Thursday, February 25, 2021

Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America

My book for January was Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by by Walter R. Borneman. Drew give me the book for Christmas in 2019. It fits into my long term project to read books about all of the presidents.

A protégé of Andrew Jackson, Polk was a member of the Democratic Party and an advocate of Jacksonian democracy. After attending the University of North Carolina, he settled in Nashville Tennesse to study law. Polk was elected clerk of the Tennessee State Senate and then to the state house of representatives. Within two years of being elected as a state house representative, he was elected to Congress.

Polk spent fourteen years in Congress representing Tennesse, including four years as Speaker of the House. He is the only president to have served as Speaker of the House.

Leaving Congress, Polk was elected Governor of Tennesse. After serving one term, he was defeated in two subsequent attempts to hold the office. Although he was angling to gain the Vice President position, Polk ended up as a compromise candidate at the 1844 Democratic Convention.

As president, Polk had four principal goals: reestablish the Independent Treasury System [the Whigs had abolished the one created under Van Buren]; reduce tariffs; acquire some or all of the Oregon Country; and, acquire California and its harbors from Mexico. He accomplished all of these goals. Polk's presidency is chiefly known for extending the territory of the United States through the Mexican–American War.

When he ran for president, Polk pledged that he would only serve one term; he kept that promise. His ex-presidency of 103 days remains the shortest in history. Cholera was the likely cause of his death at age 53. His wife (Sarah) lived for forty-two more years; the longest widowhood of any first lady.

I enjoyed the book. This is one of those biographies where the author adds a fair amount of his views rather than just telling the story; I prefer a more straightforward story. I have read very little about the period between Andrew Jackson (1837) to Lincoln (1861). This book starts to fill in that period.

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