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James Knox Polk

James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 - June 15, 1849) was the 11th (1845 - 1849) President of the United States. 

Order:  11th President
Term of Office:  March 4, 1845 - March 3, 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 
Nicknames: Young Hickory, Napoleon of the Stump 

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 - 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 expansion—a 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 .)

Supreme Court appointments 

  • Levi Woodbury - 1845 
  • Robert Cooper Grier - 1846 



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