Does “executive experience” equate to a good president? Part 4

#11 — James K. Polk.  Polk was both Speaker of the House and Governor of Tennessee.  He was trained as a lawyer and also helped run his family’s successful plantation.  The Polk presidency is generally looked upon as a good one, but one of missed opportunities.  Under his administration, the United States added territory that would later make up most of our western states, including Washington, California, Oregon, etc.  Part of that territory was gained through the skillful directing of the Mexican-American War.  He was able to reduce tariffs and the economy prospered.  One source of contention is that he did little to stem the spread of slavery, and in fact grossly underestimated how his support of letting slavery expand into the newly acquired territories would fan the flames of emotion in the country.  He also attempted to purchase Cuba from Spain, but the offer (upwards of nearly $3 billion in today’s dollars) was rejected.  (Imagine the difference in the Cold War if that transaction had gone through?!?)  But overall he seems to have been productive, masterful at negotiations and he successfully achieved Manifest Destiny and secured our border with Mexico.  Perhaps he lacked some foresight, but it’s easier to see that now, in retrospect, than it probably was at the time.  So, I would say:  EE: yes; Good: yes.

#12 — Zachary Taylor.  Attained the rank of Major General in the Army and was a national war hero.  Having never held political office or even bothered with telling people his political leanings, it was pretty much a crap shoot when he won office to see what he would do.  It turns out he was pretty against the expansion of slavery, which incited the South.  But then he went and died of suspected cholera and never really got to see his policies through, as his veep, Millard Fillmore, took over and supported a somewhat different philosophy.  Had Taylor lived and won a re-election to see his policies through, it might have stemmed the spread of slavery and even, possibly, prevent the Civil War.  Besides that, though, he was fairly mediocre… scaled back on the pursuit of Manifest Destiny a great deal, made a treaty with Britain with unnecessarily large concessions, and no one in Congress took him seriously, so he couldn’t otherwise get much done.  All that aside, I’m simply inclined to just not count him, between being unable to determine if he was a really good president, being undecided whether to count his army career as “executive experience” and the shortness of his presidency.

#13 – Millard Fillmore.  He was a VP, a U.S. Senator, a state senator (in NY) and the NY State Comptroller.  Lots of political experience to be sure, but no executive experience.  He took over after Taylor’s death.  He supported the Compromise of 1850, which was a complex set of laws but to summarize, it made California a free state, allowed the possibility of Utah and New Mexico to enter the Union as slave states, and a couple other provisos that attempted to appease all sides but instead inflamed them all instead.  The Compromise did serve to probably delay what was now a nearly inevitable Civil War, so it can be credited for that.  Millard Fillmore also has a number of other accomplishments as part of his legacy – establishing trade with Japan, and presiding over a great number of foreign relations successes in his short tenure.  Common belief seems to be that his presidency was unremarkable, but given the tempestuousness of the times he found himself as President, it seems to me he did a pretty decent job.  He was not nominated to run for a second term more because the Whig party was in disarray more than for his popularity at the time.  So… I might be in the minority here, but…  EE: no; good: yes.

OK, I need to go to bed.  30 to go.  Yikes.

2 responses to “Does “executive experience” equate to a good president? Part 4

  1. I wouldn’t mark Fillmore as good, as although he did a lot of good, I find the Fugitive Slave Act unforgivable.

    • Although, come to think of it, That is the reason why a lot of people mark Nixon down, replace “the Fugitive Slave Act” with “Watergate”, and I agreed with Nixon as good, so maybe Fillmore should get the good mark.

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