Episode One – Peter the Great versus Ronald Reagan 

Our first battle starts with a giant of a man in size, stature, and influence, Peter Alexeyevich Romanov, known to the world as Peter the Great. Our other contestant, from the United States of America, the 40th President Ronald Wilson Reagan.

As this is the first contest, I will go over some of the rules. After we talk about the two combatant’s backgrounds, we will begin to discuss the measures that will decide who moves on. 

The four criteria for the Leaders Bracket are:

Forty points maximum will be handed out based on how they affected their country for the better.

Twenty-five points based on their effect on the world’s history in the long run.

Twenty points based on how they affected the rest of their world in their time. and finally

Fifteen points based on the length of their reign or time in power.

The points are based on a comparison between the two people, not on how they relate to the other 62 in the tournament.

Let’s get to today’s contestants.

Peter the Great
Peter the Great

Peter Alexeyevich Romanov, the son of Tsar Alexis I of Russia, was born on June 9, 1672. His mother, the second wife of Alexis, was Natalya Narishkina. She was to become his regent after the death of Alexis and his successor Feodor III, who died in 1682 when Peter was a mere ten years of age. He was given the position of sole Tsar but a revolt by the Streltsy, Russian guardsman of the era, forced the elevation of Peter’s half-brother Ivan to become co-ruler. During the revolt, Peter saw his two uncles and the man who was a kind of foster father to Natalya, Artamon Matveyev, murdered. This was to create a deep hatred for the conservative Streltsy by Peter and set the stage for his fervent fight to change the very nature of Russia.

Even though he was considered one of the Tsar’s of Russia, it was his half-sister, Sofia Alekseyevna, who was the real power behind the throne. Tsar Alexis had begun a process of westernization in Russia, but it was met with kind of a kickback from the conservatives of which Sofia garnered much of her support from.

In 1689, when he was 17, Peter and his mother Natalya, staged a coup to remove Sofia from power and replace it with a co-monarchy with Ivan. Ivan V, was by most accounts, a very feeble person as he had some serious mental issues, so their shared rule was in name only. It was here that Peter began to show his leadership skills. 

By the time he was a young man, he had towered over people as he was 6 feet 8 inches or 203 centimeters tall. Not only was he imposing physically, but he also stood heads above others with his incredible strength of personality and energy. Few could keep up with him.

Over the early years of his rule, he brought in men from Europe to teach him the ways of the West. He had a firm belief that Russia was desperately behind the rest of Europe, mostly due to the centuries of rule by the Mongols and the superstitions of the people and the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1697 he decided to travel to the West, beginning what was called the Great Embassy. Over the next year, he went through the many countries, supposedly incognito, but that was hard to pull off as he was the tallest person wherever he went. Peter would spend extra time at the docks, learning how to build the great ships that many of the maritime nations used to spread their power and give them wealth. The Tsar knew that Russia had no real navy and that they needed to do so if they were to step on to the world stage.

Following the embassy, which shortened due to a rebellion of the Streltsy, Russia entered a fight with what was the other great Northern power at the time, Sweden, led by their warrior king, Charles XII. Sweden was a modern and powerful country at the time so when the first clash between the countries occurred, the Battle of Narva, Peter got his butt kicked and bad. Some lesser men might have tucked their heads between their tails and would have negotiated a peace treaty instead of getting humiliated again. Not this Tsar though. He would, as he would many times in his lifetime, learn from his failure and build up his military so that it could match the more advanced Swedes next time they clashed.

This might not have happened if Russia hadn’t gotten a break. If Sweden had wanted to, they could have just kept on marching towards Russia and taken large swathes of land. Instead, Charles XII decided to send his forces south against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which gave Peter time to reorganize and upgrade the Russian army. The eight-year break in hostilities was all the Russians needed. This time they would be ready and able to fight the big boys.

