Rate that President! : Part II

The second part of my rating of US Presidents.  The first part may be viewed here.

24.  John F. Kennedy-From a moral standpoint perhaps the worst man ever to sit in the White House, the recent revelations of his teenage White House intern mistress during that time period helping to cement that status.  Kennedy was a strong advocate of the space race and set the country the goal of landing a man on the moon which the nation met in 1969.  He presided over a prosperous economy, helped along with a reduction in marginal rates which he pushed through.  In foreign policy he presided over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and our widening involvement in South Vietnam, lending support to the coup that toppled Diem. He will always be best known for the Cuban Missile Crisis which he successfully navigated, but it was a very close shave for the world.  On civil rights, he gave much lip service to it, but it would be his successor who would push through the key civil rights legislation.  The second most over-rated president in our nation’s history.

25.  James Garfield-A Union Civil War general with a superb combat record, Garfield was also a canny politician with seven terms under his belt in the House.  During the brief four months he held the office before his assassination, he staked out positions in favor of civil service reform, the hot domestic issue of the day, and reform of the post office.   He refinanced a substantial portion of the national debt at a lower interest rate, saving the nation millions in interest payments.  An ardent advocate of civil rights for blacks, he sponsored a bill to provide for universal federal education to combat the fact that in many Southern states no provision was made to educate blacks.  It failed in Congress after Garfield’s death.  He appointed many blacks to federal office, and began to reverse President Rutherford’s policy of conciliation white Southerners at the expense of blacks.  Garfield began the policy of modernizing the Navy carried forward by President Arthur.

26.  John Tyler-Known as “His Accidency” by his critics after he took over when President Harrison died just after thirty days in office, Harrison set the mold for Vice-Presidents who assumed the office.  It was by no means clear that he would be called President and that he would have the full powers of the President or be considered to be simply conducting a caretaker “regency” until the next election for President.  Harrison had none of that.  He insisted on being called President and was quite clear in his own mind that he had all of the powers of an elected President.  Aside from this setting of precedent, the most signficant event in his presidency was the annexation of Texas at the very end of his term.  Tyler was a former Democrat and he acted like a Democrat as president, vetoing almost the entire Whig agenda, including vetoing a proposed national bank twice.  The Whigs in the House, for the first time in the nation’s history, began impeachment proceedings.  Tyler probably would have been impeached if the Whigs had not lost their majority in the 1842 election in the House.  Tyler died in 1862, shortly after his election as a representative to the Confederate Congress.  Stunningly, he still has two living grandsons.

27.  Herbert Hoover-Hoover rose from poverty to become a self-made millionaire as a mining engineer.  He was a noted philanthropist, organizing relief efforts in Europe throughout World War I, saving tens of millions of lives.  His administration was dominated by the Great Depression.  To combat the Depression Hoover initiated policies that set the precedent for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Like the New Deal, Hoover’s policies were largely unsuccessful in combating the Depression.  Out of office, Hoover became an outspoken critic of the New Deal which he regarded as socialism by another name.  Hoover lived on until 1964, staying active in various causes, and being called upon by all his successors as president for advice and to conduct special missions for them.  The only exception was Roosevelt, who shared with Hoover a cordial enmity.

28.  Gerald Ford-Our only president never to be elected either president or vice president, Ford was left to pick up the pieces after Nixon resigned in disgrace.  Pardoning Nixon was probably the right thing to do to avoid the nation having to go through several more years of the Watergate melodrama, and Ford took immense grief for doing so.  In foreign affairs his hands were tied by a Democrat leftist dominated Congress that came to power in the election of 1974, and 1975 witnessed the fall of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the Communists, and set the stage for Soviet adventurism in Africa and Afghanistan.  Domestically, the country went through a short but sharp recession in 1974 largely caused by the Arab oil embargo.  Inflation was still a great problem, but the economy had vastly improved by 1976 and Ford probably would have beaten Carter but for Ford making a verbal mistep in one of their debates, claiming that Poland was not under Soviet domination, and stubbornly refusing to correct himself for several days.  He died in 2006 at 93, making him the longest lived president, beating Reagan for that distinction by 45 days.

