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Thursday, July 19, 2007

25 Greatest Americans in History (10-7)

(Editor's note: I was very short on time, so unfortunately I had to keep the word count down. I also only had time for four today. So tomorrow I'll do 3-6, and Saturday I'll finish with the top two.)


10. Thomas Edison (1847-1931; inventor) - He had 85 birthdays and 1,093 patents. His first patent was in 1869 and he averaged nearly 18 patents a year until the day he died. It is one of the greatest streaks of ingenuity in world history. He is mostly remembered for the long-lasting light bulb, but it doesn't nearly end there. Here is a list of all Edison patents. As you scroll over all of them, his greatness really sinks in.

9. James Madison (1751-1836; author, Father of the Constitution, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, President) - I wrote a bit on Madison and the founding fathers during Fourth of July week, and I'll very briefly revisit those thoughts for this list, but to get the full idea, click on that link.

Madison authored more than one third of the Federalist Papers, which is one of the most brilliant political science works in the history of the discipline. In it, he argued for the ratification of the Constitution. Speaking of the Constitution (I cringe at the segueway), he wrote it. With some help from peers, he was the principle author of it, including the Bill of Rights. Therefore, he is known as the "father" of both.

These are the basic laws of America itself! The Constitution. The Bill of Rights. They're not only the rule of law in America, but the United States Constitution has been emulated by numerous governments across the world. It's one of America's greatest exports. The country and the world have James Madison to thank.

He was a leading member of the House in the 1790's, working with Washington and his cabinet through the first years of the United States. He went on to serve as Jefferson's Secretary of State, which included playing a key roll during the Louisiana Purchase.

Finally, his two-term Presidency (1809-1817) is nothing too impressive, and it only plays a slight role in his inclusion on this list (His penning of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Federalist Papers are more than enough for a top 10 spot). In fact, in my brief experience as a fledgling presidential historian, I rank him in the bottom quartile of U.S. Presidents.

His presidency was weak. Speaker of the House Henry Clay and his War Hawks practically ran the country, which included another war with Great Britain, the War of 1812. During this war, Madison, as commander-in-chief, was the great evacuator, getting the heck out of Washington before the British came and burned the White House to the ground. The war was a terrible idea, as the British were undoubtedly eager to get revenge for the American Revolution. Madison's presidency had little power over his divided cabinet, disrespectful governors, and militiamen who would not fight outside their respective states like they would for General and President Washington.

Still, thanks to able leadership from two future Presidents, Generals Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison, the United States was able to hold off the British long enough for them to grow tired from the American invasion and defending against Napoleon. The U.S. survived... but not thanks to President Madison.

8. Albert Einstein (1879-1955; physicist, a real Einstein) - Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Albert Einstein was not born in the America but became an American. And that's where the comparison ends.

Look, I know this will be a controversial inclusion. After all, Einstein was German born. However, he did live the last fifteen years of his life as a United States citizen. Like many others on this list, mainly the founding fathers, he was not born an American, but died as one. Even someone coming later in this list was not born in modern day America like Madison, Adams, et. al but did become a U.S. citizen. I feel to not include that man or Einstein on a Greatest Americans Ever list simply because they were not born here is unfair. One cannot help where they are born. (Just ask kids in a favela.) But sometimes they can choose where they wish to live and apply for citizenship, and that's what Albert Einstein did.

Now for his accomplishments. Time Magazine named him "Person of the Century," so that's a pretty good start. I almost agree with Time, as he is the second highest ranked 20th century American on this list. (Is the rest of the list coming into focus yet? Have you picked up on the clues dropped since Monday?) (Though, be sure I don't dismiss Hitler, Churchill, and Ghandi as influential non-Americans of the 20th century.)

Einstein is arguably the most important scientist of all time, save Isaac Newton. His breakthrough in numerous theoretical physics areas makes him the greatest physicist ever. His discoveries were immeasurably important in the initiation and development of quantum theory and are still relevant today. It is through his theories that the use of nuclear power and lasers are based. Moreover, his famous theory of relativity is the basis for today's research of the universe.

So as the human race continues to learn about our surroundings in this solar system and beyond, we have one man more than any other to thank - the American Albert Einstein.

(Editor's note: Now we enter the portion of the list where just about everyone can make a case for being #1.)

7. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790; author, inventor, diplomat) - Hailed by many historians as the "First American," Ben Franklin was an excellent intellectual (though not moral) representative of the American colonies. Franklin was not the jack of all trades - he was the master of all trades. He could speak with authority and experience on science, technology, politics, literature, environmentalism, diplomacy, civics, and philosophy. He was respected in Europe as a European equal (quite a feat for a mere colonist).

His inventions include the bifocals, the lightning rod, and the iron furnace stove, each a significant contribution to the world. As an inventor and experimenter alone, he'd receive mention in a top 50 list of Americans.

But his contribution to America goes light-years beyond that. His role in the American Revolution was immeasurable. His Albany Plan of Union in 1754 was an unprecedented proposition of colonial unification. It was used as a reference two decades later when it came time for America's revolution against Great Britain. His support of unification is shown both in this comic panel from the French and Indian War as well as his quote at the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which he helped draft on the "Committee of Five"), "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

His contribution to the American Revolution is even felt militarily. As the ambassador to France, he was crucial in parlaying the victory at the Battle of Saratoga into military and financial support from France against Great Britain. Though not nearly as significant as France, the French entrance brought in Spain under alliance stipulations and eventually the Netherlands. Without help from these experience European countries, American victory was much more in question.

At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, George Washington was this country's greatest hero and most to thank for American Independence. Second, was Benjamin Franklin.


Tomorrow I'll hit up 3-6.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Einstein's your third highest 20th-century American by my count. Behind Martin Luther King and FDR.

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