Charles decided to take his army and invade Russia in 1708. For all of you history buffs, you know the drill, invading Russia is not an easy thing to do, especially from the west. Just ask Napoleon and Adolph Hitler. Charles preceded the other two and, culminating in the Battle of Poltava (covered in episode 16) on June 27, 1709, he got whipped, and his army destroyed. Peter became the Great at this time.

Over the last 16 years of his reign, Peter continued his reforms of all parts of Russian society. He went so far as to force men to shave their beards as he viewed the long Russian beard as a symbol of the old ways he so desperately wanted to move away from. When he died on February 8, 1725, he had transformed the backward country of his into one of the most powerful nations on earth.

Now we are going to take a short break and begin a segment we will have in most of the podcasts entitled, Putting it Into Perspective. I want to share with you some happenings that occurred around the world about the times of the great people and events we are talking about. This hopefully will give you a sense of what was going on in the world.

 During the reign of Peter, Anton Van Leuwenhoek begins to use the microscope. Louis XIV of France moves his court to Versailles. The Siege of Vienna had been broken which halted the Ottoman Empires advance into Europe. The War of Spanish Succession begins. New Orleans is founded, and Johan Sebastian Bach finishes the Brandenburg Concertos.

Now on to our second contestant.

Ronald Reagan
President Ronald Reagan

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911, to Jack and Nelle Wilson Reagan. His father was a salesman, and the family moved around Illinois numerous times in his youth. The family was deeply religious, but they were a bit different as they were staunchly against racial discrimination which was unusual at the time. The small-town life the Reagan’s led would greatly influence the future president. 

After high school, Ronald attended Eureka College in Illinois which was affiliated with his baptized religion, the Disciples of Christ. Ronald was kind of stud athlete and extremely popular but only a C student. He was voted the student body president and leader of the swim team as well as participating on the football team.

When he graduated in 1932, he moved to Iowa where he became a radio announcer, getting a job as the play by play announcer for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. This was to be a fortuitous job as while traveling with the team to California; he decided to take a screen test for the motion picture studio, Warner Brothers. He did so well that they offered him a seven-year contract which launched him into the world of cinema.

Ronald primarily was in B-movies, but he was successful and became a famous actor. His good looks and charm made him well-liked. His career was cut short though as on April 18, 1942, he entered the Army on active duty but because of his poor eyesight, he was relegated to limited service and not sent overseas.

Before his service he married fellow actor Jane Wyman in 1940. They had two children, one dying after one day and adopting another. They were divorced in 1948 partly due to Ronald’s role in the Screen Actors Guild, of which he was president. In 1952, he married his second wife Nancy, who would be the love of his life. 

In the early 50’s, Reagan was a left-leaning Democrat, having supported Harry Truman. But after his marriage to Nancy, he began his turn right. By 1964, he was firmly behind the arch-conservative candidate for the presidency, Barry Goldwater.

Being a pretty decent actor helped Reagan when he entered the political world as his speeches were impressive, especially to the Republican hierarchy of California. In 1966 he ran for governor and won. In 1968, he hoped to become the Republican presidential nominee but came in third to Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller.

 In 1970, he waged another successful campaign for the governorship, but in ’74 he declined to try again as he had sights on bigger things. 

In 1976 he once again tried for the Republican nomination for President, but he was narrowly beaten by the incumbent, Gerald Ford. After Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, the path to the presidency cleared for Reagan, and in 1980 he gained the Republican nomination. He faced off against the incumbent Carter and in November defeated him in the general election in an electoral landslide.

At first, Reagan was not very popular with low poll numbers reflecting the malaise sweeping the country. But as the economy recovered, inflation dropped, and the mood of the country improved, he became quite popular. When he ran for reelection in 1984 against the Democrat Walter Mondale, it was a slaughter. Mondale only won one state, his own, Minnesota. 

His second term was a tumultuous one, with the Iran-Contra Scandal being a major issue. But, he was still able to further the conservative agenda he strongly backed.

After leaving office in 1988, Reagan still spoke about the ideals he believed in with great passion. In 1994, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but many believe that his deteriorating mental health was apparent many years earlier, some claiming that it was showing while he was still president which others have claimed was simply not true.

