Monday, February 21, 2011

Who's Your Favorite President?

Happy Presidents' Day everyone!

In honor of the Presidents who each took a monumental task to serve the country and attempt to make the country a better place in his own way, I am going to talk about a President I currently am reading about on my new Amazon Kindle.

Currently I am reading A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent.

James K. Polk was one of our most unlikely Presidents. After being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Polk eventually became Speaker of the House. Polk left Congress in 1839 to run for Governor of Tennessee. He won election, but lost re-election and lost a second attempt in 1843. 

So we have this Polk guy--a young ambitious man who gained early success in Congress. Then his career curtailed in the state of Tennessee...losing elections for Governor twice after serving in the office. So his chance to win the Presidency look good at this point, right? Who would even think the Presidency would even be on his radar?

Well Radar didn't exist back then but political ambition did. Polk never lost ambition but never intended to serve our nation as President. In the election of 1844 his goal was to become nominated as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democrats. The nominating conventions were nothing like they are today. There were smoke-filled room making deals that often placed candidates not predicted to become president or vice president on the ballot. It took 9 ballots at the convention before Polk was unanimously nominated as the Democrat candidate.  He promised to serve only one term. But boy, did he have a lot on his agenda. Why was he so popular? He was an expansionist. He wanted America to acquire Texas and the Oregon Territory.

So what did Polk accomplish--We can thank Polk for acquiring Texas, California, New Mexico and the Oregon Territory--all in four years. Polk, nicknamed Young Hickory, was a protege of Andrew Jackson. Polk believed the government should take in revenue only to provide the basic constitutional requirements of government. He greatly reduced tariffs. He sought strict constructionists to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today we would probably call Jackson and Polk--conservatives.

James K. Polk is probably a lessor known president to many Americans. In just 4 years, Polk acquired a massive amount of land that proved to be his greatest legacy. Though not perfect (was a slave owner), without Polk and his determination, America may have had the British Empire to our west between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

I like reading about some of our lessor known presidents.  We all know about Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt (both of them), Kennedy, Reagan, and for all their good and bad, the famous guys are famous because America faced crisis during the times of these men.  And we certainly needed each president to step up and save the day. I am not saying each of these were great men, but Greatness found each of them. Relative peace (or wars that are further from America's memory) often excludes presidents from the fame of greatness. Yet, give the presidents their due! Each (yes even the bad ones) served this country in ways very few have. They gave up any private life to make sure this land stayed free. 

So Happy Presidents' Day everyone!

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