Guest Post: Who Are The Greatest Americans?

by Valkygrrl

[Introduction: Ethics Alarms opined that the President’s proposed “Garden of American Heroes” was badly conceived, and his initial nominations for inclusion proved the point. Mercurial commenter Valkygrrl  took the initiative to devise a process for Ethics Alarms readers to compile a better list, and also to organize the results, which I found fascinating. Any further reactions will be confined to the comments.]

The Rules:

1: No presidents, always some controversy, we have other ways of honoring them.
2: Any person who held office must be chosen for something they did outside of said office, no honoring for using the mechanisms of the state no matter how beneficial to society.
3: No Confederates (obvious divisiveness.)
4: You may have only one living person on your list.
5: Your list must be made in good faith. You may not choose anyone you believe will upset or anger me; no “owning the libs”. Honest mistakes accepted.
6: Do not remove someone from your list because they were mentioned by someone else. I want to see if we can find some consensus. That means people Trump or Jack mentioned are allowed.

Here’s the list of nominees as submitted by participants (editorial descriptions mine);

Marian Anderson: Singer, Civil rights activist, Medal of Freedom recipient.

Neil Armstrong: Aviator, Astronaut, First human to set foot on Luna

Isaac Asimov: Teacher, Author of the Foundation series; Seven-time Hugo Award winner (Plus one Retro-Hugo awarded in 2016), Democratic party activist, serial sexual harasser

Irving Berlin: Composer of famous patriotic music

John Brown: Hero, undaunted, true and brave, And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save; Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave. Popular legend holds that his soul continues to march.

John Moses Browning: Industrialist, Firearms designer.

George Carlin: Humorist, Mentor to time-traveling Gen-Xers.

Andrew Carnegie: Industrialist, Philanthropist, Union buster.

Joshua L. Chamberlain: Union General, Medal of Honor recipient.

Meriwether Lewis  and  William Clark: Explorers, Naturalists. Two very different people presumably nominated for a single achievement alone. Clark was a bit of a bastard.

Samuel Colt: Firearms manufacturer, used assembly line principals before Henry Ford.

Clarence Darrow : Country lawyer, Civil libertarian, Attention whore, Cigar aficionado.

Walter Elias Disney: Artist, Writer, Movie Producer, Television host, Murderer of Bambi’s mother. Named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee

William J. Donovan: Medal of Honor recipient, Head of OSS, Part of Robert Jackson’s Nuremberg team.

Desmond Doss: Combat Medic, Medal of Honor recipient. Ethics Hero emeritus.

Frederick Douglass: (Nominated thrice): Former slave who escaped bondage, Publisher, Orator, Abolitionist, Advocate for women’s sufferage

Charles Drew: Doctor, Greatly improved use of and storage of blood products, Subject of school play when I was in 4th grade.

Wyatt Earp: Gunfighter, Lawman, Played by Kevin Costner

Thomas Edison: (nominated twice) Industrialist, Inventor, Elephant killer.

John Ford: Filmmaker, Filmed portions of D-day invasion, purple heart recipient, Academy Award winner.

Henry Ford: Industrialist, user of assembly lines, anti-semite, recipient of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, admired by Adolph Hitler.

Benjamin Franklin: (Nominated thrice) Author, Humorist, Postmaster, Signatory to the Declaration of Independence, Inventor of the stove.

Robert Fulton: Inventor

Ursula K. Le Guin: Author, political thinker, SFWA Grandmaster 2003

Virginia Hall: Spy, Cross between Emma Peel and Kira Nerys, Ethics hero emeritus.

Martin Luther King Jr.: Minister, Civil Rights activist, Posthumous Medal of Freedom recipient, Star Trek fan. Currently honored with a federal holiday.

Henry Knox: Son of Liberty, Major General Continental army, Secretary of War, Has a fort full of gold named after him.

Douglas MacArthur: Modern Major General, Field Marshal (Complete with baton,) Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, Medal of Honor recipient, oversized pipe aficionado.

Alfred Thayer Mahan: Naval Captain, Historian, Military strategist.

