Great Moments In Senate Rhetoric

With the Washington Post debating the most underrated presidents, I’d put my vote for James K. Polk. Polk’s tactics remain controversial and he had no stomach for resolving the festering issue of slavery and its expansion, even as he forced the issue forward by massively expanding the country. Even for all that, though, Polk’s long-term impact on the nation in just a single term in office was massive and indisputably positive, scoring most of what is now Oregon and Washington from Great Britian without a fight (but not without some nervous moments) and adding Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona and much of Colorado from a dysfunctional Mexico that could never have developed them. Polk, not Teddy Roosevelt, should be on Mount Rushmore.
Anyway, we think political rhetoric is harsh today, but this was a favorite example of mine from Robert Merry’s book on Polk. Senator Edward Hannegan of Indiana – a member of Polk’s own party – in a dialogue on the Senate floor, predicted that history would judge Polk (who had run on a promise to win the Oregon Territory, whose boosters used the slogan “54’40” or fight!”) harshly for settling for the Oregon territory only up to the 49th parallel:

So long as one human eye remains to linger on the page of history, the story of his abasement will be read, sending him and his name together to an infamy so profound, a damnation so deep, that the hand of resurrection will never be able to drag him forth. He who is the traitor to his country can never have forgiveness of God.

Polk, of course, did settle, more or less, for the 49th parallel. Footnote: after Hannegan was not renominated for another Senate term, Polk, on his way out of office, appointed Hannegan the US Ambassador to Prussia.

6 thoughts on “Great Moments In Senate Rhetoric”

  1. Hell stan, why stop there? Just say Jefferson Davis is the greatest President and get it over with.

  2. I agree that Polk was one of, if not the, most underrtated President in US history. He made four promises: 1) acquire Oregon; 2) add Texas as a state; 3) establish an independent treasury; and 4) reduce tariffs on foreign trade. He accomplished all four during his one term, essentially working himself to death to do so; a notoriously hard worker, Polk died four months after leaving office. Although many people disagreed with his handling of the Texas dispute, there is something to be said for a politician who makes specific promises and keeps them.

  3. Read the book on Kit Carson and how the Americn West was acquired. Polk was like a one man schemer for who he sent where and how so many things had to just happen right for things to work out. Polk is my fave dark horse POTUS.

  4. Reagan won the cold war, not only turned around the economy but fundamentally changed it for the next several decades, and did it all with the Democrats entrenched in the House. Oh, and the news media, Hollywood and the Academy slandered him the whole 8 years he was in office. No other president ever accomplished so much good despite so much constant opposition from the press and elites.
    And the crack about Jeff Davis reveals much about you.

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