Politicians having the “broken promises”
argument should shut their holes and respect the Polk.
By Bob Simpson (Writer)
Now that the conventions are behind us, you’re probably thinking the same thing I am right now: “We still have two months of this crap left?! Two months?!?!?!?!”
So, with the weeks of ads bombarding our eyeballs (if you live in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado or Iowa, you have my sympathies…please consider moving to another state for the next 60 days…I hear Oregon is nice, except for this one guy), I’m here this week to provide you with a little political distraction.
Some of you may have seen these historical presidential rankings that have been published by The Wall Street Journal, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and others. If you haven’t and enjoy history and how presidents compare to one another, these can be a lot of fun. If you want the most recent rankings, check out this one from 2010 from the Siena College Research Institute or this from a 2011 UK Survey of US Presidents from the United States Presidency Centre.
You probably won’t be too surprised by the Top 10 on any of these lists. You’ll see both Roosevelts, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, usually Jackson and Eisenhower, and James K. Polk.
“Hold on,” you might say. “James K. Polk?!?! Who the hell is James K. Polk?!”
First of all, yes, James K. Polk ranks at #10 in the aggregate ranking of historical U.S. Presidents, and if you’re unaware of why James K. Polk deserves to be there, I would be happy to introduce you to America’s most underrated, and my favorite, president.
Polk was a member of the House of Representatives, representing Tennessee for the Democratic Party, during the Jackson and Van Buren administrations, serving as Speaker of The House from 1835 – 1839.
He left Congress in 1838 to run in the gubernatorial election in Tennessee, which he won, but was defeated in his reelection campaign in 1841. He ran again, unsuccessfully, in 1843.
During the Presidential Election of 1844, the Democratic Party was fractured and weak. The leading candidate, former President Martin Van Buren, was unable to secure the required majority to be nominated to the office. After several ballots, Polk emerged as a dark horse candidate, a title he owns to this day (he was the first politician to be described as a dark horse in America), and was unanimously nominated on the eighth ballot. The support of former President Andrew Jackson was instrumental in his nomination and subsequent election, where he defeated perpetual Presidential election loser, Henry Clay.
Polk, at 49, was the youngest President elected to office at the time. Polk set four goals for his administration:
- Reestablish the Independent Treasury System
- Reduce tariffs
- Acquire All or Part of the Oregon Country
- Acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico
He promised to accomplish all four of these goals in…check this…only one term. He vowed he would not run for a second.
So, let ‘s see how he did:
- Reestablish the Independent Treasury System – Done
- Reduce tariffs – Done
- Acquire All or Part of the Oregon Country – Done
- Acquire California and New Mexico from Mexico – Done
How long did it take him to do all this? Four years. Did he run for a second term? No, because he said he wouldn’t.
Boss. Like a BOSS. I wish microphones existed back then, because at his Farewell Address, he would have dropped it, tossed up a middle finger, jumped on a huge horse, and ridden into the sunset. In a campaign where Romney blasts Obama for breaking promises, and Obama blast Romney for not…you know…making any at all, it’s refreshing to see a President that listed what he wanted to do, did it, and peaced out.
His administration isn’t without controversy, particularly with regards to The Mexican War, which was fought to acquire California and New Mexico, as well as secure Texas as a member of the United States. I have to agree that the war was unnecessary, as Mexico wasn’t in terrific shape at the time, having gone through revolutionary growing pains itself. It would be like Germany, France, Russia, and a coalition of Martians attacking the US ten minutes after we won our independence.
Regardless of the ethical implications of The Mexican War, the map of the United States that you see today should be dedicated to James K. Polk. He completed manifest destiny.
As with virtually every other Southern President during this time, Polk was a slave-owner, which taints his legacy, and the massive territorial expansion during his administration caused a strain on an already tense nation, as the “slavery question” in acquired territory was elevated to new levels of severity.
Polk left office on March 4, 1849, the strain of four years at the helm ridding him of most of his youthful energy and drive. During a tour of the South, he contracted cholera and died in Nashville on June 15, 1849, just 103 days removed from office.
Though only a one-term President, and a controversial one at that, James K. Polk was one of our most efficient and effective chief executives.
Some additional Polk Fun Facts:
- He’s the only President to have served as Speaker of The House.
- His post-Presidential retirement is the shortest in history, at 103 days.
- The Washington Monument broke ground during his administration.
- He is recognized by most historians as the strongest President between Jackson and Lincoln, and the last strong pre-Civil War President.
- He never challenged anyone to a duel while a member of The House of Representatives, which apparently was rare for the times.
- Because of his allegiance to Andrew Jackson, and Jackson’s support of his career, Polk was called “Young Hickory.”
- Three states were admitted to the Union during his administration: Texas, Iowa and Wisconsin.
- Though not the first President to be photographed (William Henry Harrison was the first), he is the earliest President to have surviving photographs taken while in office (see photo above).
If you want to learn more about James K. Polk, check out A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent, by Robert W. Merry.
is a writer and lives in Los Angeles, where he works for an
entertainment company that he'd prefer to keep anonymous, should he
accidentally diss something they made. www.bobsimpsonblog.blogspot.com
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