29. Millard Fillmore-Fillmore took over as the last Whig president following the death of Zachary Taylor.  He helped push through the Compromise of 1850 which delayed the Civil War for decade, and after you have mentioned that you have largely accounted for any historical importance of the Fillmore administration, other than the opening of Japan by Commodore Perry which occurred under President Pierce but which Fillmore initiated.  In retirement Fillmore turned down an honorary degree from Oxford, saying that he was unworthy of it, and noting that it was written in Latin and that a man should never accept a degree that he was unable to read.

30.  Rutherford B. Hayes-Perhaps the president most likely to be omitted in a presidential trivia contest, the today obscure Hayes was a Civil War general and a Congressman and Governor from Ohio, that mother of presidents.  When he ran against Tilden in the 1876 presidential election, Tilden won both the popular vote and a greater number of electoral votes.  However, there was a dispute about the status of the electoral votes in Florida, Lousiana and South Carolina, competing slates of Tilden and Hayes electors claiming to have been elected.  A bi-partisan electoral commission was established by Congress to decide the dispute, with the Republicans having an eight to seven advantage.  Mirabile dictu, the eight Republicans voted to recognize the Hayes electors.  The Democrats were outraged and for a brief time it looked like a new civil war would erupt, with the Democrats threatening a filibuster in Congress to prevent the acceptance of the recommendation of the commission.  A compromise was reached between the parties by which the Democrats accepted the electoral commission result, and the Republicans agreed that federal troops would be withdrawn from the South in 1877.   Starting off thus tainted, the Hayes administration was a weak one.  He attempted to protect the civil rights of blacks in the South, but with the withdrawal of the Federal troops he lacked the basic tool needed to do so. Hayes fought for civil service reform, but was stymied by Congress.  He used federal troops to put down riots caused by the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, a move that bothered his conscience.  In retirement he spoke out about the dangers to democracy by the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in America.

31.  William Henry Harrison-Dying after thirty days in office, it is impossible to say anything about Harrison as president.  However, he is an important historical figure as the first of the two Whig elected presidents who broke the dominance that the Democrats had on the office for just over three decades.  His success at the polls gave the Whig party another decade as the opposition party to the Democrats.

32.  Martin Van Buren-Old Kinderhook pledged himself to follow the policies of Jackson.  He certainly reaped the whirlwind of those policies, with the Panic of 1837, largely caused by Jackson’s war on the national bank, dooming Van Buren to being a one term president.

33.  George W. Bush-His presidency was completely dominated by the 9-11 attacks.  His initial handling of the response was masterful, with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan being ousted before the end of 2001.  Everything else about his administration of the war, from the invasion of Iraq to the setting up of Homeland Security, remains hotly contested and controversial.  In regard to Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military defeated their conventional foes rapidly, but then a persistent guerilla war erupted in both countries.  The Surge in Iraq allowed the US to prevail, although Iraq looks none too steady today.  In Afghanistan the Obama administration has entered into talks with “good Taliban”.  How Bush looks in the history books on the two wars will probably depend upon how events ultimately play out in both nations. Domestically he was a “compassionate conservative” which seemed to amount in practice to spending more money than most prior Democrat administrations, and materially increasing the debt problem confronting the nation.   Bush presided over a prosperous country, until the economic meltdown of 2008 demonstrated that much of the prosperity rested on sand.

34.  Bill Clinton-From a moral standpoint perhaps the second worst man ever to sit in the White House, as his tawdry involvement with White House intern Monica Lewinsky indicated.  He presided over a prosperous nation, fueled by the dot.com bubble.  The Republicans taking Congress in 1994 saved him from his worst excesses and helped produce budgets that were as close to being in balance as any in recent history.  A smarmy con man in my opinion, Clinton retained his popularity throughout his presidency.  Second president to be impeached and acquitted, and the second president to lose his law license.

35.  Warren G. Harding-A strong and consistent advocate for civil rights for blacks, Harding presided over an administration that helped launch the economic boom of the Twenties.  His administration was all but destroyed by a steady stream of scandals, the most notorious being Tea Pot Dome.

36.  Ulysses S. Grant-An advocate of civil rights for blacks, who fought a successful mini-war to suppress the Klan, and a strong proponent for a more humane policy for Indians, Grant’s two terms were mired from beginning to end in corruption scandals.  Personally honest, Grant continually surrounded himself with dishonest politicians, Grant being completely out of his depth in politics, as he was in most spheres of life except for his family and war.