George Mason: Author of 1776 Virginia constitution, activist for the rights of man, second-largest slaver in Virginia during his lifetime.

Audie Murphy: Actor, Medal of Honor recipient.

Joshua Abraham Norton: Norton I, Emperor of the United States, Protector of Mexico. Unconstitutional Monarch.

Dolly Parton: Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Producer, Philanthropist, National Treasure.

Sylvia Plath: Teacher, Poet, Novelist, Patron saint of moody teen girls

Sally Ride: Astronaut, third woman in space, first American woman in space.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson: Hall of Fame baseball player, National League MVP 1949. Ethics Hero emeritus.

Fred McFeely Rogers: Presbyterian minister, Beloved children’s show host, awarded Medal of Freedom in 2002

Will Rogers: Humorist, Actor, Liker of men.

Deborah Sampson Gannett: Revolutionary war veteran, Lecturer, Mother of four.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Author, anti-slavery advocate.

Nikola Tesla (nominated twice):  Inventor of radio control, wireless power transmission, various AC power generators, VTOL aircraft, the Tesla coil. Tesla Motors is named in his honor.

Harriet Tubman: Former slave who escaped bondage, abolitionist, advocate for women’s suffrage, Union army scout, leader of the  Combahee River Raid. A real-life Sarah Conner.

Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright: Inventors of heavier than air powered aircraft.

Alvin York: Known colloquially as Sergeant York, Medal of Honor recipient, nuclear weapons proponent, inspiration for jokes about actors Dick York and Dick Sergeant.

Thanks to Jack, Steve-O, Andrew Nelson, and Phlinn for making nominations.

Jack has objected to the addition of people still living. Steve-O has declined to change his nomination to the full Apollo 11 crew. For both those reasons, Dolly Parton has been struck from the list.

We’re left with forty-three names that break down very roughly into four categories with some overlap.

Warriors (8)

US Military and/or Continental army. They wagered their lives in battle for the sake of the American people. Heroes in the traditional sense.

Joshua L. Chamberlain, William J. Donovan, Henry Knox, Douglas MacArthur, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Audie Murphy, Deborah Sampson, Alvin York

Artists and speakers (12). With their art and with their words they still inspire us. Our culture would be poorer had they not lived.

Marian Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Irving Berlin, George Carlin, Walt Disney, Frederick Douglass, John Ford, Ursula K. Le Guin, Sylvia Plath, Fred Rogers, Will Rogers, Harriet Beecher Stowe

Industrialists scientists and inventors (9) They changed discovered and built and in so doing they changed the world.

John Browning, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Colt, Charles Drew, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Robert Fulton, Nikola Tesla, Orville and Wilbur Wright

Icons and folk heroes (14). Their deeds have captured our collective imagination. Stories made flesh and flash made stories, it can be hard to remember they were human beings, flawed like the rest of us.

Neil Armstrong, John Brown, Lewis and Clark, Clarence Darrow, Desmond Doss, Wyatt Earp, Benjamin Franklin, Virginia Hall, Martin Luther King Jr, George Mason, Emperor Norton, Sally Ride, Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman

Great, but what about good? How are we to judge them? One framework has already been provided to us ; the Ethics Alarms post even mentions some of the above names. Some of these otherwise inspiring people were barbarous blackguards, bigots, bastards, barraters, and bores. Should we grant them honors here at Ethics Alarms? Who has fatal flaws? You decide!

The Rules, Part II.

1: If you like someone on the list say so, and if so inclined, rewrite the Twitter-style bio attached to their name. Have fun, be clever.

2: If you’re unsure of someone ask. Discuss. There’s no need to jump right in with derision. This is a group participation project.

3: If you’re sure that a name is unworthy then say so. You need not say why but it is preferred. Limit one. (two for, Jack, Steve-O, Andrew Nelson, and Phlinn, that’s the first round participation bonus.) Further objections may be counted if your level of participation in the discussion is high and your reasons are explained.

Jump on in!

104 thoughts on “Guest Post: Who Are The Greatest Americans?

  1. Sylvia Plath? SYLVIA PLATH? Famous for killing herself? Idolized by 1960s co-eds for being unhappy and killing herself? That Sylvia Plath? The whole Sylvia Plath phenomenon was ridiculous. Funny, but ridiculous. I could go on, but I won’t.

