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
- 1839 ), also serving as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
( 1835 - 1839 ), and Governor of Tennessee ( 1839 - 1841 ).
Nomination and election
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 expansiona hotly-debated issue
dodged by other candidates. Polk wanted the entire Oregon Territory , vowing,
" Fifty-Four Forty or Fight ."
In the end, Polk's campaign 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 the election with 170 electoral
votes versus Clay's 105. The popular vote count was much closer with Polk
receiving just 38,000 more popular votes than Clay.
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 24 , 1846 to February 2 , 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 ( April
12 , 1861 - May 13 , 1865 ), 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 on August 14 ,
1891, she was mourned by a nation that regarded her as a precious link
to the past.
Source: Library of Congress
Places named for Polk
Polk County, Arkansas
Polk County, Florida
Polk County, Georgia
Polk County, Iowa
Polk County, Minnesota
Polk County, Nebraska
Polk County, Oregon
Polk County, Tennessee
Polk County, Texas
Polk County, Wisconsin
(That does not include Polk County, North Carolina , which was named after
Col. William Polk who fought in the American Revolutionary War .)