37.  Richard Nixon-A Greek tragedy is too mild a term to apply when discussing the presidency of Nixon.  Dealt a bad hand in Vietnam, he extricated the country from Vietnam while building up the South Vietnamese military to the extent that they could hold their own against the North Vietnamese, as long as supplies kept flowing from the US and their ground forces were supported by American air power.  His diplomatic opening to Red China was a masterful, if fairly obvious, strategic win over the Soviets.  Talks with the Soviets helped lower the temperature of the Cold War.  Domestically Nixon was the liberal Republican he always was, with wage and price controls and an expansion of the Federal government.  He came to complete disaster through a fairly insignificant political burglary, rather a routine type of the dirty tricks engaged in by both parties.  Instead of coming forward and disposing of the matter in a ten minute speech telling how subordinates had gone too far, he engaged in a massive cover up that destroyed his presidency.  The Democrats in Congress then proceeded to cut off aid and air power to South Vietnam, guaranteeing the conquest of that nation by North Vietnam.

38.  Lyndon Baines Johnson-A crooked politician and philanderer, Johnson was perhaps the third worst man from a moral standpoint to serve as president.The father of the Great Society, Johnson set the stage for the fiscal morass in which we find ourselves with his radical expansion of the role and scope of the Federal government.  He embarked on a war in Vietnam with no strategy as to how to win it.  (At one point in the war he offered financial assistance  to North Vietnam in exchange for peace, boasting to an aide that “Old Ho can’t turn this down!”)  I would rank him lower, but for the long overdue civil rights legislation passed during his administration

39.  Andrew Johnson-Thrust into the presidency after Lincoln, Johnson attempted to have the former Confederate states re-admitted to the Union quickly, with virtually no safeguards for the civil rights of blacks.  This launched  a war with the Republican Congress, which wanted protections for civil rights for blacks and a stringent policy of Reconstruction,  and his eventual impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate, where he escaped conviction by one vote.  This conflict started off Reconstruction in the worst possible way and materially helped that experiment fail, with evil consequences the country is still dealing with.

40.  Franklin Pierce-Proof that a good man can be a terrible president.  Loving husband and father, his only son died before his parent’s eyes in a train wreck shortly before Pierce was sworn in as president, and an able and brave volunteer general in the Mexican War, Pierce as president was a complete disaster.  His policy of appeasing the slave holders of the South enraged the North.  Pierce vigorously enforced the Fugitive Slave Law, and attempted unsuccessfully, to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a slave state.  Passions over slavery built throughout his administration and Pierce, through his Doughface, a name applied to Northern politicians with Southern sympathies, policies did nothing to tamp them down.

41.  Jimmy Carter-The second worst president of my life time.  His economic policies helped drive both inflation and interest rates to record-setting levels.  His energy policy consisted mainly of sweaters and advising people to turn down thermostats.  His manifest weakness encouraged Soviet adventurism.  (His reaction when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan was to exclaim that Brezhnev, the Soviet Premier, had lied to him.)  The impotence of him and his administration was best symbolized by the botched attempt to rescue our diplomats held hostage by the Iranians.  A kidney stone of a presidency.

42.  Barack Obama-He found the nation in a fiscal disaster and made it worse.  No president has ever been as feckless when it comes to piling up government debt as has the current occupant of the oval office.  We will be generations cleaning up after him.  His recent contraception mandate demonstrates the complete contempt he has both for the Constitution and American liberties.  By far the worst president in my lifetime.

43.  James Buchanan-There is little to be said in favor of the worst president to sit in the White House.  His policies of attempting to appease the South helped encourage an ever-growing movement towards secession during his term.  During the secession crisis following the election of Lincoln, Buchanan dithered and convinced the South that the “cowardly Yankees” as typified by Buchanan, would never fight to preserve the Union.  James Buchanan by his malfeasance and nonfeasance in office did more than any other man to bring about the Civil War.

43 Responses to Rate that President! : Part II

  • I have Carter = 42 and Obama 43. Neither idiot could carry Buchanan’s dirty laundry.

    The liberals at “Public Policy Polling” asked “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of” each president by name?

    The results: Pharaoh worse than Dubya: who up to this poll was worse than Hitler.

    The poll has 45% favorable for Bush 43, while 46% are unfavorable = net unfavorable -1.

