Comparing James K. Polk's and Trump's successes

James K. Polk was one of the most successful presidents in our history, exceeded in his accomplishments only by Washington, Lincoln, and Jackson.  He had four goals when he took office in 1845, and he achieved all of them in his one term.  He wanted to complete the process of Texas annexation, take California and its ports of San Diego and San Francisco from Mexico, settle the boundary dispute with Britain over the Oregon Territory, and reform the finances of the federal government.  If you include Texas, the amount of territory he added to the United States exceeded that of the Louisiana Purchase.

He was the proud protégé of Andrew Jackson, and he completed what Jackson had begun.  But he was not a good politician, and he obtained the Democratic nomination only by promising to serve only one term.  During his presidency, he was roundly disliked by foes and allies alike.  Due to a horrifically painful operation when he was very young, he was probably impotent.  He died shortly after he left office at the age of 53, an embittered and unloved man.

Donald Trump is not a politician and never pretended to be one.  Throughout his short career in politics, he has completely alienated half of the country.  But in one term his accomplishments rank only behind James K. Polk and Washington, Lincoln, and Jackson.  He succeeded in doing what he said he would do, even to a greater extent than Ronald Reagan, who was a great president for winning the Cold War and revitalizing the economy.

Trump doesn't need a second term to embellish his record.  He has permanently reshaped the Republican Party, and the 2024 Republican nominee will only ratify this transformation.  The Trump agenda, minus the personal Trump drama, will easily prevail without him.

He's no James K. Polk, and he has a quite pleasant post-presidency to look forward to.  I hope he has a great time with his family and avoids the labor of another campaign and the virtual certainty that a second term would be something of a disappointment.  It could never equal the first.

If you're ever in Nashville, go by the State Capitol and pay your respects at the grave of "Young Hickory," the 11th president of the United States and a great American.

Fritz Pettyjohn is a politician and blogs at

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