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James Knox Polk - 11th President of the United States


James Knox Polk was the 11th (1845-1849) president of the United States.

Early Life

Born in North Carolina in 1795, James Polk was studious and hard working. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1818, became a lawyer, and entered politics.

Polk was a member of the United States House of Representatives (1825-39) and a Governor of Tennessee (1839-41).

Party Nomination

Democrats nominated dark horse candidate Polk on the ninth ballot of the Democratic National Convention after party favorite Martin Van Buren lost the bid because of his opposition to annexing Texas, a position deemed unacceptable by Southerners and by former president Andrew Jackson.

Told of his nomination in a letter, Polk penned the reply: "It has been well observed that the office of President of the United States should neither be sought nor declined. I have never sought it, nor should I feel at liberty to decline it, if conferred upon me by the voluntary suffrages of my fellow citizens."

Though a veteran politician, Polk entered the 1844 presidential campaign with little name recognition. Playing on his relative obscurity, the Whig opposition sniped "Who is James K. Polk?" An experienced and eloquent orator dubbed the "Napoleon of the Stump," Polk campaigned vigorously, surprising many with his stalwart support of westward expansion--a hotly-debated issue dodged by other candidates.

In the end, Polk's policies paid off. On November 5, 1844, Polk defeated Whig party candidate Henry Clay to become the eleventh president of the United States. He won 170 electoral votes to Clay's 105, with a margin of victory was just 38,000 popular votes.

President

Resolved to serve only one term, Polk acted swiftly to fulfill his campaign promises. In just four years, he oversaw annexation of Texas, settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain, reestablishment of an independent treasury system, and acquisition of territory from Mexico that eventually became California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. The former Mexican land came as part of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, settling the Mexican-American War (fought from April 1846 to February 1848).

Polk's considerable political accomplishments took their toll on his health. Full of enthusiasm and vigor when he entered office, Polk left the White House at the age of 53 exhausted by his years of public service. He died less than four months later at his new home,"Polk Place," in Nashville, Tennessee.

Polk's wife, Sarah Childress Polk, lived at the residence another 42 years, often receiving visitors. During the American Civil War, Mrs. Polk welcomed both Confederate and Union leaders to her home. Polk Place became a pilgrimage destination and was respected as neutral ground. When Mrs. Polk passed away in 1891, she was mourned by a nation that regarded her as a precious link to the past.

 

 
Photographs and Documents of President James Knox Polk



Message of President James Polk nominating his cabinet, including James Buchanan as Secretary of State, Robert J. Walker as Secretary of the Treasury, William L. Marcy as Secretary of War, George Bancroft as Secretary of the Navy, Cave Johnson as Post Master General, and John Y. Mason as Attorney General, 03/05/1845 (National Archives)
Message of President James Polk nominating his cabinet, including James Buchanan as Secretary of State, Robert J. Walker as Secretary of the Treasury, William L. Marcy as Secretary of War, George Bancroft as Secretary of the Navy, Cave Johnson as Post Master General, and John Y. Mason as Attorney General, 03/05/1845 (National Archives)





 
Quick Facts about President James Knox Polk

Rank: 11th (1845-1849)
Followed: John Tyler
Succeeded by: Zachary Taylor
Date of Birth November 2, 1795
Place of Birth: Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
Date of Death: June 15, 1849
Place of Death: Nashville, Tennessee
First Lady: Sarah Childress
Occupation: lawyer
Political Party: Democrat
Vice President: George M. Dallas

 
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