    Herman Melville. William Faulkner.

        • I remember girls walking around with “The Bell Jar” as if it was a bible. Of course, Virginia Woolf (a very elegant and accomplished novelist in her own right and certainly by comparison to Plath) was also adored because she was severely clinically depressed and committed suicide. Although I think most any woman would have been driven to suicide hanging around all those awful Bloomsbury guys.

    • I’m working on mine for Harriet Tubman who was the first person that came to my mind. (Was a rough weekend with the death of the family dog.) Give me a bit. I’ll try and be witty. 🙂

    • Elvis Presley; Singer/Songwriter (not really), beer and hotwing aficionado, inventor of the pelvic thrust uhuhuh.

      Jackie Robinson; First Black MLB Player, and just like Mary Poppins, perfect in every way.

      Bill Gates; Inventor/Philosopher, Nerdy before Nerding was cool. All my Windows are ’98, don’t @ me bro.

      Al Capone; Husband, Father, Entrepreneur, Alcohol aficionado. Pro Small Government! Defund the Police!

      Richard Dawkins; Athiest Philosopher and Ethicist. I have no idea where I am now.

      Albert Einstein; Genius. Inventor. Physicist. Kiss Fan. I’d tell you more, but it’s all relative.

      Andrew Carnegie; Used to have a little now I have a lot, but I’m still Andy from Dunfermline. Have you seen my hall?

      Howard Hughes, Film Director, Investor, Engineer, Pilot. Kind of like Tony Stark, but without the suit, and with a little Mysophobia. You tell me I can’t fly? Plane go brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    • @Harriet Tubman: Hood girl stickin’ it to “the man”. A chick’s chick with the 411 and the posse to get it done.

  2. I asked my wife about this list. She mentioned many that were already on here, but one she said was Dan Crenshaw. Not because he is a politician but because of his has given every part of himself to the country in mind, service, and body.

  3. Second the following:

    Neil Armstrong, Isaac Asimov, Irving Berlin, J.M. Browning, Andrew Carnagie, Lewis & Clark, Samuel Colt, Clarence Darrow, Walt Disney, Fredrick Douglass, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Ben Franklin, Usula K. Le Guin, Virginia Hall, MLK, McArthur, George Mason, Audie Murphy, Sally Ride, Fred Rogers, Will Rogers, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nikola Tesla, Harriet Tubman, the Wright Brothers, Alvin York

    Jonas Salk — Doctor, virologist savior of the nation from the last great pandemic, needed very badly now.

    The Unknown Soldier — Unknown, but his deeds are legend, his patriotism peerless.

    Daniel Boone — Frontiersman, politician, sub-par businessman. The original Kentuckian. Played by Fess Parker in a popular TV series.

    Paul Revere — Industrialist, patriot, given to late-night horse rides, America’s first and most valuable early warning system.

    J. Robert Oppenheimer — Professor, physicist, helped save the world from totalitarianism, father of the big boom.

    Hyman G. Rickover — Father of the nuclear-powered naval ship, bane of all ensigns with nuclear officer designs, miserable asshole in general.

    Fred Astaire — Dancer, actor, bringer of smiles to millions.

    Frank Sinatra — Crooner, Rat-Packer, drinker, actor, alleged La Cosa Nostra.

    Richard Pryor — Ground-breaking African-American comedian, actor, writer. Loved everyone and treated everybody like shit and loved to say profane words like “shit.”

    Samuel Langhorne Clemens (“Mark Tawin”) — Writer, humorist, abolitionist, perceptive observer of humanity and social gadfly.

    Michael Jackson — Musician, cultural figure, “King of Pop,” drug abuser and suspected pedophile. Jackson’s “Thriller” was the best-selling musical album of all time.

  4. A few words about my list.

    * I have deliberately left off performers and sports figures. There have been many great Americans among them, but this country prioritizes the fame of these types of celebrities a bit too much for my taste, so I decided to go with historical figures outside of those fields.
    * I chose no one living. I don’t like to read biographies of living people because their stories aren’t over yet and it takes time to assess the impact a person has had on the country.
    * I also chose a couple of personal favorites because it’s my list.
    * Fair Warning. I don’t do Twitter. I did try. Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough.

