In my quest to read a book about or by every President of the United States, I’ve reached a milestone: the Full Rushmore. Well, that’s what I call it anyway.
I’ve read a book about the each President sculpted on Mt. Rushmore. From left-to-right George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln adorn one of the most photographed attractions in the National Park Service inventory, the carved granite massif known as Mt. Rushmore. I’ve never been to Rushmore, but surely will someday. The father and son team of Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum directed the carving of Mt. Rushmore. Assisted by 400 workers employed at government expense, the Borglums created an iconic symbol of brash American patriotism.
Having now read about each of these presidents, they are inspired choices, representing the pinnacle of leadership of America’s first 130 years. Borglum chose the four figures in the sculpture, although Calvin Coolidge insisted that two Republicans and one Democrat be portrayed.
In 1937, a proposal was introduced to add the face of Susan B. Anthony. More recently, conservatives have voiced support for adding Ronald Reagan to the granite tableaux. It is interesting for me to consider what other Presidents might be deserving of the inclusion on an expanded Rushmore. Recognizing the original idea to honor the leaders of our first 130 years, there are really only two other Presidents arguably worthy of placement on Rushmore, in my opinion: Ulysses S. Grant, and Andrew Jackson. But both Grand and Jackson pale in comparison to the Fab Four of Rushmore.
Grant deserves recognition for his work to win the Civil War, and as President for his efforts at civil service reform. He also deserves credit for his relatively benign treatment of Native Americans, and his efforts to support black suffrage in the South. But controversies and scandals blunted the effect of his reform efforts. While Grant was perhaps not directly responsible for the scandals, they occurred on his watch and besmirched his high office. For Native Americans, his presidency represented a short lull in the storm of insults and violence hurled their way. In that sense, his influence on Indian policy was negligible.
Jackson mostly deserves credit for strengthening the power of the presidency, and his strong rebuke to Southerners in the nullification crisis. But ultimately, he really only kicked the can down the road on nullification, letting the scourge of slavery continue (Jackson was a slaveholder) unabated. Jackson laid the groundwork for the two-party system we have today, and thus his influence is felt, for better or worse, even today. But while his influence on American politics is profound, one cannot overlook his harsh treatment of Native Americans. Jackson initiated the Trail of Tears, forced marches of indigenous Americans to what is now Oklahoma. Furthermore, one cannot overlook the fact that he was a murderer, the victor in a legendary duel with Charles Dickinson, for an insult against Jackson’s wife and his character.
Looking past the first 130 years, there is only one President, in my opinion, that might deserve inclusion on Rushmore: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With all due respect to the few conservatives that might read this post, Ronald Reagan is just in the same class as the Rushmore foursome.