    Obama now 46% favorable and 49% unfavorable = higher net unfavorable -3.

    Another four years of Obama and we are ruined.

  • The worst president of your lifetime? I’m glad you are hopeful that you won’t live to see another Obama.

  • In the fall Whimsy, I think we will give him a beating that he, his party and the country will long remember.

  • I still would hold off rating W and Clinton as they are still of too recent a vintage to judge objectively, but otherwise I think this is spot on. I think Pierce may have even been worse than Buchanan considering that he was completely feckless and was the first president to have his vetoes regularly overridden by Congress. Still, it’s astounding that the worst presidents in history are all clustered around the greatest.

  • I posted this at Almost Chosen People before I saw this part of the ranking:

    “I just hope that you don’t rank poor Warren Harding last or near last. The guy gets a bum rap. My son is currently doing his project for our school’s Ohio Fair on WGH (he drew the name out of a hat).

    “At first, I was bummed about his getting a man whose name has become synonymous with scandal. But the more we have studied Harding, the more we have come to realize that he has been unfairly maligned by history. The guy was beloved by the American people during his presidency. And the scandals, which only came to light after his death, were not perpetrated by him or on his behalf. I suppose he’s responsible for appointing shady people, but he should also receive a great deal more credit than he gets for actually returning the country to some semblance of “normalcy” after the fairly turbulent decade that preceded his term.”

    I’m thankful to see that you agree.

  • Just signing in for updated comments.

  • “In the fall Whimsey, I think we will give (Obama) a beating that he, his party and the
    country will long remember”. Oh Mr. McClarey, from your mouth to God’s ears…

  • “it’s astounding that the worst presidents in history are all clustered around the greatest”

    That makes sense. Difficult circumstances give top-notch people the opportunity to shine. Lincoln’s and Reagan’s greatest achievements consisted in undoing the damage caused by their predecessors.

    Two things struck me when reading these articles. First, just how morally bankrupt the three presidents elected in the 1960’s were. I usually think of “the sixties” as beginning in 1968, and being the result of baby-boomers’ excesses, but the country had some pretty bad problems from the beginning of the decade. Secondly, just how important the choice of the VP is. Too often the vice-president is chosen out of electoral calculation, a practice that offends me no matter which party does it.

    I should stop there and not get into an argument with a historian about history, but I’ve got to ask: was TR really so amazing? I’ve never been able to square his great reputation with what I see as modest accomplishments.

  • Harding Inaugural:
    “We must face the grim necessity, with full knowledge that the task is to be solved, and we must proceed with a full realization that no statute enacted by man can repeal the inexorable laws of nature. Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of government, and at the same time do for it too little. We contemplate the immediate task of putting our public household in order. We need a rigid and yet sane economy, combined with fiscal justice, and it must be attended by individual prudence and thrift, which are so essential to this trying hour and reassuring for the future. . . .

    Justice prudence and thrift– can ideas like that become politically correct again?
    help yourself to Thomas Woods article at First Principles, and a much quicker read from National Review

    http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1322

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/261173/reassessing-warren-g-harding-ryan-cole

  • I would have George W. Bush a little higher.

  • Thanks for those Harding links, Anzlyne. They’ll make outstanding resources for my son’s presentation.

  • Barack Obama is the worst President ever. Look at our economy. Look at our national debt. Look at our budget deficits. Look at our unemployment. Look at our military and our standing around the world.

    Look at his arrogance. Look at his policies. Look at the people who he has surrounded himself with. Look at his supporters.

    57 states, his Muslim faith, Austrians speak Austrian, ad infinitum.

    James Buchanan and Jimmy Carter were not underwritten by the disgusting George Soros.

  • Peggy Noonan once said that an accurate popular assessment of JFK will not be made until the last baby boomers who vividly remember his assassination are dead. Until then, he will always reliably (and ridiculously) end up being named in polls as one of the 5 top presidents. I am not old enough to remember JFK (I clearly remember RFK’s assassination), and so I have always been startled by the hold the myth of Camelot retains on the minds of people just a few years older than me. You can not criticize JFK in the presence of my conservative Republican brother-in-law, who is from a large Irish American family. He has plenty of negative things to say about Teddy, but (I think) admitting that JFK really wasn’t the great man many took him for amounts to an emotional betrayal of a childhood idol. No matter what sort of slime comes out about JFK, people can’t bear to give up the tattered romance of Camelot.

