11th President of the United States
Ages Served: 49-53
PROS: Young Hickory — Polk earned this nickname because he was the protege of Old Hickory, fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson. Yeah, people saw him as the next Andrew Jackson. Maybe he didn’t have the temper or thirst for pummeling people that Jackson had. But really, how many of those kinds of people do you want running around at any given time?
Did he duel a lot? No. Actually, when he was 17, Polk became very sick. It turned out he had urinary stones. You know how they dealt with this sort of thing 200 years ago out west (Tennessee/Kentucky)? Surgery sans anesthesia. “Here’s some brandy, kid. We’re about to cut into your junk.”
The Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™ looks simple after something like that.
He got stuff done — Polk’s Inauguration Day speech could have been boiled down to: “I have come here to chew bubblegum, re-establish the Independent Treasury, reduce tariffs, get the southwest from Mexico and get the Oregon Territory from the British... and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
Actually, bubblegum was yet to be popularized in the U.S., but that’s besides the point.
Polk went in with the intention of serving only one term, but that didn’t matter. He got it all done in four years, and he did it while keeping harmony between the states — something every president after him was unable to do leading up to the Civil War.
They Might Be Giants song says, he’s often forgotten.
|If it weren't for James K. Polk, nostalgic 20- and 30-somethings wouldn't be able to make Oregon Trail jokes.|
CONS: Cholera — Polk’s wife, Sarah, spent a considerable amount of time worrying that the stress of her husband’s political life was wreaking havoc on his health.
Polk died of cholera in June 1849, 103 days after leaving office. He has the shortest retirement of any president. At 53, Polk was also the youngest president to die of natural causes. Point being, his wife was right to worry. Clearly, he was not in good health.
By the way, all that worrying seemed to do no damage to her health — she lived to the age of 87.
Nerd cred — As previously mentioned, They Might Be Giants wrote a song about Polk, making him — along with artist, James Ensor — a favorite among TMBG-fan nerd-types. Okay, "nerd-types" may be redundant there.
|Belgium's famous painter, apparently, has a message for you.|
When I was 14, my parents allowed me to go to a TMBG show, my first concert without parental supervision. Why? 1) I was going with my older brother and 2) It was a TMBG show; what was going to happen to me?
Fair or not, by virtue of having a TMBG song about him, Polk is kind of King of the Nerds. No one has ever been given that title for fighting ability.
Age during term: 60-68
PROS: Slightly ornery — Let's start out with a little anecdote from Truman's service in World War I. Truman enlisted in the Missouri National Guard, and wound up a battery commander of an artillery unit known for having discipline problems. When the unit came under attack by the German forces, Truman's soldiers started breaking formation and retreating. This, obviously, would not do, so Truman marched out and berated his soldiers using "curses he learned from working on the Santa Fe railroad."
|Can't imagine any of these guys getting too salty, but there ya go.|
Quick-thinking — Of course, Truman should never have been let into the Army to begin with. Why? Let's take a look at a photo of Truman as a young doughboy:
|Now, we're wondering who came up with that fantastic fake background. But we digress.|
Cold-blooded — And then, we come to this.
Okay, so, you're Truman. You've served your country with distinction during a rather bloody overseas war, which also happened to coincide with a rather nasty flu pandemic. The word comes down that an armistice has been signed with Germany, directing both sides to lay down their arms on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. As the deadline approaches, do you take it easy on the opposing forces, given that the war is pretty much over? Hell, no! Truman ordered his artillery unit to keep shelling up until the very end, making them one of the last American units to stop firing. In a letter home, written during this final bombardment, Truman had this to say:
"It is a shame we can't go in and devastate Germany and cut off a few of the Dutch kids' hands and feet and scalp a few of their old men but I guess it will be better to make them work for France and Belgium for fifty years."
|"Wait, what?" - The Netherlands|
In the face of all the controversy and criticism, Truman never wavered, never apologized. When he finally met J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who had led the Manhattan project, Oppenheimer told Truman, "Mr. President, I feel as if I have blood on my hands." Accounts of Truman's reaction vary; in some, Truman said that the blood should be on his hands instead, so stop whining, while in others, Truman offered Oppenheimer a handkerchief to wipe off the aforementioned blood. However, all versions basically end the same way, with Truman being pissed at Oppenheimer for being such a ninny. The point is clear: Truman was a stone cold badass.
|"What's cooler than being cold? Oh, Truman, right."|
|Like a boss.|
Truman won in 1934, but faced stiffer opposition, especially within his own party, in 1940. So, Truman reached out to yet another political boss, Robert E. Hannigan. Even the combined efforts of Hannigan and Pendergrast weren't quite enough to ensure victory, and he had to turn to another powerful and shadowy organization: the Freemasons. Truman had been initiated back into Freemasonry back in 1909, and in 1940, was elected the Grand Master of the Missouri Freemason Lodge.
|Truman, keeping the Martains under wraps.|
Wait... that's something different? Huh.
And oh, by the way, when President Roosevelt needed to figure out someone to name to his ticket in the election of 1944, guess who was in the room pulling strings? Robert E. Hannigan. Let there be no doubt: Truman would have gone nowhere without the help of some powerful friends, but those friends will not be able to help him in the arena.
Possibly a bit too impulsive for his own good — Have you ever had a boss who would seize on particular ideas, no matter how stupid, and railroad them through despite any and all opposition? Truman was like that, sometimes. And occasionally, it didn't entirely work out well.
Take, for example, Israel. As the new Jewish homeland prepared to establish itself as a state, many of Truman's advisers (and diplomats from England, the State department, and the Arab world to boot) were cautioning the president to move carefully, fearing that recognizing Israel would seriously destabilize the Middle East. However, eleven minutes after Israel was made official, Truman gave the new nation diplomatic recognition. And everything has been hunky-dory in the Middle East ever since!
|Everything, with the possible exception of... well... everything.|
It was a massively unpopular decision. How unpopular was it? Bad enough that the Chicago Tribune published an editorial calling for Truman's impeachment. So... rather unpopular. Now, making unpopular decisions is one thing. Making unpopular decisions that blow up in your face? That's behavior that will land you a quick exit from the Presidential Gladiatorial Arena™. Truman best watch himself.
The Chief: Vote! Comment! And tell your friends to do the same. Polls close Friday 9am Mountain Time.
Polk or Truman: it won't be a Good Friday for one of them.