    Benjamin Franklin: Diplomat, statesman, inventor, writer. The First American (per author H.W. Brands). One of a handful of men without whom the United States would not exist.

    Robert Fulton: Inventor. Made navigating rivers like the Mississippi possible. Opened up trade.

    John C. Fremont: Pathfinder, general, radical abolitionist, 1st Republican Presidential candidate. Narrowly missed being killed as an infant by a bullet fired during a duel between Thomas Hart Benton (his future father-in-law) and Andrew Jackson. (Stories like this are why I love history)

    Julia Sand: The conscience of a President. Proof that ordinary people can influence powerful people.

    Ida Tarbell: Investigative journalist. Muckracker. Brought down Standard Oil.

    Sam Houston: Found redemption in the west; gave his all for Texas; its ingratitude broke his heart

    Alexander Graham Bell: American ingenuity at its best. Facilitated better communication because of his passion for working with the deaf.

    Frederick Douglass: Self-made man. Abolitionist. Orator. Writer. Achieved the American Dream.

    John J. Pershing: General of the Armies- the only one to receive the honor while living; career spanned from the frontier. lead black troops. mentoring the generals of the Greatest Generation.

    Neil Armstrong: One small step. One Giant Leap. No ordinary hero. Didn’t think of himself as one.

    Runners up:

    J. Edgar Hoover: Top G-Man. Revolutionized law enforcement. Kept America Safe by Justifying the Means.

    Upton Sinclair: Aimed for the heart of Americans; hit their stomachs instead.

  5. I already officially downvoted George Carlin, but for the record I don’t think Richard Dawkins belongs on any such list either.

    As a pop-culture figure he’s well known in some circles (but still less so than other U.S. scientists) but his official output as a scientist doesn’t amount to much.

    He is towered over by someone like Francis Collins in terms of real achievement.
    Collins: Director of the Human Genome Project. Mapped our genes. Director of National Institutes of Health. Family man and all around good guy. Finds time to play guitar in a scientist rock band.

    And although he’s often played down as “the peanut guy,” George Washington Carver was legitimately one of America’s greatest scientific minds. I’d put him over Dawkins.

  6. Here’s a readymade entry in case anyone would like to nominate Barack Obama:

    The first Black President. Won a Nobel Peace Prize for being the first Black President. Definitely the Blackest, the most first, and most Presidential of all first Black Presidents.

    Also there need to be some indigenous peoples on this list. I still say put Geronimo in there.

  7. Hmm…. I’m debating about whether to use one of my vetos on John Brown. His cause was good, but he’s most known for starting a rebellion against the United States. He was the first person the United States hung for treason. Though that does seem to be more moral luck than actual intention to rebel. If he had waited a year, he would have been a Union militia leader, fighting against those darn Johnny Reb. It’s a close call. Regardless, if anyone is passing through Topeka, the Tragic Prelude mural in the State Capitol building is definitely a must see.

    I saw Norman Borlaug a couple times in the comments, and I think he should be added. ‘A plant geneticist who told Malthus where to stick it, this man helped kickstart the Green Revolution and secured food supplies for many countries, including India, Mexico, and Pakistan.’

    Seeing Samuel Colt brought me to thinking about whether to put him instead of my suggestion of John Moses Browning. Browning is one of the most prolific firearms designers of all time. His firearms helped tame the West, contributed to our victory in two world wars, brought a small, reliable, semi auto handgun that anybody could easily use to defend themselves, and made the .45 ACP one of the most popular handgun cartridges in the world. But Samuel Colt brought the assembly line and standardized parts to manufacturing, greatly increasing the speed of production, the reliability of products, and the ease of repair of nearly anything. Browning contributed more to the firearms industry than Colt, but Colt contributed more to manufacturing, and the industrial revolution, than Browning.

    I would like to second Admiral Rickover. His strict adherence to safety, reliable operation, and highly trained sailors is the major contribution to Naval Nuclear Power’s 60ish years of continuous operation without a nuclear accident. He also greatly contributed to the civilian nuclear power plant industry. He’s probably the main reason that we’ve only had the TMI incident as our only major nuclear accident. And that one didn’t contribute to heightened rates of cancer, birth defects, and other genetic diseases. It was bad, but nobody died, and nobody got exposed to large doses of radiation.

    I’d like to also keep Captain (later Admiral) Mahan. His major contribution, like Admiral Rickover’s, wasn’t in the field of battle, but in design. His book, ‘The Influence of Sea Power on History’, revolutionized the thinking of every major seafaring nation in the 20th century, and influenced a slew of policy changes, including permanent overseas bases, the Panama Canal, and ships that could spend long periods of time at sea (look at the Great White Fleet). Without Mahan, America may not have become the premiere naval power of the world by the early 1950s.

  8. I think most of the nominees cannot honestly be considered in the top ten by any stretch of logic.

    Marian Anderson: Singer, Civil rights activist, Medal of Freedom recipient. Why her rather than Ella Fitzgerald? Paul Robeson? Louis Armstrong? Leontyne Price?

    Neil Armstrong: Aviator, Astronaut, First human to set foot on Luna. Pure moral luck that Armstron was the first man on the Moon. And he botched his big quote. If you have to pick one astronaut, it has to be Alan Shepard or John Glenn, no?

    Isaac Asimov: Teacher, Author of the Foundation series; Seven-time Hugo Award winner (Plus one Retro-Hugo awarded in 2016), Democratic party activist, serial sexual harasser Again, why him more than Heinlein, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison,, Poe, Rod Serling, George Lucas,, ad infinitum?

    Irving Berlin: Composer of famous patriotic music. A bad joke by valky, and I have to point out—only one patriotic song, the top selling song of all time, the most popular Christmas song of all time, and arguably the most influential American song writer and the most prolific ever. He’s not my favorite, but he can’t be denied.

    John Brown: Hero, undaunted, true and brave, And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save; Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave. Popular legend holds that his soul continues to march. VETO. A terrorist, murderer and wack-job. And his plan was insane. He would have loved Manson.

    John Moses Browning: Industrialist, Firearms designer. Another one who is fungible with many others.

    George Carlin: Humorist, Mentor to time-traveling Gen-Xers. An eccentric choice at best. Ambrose Bierce was similarly cynical. Twain was more profound. Robert Benchley was more versatile. Bob Hope was more influential. Danny Kaye (who was Carlin’s idol) was a philanthropist.

    Andrew Carnegie: Industrialist, Philanthropist, Union buster. Ford? Rockefeller ? All the robber baron philanthropists are interchangeable.

    Joshua L. Chamberlain: Union General, Medal of Honor recipient. Can’t say anything negative about JC, who did as much as a lifetime resident of Maine could do.

    Meriwether Lewis and William Clark: Explorers, Naturalists. Two very different people presumably nominated for a single achievement alone. Clark was a bit of a bastard. On my list, so I’m biased.

    Samuel Colt: Firearms manufacturer, used assembly line principals before Henry Ford. See Browning, above.

    Clarence Darrow : Country lawyer, Civil libertarian, Attention whore, Cigar aficionado. My list.

    Walter Elias Disney: Artist, Writer, Movie Producer, Television host, Murderer of Bambi’s mother. Named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Also on my list. I don’t know any artist and entrepreneur who had more influence in more ways.

    William J. Donovan: Medal of Honor recipient, Head of OSS, Part of Robert Jackson’s Nuremberg team. I’m a fan, but he’s far away from the top ten.

    Desmond Doss: Combat Medic, Medal of Honor recipient. Ethics Hero emeritus. One amazing episode, but probably no lasting impact on the nation. Ding.

    Frederick Douglass: (Nominated thrice): Former slave who escaped bondage, Publisher, Orator, Abolitionist, Advocate for women’s sufferage. Less influential than King, Robinson, Rosa Parks, Syney Poitier, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, and arguably WEB duBose. Fad nomination,

    Charles Drew: Doctor, Greatly improved use of and storage of blood products, Subject of school play when I was in 4th grade. Affirmative Action choice.

