Monday, February 9, 2009

A Lesson in Achieving Goals: The Story of the 11th U.S. President - James K. Polk

In sales, one of the problems we can run into is when we don't incorporate clearly defined goals into our overall strategy. When our goals are not clearly defined and few in their numbers, it becomes very easy for us to get off-track and not accomplish anything of value.

One of the best U.S. Presidents, in my opinion, was James K. Polk. Polk serves not only as a model for presidential greatness, but also for anyone trying to achieve success in their own life. Perhaps no other president, other than possibly Lincoln, accomplished so much in four years.

Polk campaigned and promised at the beginning of his presidency to primarily accomplish four things in his four year term (as he also promised not to seek re-election):

1) The re-establishment of the Independent Treasury System
2) The reduction of tariffs to increase trade & boost the U.S. economy
3) The acquisition of all or some of the Oregon territory
4) The acquisition of California and New Mexico (the current U.S. southwest) from Mexico

Polk ended up accomplishing every goal he set out at the beginning of his presidency and his accomplishments were many. The treasury system he created in the 1840's lasted until 1913. Before taking over as president, the US was a nation that extended just west of the Mississippi river. It was Polk that took the nation all the way to the Pacific ocean, making the United States a continental power. In a protectionist era in which high tariffs were thought to be positive for the US economy, Polk had the sense to lower them to increase trade - thereby boosting the overall US economic conditions. Texas, Iowa, and Wisconsin were admitted to the Union during his term, but parts or all of nearly a dozen more states would follow due to his territorial acquisitions. While all of these accomplishments would be hard to fit into an 8 year presidency, Polk managed to accomplish all of these goals in four years. He also kept his promise, and did not run for re-election in 1848. After all, he had accomplished every goal he had laid out at the beginning of his presidency.

Because the Civil War took place 12 years after his presidency had ended, Polk's legacy was overshadowed by Lincoln for the rest of the 19th century. In the 20th century, however, historians could not help but to re-examine how the presidency of Polk had positively impacted the United States. In the 21st century, Polk is now regularly listed as one of the top 10 U.S. Presidents by historians - even though most Americans hardly know anything about him.

Indeed, the history of the United States would be much different without the presidency of Polk. But even more important than that, Polk serves as a model to everyone that you can achieve overwhelming success when you set out on your "mission" with clearly defined goals. This by itself, might be Polk's greatest legacy of all.


Peter Watts said...

Hi Will

Great article about Polk, and you're absolutely right about the way this President inevitably became eclipsed by the war years that followed.

As I read your article, I'm struck by an almost Benjamin Franklin quality about Polk in terms of his awareness of the importance of goal setting. Franklin's name went on to become associated with a major school of business training. Maybe it's time someone did the same for Polk!

Thanks for the great article. I'm now heading off to add a Polk biography to my bookshelves. Would like to know more about this guy.

Best regards

From the Author: Will Fultz said...


Thanks for you comments. I have been fascinated with Polk for some time and was glad to write about him.

Polk has also been regarded by some historians as the hardest working president, as it was common for him to work 16-18 hours a day. It has always amazed me how he does not get the credit he deserves. I don't think there is any question that he the best one-term president the US has ever had, and upon further study I think you have to conclude that he is one of the "great" presidents.

Thanks again,

Will Fultz