By Marc Alexander


Brace yourself. It’s an election year, and the inundation of glib debates and campaign attack ads will soon be upon us.  In no time at all, the world will soon learn every miniscule minute minutia about President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney. Over the next few months, everything from their choice of suit to their choice of toothpaste will be analyzed, dissected, and interpreted in an effort to convince voters which one will do a better job than the other in residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Since the proliferation of television in the 1940’s, the performances of US presidents’ have been served up, through the media, for mass consumption. Every policy that has ever been pushed and every executive decision that has ever been decided has been fed to the people and they have, usually, been quick to form and voice their opinions.

It’s no wonder, then, that many opinions abound regarding which Commander-in-Chief was the Greatest President of All Time. Despite party lines that have been cut deeply into the sand, there tends to be a prevailing consensus regarding good presidents. One only needs to read the names of various city streets, schools, and recreation centers to determine which presidents our history recognizes as the most masterful leaders of these United States.

The regal Mount Rushmore-the United States’ version of Egyptian pyramids – pays homage etched in stone to the pantheon of American Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. Sentimental favorites like John F. Kennedy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and, more recently, Bill Clinton, round out the list of America’s most popular and seemingly most effective heads of state.

But what about the presidents who, for whatever reasons, never got their props? Who was the greatest president to lead this country, yet never blew up?

There are several candidates whose credentials warrant recognition as The Greatest Unsung President of All Time. Not surprisingly, most of them hail from the time before the media took over American life.  You know, the good ol’ days – when nobody had electricity and it took days to find out who even won a presidential election?

James Monroe – the fourth US President – was the last of America’s founding fathers to get elected. Through his famous Monroe Doctrine he put European leaders on notice that America was no longer down with their meddling.  His charm and good looks made him extremely popular among his constituents. Monroe was a two-term president and holds the distinction, along with George Washington, of being one of the only two presidential candidates in history to run unopposed.


James Polk – the eleventh president – is also a man who accomplished much, yet received little historical fanfare. Polk took office pledging to only serve one term, and he definitely made his four years count. During his tenure, Polk led the country guided the country through the acquisition of the states of Oregon and Texas; and he also led us to victory in the Mexican-American War. A famously great orator, Polk was nicknamed “Napoleon of the Stump” for his speaking acumen. Polk adroitly walked the tight rope that slavery had become in that period of American history by pushing for continued expansion of the country.  The Smithsonian Institute, US Naval Academy, and the Washington Monument all opened during Polk’s four years in office. Polk also created the Department of the Interior and rolled out America’s use of the first postage stamp.

While Monroe’s and Polk’s accomplishments do seem to warrant a lot more notoriety in history than they get, they are both runners-up to my G.O.A.T. unsung president:


Thomas Woodrow Wilson.

The twenty-eighth president, Woodrow Wilson was known as a man of high intelligence and high morals. A devout Presbyterian, Wilson espoused a philosophy known as “Internationalism” which pushed America to become the leading voice for democracy in the world. As president, he led America into World War I and raised millions of dollars by instituting the draft and selling government war bonds. Where Polk and Monroe dealt with conflicts between America and one other country, Wilson guided America through World War I and ultimately negotiated the armistice with Germany.

In keeping with his “Internationalism” theme, after the war, Wilson created the League of Nations and helped shape the Treaty of Versailles.  During Wilson’s eight years in office the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission were created, and the Child Labor Act was passed. In light of his global diplomatic efforts and groundbreaking foreign policy, Wilson was awarded the Noble Peace Prize while still in office – becoming the first sitting president to receive the award.

Woodrow Wilson was not only impactful in foreign affairs, but, as a champion of the women’s suffrage movement, he was equally deft at managing domestic affairs.  During his time, the world recognized him as a masterful statesman. And because history books do not tout him as much as others who accomplished far less, Woodrow Wilson is my selection as Greatest Unsung President of All Time.


Agree? Disagree?  Make your argument. Go ahead…I dare you.



Marc Alexander is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer and purveyor of urban culture.

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