John Bicknell

Bush, Polk and the ‘Met His Every Goal’ Myth


Jeb Bush’s pronouncement that one of his favorite presidents – non-family division – is James K. Polk stirred some controversy among the politically correct crowd.

Polk, after all, was a slave owner, led the United States into the Mexican War and acquired vast swaths of territory that once belonged to others.

While he is anathema to modern liberals, historians of late have given Polk more credit than they once did. And among the general public he tends to elicit much the same response he did when news of his unexpected nomination first circulated in May 1844: “Who is James K. Polk.”

Bush’s admiration rests on the oft-repeated tale that Polk “met his every goal” by fulfilling his promises to acquire California, get the British out of Oregon, reduce tariffs and create an independent Treasury.

Historian Tom Chaffin has thoroughly debunked this notion, but it continues to live on in the popular imagination, especially when a politician needs a role model for accomplishment.

Polk did achieve all those things, and he deserves to be well-remembered for his accomplishments. But could we stop relying on the “met his every goal” myth? It’s time to put that one to bed.