The Atlantic Unveils 100 Most Influential Americans List

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Beginning today, The Atlantic's 100 Most Influential Americans List is available on its website. In its 150th year of publishing, the country's oldest continuously published magazine challenged 10 award winning historians and authors to determine who have been the 100 most influential figures in American history.

Written and compiled by associate editor Ross Douthat, The Atlantic's 100 Most Influential Americans List engaged 10 panelists to consider influence based on a person's impact, for good or ill, both on his or her own era and on the way we live now. The balloting was averaged and weighted to emphasize consensus -- and candidates received extra points if they appeared on multiple ballots.

Our goal in compiling the Atlantic's 100 Most Influential Americans List wasn't to end a debate about historical influence, but to start one," says James Bennet, editor of The Atlantic. "We're not planning to engrave this list on a marble wall somewhere. Instead, we hope it will provoke discussion and even some serious disagreement about who made America and how. Why is Walt Disney ranked ahead of Elizabeth Cady Stanton? How did Woodrow Wilson make the top 10 but not Ronald Reagan? How can Bill Gates be ahead of Elvis Presley, or Presley ahead of Lewis and Clark, or Lewis and Clark ahead of Ralph Nader, or Nader ahead of Richard Nixon? The debates over the rankings in our offices have been fascinating and, at times, feisty. We hope other people have as much fun debating them as we have. But the point of the exercise is a serious one: to help us understand the influences that have shaped modern America, and made us who we are today."

The Atlantic's 100 Most Influential Americans List begins in ranking order with Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and John Marshall. Every panelist cast a vote for these seven figures, proving that a political career was the surest way to a historical legacy.

While we are still a country of immigrants, the native-born comprise the bulk of the list; just seven of the final 100 were born outside the continental United States. Also, the East Coast had a head start; 63 of the 100 were born in the original 13 colonies; and 26 in New England alone. The Atlantic's List of inventors included Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bill and Eli Whitney. Founding and leading a religion landed many on the List including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy. And finally, more than 30 of the figures on the List are writers.

Panelists did vote for many 20th century figures -- as well as many athletes, musicians, artists, and entertainers. For every vote for a 'mutton- chopped' Victorian, at least one vote went to a more contemporary cultural figure, such as Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, or Tiger Woods. But the consensus favored Gilded Age industrialists and our Founding Fathers.

One of the panelists, historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin, looked "for public figures who changed the daily lives of people, both at the time and afterward. In particular, I looked for great public figures who made it possible for people to lead expanded lives -- materially, psychologically, culturally and spiritually."

To see a complete listing of The Atlantic's 100 Most Influential Americans List and to cast your own vote for the most influential Americans visit their website.

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