    Wyatt Earp: Gunfighter, Lawman, Played by Kevin Costner VETO. Earp was a criminal and a vigilante killer, and outside of spawning a great 50’s TV show and some good movies, he had no real impact on our history. He wouldn’t make my top 1000. And Kurt Russell was better than Costner.

    Thomas Edison: (nominated twice) Industrialist, Inventor, Elephant killer. On my list.

    John Ford: Filmmaker, Filmed portions of D-day invasion, purple heart recipient, Academy Award winner. On my list. Not the greatest American director but the most influential, and he had a very strong influence on the culture and American attitudes about itself. And he gave us John Wayne.

    Henry Ford: Industrialist, user of assembly lines, anti-semite, recipient of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, admired by Adolph Hitler. Easy choice (also on my list.)

    Benjamin Franklin: (Nominated thrice) Author, Humorist, Postmaster, Signatory to the Declaration of Independence, Inventor of the stove. I don’t see how he wasn’t on every list. I really don’t.

    Robert Fulton: Inventor Again, one of many. Bell? Eli Whitney? Philo Farnsworth? My favorite inventor is Walter Hunt, and unlike Fulton, his most famous invention is still in use.

    Ursula K. Le Guin: Author, political thinker, SFWA Grandmaster 2003 Another deliberately eccentric choice.

    Virginia Hall: Spy, Cross between Emma Peel and Kira Nerys, Ethics hero emeritus. Love her, but Eleanor Roosevelt and Abigail Adams had far more impact.

    Martin Luther King Jr.: Minister, Civil Rights activist, Posthumous Medal of Freedom recipient, Star Trek fan. Currently honored with a federal holiday. Easy top ten.

    Henry Knox: Son of Liberty, Major General Continental army, Secretary of War, Has a fort full of gold named after him. Great man, too often neglected, but there are many similarly qualified. John Hancock? Sam Adams?

    Douglas MacArthur: Modern Major General, Field Marshal (Complete with baton,) Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, Medal of Honor recipient, oversized pipe aficionado.VETO. He was just a cut or two above General Walker.

    Alfred Thayer Mahan: Naval Captain, Historian, Military strategist.Creative choice! I’d say that Herman Kahn was as influential though.

    George Mason: Author of 1776 Virginia constitution, activist for the rights of man, second-largest slaver in Virginia during his lifetime.The slavery is irrelevant. He belongs on the list because without him, we probably have no Bill of Rights.

    Audie Murphy: Actor, Medal of Honor recipient. Another one where I take issue with Valky’s description. He was the most decorated soldier in WWII, and in US history. But he doesn’t belong in the top 100. And he was a terrible actor. If you want an actor/war hero, pick Jimmy Stewart.

    Joshua Abraham Norton: Norton I, Emperor of the United States, Protector of Mexico. Unconstitutional Monarch. VETO, But funny!

    Dolly Parton: Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Producer, Philanthropist, National Treasure. Bing Crosby was a philanthropist too, and had a much wider influence. As did Frank Sinatra,, Elvis, Nat King Cole, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Hank Williams, Connie Francis,….

    Sylvia Plath: Teacher, Poet, Novelist, Patron saint of moody teen girls. VETO. Come on.

    Sally Ride: Astronaut, third woman in space, first American woman in space. Again, no more or less qualified than any other astronaut,

    Jack Roosevelt Robinson: Hall of Fame baseball player, National League MVP 1949. Ethics Hero emeritus. My list.

    Fred McFeely Rogers: Presbyterian minister, Beloved children’s show host, awarded Medal of Freedom in 2002 Gee, why not Big Bird, Elmo, Barney, Bozo, and Captain Kangaroo?

    Will Rogers: Humorist, Actor, Liker of men. Largely forgotten, and obviously behind Mark Twain in the political humorist category.

    Deborah Sampson Gannett: Revolutionary war veteran, Lecturer, Mother of four. VETO. Chromosomes do not a hero make.

    Harriet Beecher Stowe: Author, anti-slavery advocate. Probably more influencial than any woman in US history.

