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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The 100 "most influential" Americans 


Here's something to print out and argue about over Thanksgiving dinner when the conversation would otherwise turn to some subject that threatens to fracture the fragile peace: The Atlantic has published its nominees for the "100 most influential Americans." I haven't pondered it at length, but my first reaction is that it is a very good list. My early reactions are all quibbles with the reasons given rather than the names listed. For example, Ralph Nader is (correctly) on the list because "He made the cars we drive safer; thirty years later, he made George W. Bush the president." If that's a reason, why isn't George W. Bush on the list? No, neither of these achievements should be enough to win Ralph Nader a spot on the list. Rather, he is the founder of the consumer movement and the reason why the United States regulates the safety of all products -- not just cars -- through tort litigation.

The list is also a bit short on early colonials who were born British but became American. Two -- who also happen to be ancestors of mine -- come to mind. Any such list should include William Bradford, the leader of Plymouth Colony, architect of the Mayflower Compact (considered an early and influential expression of American democracy), and the first to proclaim what became the holiday of Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday. I would also suggest John Rolfe, the Englishman who is known today as the husband of Disney hottie Pocahontas, but whose greatest influence came through his own industry: he was the first person to cultivate tobacco for commercial sale. Surely we can find a couple of people to kick off the list to make room for Bradford and Rolfe.

If the office is a bit slow today, offer your own suggestions for deletions and additions in the comments below.

CWCID: Power Line.


20 Comments:

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Wed Nov 22, 10:50:00 AM:

Jacob A. Riis, progressive chronicler in photographs and prose of the misery of the urban poor at the turn of the 20th century, most famously with How The Other Half Lives. He did for our nations consciousness of its underclass what Gardiner and Brady did for the carnage of the Civil War.

Metacomet aka King Phillip. The son of Massasoit, who feasted with the pilgrims, fought the New England colonists in a war that forever changed the relationship between Europeans and Native Americans in the northeast. The diaspora of broken, displaced tribes that followed and the horror of indian warfare left an indellible mark on the values and ttitudes of those who expanded the frontier.

Thomas Nast: The father of American political cartooning, who gave us the Republican Elephant and the Democrat Donkey.

William Randolph Hearst - media mogul who used the power of the press to launch a war and stir up racial tensions, forshadowing the power and infuence of 4th estate empires and opinion-makers thereafter.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Wed Nov 22, 11:09:00 AM:

George Whitefield is probably disqualified as English, even though his greatest impact was in the colonies. His tireless preaching throughout the colonies fired the Great Awakening.

Glad they included Jonathan Edwards and said forget the fire and brimstone. But it was his towering intellect, more than his eloquence, that made him the country's most influential theologian.

How about Walter Cronkite, for his enormous contribution to our loss of the Vietnam War?

At least Oprah isn't on the list . . .  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Wed Nov 22, 02:19:00 PM:

Howard Hughes. Al Capone. JFK.

(and my favorite, Jack Daniels!)

Einstein's a cheap call. He was great before he was American (and less so afterwards).  

By Blogger chsw10605, at Wed Nov 22, 03:16:00 PM:

Nicola Tesla, George Westinghouse, Samuel Colt and Philo Farnsworth (inventor of television) should have all made the list. Their now ubiquitous inventions were revolutionary advances in their times.

chsw10605  

By Anonymous J, at Wed Nov 22, 03:36:00 PM:

James Madison seems low to me.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Nov 22, 03:44:00 PM:

On further reflection, I wonder about the omission of John Wilkes Booth. How different would Reconstruction have been if Lincoln had lived to serve a second term?  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Wed Nov 22, 04:42:00 PM:

Rachel Carson

I don't think pitching a load of BS that's been pretty definitively proven to be largely lies and massive distortions should qualify one for this list.  

By Blogger DEC, at Wed Nov 22, 05:53:00 PM:

Re: #28 Dwight Eisenhower

I don't think Eisenhower belongs on the list.

Omar Bradley could have filled Eisenhower's shoes in the military. (I met Bradley in 1973. He was still sharp at the age of 80.)

The U.S. was properous during much of Eisenhower's administration. However, the country had a large portion of the free world's manufacturing capacity. Europe and Japan were still recovering from WWII. It was not hard to have a prosperous nation under those circumstances.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Nov 22, 07:03:00 PM:

Placing Lincoln over Washington and company? Pft. Even the blurb is wrong. His rhetoric and reputation is what caused the South to secede in the first place, then he purposefully triggered the war with the 'Star of the West' incident at Sumter, (no, really; there are primary sources) and only 'freed' the slaves in the Confederate states. The 13th amendment was put into effect during Johnson's term.

Perhaps I'm alone in this, but I've always thought that Lincoln is consistently overrated and Washington consistently underrated.  

By Anonymous BIRD OF PARIDISE, at Wed Nov 22, 10:00:00 PM:

How about CHANUALT the one who created the FLYING TIGERS in WW IIand PAPPY BOYINGTON and lets not forget EDDIE RICKINBEACKER and RICHARD BONG and last but not least GEORGE WASHINGTON and ROBERT E. LEE  

By Anonymous ccwildbill, at Thu Nov 23, 11:18:00 AM:

I am surprised at the list, and if viewed overall, one can see the 'academic' bias...lots of authors whose names are lost on today's society...few businessmen (the heart of our growing society)...Babe Ruth???influential in our society (maybe the comment about celebrity might fit, with a stretch).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 23, 03:26:00 PM:

I agree with ccwildbill, way too many authors and virtually no business people. How many people were able to even read Uncle Tom's Cabin back in the day? They cannot be serious by thinking that the works of Margaret Mead or Herman Melville or even John Steinbeck changed the way people lived..? However, how many people prosper across the globe based on the great works of a Milton Friedman or an Alan Greenspan. These men have done more to promote sound fiscal monetary policy that has helped make America the global economic juggernaut that it is today and these lessons are copied regularly by countries across the globe making them more prosperous then they could have ever dreamed. How do you leave off the father of modern day business like an Alfred Sloan, while trying to say that Margaret Sanger's work was important enough to rate as the 51st most influential American (actually had she not died recently I would not have even recognized the name?)

There are way too many abolishinists and far too few American Presidents. One cannot name a tougher and more demanding job that shapes each American's future then the men who serve in that role, especially those who serve more then one term? Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Monroe just to name a few off the top of my head.

Lastly, I consider myself a fairly well read person with multiple degrees from top schools and I think the list should contain people that the average American has heard of, without reading the list off to my brilliant mother I had to be educated on many of the people on the list. But somehow the mere fact that my mother had to explain who these people were say enough (by the way I am 40 years old too!)  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Fri Nov 24, 04:01:00 AM:

Jack Kerouac should be on the list if "influential" included negative as well as positive.

A lots of social decay can be traced directly back to him, although I don't think its what he had planned at the time.  

By Anonymous J Baustian, at Sat Nov 25, 01:03:00 AM:

It's a good list of influential persons... not always the most important at the time, but perhaps started people thinking about things which were important decades later.

Of the names suggested, I can agree with Colt, Tesla, and Nast. If you want to add another military man, then how about Curtis LeMay?  

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