Historians generally regard James Polk as one of the “near-great” presidents, ranking him just behind Eisenhower, Truman and Polk’s mentor Andrew Jackson. Depending on which survey you consider, his standing varies only slightly.
Those who hold Polk in relatively lower regard tend to penalize him for starting a war with Mexico in order to grab California and New Mexico. And although the Gold Rush a few years later seemed to justify the effort to snag California, more than a few people these days might wonder whether it was worth it in the end.
But no matter how you score your presidents on “greatness”, Polk is almost universally hailed for having been an effective president. It helps that he achieved every one of his four major goals coming into office. Some seemed rather audacious, such as kicking Great Britain out of Oregon, but he accomplished them all with great determination…
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