The Most Effective President

Inauguration of James Polk. By: Granger.

James Polk, after winning the Election of 1844, set an agenda for what he hoped to accomplish during his presidency. Rather than elaborate on this agenda during his inaugural address, President Polk instead remained secretive. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 708.

President Polk instead privately discussed his agenda with George Bancroft, the Secretary of the Navy under President Polk. See id. According to Bancroft, President Polk “slapped his thigh and avowed,’There are to be four great measures of my administration’ . . . :

The settlement of the Oregon question with Great Britain.

The acquisition of California and a large district on the coast.

The reduction of the Tariff to a revenue basis.

The complete and permanent establishment of the Constitutional Treasury, as he loved to call it, but as others had called it, ‘Independent Treasury.'” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 708 quoting Charles Sellers, James K. Polk, Continentalist (Princeton, 1966), 213.

Remarkably, President Polk would accomplish each of these objectives in his one term. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 708. Two of these objectives were directed at foreign policy, and the other two were domestic. Id.

It is worth noting that California, at this time, was not nearly as popular a topic as Oregon or Texas, the former which was occupied by Britain and the latter of which was about to be admitted as a state into the Union.

President Polk’s achieving of his four objectives makes him one of the most effective presidents in American history, particularly in light of the fact that President Polk only served one term in the White House.

Americans often contemplate who the best presidents are, and perhaps one measure should be their effectiveness, or in other words, the number of objectives they have achieved that they set out to do. While some may agree with those policy decisions, as some disagreed with President Polk’s objectives, no individual can dispute that he accomplished them with remarkable speed. Most presidents are impeded from accomplishing their objectives, whether by public opinion, Congress, the judiciary, or more urgent matters springing up.

President Polk’s ability to effectuate his agenda make him one of the most memorable presidents of this era and perhaps one that modern Americans should revisit when measuring presidents against each other.

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