    And, Don, you left out one of the worst things Kennedy did: permitting public employees to unionize, which even FDR believed unneccessary and against the common good. We are discovering nowadays what a ruinous mistake that was.

  • I forgot about that one Donna! In regard to Kennedy part of the warm regard that he was held in after his death was the fact that he was assassinated at a young age, and therefore an emotional sense of loss for the entire nation. I was 6 at the time and I remember the wall to wall tv coverage which was unprecedented and the great sense of national mourning. Another part of course was Catholic pride that one of us made it to the Presidency. Among our family pictures hung in our house when I was growing up, was one of the Pope and one of JFK. After his death many Catholics in this country gave him martyr status. Another factor was that he was an authentic war hero. Finally, college educated journalists on the GI bill were coming to the fore in the media, and tended to be partisan Democrats. Kennedy’s many sins were concealed and he was given usually complimentary coverage. I agree with you that a balanced assessment of Kennedy will not occur until the boomers have shuffled off this coil. (Alas, I will be among them!)

  • “Barack Obama is the worst President ever.”

    Get thee behind me PF! Do not tempt me!

  • “I would have George W. Bush a little higher.”

    As the years roll by Jasper he might. It is difficult giving an assessment of a president this close in, and without the advantage of historical perspective.

  • “I should stop there and not get into an argument with a historian about history, but I’ve got to ask: was TR really so amazing? I’ve never been able to square his great reputation with what I see as modest accomplishments.”

    Pinky, I could list TR’s accomplishments, but I do not think that gets to the heart of the matter. Most presidents are smaller than their great office. A precious few, Washington and Lincoln for example, loom larger than the office. TR was in this class. The phrase bully-pulpit came about to describe how TR used the presidency as a giant mega-phone to get his views across to the American people and persuade them. He had a deep patriotism and a belief in the greatness of this country that resonated with the country. Some presidents debase us and some enoble us, and none were better at enobling us than TR. He understood that life is a grand adventure. Sometimes it is a hard adventure and sometimes a joyous adventure, but always an adventure. TR imparted this sense of wonder and grandeur to many of his contemporaries. As one of his worst enemies once said about him, “Someone would have to hate him a lot, not to like him a little!” This quotation from him is key to understanding him and why he is in the very forefront of our presidents:

    “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

  • “I just hope that you don’t rank poor Warren Harding last or near last. The guy gets a bum rap. My son is currently doing his project for our school’s Ohio Fair on WGH (he drew the name out of a hat).”

    There was much that was great in Harding, Jay. Here is a little anecdote. In the 1920 campaign the Democrats started a whispering campaign that Harding was a mulatto. This was a time of virulent bitter racism. When Harding was asked one would have expected him to bitterly deny it. Instead he merely shrugged his shoulders and said that he had no idea if one of his ancestors had jumped over the wood pile. (Successfully passed for white.) That took considerable political courage, in that he did not kow tow to the race baiting tactics of the Democrats.

    Another anecdote. In one of the scandals that beset his administration he got his hands on one of the perpetrators, called him a dirty rat, and shook him like a terrier. Like Grant Harding was personally honest, but like Grant he was too easily taken in by corrupt politicians. Harding was unlucky in that he died before he could before he could completely clean up his administration, but he had made a good start before his death.

    The historical scholarship on Harding is weak, and the need for a full blown scholarly study of this presidency is great.

  • “I still would hold off rating W and Clinton as they are still of too recent a vintage to judge objectively, but otherwise I think this is spot on. ”

    Ratings of most presidents, as with most historical figures, should have stamped on them PROVISIONAL until we are at least a century out.

  • I think the first part of your rankings are right on…however, I think more time will be necessary to properly place the Presidents of the last 50 years in proper perspective. Just as some have mentioned, Kennedy is way over valued by many. I think the same could be said for Reagan (and certainly Bush I). I think Clinton will actually move up a bit. And as far as Bush II, I think quite honestly that he will fall down to the bottom to reside where Obama seems to be now. The saddest thing about Obama is that while he has been everything we, on the right, feared he would be. He has truthfully done none of the good things I hoped he would accomplish. All of the worst things about Bush, he has maintained (Gitmo, torture, the escalation of the attack on our rights started with the Patriot Act, multiple wars, etc.) Given an opportunity to truly do something for the poor and those in need — he extending from Bush — has championed big bailouts to industry and Wall Street, while championing a health care bill that solves none of the problems of health care and actually provides less than the system he tried to undo. Bush II and Obama will go down as the worst Presidents in our time. Together.

