February 2009 Issue
Follow the Leaders
Happy birthday, Mr. President. We’re glad you came to visit. And we’re glad that — no matter what fits we may have caused you from time to time — you developed a special affection for Ohio.
No, we’re not talking about President Obama. His birthday isn’t until August. That’s when he will reach the ripe young age of 48. We are talking about President Lincoln, whose 200th birthday we celebrate this month.
To mark the occasion, we asked Contributing Editor Ron Rollins to lend an Ohio perspective to the Lincoln presidency — which, on most lists, is ranked as the best of them all. [See “Lincoln in Ohio
Rollins discovered plenty of Ohio contributions to Lincoln’s place in history, including two members of his vaunted “team of rivals.” Edwin M. Stanton of Steubenville served as Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Salmon P. Chase of Cincinnati was his Secretary of the Treasury and later served as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
As Rollins points out, Lincoln’s best generals were Buckeyes, too — Ulysses S. Grant of Point Pleasant and William T. Sherman of Lancaster. Grant eventually was elected president himself, one of eight presidents Ohio proudly claims.
Well, OK, in some cases proudly
may be an overstatement. Ohio is the Mother of Presidents, yes, but some of her children clearly were less successful than others. In this, the month of presidents, it’s worthwhile to look at where our favorite sons fit in order of performance.
A panel of presidential historians and experts assembled by The New York Times
last year ranked all 42 presidents prior to Obama. (If you are keeping count, note that Grover Cleveland — who was not an Ohioan despite his name — served twice but was counted once.)
Here’s where the Times
panel placed our guys:
William McKinley (25th president, who was assassinated at the beginning of his second term, served 1897–1901): 17.
Ulysses S. Grant (18th president, 1869–1877): 18.
Rutherford B. Hayes (19th president, 1877–1881): 27.
Benjamin Harrison (23rd president, 1889–93): 29/30 tie.
William Howard Taft (27th president, 1909–1913): 29/30 tie.
James A. Garfield (20th president, who was assassinated in 1881 after serving six months in office): 34/35 tie.
Warren Harding (29th president, 1921–1923): 34/35 tie.
William Henry Harrison (9th president, died in 1841 after serving one month in office): 39.
Harrison, by the way, was born in Virginia but called Ohio home. So although he may not have had enough time to make his mark as one of our best presidents, by our standards he surely was one of the smartest.