    Nikola Tesla (nominated twice): Inventor of radio control, wireless power transmission, various AC power generators, VTOL aircraft, the Tesla coil. Tesla Motors is named in his honor. Fad choice. Edison lapped him many times.

    Harriet Tubman: Former slave who escaped bondage, abolitionist, advocate for women’s suffrage, Union army scout, leader of the Combahee River Raid. A real-life Sarah Conner. All true.

    Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright: Inventors of heavier than air powered aircraft.If you want inventors, they are hard to deny.

    Alvin York: Known colloquially as Sergeant York, Medal of Honor recipient, nuclear weapons proponent, inspiration for jokes about actors Dick York and Dick Sergeant. Increasingly, historians believe York’s miracle exploits were wildly hyped. Audie Murphy’s were not; neither were Jim Webb’s.

    • Have to take issue with you with regard to Douglas MacArthur. Military history guru Trevor Dupuy classed very few individuals in history as “great captains” which he reserved for the greatest military leaders of all. Only four Americans got that nod from him: Washington, Lee, Grant, and MacArthur. He had good things to say about Pershing (although just lumped in with the other WWI leaders), Eisenhower and Bradley (as outstanding army group commanders) and Patton (as a tactician), but no one else rose to the level of the consummate high commander. He was not only a battlefield virtuoso (you don’t rack up seven Silver Stars and three Distinguished Service Crosses by being a slouch, although he also got two Purple Hearts), but the driving force behind the Pacific Campaign, where the US had nowhere near as much help as it got in Europe, the Burma campaign aside. He had many talented commanders under him and a lot of help from a LOT of talented air and sea folks, but he was the one who pulled it all together. He also stopped Japan from falling into ruin after the war. After all that not too many officers could return for an encore, but he did, at Inchon.

      Unfortunately, after that is where he loses points, for overreaching to the point where President Truman felt the need to remove him, and do so not by showing him the door, but by kicking him out the fifth-story window. With respect, I think to describe him as only a cut or two above General Walton Walker (actually Lt. General Walker, full general was a posthumous promotion after his accidental death in an auto accident), who was certainly a hero in his own right, but not on the same level, is not really doing a veto full justice.

      • “Cut above” was too ambiguous. MacArthur was far, far above Walker as a military mind and leader. My meaning is that he was only a bit better than Walker as a potential danger to the democracy. Politically minded generals are a well-recognized peril going back to the Romans and before. Truman had to kick him out, and ranking him as a one of the greatest Americans is a little like calling Nixon a great President, or calling seeing “Our American Cousin” an entertaining evening.

  9. My only opposition is to John Brown. He was a psychopath, not a hero. He was an 18th century manifestation of “the mob.” At Pottawatamie, he and his sons hacked to death a group of men whose crime was that they were from Tennessee and presumed to be slave owners or at least pro-slavery.
    His crimes are deemed acceptable because he was “on the right side of history” so far as slavery is concerned. He hurt the cause of abolition by making them look wild-eyed crazy, and caused the states of the deep south to begin strengthening their militia systems against his call for slave insurrection. This likely hastened the war. More on Brown:
    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/19th-century-radical-chic-the-transcendentalists-love-affair-with-john-brown/

  10. I would love to see yet another thread naming those who have made the most meaningful, transformative, and everlasting contributions to American culture through music, fine art, literature, dance and theater; as this seems to be a culture war at heart.

    (I type this listening to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.)

      • Sondheim wouldn’t make my list. He’s brilliant, prolific, but essentially represents a dead end in musicals. Name a Sondheim-like musical that is any good not written by him?

        My list:

        Steven Spielberg
        George Romero
        Ed Sullivan
        Rodgers and Hammerstein
        Irving Berlin
        Walt Disney
        Charles M. Schultz
        Fred Astaire
        Bing Crosby
        Elvis
        Little Richard

  11. Berlin, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, love the idea of Schultz, would take Kelly over Astaire, Ella, and why is Sondheim a dead end? (Granted, I’ve been listening to the absolutely hymnal “Sunday” from “Sunday in the Park with George.”) I would also throw in Led Zeppelin to which every rock band ever going forward should pay homage.