  • Instead he merely shrugged his shoulders and said that he had no idea if one of his ancestors had jumped over the wood pile. (Successfully passed for white.)

    I don’t think that’s an accurate explanation of the expression. I’ve never heard that expression before, but I’m sure it’s a cleaned-up version of “having a nigger in the woodpile”, which refers to having a fling with a black person.

  • The precise phrase used by Harding was apparently “jumped the fence”.

    http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/question/nov08/

  • Warren Harding was pretty good on matters of race; I like to think he was a pretty fair man… smart enough to turn his back on the League of Nations.
    among other issues he had to deal with Wobblies, the growing socialist movement,… he did pardon the dying Eugene Debs —
    He remained a person of calm and peace. I will say he was too loyal to his friends though!

  • Also, some of the greatest/highest rated presidents didn’t appear all that great when they were elected or took office. Lincoln was just a one-term congressman and failed Senate candidate, whom abolitionists regarded as too soft on slavery and Southerners regarded as dangerously radical. Truman was merely a “machine” politician and onetime haberdasher whom nearly everyone thought would be trounced by the much slicker Thomas Dewey. And Reagan, of course, was “only” a has-been actor.

  • “In regard to Kennedy part of the warm regard that he was held in after his death was the fact that he was assassinated at a young age, and therefore an emotional sense of loss for the entire nation.”

    I do not remember the JFK assassination as I was still 2 months away from being born at the time, but I do recall my mom telling me that she cried quite a lot during those four days even though she was a staunch Republican and did not vote for him. I presume this “warm regard” for JFK passed down to the other Kennedys, and was magnified further by RFK’s tragic death. That is probably the biggest reason why Ted Kennedy got a “pass” throughout his life with regard to his womanizing, other bad habits and his extreme leftism. Also, because JFK died before Vietnam, urban rioting and social unrest really got out of control it’s easy for people to assume or fantasize that those things would never have happened had he lived and been reelected.

  • well I was 12 when he was elected– we loved him at my house– it was also around that time that I became something of a Catholic apologist– if you weren’t around in those days you might not be so aware of the really strong fears of a Catholic president– depending on where you lived I am sure. but I knew intelligent well educated people who talked about a Catholic takeover– even thinking Catholics were arming and keeping their magazine of arms in parish halls and church basements. In recent years I heard a famous evangelical admit watching the people file past the coffin in the rotunda, fully expecting the corpse of the ‘anti Christ” to somehow sit up in the casket

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49o3LSFwvso
    this link shows you a JFK press conference– interesting because I think we all get a little anachronistic sometimes– and interesting because I think it is probably the first time BIRTH CONTROL was the subject of a question during a presidential press conference!

  • looks like I am busy defending two presidents I think you have underrated!
    This interview with Walter Cronkite is wide ranging and informative– interesting about the economy and the job situation. I liked the civility.
    And the depth of thinking of those days– it wasn’t such a bumper sticker world.

  • In 2012, I think JFK would be far too conservative for the GOP. He would make liberals’ head explode. I believe his fiscal policy included tax cuts and emphasis on private sector job creation: 180-degrees opposite today’s Dems. Tax cuts . . .

  • In my opinion, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt should rank lower. During the Philippine-American War, hundreds of thousands of Filipino civilians and soldiers died, if only for the crime of wanting to be independent.

  • Theodore Roosevelt was the man that brought the war to an end and established the first elected legislature in the history of the Philippines. The idea that the Philippines would have remained independent if the US had withdrawn is fanciful. They would quickly have found themselves a colony of Japan. Of course the idea that any local group would have been recogized as the government by all Filipinos at the time is also fanciful.

  • The conflict had many of the marks of an unjust war. American diplomats informally and clandestinely promised the Filipinos that if they rebelled against Spain, they would help the Philippines become independent. Unsurprisingly, American foreign policy had ulterior motives all along. When the Filipinos realized that a fast one had been pulled on them, they did what they did.

