President Obama is going to restore Denali as the name of Alaska’s Mount McKinley, siding with the state of Alaska in ending a 40-year battle over the name of the peak. (Reuters)
Some presidents have their names placed on schools, or airports, or highways. William McKinley’s name graced a mountain—the tallest in North America, no less.
Not any more. On Monday, Barack Obama officially renamed Alaska’s Mount McKinley, returning the giant peak to the original name of Denali, or “great one,” given to it by the Athabascan people. McKinley, a former Ohio governor who was president at the end of the 19th century, was originally given the honor by a gold prospector who liked his support of the gold standard. The name stuck, though it has been a source of debate for years.
For starters, Ohio’s political leaders aren’t too happy about the name change. “There is a reason President McKinley’s name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement issued Sunday night.
But how monumental, really, is McKinley’s legacy? It seems a fitting moment to ask historians what kind of president the country’s 25th chief executive really was.
Check the rankings of American presidents by historians or political scientists, after all, and he comes out above average, even underrated, but hardly top tier. A composite of recent presidential rankings by stats wizard Nate Silver found that McKinley came in at 19th among the 43 men who have held the office.
“He tends to be stuck in the middle—not great but not terrible,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who did his own ranking last year. “The problem is this is where presidential legacies go to be forgotten,” he said. The ones whose tenures were lukewarm are taught less often in schools and chronicled by fewer historians. “He’s kind of victim to this sort of zone of forgotten presidents.”
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He also suffers from directly preceding Theodore Roosevelt in office, standing in the shadow of a man thought to have started the modern …Read More