July/August 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 5
Novelist; author of Chesapeake and Texas , among many others
Gen. George Armstrong Custer, a flamboyant, exhibitionistic, loose-cannon poseur who enjoyed few successes and many failures, including a great disaster in which his loyal troops paid the supreme penalty for his braggadocio. In my various studies I have crossed his track many times and in many different situations and always with amazement that he should have been able to get away with what he did. But I am also amused that the one-track diligence of his widow should have converted him into a national hero of the most dubious credentials.
President James K. Polk, our first dark-horse candidate for President, who came to office with a specific agenda, each item of which he fulfilled, often against great opposition and adversity, and who then retired after the completion of one exceptionally productive term. He settled the “fifty-four forty (54° 40′) or fight” Oregon dispute with Great Britain on terms favorable to each nation, prosecuted the war with Mexico, added tremendous territory, including Texas, to the United States, started reconciliation with Mexico, stabilized tariffs, and in general headed a fine, responsible administration. He was the Harry Truman of his time.