James K. Polk got it done

He served just one term, was elected with four major goals, completed all of them, and died a few months after leaving office.

In a feat basically never before or again accomplished in the White House, President James K. Polk managed to execute nearly every single goal he established for himself at the outset of his term in office. So why is he rarely considered among the great American presidents?

In the newest podcast episode of “Presidential,” we explore that question with historian Amy Greenberg, a professor at Penn State University. Greenberg explains Polk’s key traits—in particular, his intense work ethic and his willingness to lie—that made his one term, from 1845 to 1849, so effective. Yet she also reflects on why “effectiveness” may not be the right gauge for greatness.

Musician John Linnell, of the band They Might Be Giants, also makes a guest appearance to discuss the song he composed about James K. Polk and what inspired him to write it.

Among Polk’s goals were annexing California and Texas. But he had to launch an imperialist war based on lies to do it, which might account for his relative obscurity today. Even in 1846, many Americans considered that beyond the pale.

James K. Polk: Getting it done [Lillian Cunnigham – Presidential – The Washington Post]


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