Ranked #13: Polk grew the United States by more than a million square miles during his presidency. He accomplished every major goal he set for himself as president.
Summary: Polk was a very interesting President, as well as the inventor of the mullet haircut. On one hand, he was highly successful because he (unlike just about any other President), made clear what he was planning to do as a candidate, and actually carried through with his promises as President. However, the flip side is what those promises were.
Bio: At the time, the young country of the United States had a popular urge to extend its land mass to the the Pacific coast. Along with this, there was a big interest in taking the country of Texas and making it part of the US. Polk was in favor of both, and basically got it done even though the means by which it was accomplished were fairly messy.
Polk was an introvert for the most part. However, because he a was a politician, it was critical for him to be social. He had very few close friends, yet he was well-liked. Polk was one of those rare cases. He did not have any hobbies. He simply was a politician and took no joy from any other activity. He had no other interest.
Polk’s rise to the office of President was not a slam-dunk by any standard. America had just experienced an administration that started off with a President dying in office and a Vice-President who many thought was not constitutionally legitimate. Polk was more or less a “dark-horse” candidate who became the choice of the Democratic party because Martin Van Buren was simply not very popular. Also, Polk was endorsed by Andrew Jackson. This carried so much weight that people started calling him “Young Hickory.”
Westward expansion was accomplished through largely the efforts of General Zachary Taylor and his troops, who waged war with Mexico. Texas was consumed and became a state. Polk worked his tail off; often putting in 12-hour days in the White House. His wife Sarah was always there to help. Polk worked so hard that just three months after leaving office, he died at the age of 53.
Depending on which historian you talk to, Polk was either a great President or somebody who could have been more accomplished. There is no doubt that Polk was a no-nonsense man who was clear about his intentions and did his very best to get the job done. I think you have to consider the bloodshed that happened during his tenure to realize how much of a cost came with his job. He likely could have won a second term, but declined, because it was one of his campaign promises. Single term presidents are rarely rated highly, but I would have to say that Polk did a good job, despite how the work got done.
Pros: Added more than a million square miles to the United States during his tenure. He was a rare president that said exactly what he was going to do and carried through with his promises. This includes stating he would not be a two term president.
Cons: Declared war on Mexico under false pretenses which caused a tremendous amount of bloodshed. He was pro-slavery.
Born: November 2, 1795, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
Died: June 15, 1849 (aged 53) Nashville, Tennessee
Term: March 4, 1845 to March 3, 1849 (1 term)
Political Party: Democrat
Education: University of North Carolina (graduated 1818)