Promising to serve only one term so he’d be free to make tough decisions, Polk had to contend with harsh economic conditions (banks were failing and farms defaulting on loans), attacks on his family and one of the closest elections in U.S. history.
Even so, Polk kept each promise, inspiring Harry Truman to dub him one of the nation’s greatest presidents.
“He said exactly what he was going to do,” Truman said of Polk, “and he did it.”
In part, Polk did that by:
- Populating his Cabinet with bright, open-minded generalists instead of specialists.
- Asking them to express their opinions on every issue and cross-examining them if necessary. Polk depended on frequent Cabinet meetings to stay informed.
- Retiring — true to his word — after one term, even though he likely would’ve won re-election easily.