    And let’s not forget that the American military used concentration camps on the Filipinos.

  • Also, the Germans were very interested in obtaining the Philippines, even as Dewey was trying to enforce a blockade of Manila Bay. Certainly, if the islands would not have remained in American hands, it would have ended up as a possession of an imperial power.

  • Well, then, the conquerors who end up owning the Philippines by force of arms will have blood on their hands, and they will be the wrongdoers.

    Why don’t you start a post – Was the Philippine-American War an unjust war?

  • An interesting question Nathan.

    Additional interesting questions:

    Was the US unjust in depriving Spain of the Philippines as a colony?

    What was the overall impact of American institutions imported to the Philippines?

    The record of the US as a colonial power in the Philippines?
    How would the Philippines have fared as a Japanese colony?

    Self government extended to the Philippines, beginning with the elected legislature in 1907, through Commonwealth status in 1935 and full independence in 1945: too slow, too fast or just right?

    Why did the Filipinos and the Americans fight so fiercely against the Japanese invaders in 1941-1945?

    Should the Philippines have been kept as a unitary state or would it have been fairer to have portions, notably Mindanao, as an indepedent state?

    What does it say about the Filipino colonial experience that a popular way of describing it in the Philippines is four centuries in a convent and forty years in Hollywood?

  • I think a fair assessment of the American involvement in the Philippines is at the link below:

    http://www.americanheritage.com/content/america%E2%80%99s-first-iraq?page=2

  • Some quick assessments:

    “What was the overall impact of American institutions imported to the Philippines?” The obvious answer is that the Philippines was pulled into the English-speaking world, which opened some doors culturally and economically. The non-obvious answer is that Filipino Catholicism became better connected to the people (an unintended consequence, perhaps). A grievance Filipino Catholics had against Spain was they wanted more Filipino priests to minister to them. When the Americans took over, they (slowly) allowed more Filipino priests to serve.

    “How would the Philippines have fared as a Japanese colony?” It depends on how the colonizers gain control. In 1941, the Japanese arrived as invaders, ensuring that the Filipinos would view them with enmity. Generally, it is better to acquire colonies non-violently than violently.

    “Why did the Filipinos and the Americans fight so fiercely against the Japanese invaders in 1941-1945?” I think Filipinos would have a simple answer – because their homeland was invaded! As for Americans, it was the right thing to do, and they really did not expect any mercy from the Japanese if they surrendered.

  • Actually Nathan the united fierce resistance by Filipinos and Americans to the Japanese was unusual. Throughout Asia the Japanese posed as liberators, come to free their Asian brothers from their white overlords. Most native populations intially collaborated with the Japanese and put up no fight against the Japanese, later learning to their sorrow that the Japanese came as new masters and not as brothers. Such was not the case in the Philippines with resistance never ending until liberation in 1945, and with Americans joining in the valiant guerilla war waged by the Filipinos against the Japanese.

  • Well, you have to remember that by 1941, the Americans had already promised to grant independence to the Philippines, and that promise was backed by the Tydings-McDuffie Law. When the Japanese invaded in 1941, Filipinos trusted the Americans more than the Japanese. Also, you have to consider the cultural factor. Culturally, Filipinos as a Christian and English-speaking people would have felt more affinity to America (and the broader Western world) than to the Japanese. The Philippines is geographically in Asia, but in many cultural aspects it belongs more to the West.

    I will also add that many Americans stationed in the Philippines grew fond of their adopted country, among them being General Douglas MacArthur.

  • In fact, General MacArthur is remembered more fondly over there than in his native country.

  • Quite right Nathan. I think over the years many Americans in the Philippines grew to think of that country as home, and many Filipinos grew fond of aspects of American culture and society. The relationship between the two countries got off to the rockiest of starts, but by the time of the Japanese invasion it had developed into a fruitful partnership. A quarter of a million Americans live in the Philippines and there are 3.4 million Filipino Americans.

  • Say hello to one of those 3.4 million, and a descendant of one of those guerillas for good measure.

  • I suspected as much Nathan! Bravo! Two of my uncles participated in the liberation of the Philippines. They came back enchanted by the country and the people and their stories awakened in their nephew an interest in the history of that faraway land.

  • I didn’t see Woodrow Wilson or FDR on this list, which means they must be in the top 23. This list loses all credibility immediately.

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