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President James Polk

President James K Polk, elected president in 1844, would have fit into the modern-day political climate very well because he was considered to be exceedingly partisan as well as tending to be secretive and evasive. Historians believe that James Polk played a central role in defining the job of commander-in-chief. Although he served only one term, he was considered to be one of the more aggressively productive men ever to hold the office . When he was elected, he had a strong and defiant plan regarding foreign policy, and when he was president, he used the threat of war, as well as actually utilizing combat itself, in order to accomplish his principal objective: the expansion of the country from coast-to-coast, which put him in direct confrontation with Mexico. After the United States annexed Texas, Polk initiated the Mexican War which began approximately one year later by creating a hostile atmosphere with Mexico, causing continual disputes around the borders, and raising Mexico's unwillingness to go along with U.S. offers to buy its northern provinces.

President Polk was a tough, intensive, and successful commander-in-chief. In a biography about Polk, John Siegenthaler cites evidence of "courage, grit, and unyielding iron" which began when Polk, at the age of 17, underwent an operation for kidney stones without general anesthesia to avoid developing infection. This event, according to the author, established Polk as a man with the courage that he would later draw on when, as President, he engaged in regular conflicts with the Whigs, the British Crown, and the Mexican Army. His impact on the office of the presidency was indisputable; during his tenure, he accomplished nearly everything that he had pledged during his political campaign: as noted, the widening of the territories belonging to the United States; lower tariff rates; the creation of a new federal depository organization; and most significantly for the office of the presidency, expanding the powers of the executive office.

Although he had not been trained or served in the military himself, Polk was able to exercise his role as commander-in-chief to make many significant military decisions, playing a central role in the organization and operations of the war effort. In addition, while serving as commander-in-chief he never strayed from his determination to utilize aggression in order to expand the boundaries of the United States to include the territories of New Mexico and upper California. This paper will support the themes listed above, evaluating overall his performance as a wartime commander-in-chief.

Part of Polk's unusual story is the way in which he became a surprise Democratic candidate for presidency; former President Martin Van Buren had been strongly favored to run against the Whig candidate, Henry Clay. Prior to the election, popular opinion strongly approved of annexing Texas to the United States. However, because of the misinterpretation of public opinion, Van Buren and Clay both expressed their opposition to the notion of admitting Texas into the Union. As a result of this mistake in understanding public opinion, Polk won the Democratic Party's nomination and defeated Clay in the presidential election, becoming the youngest man ever elected president up until that point.