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The Most Influential President No One Remembers

To celebrate Presidents’ Day, let’s explore one of the most influential of the lessor-known presidents. Most of those who make the list of “best” or “most important” presidents have names we are all familiar with – Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Franklin Roosevelt, and others. However, there are a few lessor known presidents who don’t have the same name recall as our more famous presidents, yet had a big impact on the United States and its future. In honor of Presidents’ Day 2014, we will honor one of those who have faded away into the din of ancient history, but whose influence can still be seen today.

The Most Influential President No One Remembers

Image from: Commons. Wikipedia.org

Image from: Commons. Wikipedia.org

Have you heard of James Polk? Most of us have some vague recollection of a president named Polk. Somewhere back in elementary school we learned all the presidents and Polk was one of those in a batch of unmemorable presidents. Somewhere back in the 1800s, right?

Right. James K. Polk was the 11th president of our great country from 1845-1849. At the time, he was the youngest man (49 years old) ever to assume the office of the presidency of the United States. He sought and served only one term in office, stepping down because he felt he had accomplished all his goals while president. The stress of the office must have weakened him severely as he died from cholera only a few months after leaving Washington.

It would be interesting to see how someone like Polk would do today in a run for the highest office in the land. He pledged to not seek reelection if he became president, and he set only four goals for his administration to achieve. Imagine any candidate making only four promises to the voters?

He pledged to:

  1. Reduce tariffs
  2. Establish an independent treasury
  3. End the dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory
  4. Acquire California from Mexico.

Guess what? He actually accomplished all four goals. See – keep it simple, stupid, really does work? A president who accomplishes something other than acts of war – what a novel concept!

Though he accomplished his goals, Polk’s White House wasn’t an ongoing party. Polk was pious; he didn’t drink, dance, or play cards. He didn’t even have any children to complicate matters. There were certainly no Monica Lewinsky skeletons in Polk’s closet.

James Polk’s real claim to fame and the reason he is my pick as most influential lessor-known president is that he increased the size of the United States more than any other president except for Thomas Jefferson. During his administration, Texas was annexed as a state, though the legal wranglings began before he became president. California and New Mexico were acquired after the Mexican-American War, and the Oregon Territory was claimed after a treaty with England. All under the watch of James Polk.

Though many of the events that occurred during his time as president are well-known, his name has been almost lost to the ravages of time and history. He is often considered to be the best one-term president in our history, and yet most Americans know very little about him, if anything. So – for Presidents’ Day 2014, we honor James K. Polk, almost unknown and virtually forgotten, yet so important to the expansion of our country. Imagine the United States without California or Texas or Oregon. Imagine the Summer of Love in St. Louis; or the Kennedy assassination in Mobile, Alabama; or Hollywood in Connecticut. Just doesn’t seem right, does it? And who can you thank for all that? That’s right – James K. Polk.

Image from Commons.Wikipedia.org

About Fred Phillips