History of the Presidency was one of the most fascinating classes I took at Ohio University some 30-odd years ago.
I can't remember the professor's name who taught it. I should, he was very good. It was the only class I had with him, but what made it intriguing was his utter disregard for political slant. That was unusual in the mid-to-late 1980s. It's all but extinct today.
The same professor argued the merits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal policies in the 1930s, and the high-stakes poker Ronald Reagan was playing with the Soviet Union in 1980s foreign policy that eventually led to the crumbling of the Iron Curtain -- current events at that time.
I can't imagine meeting an individual in higher education who could approach this topic from such a neutral standpoint amid today's polarizing climate.
Among this professor's most memorable theories was timing of death. He argued history is framed dramatically in favor of those who died at the peak of their popularity. In U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy are perfect examples.
Both men are remembered in a positive light today, but their successors (Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Baines Johnson) were vilified for following through on Lincoln and Kennedy's policies. Would history view Lincoln or Kennedy the same had they lived another four years?
Russian ruler Joseph Stalin was another off-topic, but interesting figure bolstering this point. Had Stalin died in the summer of 1945, as the Red Army crushed Hitler on the Eastern Front, he might today be considered a world hero. Instead, the professor argued, Stalin lived another eight years and his brutal reign led to the extermination of millions of people throughout Europe.
We also touched, albeit briefly, on Ohio's history in the presidency. The Buckeye state is tied with Virginia for producing the most presidents -- although there is controversy when it comes to William Henry Harrison, born in Virginia, but elected as a resident of North Bend, Ohio.
There is little doubt Virginia's list is far more distinguished than ours. Which presidential starting lineup would you rather put at the diplomatic table?
Virginia boasts George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson.
Ohio products include: William Henry Harrison, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft and Warren Harding.
Harding, from Marion, was Ohio's most recent president. He continued a tragic tradition of dying while in office, like half of all Buckeyes who reached the White House, joining William Henry Harrison, Garfield and McKinley. The latter two were assassinated.
William Henry Harrison, Hayes, Garfield and obviously Grant were all military generals. Hayes, Garfield, Grant and McKinley, who reached the rank of major, were all Civil War veterans. Grant was the unquestioned hero of all Union military leaders. His influence seemed to set a trend, too.
Ohio absolutely dominated the presidential landscape in the post-Civil War era. From 1869 to 1923, seven presidents from Ohio served 26 1/2 years in the Oval Office. Oddly, none of these men really distinguished themselves in the job. Only Grant was re-elected, and his administration was racked with scandal.
So that's the background.
Over the next eight weeks we're going to take a snapshot look at each of Ohio's sons who was voted into the highest office in the land.