When Ronald Reagan passed away on June 5, 2004, many in the world mourned. His funeral was attended by the leaders of countless countries.

Since President Reagan was a contemporary, I will forgo the Put it Into Perspective segment.

I know that I only briefly went over the remarkable lives of these two great men, but I need to remind you that one of them will move on to the second round and if I gave you their whole life story, I’d have nothing to say anymore. That would be boring as heck.

Now let’s go on to the scoring for each category.

Here is the big one, the effect that each man had on their country at the time they were the country’s leader. Ronald Reagan had a dramatic effect on the US, not only changing the perception of how the government should interact with the states and the citizens of the country but the very fabric of the way businesses treats their employees.

The mass firing of air traffic controllers who were striking against the government on August 5, 1981, showed corporations that you could mass lay off employees, something that was not thought of before. His resistance to acknowledging the AIDS epidemic was another problem that affected many. Reaganomics, the theory of trickledown economics has continued to this day. One could argue for days about the effect of Reagan’s legacy on the United States, but you could not deny that it was substantial.

Peter the Great transformed his country from a backward, oriental, closed society, into one of the great powers of the world. You cannot understate the effect he had on his country and his people. A case can be made that his policies allowed Catherine the Great who will be a contestant in this tournament, to be the Great. Peter’s revamping of the military deserves full credit for allowing another of the Romanov’s, Alexander I the ability to defeat Napoleon. It could be further argued that the arc that Peter put Russia on is one that helped create the USSR and still has repercussions on the country today.

It is undeniable that without Peter, there is no St. Petersburg with its five million inhabitants. I can venture to guess that no other leader would have given any thought to building a new capital of Russia in the swamps of the north. 

Peter’s reign is not all puppies and daffodils either. Tens of thousands of people, maybe more, died building his dream city. The countless wars and rebellions cost hundreds of thousands of lives. He detached the Russian Orthodox Church from its power over the government and completely ignored the suffering of the millions of serfs, relegating them to another 125 years of slavery.  

Weighing all the factors, I’m going to have to give Peter the Great the 40 points and 35 to Ronald Reagan. 

The ensuing score, we have the lasting effect on history. Again, we have an advantage for Peter as his legacy has had a longer time to show itself. For this reason, I must give 25 points to Peter. Reagan though has had a huge, long-lasting effect on the US as his conservative movement is still in full force almost 30 years after he left office. Because of this, I’m giving Reagan 23 points.

Next up is the 20 points on how each man affected the world around him. This one is tough as Peter fought wars against the Swedes and the Ottoman Empire, sending the Swedes into a death spiral as a European power. Ronald Reagan though was a tour-de-force when it came to his influence on world affairs. One area he was given way too much credit for is the subsequent downfall of the Soviet Union after his term in office. Many have proposed that his Star Wars initiative helped bankrupt the USSR, but given the evidence we have today, that simply isn’t true. The Soviets didn’t increase their military spending as it was already a large portion against their GDP. They were already broke and kept doing the same things that caused the deterioration of their economy.

Having said all of that, I’m going to give the full 20 points to Ronald Reagan and 15 to Peter the Great.

Length of Reign for 15 points – Some may argue that this one in unfair to Reagan because of term limits for the President of the USA but it is what it is. Peter gets the maximum points of 15 here as he ruled for almost 40 years to Reagan’s eight but I’m going to give Reagan 13. If he had been allowed to run again, I have little doubt that he would have been reelected, he was that popular.

As we add up the points, Reagan comes in at a high score of 91, but Peter edges him out with 95.

So, there you have it, Peter the Great versus Ronald Reagan with Peter moving on to the second round, where he will face the winner of….. Winston Churchill against Nebuchadnezzar II. 

IJoin me next time as we cover our next battle between Alaric the Visigoth versus Khalid ibn al-Walid.

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Mark Schauss has been podcasting for over 8 years. His Russian Rulers History was a top history podcast for 7 1/2 years. Discover his new entry into the podcast world.



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