4) James K. Polk (D): Polk accomplished so much in his lone term as POTUS that he called it a career without bothering to serve to a second term. While he was President, Texas joined the union. Polk signed the Oregon Treaty with Britain, which brought Oregon, Washington, and Idaho under our control. He won the Mexican-American War, which added California, Nevada, Utah, and a large portion of Arizona -- among other states, into the Union. Add it all up and Polk expanded the territory of the United States more than any other President.
3) Thomas Jefferson (Dem-Republican): Jefferson was one of the most important Founding Fathers, the first Secretary of State, the second governor of Virginia, and the second Vice President of the United States. As if that wasn't enough, he followed it all up by being one of America's greatest Presidents. That's not too shabby for a life's work.
While he was President, Jefferson won the Barbary War against pirates who were preying on American shipping, he was responsible for establishing West Point -- and most importantly, he made the massive Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon.
2)George Washington (No Party): The leadership displayed by the “Father of Our Nation" during the Revolutionary War and during his time as President made him the essential man in American history. Had Washington been killed by a stray bullet during the Revolutionary War or had he been just another despot who promised democracy right up until he got into power, the America we know and love today likely wouldn't exist in the same form.
Washington, as our first President, unsurprisingly set a number of precedents, including the establishment of Washington, D.C. as our nation's capital (and, yes, it is named for him). He also proved the new government could protect itself by putting down the Whiskey Rebellion and his decision to serve only two terms stuck all the way until FDR got into office. Perhaps most importantly, Washington's willingness to relinquish power set an example for leaders in America and across the world to follow.
1) Abraham Lincoln (R): Lincoln is criticized by some libertarians and Paleocons these days because they say he could have avoided the Civil War entirely by buying all the slaves. Even though Lincoln apparently took the idea seriously, the historical evidence suggests the idea wouldn't have worked. Lincoln also gets dinged for dramatically curtailing constitutional rights during the war, but as the old saying goes, "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." In a bloody Civil War that could have legitimately meant the end of the union, it was better to break the rules and win -- than go by the book and see the nation that the Constitution was meant to guide split into two hostile halves.
Those issues aside, Abe Lincoln is the father of the Republican Party, the man most responsible for ending slavery, and his leadership was crucial to guiding America to victory in the Civil War. Had Sherman not taken Atlanta when he did, it's entirely possible Lincoln could have lost re-election in 1864 to General McClellan, which could have easily led to the war ending in a draw and a very different history for this country.
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