If I had to pick my favorite American President on this Presidents’ Day, it would have to be James K. Polk, our 11th Chief Executive.
My fascination with Polk goes back to my childhood of memorizing the Presidents. He was a Tennessean (although a native of North Carolina) and a protege of our first Tennessee president, Andrew Jackson. He was the youngest man ever elected up to 1845 (49 years old when he was sworn in) and the first to sport long hair (a mullet, I suppose). He extended our country’s boundaries westward to the Pacific Ocean through negotiation with Great Britain and war with Mexico. He was probably the most dedicated and hardest working president, certainly in the first 60 years of the 19th Century.
(Polk also had ties to the subject of my latest book project, Tennessee lawyer and politician Adam Huntsman.)
I learned later that he had not been admired or adored as other men who held the office; in fact, he was somewhat devious and calculating. But he set his agenda, decided to accomplish it in one term, and he did it. Of course this work ethic prematurely aged him and likely contributed to his death at the age of 53, just three months after he left office.
In the last few decades, Polk has finally received his due in the pantheon of Presidential greatness. His most recent biographer believes him to be one of the greatest, certainly the greatest of the one-term chief executives.
Polk is also the subject of an upcoming documentary by Brian Rose, who explores his own fascination with the president. Here’s a few clips he has posted on YouTube: