.S. action in World War II, and there was that whole polio thing he overcame.
8) Susan B. Anthony. Fought for the abolition of slavery, women's rights, and equality throughout her life. Proved that being a strong, vocal, independent woman was not only possible in American, but laudable. Pity her coin was such a dud.
7) Martin Luther King, Jr. Would his legacy have been greater or lessened if he hadn't have been killed far too young? We'll never know, but I think it would have increased. Regardless, the legacy he leaves behind is quite remarkable. The Civil Rights movement needed a strong, charismatic, well-spoken leader, and MLK fit the bill perfectly.
6) Ronald Reagan. As little as five years ago, I probably wouldn't have included Reagan in my top 50, much less #6. But things change, people change, perspectives change. And I've learned a lot more about the man than I originally knew. He was the right man in the right place at the right time, and he handled it graciously and well.
5) Thomas Edison. In many ways, Edison epitomizes the American dream-- self-made, free-willed, inventive, and undeterred by adversity and set-backs. And, of course, he was a frickin' genius.
4) Thomas Jefferson. The American sphinx. If he lived as he wrote, he would likely be #1 or 2 on this list. But he didn't. A strong opponent to slavery in his words, his deeds spoke otherwise, as, unlike Washington, he never freed the slaves he owned. But his legacy as the principle writer of the Declaration of Independence, the securer of the Louisiana purchase, and his amazingly broad and profound writings earn him top 5 honors.
3) Abraham Lincoln. Since it's founding, slavery had been the 600 pound gorilla in the United States' living room that nobody wanted to talk about. It fell to Lincoln to finally start to deal with that gorilla, and while his handling of the situation may not have been perfect, it was sufficient to preserve the union and to emancipate the slaves. The cost of success was high, oh so very, very high, but the cost of failure would have been much higher.
2) George Washington. Father of the country. Not as eloquent as Jefferson, as passionate as Adams, or as intellectual as Franklin-- but he embodied all of the strengths and greatness of the American ideal. Dedicated, fierce, savvy, gracious, humble, willing to admit his mistakes and rectify them, merciful, responsible and inventive. Most of all, a tremendous leader.
1) Every single soldier who has risked life and limb in defense of this great country of ours. I did not serve in the military-- at the age I would've been useful in such a capacity, I held the armed forces, and those that serve in it, in low regard. For this I am ashamed. The brave men and women who serve our country, willingly sacrifice their time, their energy, and sometimes their lives so that the rest of us can go about our daily business. God bless you all.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

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