So yes, Atlantic Monthly has tried the impossible: OK, top ten only below, but check it out on their website about the Top 100 most influential Americans of all time...
Enough or too many contemporaries, abolitionists, women (why isn't Oprah there...?), philosophers and authors (where is Jack Kerouac or T.S. Elliott)? Did they miss someone out completely: Joseph Smith (and Brigham Young...) and Mary Baker Eddy made it, but where is E.G. White?
I would of course be interested in your reading of this list (they are a bunch of liberals at the mag, but Reagan made it pretty high up...); they are happy to take your feedback too.
1 Abraham Lincoln
He saved the Union, freed the slaves, and presided over America’s second founding.
2 George Washington
He made the United States possible—not only by defeating a king, but by declining to become one himself.
3 Thomas Jefferson
The author of the five most important words in American history: “All men are created equal.”
4 Franklin Delano Roosevelt
He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and then he proved it.
5 Alexander Hamilton
Soldier, banker, and political scientist, he set in motion an agrarian nation’s transformation into an industrial power.
6 Benjamin Franklin
The Founder-of-all-trades— scientist, printer, writer, diplomat, inventor, and more; like his country, he contained multitudes.
7 John Marshall
The defining chief justice, he established the Supreme Court as the equal of the other two federal branches.
8 Martin Luther King Jr.
His dream of racial equality is still elusive, but no one did more to make it real.
9 Thomas Edison
It wasn’t just the lightbulb; the Wizard of Menlo Park was the most prolific inventor in American history.
10 Woodrow Wilson
He made the world safe for U.S. interventionism, if not for democracy.