THOUGH MODERN JOB approval metrics were a bit lacking during the late 1790s, historians have for decades considered George Washington to be among the most popular, most effective and most influential of the 44 men who have served as president of the United States.
Washington finished behind only Abraham Lincoln in the inaugural presidential poll of historians by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., first published in 1948. In Siena College Research Institute’s 1982 Presidential Ranking Survey, Washington finished fourth in the eyes of the country’s foremost presidential scholars – behind only Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Lincoln. In Siena’s updated 2018 poll of historians, the nation’s first president took the top spot.
The faces of three of those four men – Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln – are immortalized on the towering granite walls of Mount Rushmore, with Theodore Roosevelt occupying the fourth spot on the Keystone, South Dakota national memorial.
“The top five – George Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson – have been the top 5, jockeying for position, over all 37 years (of the Siena poll),” says Don Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute. “There is certainly collective agreement on that.”
Completed in 1941, the shrine of democracy that is Mount Rushmore was designed by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to embody the birth, growth, development and preservation of the United States. For more than 200 years, presidents have endeavored to leave a similar mark on the country, hoping that their legacy, too, is etched in the bedrock of American history.