5 Most Influential People In American History

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Essay Research Paper

The United Sates has had a short yet complex history in its two hundred and twenty-four years.

She has produced millions and millions of great individuals. These great minds have shaped what America

is today. Others however have personally molded this magnificent nation with their own acts. John

Adams Thomas Jefferson John Marshall Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson are the most influential

builders of the United States of America.

John Adams was born loyal to the English Crown but evolved into the second President of the

Free World. As a lawyer Adams emerged into politics as an opponent of the Stamp Act and was a leader

in the Revolutionary group opposing the British measures that were to lead to the American Revolution.

Sent to the First Continental Congress he distinguished himself and in the Second Continental Congress

he was a moderate but forceful revolutionary. He proposed George Washington as commander in chief of

the Continental troops to bind Virginia more tightly to the cause for independence. He favored the

Declaration of Independence was a member of the drafting committee and argued eloquently for it.

Adams was one of the negotiators who drew up the momentous Treaty of Paris to end the American

Revolution. Adams’ diplomatic skills brought him much political fame.

Thomas Jefferson although never effective as a public speaker won a reputation as a draftsman of

resolutions and addresses. In the colonial House of Burgesses Jefferson was a leader of the patriot faction.

He helped form and became a member of the Virginia Committee of Correspondence. In his paper “A

Summary View of the Rights of British America” prepared for the First Virginia Convention he brilliantly

expounded the view that Parliament had no authority in the colonies and that the only bond with England

was that of voluntary allegiance to the king. A delegate to the Second Continental Congress he served as a

member of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. That historic document except for

minor alterations by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and others made on the floor of Congress was

wholly the work of Jefferson. In 1783 he was again in the Continental Congress where he drafted a plan

for a decimal system of coinage based on the dollar and drew up a proposed ordinance for the government

of the Northwest Territory which although not then adopted was the basis for the very important

Ordinance of 1787. Though absent when the Constitution was drafted and adopted Jefferson gave his

support to a stronger central government and to the Constitution particularly with the addition of the Bill of

Rights. Jefferson was the first President inaugurated in Washington a city he had helped to plan. He

believed that the Federal government should be concerned mostly with foreign affairs leaving the states

and local governments free to administer local matters. Despite his contention that the Constitution must

be interpreted strictly he pushed through the Louisiana Purchase even though such an action was nowhere

expressly authorized. His eager interest in the West and in exploration had already led him to plan and

organize the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jefferson led a slanderous yet substantial life.

John Marshall’s brilliant skill in argument made him one of the most esteemed of the many great

lawyers of Virginia. A defender of the new U.S. Constitution at the Virginia ratifying convention Marshall

later staunchly supported the Federalist administration. He accepted appointment as one of the

commissioners to France in the diplomatic dispute that ended in the XYZ Affair. Marshall’s effectiveness

there made him a popular figure. In his long service on the bench Marshall raised the Supreme Court from

an anomalous position in the Federal scheme to power and majesty and he molded the Constitution by the

breadth and wisdom of his interpretation; he eminently deserves the appellation the Great Chief Justice. He

dominated the court equally by his personality and his ability and his achievements were made in spite of

strong disagreements with Jefferson and later Presidents. He made incontrovertible the previously

uncertain right of the Supreme Court to review Federal and state laws and to pronounce final judgment on

their constitutionality. He viewed the Constitution on the one hand as a precise document setting forth

specific powers and on the other hand as a living instrument that should be broadly interpreted so as to give

the Federal government the means to act effectively within its limited sphere. His opinion in the

Dartmouth College Case was the most famous of those that dealt with the constitutional requirement of the

inviolability of contract another favorite theme with Marshall. His interpretation of the interstate

commerce clause of the Constitution most notably in Gibbons v. Ogden made it a powerful extension of

Federal power at the expense of the states. The sometimes undignified quarrel with Jefferson reached a

high point in the trial of Aaron Burr for treason. Marshall presided as circuit judge and interpreted the

clause in the Constitution requiring proof of an “overt act” for conviction of treason so that Burr escaped

conviction because he had engaged only in a conspiracy. Marshall’s difficulties with President Jackson

reached their peak when Marshall declared against Georgia in the matter of expelling the Cherokee a

decision that the state flouted. Marshall in his manners combined the unceremonious heartiness of the

frontier with the leisurely grace of the Virginia aristocracy. So great was his winning charm and so absolute

his integrity that he gained the admiration of his enemies and the unbounded affection of his friends.

The great orator Henry Clay played a major role in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1810

Clay was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served as speaker. As spokesman of Western

expansionist interests and leader of the “war hawks ” Clay stirred up enthusiasm for war with Great Britain

and helped bring on the War of 1812. He resigned from Congress to aid in the peace negotiations leading to

the Treaty of Ghent. He again served in the House again was speaker and began to formulate his

“American system ” a national program that ultimately included federal aid for internal improvements and

tariff protection of American industries. In 1821 Clay to pacify sectional interests pushed the Missouri

Compromise through the House. In the House for the last time he once more became speaker and he did

much to augment the powers of that office. In this session he secured the western extension of the National

Road and against much opposition eloquently carried through the Tariff of 1824. As Secretary of State

he secured congressional approval—which came too late for the American delegates to attend—of U.S.

participation in the Pan American Congress of 1826. Working even at the cost of his own protectionist

views toward a compromise with the John C. Calhoun faction he helped to promote the Compromise

Tariff of 1833. He reentered the Senate when the country faced the slavery question in the territory newly

acquired following the Mexican War. Clay denounced the extremists in both North and South asserted the

superior claims of the Union and was chiefly instrumental in shaping the Compromise of 1850. It was the

third time that he saved the Union in a crisis and thus he has been called the Great Pacificator and the

Great Compromiser.

Andrew Jackson had appeal for the farmer for the artisan and for the small-business owner; he

was viewed with suspicion and fear by people of established position who considered him a dangerous

upstart. By the time of the election of 1828 Jackson’s cause was more assured. The result was a sweeping

victory; Jackson polled four times the popular vote that he had received in 1824. His inauguration brought

the “rabble” into the White House much to the distaste of the established families. There was a strong

element of personalism in the rule of the hotheaded Jackson and the Kitchen Cabinet—a small group of

favorite advisers—was powerful. Jackson stood firmly for the Union and had the Force Bill of 1833 passed

to coerce South Carolina into accepting the Federal tariff but a compromise tariff was rushed through and

the affair ended. Jackson on the other hand took the part of Georgia in its insistence on states’ rights and

the privilege of ousting the Cherokee Nation; he refused to aid in enforcing the Supreme Court’s decision

against Georgia and the tribe was illegally removed. Jackson’s long fight against the Bank of the United

States put him down in history. Although its charter did not expire until 1836 Henry Clay succeeded in

having a bill to re-charter it passed in 1832. Jackson vetoed the measure and the powerful interests of the

bank were joined with the other opponents of Jackson in a bitter struggle with the anti-bank Jacksonians.

Jackson promptly removed the funds from the bank and put them in chosen state banks (the “pet banks”).

He was despised as a high-handed and capricious dictator by his enemies and revered as a forceful

democratic leader by his followers. Although he was known as a frontiersman Jackson was personally

dignified courteous and gentlemanly—with a devotion to the “American working-man” that led him into


Our history is growing larger every day producing many more great people. These people will

continue to shape our country into a superior nation.