Ten of the most influential figures in American History (Part 1)
Every month or so I generally write a blog approaching some sort of issue relevant to society today, although this week I decided to try something entirely different . Often times I try more modern topics of discussion, but this week I decided to try a more fun, less controversial idea to talk about. Just in case you couldn’t notice by the blog title, I’ll go ahead and go over some of the most respected and influential individuals in American History, ultimately choosing ten that particularly stood out to me (In varying areas, of course). Now don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that this is a pretty daunting task.
Looking back from 1776 to the present, America has had its share of characters both good and bad ranging from Jimmy Hoffa to Thomas Jefferson to Babe Ruth (Talk about a random example). Point is, choosing the ten most influential and respected figures in American History is a nearly impossible task with the amount gifted public characters out there ranging in fields from Civil Rights to Astronomy. In addition, if every thinking person out there we’re to compile a note of their ten biggest American Heroes I find it unlikely a single list would match another. So through this particular piece my goal is to simply name those who came to mind for me (In no particular order), while I’m sure I will leave out what may be obvious picks for others.
Martin Luther King
I feel like MLK would be a “shoo in” on most lists and a pretty obvious choice. I feel like I don’t really need to list the reasons why this is, but just in case you were raised under a rock, in a tree, or in some random Communist country I’ll go ahead and elaborate. To put it bluntly, MLK was the freaking man. Perhaps one of the neatest and most overlooked things about MLK was not just that he championed for the rights of minorities, but he also called for a unity between races, making him not just a victor for those of color but for the human race as a whole.
In addition, MLK was not seen in such a positive light during much of his lifetime, at least not as much as he is today. MLK spent much of his time speaking for equality in the deep south in places such as Alabama and Georgia, where race was among the most controversial of issues and states were violently divided by ideas of what was just and unjust, ultimately creating an extremely hostile environment for those such as King who called for a mutual respect among enemies. Although King was tragically assassinated in 1968 for his brave ideals, his message of tolerance and equality expanded across the Country changing our Nation forever.
“An Individual cannot start living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s pretty damn difficult to compile a list of the ten most influential people in American History without including the man who started it all, George Washington. Washington, who served as a General in the Revolutionary War in the early to mid 1770’s (Just after the birth of Barbara Walters) was also of course, our Nation’s first President. Washington was one of the early Colonial Americans who had an extremely strong influence on our Nation’s early values, many of which are still present in our nation today.
Washington’s accomplishments we’re arguably among the most impressive among the founding fathers, varying from key victories in Boston and Yorktown as a General to his 8 year tenure as our Nation’s first Commander and Chief, leaving him with one of the greatest legacies in White House history. Since I’m trying to encourage as much diversity in time range as possible during this list, it’s critical the best of each era is represented. Many scholars will agree that if one Founding Father had the most influence on our Nation 236 years later, it’s this guy.
“The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and alter their constitutions of government.”
As a Political Science major, one of the most often questions you’ll hear both on the street and In the Lecture Hall is “Who is your favorite President?” Although I’m usually being a space cadet and not paying attention to these conversations, the answer is quite often Abraham Lincoln. In all honesty, where do you even start with Lincoln? The man was not just strong in his character, but in his leadership abilities. Often times today you hear idiotic pundits and television personalities (#Glen Beck) rambling about the “end of America” and how our Nation is certainly doomed. Now, any of us who have any basic understanding of American History realize the false ideas behind these claims when we look to our past and see when our Nation truly faced its possible demise. Lincoln certainly faced one of those desperate times without any doubt.
In the 236 year history of the United States, few times (if any) did our Nation come as close to its end as it did during the Civil War. The Nation was so incredibly divided on several issues (most notably Slavery, of course) that our Country of course had several “Southern” states crumble off forming the Confederacy. The Civil War lasted several years leaving our Nation’s economy and morale in ruins, but a nation free from slavery none the less. While Lincoln’s most notable accomplishment in office was this victory for the human race, his bold leadership did not end there. In the months before his unfortunate assassination he also helped rebuild a once powerful Nation back to stability following its current shambled state. In short, Lincoln saved the Union, freed the slaves, and rebuilt our Nations “second founding” all while wearing a badass Hat the entire time. Not a bad resume, not a bad resume at all.
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
Over the past several decades advances in modern technology have illuminated our Nation’s economy, trends, and culture. Perhaps one of the most respected pioneers of this movement is the late Steve Jobs, who served as the Co-Founder, CEO, and Chief Executive Officer of Apple. In addition to his accomplishments at Apple, Jobs also Co-Founded Pixar Animation while later serving as the Chief Executive Officer for the company. Jobs was extremely successful in his time at Apple producing millions of jobs, hundreds of revolutionary products, and establishing his place as one of the most well respected entrepreneurs in the world, leading commentators to refer to him as “The Father of the digital Revolution”.
Perhaps the most endearing quality of Jobs’ success is the rather interesting path he took in getting there. Despite his intellect, Jobs dropped out of school while attending Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In addition to his first speed bump, Jobs was fired by the company he founded in the 1980’s after other Apple executives decided he “wasn’t right for the company”. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that Jobs returned to Apple following his business success elsewhere, prompting the company to take back the man who started it all. In the years before his death Jobs consistently referred to his firing at Apple as one of the “greatest things to have ever happened to him”.
In his famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University Jobs stated "The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." And he added, "I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it." In short, Steve Jobs taught us it’s ok to take the path less taken by and that you can be damn successful doing it.
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matter to me.”
On this fine list of great Americans there presents a strong variety of professions ranging from Politicians to Civil Rights Leaders to Entrepreneurs. However, few of these individuals had quite the resume put forth by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was a renowned author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass 'armonica'. He also formed both the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania. To put it in simpler terms, homeboy was no joke.
Few Americans have had as great of an impact as Benjamin Franklin just because of how truly well rounded he was. While never serving as President, his ideas and theories regarding Government are still relevant centuries later. In addition to his various accomplishments Franklin also was a leading figure in the Abolitionist movement of the late 18th century. While the idea of freeing slaves was certainly unpopular at the time, Franklin’s innovative influence certainly came to give the topic more serious consideration. Franklin’s work in various fields should be a living proof of our capabilities when we truly put our minds to something. Today we live in a Nation where many people simply aspire to serve themselves and meet society’s expectations. The life and achievements of Benjamin Franklin should give us the incentive to never sell ourselves short , but to be something more.
“Gain may be temporary and uncertain; but ever while you live, expense is constant and certain: and it is easier to build two chimneys than to keep one in fuel.”
There you have it, 5 of the 10 most influential figures in American History. I’ll try to continue the 2nd portion of my 2 part segment within the next few weeks rounding out ten Americans who have shaped our Nation. Do you agree or disagree with the 1st half of the choices I have put forward? Is there anyone who you think should be a “shoo in” for part 2? Any ideas or input is always appreciated. Now I’m going to go watch some Pre-Season football and enjoy the rest of my evening, later skaters.