    • Gene Kelly would have taken Fred over himself.

      Sondheim musicals are too difficult and too elaborate technically to be performed by amateurs or students, and that’s how shows survive. Plus he was never a tuneful composer. For every one Sondheim song a normal person can sing, Rodgers and Hammerstein have 25.

      • I will absolutely admit to personal bias when it comes to Kelly. Even though I trained classically, I understand a dancer who engages with the floor on a muscular level. Kelly used the floor. Astaire floated above it. It’s probably also why I prefer Baryshnikov over others.

        • If you watch Kelly a lot, and I have, you’re eventually struck by the repetition. He has a lot of signature moves, and they turn up constantly. All great, but still. Fred has no such repetitiousness—he excels in all forms and styles. Another edge is his amazing hands. He’s as good with his hands as with his feet–watch “Drum Crazy.” Kelly was a better actor than Fred, and a better comic, and he was decent in several films that didn’t require him to dance. But the fact is that Donald O’Connor aced him out in “Singing in the Rain”—watching it, you can’t say that Kelly is the best dancer on the screen. The only time you ever wondered if Fred was the best was in that amazing duet with Eleanor Powell, and that one was a tie.

  12. The conversation has wound down. I’ll give it 24 hours then close the voting and make a list of those who survived.

    My veto, by the way, is Henry Ford, Anti-semite, slaver in the 20’th century, war criminal, a contributor to the Nazi war-machine, recipient of the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, admired by Adolph Hitler. I’ll put up with a lot but not for cars, not for cars that someone else invented, that other people built, using assembly lines that also had a previous history.

    Cars for everyone and the American Dream… For certain Americans anyway.

    The Ford company contributions to the Allied war machine happened after his mental state had deteriorated to the point that other people were running the company, they cannot be counted in his favor.

    If he’d been the one to make a polio vaccine I’d have let it go but *shakes head* cars.

    I’ll live with an 18’th century slaver, I’ll live with firearms manufacturers, an unrepentant serial groper, a union buster, but Ford is the line.

      • Having a company that makes cars when cars have already been invented and other people are also making them doesn’t excuse bad behavior.

        Cars themselves are morally and ethically neutral.

        • But, Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile. No one said he did. He functionalized (is that a word) and standardized the assembly line to make automobiles more efficiently and less expensive. His personal beliefs may have been repellent but history can’t ignore his impact on the industrialized/modernized world.

          jvb

          • It’s a bit more than personal views, it’s actions including things I mentioned above like using French POWs as slave labor in his German factories before the US entered the war. I’m not willing to overlook that just because of impact.

            Charles Manson had impact too and no one put him on their list. I’ve argued with no one’s veto. I’ve gone no farther than to confirm that they are sure. Mine stands.

            • Charles Manson is not even in the same category. Manson was a raving lunatic and masterminded the execution of innocent people on some weird theory of igniting a race war where he comes out on top to rule the world.

              Henry Ford, though, is more complicated. I am appalled by his Nazi affiliations but his impact on the assembly line can not be overlooked. I, for one, am not offended that he is struck from the list because his actions in Western Europe before, during and after the war.

              jvb

              • I valkygrrl hereby acknowledge Henry Ford’s impact re: assembly lines, industry, and paying people enough to afford his products.

                We good?

                • We good. I would bet that almost all of the industrialists and business types of Ford’s era saw Nazi-ism in a naively positive light, because they were terrified of Communism, which, we now know, was worth being terrified about. This is why Hitler was shocked that the US would oppose him…he thought that ideologically, we were on the same side. I won’t blame those in other fields for being incompetent political scientists and historians.

  13. My own personal list would have to have room for Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, Jonathan Edwards, Norman Borlaug, Fredrick Douglass, Walt Disney, Lewis & Clark, Geronimo, Daniel Boone, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Clemens, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, and Jackie Robinson. That’s at least 18 people, and I can’t see leaving any of those off.

  14. I know I still need to write up a finale to this, there have been a couple of false starts during miserable weather and I have two library books to finish and return because other people are waiting.

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