President: James K. Polk

11th President of the United States, 1845-1849

Biography Read: “James K. Polk” by John Seigenthaler

Key Facts: Democrat. Boring in 1795 near Charlotte, North Carolina. Died in 1850 in Nashville.

Notable Facts:

  • Polk was “intense, partisan, humorless, and driven”
  • He was mentored by Andrew Jackson
  • In August 1843, he lost the election for Tennessee Governor for a second time (a job he held previously). This caused Martin Van Buren to reject him as a Vice Presidential Running Mate.
  • Martin Van Buren was the 8th President, lost to John Tyler, ran again as a Democrat the following year and lost the nomination to Polk, and then came back and ran as a Free Soil Party and was beat by Taylor.
  • Polk became the 11th President and youngest President to that point because he realized the the Nation wanted to support the annexation of Texas. Both Clay (Whig Party) and Van Buren were against bringing Texas into the Union, but Polk supported it.
  • Polk was born in 1795 to Same and Jane Knox Polk. Born in the deeply Christian South, he wasn’t baptized because his father refused to affirm his Christian faith.
  • He was a Methodist and believed in the separation of church and state.
  • Polk had no children and wasn’t likely able to due to a childhood surgery. He had the surgery at age 17 for Kidney Stones.
  • After the surgery he started school and eventually landed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Polk became a lawyer in Tennessee and argued a case to the Supreme Court (one of seven Presidents to do so).
  • At age 26, he married Sarah Childress (she was 8 years younger).
  • Polk was convinced John Quincy Adams won the Presidency through a corrupt bargain (trading the Secretary of State position for votes). When elected to Congress, he attempted to change the Constitution to stop the House from ever deciding an election.
  • Polk made Congressional inquires on behalf of President Jackson into the National Banks.
  • Polk was the Speaker of the House for the 25th Congress. The Congressional makeup was 108 Democrats, 108 Whigs, and 24 others.
  • Many people tried to get Polk into a duel, but he always controlled his anger and never fought.
  • In 1830 a bill was introduced to ban the lash as a punishment against slaves, Polk voted against it.
  • Polk was a slave owner (as were all Presidents up to this point except the Adams)
  • He promised to serve only one term as President.
  • He was responsible for acquiring the Oregon Territory (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming) from the British.
  • Polk disliked Zachery Taylor who was a Whig, but served under him in the War against Mexico for California.
  • Polk signed the Treaty with Mexico that ended the war and transferred $25 million to Mexico in exchange for New Mexico and California.
  • After leaving office, James and Sarah returned to Nashville to live at a home in view of the State House. Polk died 6 weeks later at age 53. Sarah lived another 41 years.

Casey Ryan Richards

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