Right Angles column: Extraordinary presidents leveraged trust to make America great
The United States has been blessed with extraordinary presidents like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. They capitalized on character and competence to become trusted leaders of the American people.
In the bestselling book, “The Speed of Trust,” Steven M. R. Covey explains that leadership trust requires four “cores of credibility.” Our greatest American leaders exemplified the “cores” of integrity, intent, capabilities and results to make America great.
George Washington possessed unwavering integrity. During the Revolutionary War, he was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. When victory was finally attained, many lacked confidence in the Continental Congress and urged Washington to assume control of the new nation. Washington was unwilling to abandon the principles for which he fought; that all men are created equal and governments exist to secure their God-given rights.
On December 23, 1783, General Washington stood before the Continental Congress and declared, “I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.”
The United States elected Washington as the first president in 1789. He was re-elected in 1792. Washington refused to run for a third term, establishing the two-term limit and the basis of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, was a man of clear honesty and intent. Lincoln believed slavery was evil and incompatible with the Declaration of Independence. But he was committed to the framework of limited government set forth in the Constitution. As president, Lincoln did not have the power to simply abolish slavery. So Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a precursor of the 13th Amendment, and started the process of freeing slaves in America.
While the Civil War still raged, Lincoln planned a reconstruction to reunite America rather than alienate the South. In 1863, Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction to announce his intention. When Robert E. Lee finally surrendered the Confederate Army, Lincoln instructed his generals to, “Let ’em up easy.” Ultimately, Lincoln’s honest and principled approach helped to preserve the Union.
Theodore Roosevelt, a man of incredible capabilities, was a voracious reader, prolific writer, consummate academic and rugged outdoorsman. During the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt led the charge of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry up Kettle Hill in Cuba. By the age of 42, Teddy Roosevelt had served as governor of New York, secretary of the Navy, and vice president of the United States. After the assassination of President McKinley in 1901, he became the 26th president.
Roosevelt’s love of the outdoors inspired him to establish the Forest Service and designate five national parks and 150 national forests. He also worked to make the U.S. a global power. During Roosevelt’s tenure, the U.S. Navy grew into the third largest naval force in the world. That strength benefited American military and commercial interests. For instance, Roosevelt sent warships to help Panama gain independence from Colombia. That positioned the U.S. to construct the Panama Canal.
Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, was known for producing results. When he first took office in 1980, the U.S. was mired in high inflation and unemployment. His new economic policy of “Reaganomics” was based on reduced government spending, lower taxes, less government regulation, and a smaller money supply to reduce inflation. Unemployment was reduced from 7.1 percent to 5.5 percent and inflation fell from 13.5 percent to 4.1 percent. Meanwhile, a record 18.7 million new jobs were created.
The Cold War dominated foreign policy when Reagan took office. The USSR was spreading communism in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Reagan adopted an approach of “peace through strength” and initiated a massive build-up of U.S. armed forces. Simultaneously, the U.S. provided open support to opposition forces in Soviet-backed communist regimes. In November 1989, 10 months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall was torn down. On Dec. 26, 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed.
In “The Speed of Trust,” Covey uses a tree as a metaphor to describe the cores of credibility. With that in mind, the integrity of George Washington is the roots from which our republic has grown. Abraham Lincoln’s unequivocal intent became the robust trunk that supports the vast potential of a nation united in liberty. Theodore Roosevelt’s capabilities helped America branch into the realm of global influence. The results attained by Ronald Reagan are the fruits of domestic prosperity and increased freedom abroad. Our greatest presidents leveraged trust to produce a towering tree of liberty and prosperity.
James D. Kellogg is an engineering consultant, author, and business system advocate. He is the founder of RadicalActionForLife.com and the author of “Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller.” Look for the novel on amazon.com and visit JamesDKellogg.com or email email@example.com