5 Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson gets as much credit for his historical contributions outside of the presidential office as in it. He is known for being America’s Renaissance Man because besides being the owner of a large plantation who spoke five languages, he was also a lawyer, diplomat, inventor, architect and founder of the University of Virginia. Also, no big deal, but he was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. However, this is a list of the top 5 presidents, not top 5 coolest people, so let’s focus on his presidency for a second: He was the first president to fight a war (the Barbary War against Tripoli), and he passed a law forbidding the importation of slaves, even though he owned hundreds of them himself. But his greatest legacy was probably the Louisiana Purchase, and not just because New Orleans would eventually bring us jambalaya. It also paved the way for the expansion of the country into the western frontier.
4 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FDR was not nearly as entertaining as his cousin Teddy (he didn’t have the mustache, after all) and there were a few other presidents who were considered for this spot on the list. However, this Roosevelt stands out for having been the only president ever to break George Washington’s precedent by serving more than two terms in office. He was elected in the midst of the Great Depression and instituted most of the programs that pulled Americans out of and set up protections for next time. Some of those, like social security and the FDIC, are still in place today. He then had land-slide reelections for a second term, during which he got the ball rolling for American intervention in WWII. At the Democratic National Convention, he pulled a dramatic stunt that got the delegates all riled up and ready to nominate him for an unprecedented third time. That term took the U.S. into and through most of WWII. Well, once he was in that far, why not a fourth time to just finish the war out? But Franklin Roosevelt died just a few months before the war was won, after already setting the stage for the post-war world and the United Nations. If that doesn’t get you on the list, then nothing can.
3 Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln is known for being the president who abolished slavery and kept the nation together during the Civil War. Personally, I think that’s enough to get him on the list. Although he wasn’t always as poor as legend makes him out to be, Lincoln was almost entirely self-educated, teaching himself law, politics and eventually getting a patent on an invention, making him the only president to hold one. He was always opposed to slavery, if not an outright abolitionist and even though it got him into trouble at the time, that opposition and the willingness to fight for it is what he is remembered for. It almost tore the country apart but Lincoln refused to let it, and didn’t just use charismatic leadership and wonderful oratory skills either. He had no problem pitting his political rivals against each other, firing generals who couldn’t get the job done and generally following the motto “make no contracts that bind me.” It may not seem nice but it sure got the job done.
2 Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt may have been a little less modest than Washington about his cowboy style awesomeness but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. Before being president he ranched in the Dakota Territory, formed the Rough Riders volunteer cavalry brigade and led the city police in NYC, all in between steps in his political career. Roosevelt’s motto was “Speak softly and carry a big stick” but he wasn’t afraid to mar that reputation by being what might be known today as a tree-hugger. He pioneered the conservationist movement, regulated big-business, established the national parks system and won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. After his presidency he toured Europe, went on Safari in Africa and led an expedition in the Amazon. If you’re looking for a guy who deserved to have his face carved in rock, look no further.
1 George Washington
I know it may look like we just flipped open a text book and wrote down the first thing there but the truth is that George Washington needs to be first because he was first. He set the standard by which all other presidents would be measured. He was the one who set up precedents that would last to this very day, such as having a cabinet, the inaugural address, the title “Mr. President” and the limit to two terms in office (with one exception). You’ve got to be pretty confident in your manhood to refuse to continue being the most powerful man in the country, especially in a world where dynastic monarchies are standard. And in case that doesn’t make him enough of a tough guy, as president he personally led militias into the field to put down a rebellion besides the whole leading the armies of the American Revolution thing. Even after his death he was being promoted, since Congress passed a law in 1976 posthumously appointing him the rank of General of the Armies of the United States, just so that he could remain officially the highest ranked military office in American History.