Presidents: James Polk

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James Polk was the 11th President of the United States. He is the only president to have served as House Speaker. He is also considered the last strong pre-Civil War president.

James Polk

James Knox Polk was the first of ten children born to Samuel and Jane Knox Polk. He was born just outside of Charlotte in Pineville, NC on November 2, 1795. Polk was named after his maternal grandfather.

He was home schooled until 1813, when he enrolled in an academy in Murfreesboro, TN. While there he met a young lady by the name of Sarah Childress.

In January 1816, Polk transferred to the University of North Carolina.

After graduation, Polk returned to Tennessee, where he studied law and had a very successful practice.

In 1822, Polk joined the Tennessee militia as captain. He later was appointed colonel, a title he would be referred to for the remainder of his life.

He was a successful and popular speaker and became known by the name “Napoleon of the Stump”.

James Polk was a personal friend and strong supporter of Andrew Jackson. Jackson is said to have encouraged a romance between Polk and Sarah Childress. The couple were married in Murfreesboro, TN on January 1, 1824.

In 1824, James Polk won election in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1833, he became chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He was also a strong ally for President Andrew Jackson.

In 1834, Polk became Speaker of the House.

In 1839, he left congress to campaign for the Tennessee gubernatorial election. Polk became the Governor of Tennessee, but lost his bid for re-election.

President James Polk

In 1844, the Democratic National Convention nominated him as their candidate for President of the United States. He was not in attendance of the convention. When he learned of his nomination he said, ” “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

Sarah and James Polk

upon me by the voluntary suffrage of my fellow citizens.”

Polk promised to only serve for one term if elected to the presidency. He worked to unify the fractured Democratic party.

Polk won the election, while losing the votes of North Carolina {his birth state} and Tennessee {his residence}.

James Polk took office on March 4, 1845. He was 49 at the time and the youngest man to become president by this point in time.

His inauguration was the first ceremony reported by the telegraph and depicted in the newspaper.

During his presidency he was often known as “Young Hickory” in allusion of his mentor, Andrew Jackson.

James Polk helped gain control of the Oregon Territory, see Texas become a state, presided during the Mexican-American War, and saw U.S. gain control from Mexico over California and a large part of the south-west states.

Polk honored his pledge to only serve on term and did not seek re-election.

James Polk is said to have been exhausted by his years of public service and time in the White House. He died only three short months after leaving office, the shortest retirement of all of the Presidents.

James Polk died at his home, Polk Place, in Nashville, Tennessee on June 15, 1849. Polk’s last words illustrate his devotion to his wife: “I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you.

photo of James Polk

His wife would survive him by 42 years. He was also survived by his mother, who lived for another two and a half years.

In 1893, President and Mrs. Polk’s bodies were exhumed and laid to rest on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, TN.

A statue of President Polk is also at the North Carolina State Capitol.

Polk Place was demolished in 1900.

Polk is now recognized, not only as the strongest president between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, but also the president who made the United States a coast-to-coast nation.

In 2009, he ranked 12th among all of the Presidents in a poll made by C-Span.

While president, Polk increased the size of the United States by a third.

Walter Borneman wrote. “First, Polk accomplished the objectives of his presidential term as he defined them; second, he was the most decisive chief executive before the Civil War; and third, he greatly expanded the executive power of the presidency, particularly its war powers, its role as commander-in-chief, and its oversight of the executive branch.” President Harry S. Truman summarized this view by saying that Polk was “a great president. Said what he intended to do and did it.”


11th President of the United States
(March 4, 1845 to March 3, 1849)Nickname: “Young Hickory”Born: November 2, 1795, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
Died: June 15, 1849, in Nashville, Tennessee

Father: Samuel Polk
Mother: Jane Knox Polk
Married: Sarah Childress (1803-1891), on January 1, 1824
Children: None

Religion: Presbyterian
Education: Graduated from the University of North Carolina (1818)
Occupation: Lawyer
Political Party: Democrat

  • Member of Tennessee House of Representatives, 1823-25
  • Member of U.S. House of Representatives, 1825-39
  • Speaker of the House, 1835-39
  • Governor of Tennessee, 1839-41

Presidential Salary: $25,000/year

  • 1846
    • A large crack in the Liberty Bell proves too large to permit the bell to be rung any more.
    • Dispute with Britain over the Oregon Territory settled. Both nations get a part of the territory.
  • 1848
    • Treaty of 1848 with Mexico gave the U.S. control over California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
    • Gold discovered in California in December.

1795 Born on November 2, 1795 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.
Educated at the University of North Carolina

1811 Battle of Tippecanoe

1812 The War of 1812 which has also been called the second War for Independence, between the United States and Great Britain

1814 Treaty of Fort Jackson ends Creek War

1823 Member of Tennessee House of Representatives, 1823-25

1824 James Polk was married to Sarah Childress Polk in 1824

1825-39 Member of U.S. House of Representatives, 1825-39

1830 Indian Removal Act
Oregon Trail opens

1832 Black Hawk War
Seminole War begins
Department of Indian Affairs established

1835 Texas War for Independence begins

1835-39 Speaker of the House, 1835-39

1837 Battle of the Alamo

1838 1838-1839: The Trail of Tears

1839-41 Governor of Tennessee, 1839-41

1842 The Second Seminole War ended (1842)

1845 His term in office was from 1845 to 1849
He also enlarged the Monroe Doctrine.

1846 Mexican-American War begins
1846 acquisition of California
1846 Oregon Treaty
1846 the reduction of the tariff
1846 establishment of the independent treasury.

1848 Gold discovered in California
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War

1849 James Polk died of cholera on June 15, 1849 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was buried in a tomb on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee.


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