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James K. Polk
James Knox Polk (November 2, 1795 – June 15, 1849) was the eleventh President of the United States, serving from 1845 to 1849. He also served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and as governor of Tennessee.
Early life and marriage
Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina in 1795, the oldest of ten children born to Samuel and Jane (nee Knox) Polk. The family eventually moved to Tennessee, where Samuel Polk was successful as a land surveyor, planter and businessman. Polk's mother Jane was reportedly descended from the Scottish religious reformer John Knox.
Polk suffered from ill-health as a youth, and at 16, he needed a surgery to remove stones from his bladder. The surgery was done by a noted surgeon from Kentucky, Ephraim McDowell, during an era where anesthesia was unknown. Supposedly brandy was given to the young man to act as a sedative.
Polk was a good student, and was tutored at home by his mother and hired teachers until he began attending a Murfreesboro Presbyterian school at around age 13. At age 16, he traveled back to North Carolina to enter the University of North Carolina as a sophomore. He graduated in 1818 with honors, having studied mathematics and the classics.
After graduation, Polk returned to Tennessee where he studied law under the tutelage of Felix Grundy, a well-known trial attorney who would go on to serve as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee, and as attorney general for President Martin Van Buren.
Speaker of the House
In the House of Representatives, Polk was a chief lieutenant of Jackson in his Bank war. He served as Speaker between 1835 and 1839, leaving to become governor of Tennessee.
Until circumstances raised Polk's ambitions, he was a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for Vice President in 1844. Both Martin Van Buren, who had been expected to win the Democratic nomination for President, and Henry Clay, who was to be the Whig nominee, tried to take the expansionist issue out of the campaign by declaring themselves opposed to the annexation of Texas. Polk, however, publicly asserted that Texas should be "re-annexed" and all of Oregon "re-occupied."
The aged Jackson, correctly sensing that the people favored expansion, urged the choice of a candidate committed to the Nation's "Manifest Destiny." This view prevailed at the Democratic Convention, where Polk was nominated on the ninth ballot.
"Who is James K. Polk?" Whigs jeered. Democrats replied Polk was the candidate who stood for expansion.
Even before he could take office, Congress passed a joint resolution offering annexation to Texas. In so doing they bequeathed Polk the possibility of war with Mexico, which soon severed diplomatic relations.
In his stand on Oregon, the President seemed to be risking war with Great Britain also. The 1844 Democratic platform claimed the entire Oregon area, from the California boundary northward to a latitude of 54'40', the southern boundary of Russian Alaska. Extremists proclaimed "Fifty-four forty or fight," but Polk, aware of diplomatic realities, knew that no course short of war was likely to get all of Oregon. Happily, neither he nor the British wanted a war.
He offered to settle by extending the Canadian boundary, along the 49th parallel, from the Rockies to the Pacific. When the British minister declined, Polk reasserted the American claim to the entire area. Finally, the British settled for the 49th parallel, except for the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The treaty was signed in 1846.
Acquisition of California proved far more difficult. Polk sent an envoy to offer Mexico up to $20,000,000, plus settlement of damage claims owed to Americans, in return for California and the New Mexico country. Since no Mexican leader could cede half his country and still stay in power, Polk's envoy was not received. To bring pressure, Polk sent Gen. Zachary Taylor to the disputed area on the Rio Grande.
To Mexican troops this was aggression, and they attacked Taylor's forces.
Congress declared war and, despite much Northern opposition, supported the military operations. American forces won repeated victories and occupied Mexico City. Finally, in 1848, Mexico ceded New Mexico and California in return for $15,000,000 and American assumption of the damage claims.
President Polk added a vast area to the United States, but its acquisition precipitated a bitter quarrel between the North and the South over expansion of slavery.
Polk had campaigned on the promise that he would only serve one term as president. He kept that promise, and refused to run again in 1848. After leaving the White House, Polk took a tour of the southern United States before returning to his home in Nashville, Tennessee. He may have contracted cholera in New Orleans while on his trip, which was cut short because of his illness. Polk returned to Nashville to his newly purchased home, where his health continued to decline. Polk died on June 15, 1849.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 President James K. Polk: The Site North Carolina Historical Sites, nchistoricsites.org, retrieved July 14, 2012
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 James K. Polk history.com, retrieved July 14, 2012
- ↑ James K. Polk: Biography James K. Polk Ancestral Home
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 James K. Polk biography: Life before the Presidency Miller Center, University of Virginia, retrieved July 15, 2012
- ↑ James K. Polk biography: Life after the presidency Miller Center, University of Virginia, retrieved July 15, 2012
|The Presidents of the United States of America|
|George Washington | John Adams | Thomas Jefferson | James Madison | James Monroe | John Quincy Adams | Andrew Jackson | Martin Van Buren | William Henry Harrison | John Tyler | James K. Polk | Zachary Taylor | Millard Fillmore | Franklin Pierce | James Buchanan | Abraham Lincoln | Andrew Johnson | Ulysses S. Grant | Rutherford B. Hayes | James A. Garfield | Chester A. Arthur | Grover Cleveland | Benjamin Harrison | William McKinley | Theodore Roosevelt | William Howard Taft | Woodrow Wilson | Warren G. Harding | Calvin Coolidge | Herbert Hoover | Franklin D. Roosevelt | Harry S. Truman | Dwight D. Eisenhower | John F. Kennedy | Lyndon B. Johnson | Richard Nixon | Gerald Ford | Jimmy Carter | Ronald Reagan | George H.W. Bush | Bill Clinton | George W. Bush | Barack Obama|