Wednesday, December 06, 2006

100 Most Influential Americans

The Atlantic has listed their 100 most influential Americans. I'll just list them for ease of discussion:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Thomas Jefferson
4. Franklin Roosevelt
5. Alexander Hamilton
6. Benjamin Franklin
7. John Marshall
8. Martin Luther King
9. Thomas Edison
10. Woodrow Wilson
11. John D. Rockefeller
12. Ulysses Grant
13. James Madison
14. Henry Ford
15. Theodore Roosevelt
16. Mark Twain
17. Ronald Reagan
18. Andrew Jackson
19. Thomas Paine
20. Andrew Carnegie
21. Harry Truman
22. Walt Whitman
23. Wright Brothers
24. Alexander Graham Bell
25. John Adams
26. Walt Disney
27. Eli Whitney
28. Dwight Eisenhower
29. Earl Warren
30. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
31. Henry Clay
32. Albert Einstein
33. Ralph Waldo Emerson
34. Jonas Salk
35. Jackie Robinson
36. William Jennings Bryan
37. J.P. Morgan
38. Susan B. Anthony
39. Rachel Carson
40. John Dewey
41. Harriet Beecher Stowe
42. Eleanor Roosevelt
43. W.E.B. DuBois
44. Lyndon Baines Johnson
45. Samuel F.B. Morse
46. William Lloyd Garrison
47. Frederick Douglass
48. J. Robert Oppenheimer
49. Frederick Law Olmstead
50. James K. Polk
51. Margaret Sanger
52. Joseph Smith
53. Oliver Wendell Holmes
54. Bill Gates
55. John Quincy Adams
56. Horace Mann
57. Robert E. Lee
58. John C. Calhoun
59. Louis Sullivan
60. William Faulkner
61. Samuel Gompers
62. William James
63. George Marshall
64. Jane Addams
65. Henry David Thoreau
66. Elvis Presley
67. P.T. Barnum
68. James D. Watson
69. James Gordon Bennett
70. Lewis & Clark
71. Noah Webster
72. Sam Walton
73. Cyrus McCormick
74. Brigham Young
75. Babe Ruth
76. Frank Lloyd Wright
77. Betty Friedan
78. John Brown
79. Louis Armstrong
80. William Randolph Hearst
81. Margaret Mead
82. George Gallup
83. James Fenimore Cooper
84. Thurgood Marshall
85. Ernest Hemingway
86. Mary Baker Eddy
87. Benjamin Spock
88. Enrico Fermi
89. Walter Lippmann
90. Jonathan Edwards
91. Lyman Beecher
92. John Steinbeck
93. Nat Turner
94. George Eastman
95. Sam Goldwyn
96. Ralph Nader
97. Stephen Foster
98. Booker T. Washington
99. Richard Nixon
100. Herman Melville

Any historian, or educated person in general, will dispute some of this. There are some people ranked too high and some too low. Some subjects are overrepresented and underrepresented. And some picks are really weird.

Among the somewhat overrated: Wilson, Grant, Disney, Warren, Olmstead, Joseph Smith, Sullivan, Mead, Nader, Eisenhower

Among the somewhat underrated: King, Whitney, Elvis, John Brown, Edwards, Booker T. Washington

I'm not really sure that the Mormons need to have 2 people on the list. Is Mormonism that huge of a phenonmenon in the US? Smith definitely needs to be there but lower. Brigham Young is an important guy but unless you are Mormon, does he really matter to larger narratives of US history.

Like Lance Mannion, I am pretty disgusted by Ronald Reagan being ranked so high. This isn't because I disagree with him politicially. It's because he didn't really do anything. When you look at massive changes in American history, does Reagan matter all that much? I don't think so. Now Newt Gingrich or George W. Bush--those guys should be on the list. They created huge historical changes.

At the same time, why in the hell is Richard Nixon ranked at 99? No one changed the public persona of the presidency more than Nixon. The damage he caused to the prestige of the presidency cannot be overestimated. Ever since Watergate, Americans have not respected the office nearly as much as before and have generally shown a new cynicism about politics. He should be far higher.

As for people I'd like to see on there. Where is George Kennan? Or more generally, some of our early shapers of Cold War policy. Sure, Truman is important but more people from this period need to be there. Malcolm X? William Tecumseh Sherman? What about Andrew Johnson? No one did more to undermine Reconstruction. Gloria Steinem clearly deserves a place. You could also make good arguments for Alfred T. Mahan, one of the nation's major architects of imperialism, Richard Sears (as one of Mannion's commentators does--you can't overestimate the importance of the Sears Catalog), Billy Graham, John Jay, the 4 North Carolina A&T students who started desegregating lunch counters, Jefferson Davis, Albert Gallatin, and John L. Lewis. And where the hell are the Native Americans? Totally left off the list. That is a major problem. How can such a list exist without Tecumseh, at the very least?

On the other hand, I was glad that John F. Kennedy was not on the list. And I liked that technological advances received as much attention as they did.

Generally though, I enjoy exercises like this. I don't agree with everything but it's a project worth doing. I always like to see public discussions of history, though I wish it wasn't so Great Man oriented.