Perhaps one would venture toward trailblazers such as Lewis and Clark or Neil Armstrong or civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Muhammed Ali, or Harriet Tubman.
Perhaps one could argue the greatest American isn't a person at all but a character such as Mickey Mouse or Uncle Sam, or to go off the board completely and say it was an invention like the telephone or Rock and Roll music.
Stranger yet, one could lay claim that our greatest American was an idea itself like liberty or the spirit of ingenuity. Inexplicably, determining America's greatest figure is like deciphering between fact and fiction. What is a lie and what is the true? This is essentially what our country has always tried to do, for how can "All Men Be Created Equal" if slavery yet exists?
This is why many would choose a president. Nobel leaders such as Washington or Lincoln, Roosevelt or Jackson, Kennedy or Obama. But America government has always been a power grab and our current administration is no different, appearing uninterested in the common good but only to bolster their own war chests. This is exactly why Thomas Jefferson stands out as a potential greatest American. Just look at his accomplishments:
1. He Wrote the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to America.
2. He made the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the country.
3. He launched the Lewis and Clark Expedition along with dozens others that mapped and charted the unknown territory west of the Mississippi.
4. He founded the Library of Congress with the donation of his personal library.
5. He advocated for Free Public Education
I posed this question to my daughters as we began our next American Literature/History unit: A New Nation. They agreed Jefferson was a fine choice, someone had to win after all. Yet they were confused how someone so seemingly honest and full of integrity, could have been a slave holder himself. This seemed to disqualify him in their eyes.
It's so difficult to judge a person historically. No one is perfect. Why then do we compare ourselves against one another's heroic deeds? Greatness lies not in the known facts of achievement or public success, but in the quiet unseen events of our life. Playing on the beach with my daughters, we laughed about this. Leaping in the sunlight. Jumping not to compare our height to one another...but just to feast in the the fact we are alive. There's greatness in that. It's called ... joy!