Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Bookworms: James K. Polk

James K. Polk, John Seigenthaler

156 pages, @2003

Woo-hoo my 11th President I'm flying through this challenge, only 33 more President's to read about!

So I try to read 2 books about Presidents a year. I read about John Tyler in the 1st half of the year and decided to pick up James K. Polk now so I wasn't struggling to read it during the holidays in the 2nd half of the year.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about James K. Polk. I thought he was kind of one of those forgotten Presidents and let's face it I'm in President no-mans land with all one term peeps leading up to Lincoln.

James Polk, however, really impressed me. He is consistently ranked behind Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln as a President that wielded the power of the office of the chief magistrate effectively. I was surprised by that. In fact, since Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. began periodically surveying experts in the field, he has consistently been ranked among the great and near-great Presidents in the US. Again, surprised by that fact. He achieved great things as President for our country but it appears his personality as an annal, controlling, blah kind of man has tainted all that he accomplished.

The most amazing thing about Polk's story is that he was on his way out when he was elected President. Basically he had lost the governorship of Tennessee (his home state) two elections in a row. The year he was elected President he was aiming for the Vice Presidency and his party wasn't even in support of that! Then at the same time the two candidates that were pretty much going to win the nomination from their parties (Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay) came out and declared that they were not in favor of bringing Texas into the Union. This was not the way the majority of the country felt. Polk, as a known supporter of bringing Texas into the Union, became the lead candidate for the Democrats, won the party nomination and then beat Henry Clary for the Presidency. I mean talk about coming out of nowhere this guy was politically dead when he was elected President. I found that incredibly interesting.

In order to win his party's nomination he guaranteed them that he would only be President for one term and that he would not seek a 2nd term. He went into his Presidency with 4 goals in mind: 1) He would lower the tariff, 2) He would re-create Van Buren's independent treasury, 3) He would acquire Oregon from the British and 4) He would acquire California from Mexico. He accomplished all 4 of his goals during his Presidency of 4 years, which in my book is pretty amazing.

He was succeeded by his enemy Whig President Taylor (who led the charge in the war against Mexico to acquire Texas and then California). He then died 3 months after leaving office. He had no children.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading about Polk. I would definitely be interested in reading a larger biography of President Polk...we'll see if that happens one day!!!

Post in Comments:

Who's your favorite President of the first 11? (Washingston, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler or Polk?)

1 comment:

shi said...

Wow! I love that I don't have to read the books because I get a great synopsis from your blog! I have to say that Polk is definitely one of the presidents I always forget about...