James K Polk, the 11th President of the United States was born Nov 2, 1795 and died June 15, 1849.
James K Polk was the youngest president, at that time, to be in office. He managed to expand the borders of the United States to the Pacific Ocean, and added three states to the Union. He also started the Naval Academy, the Washington Monument, and issued the first postage stamp.
He was the son of Samuel Polk a North Carolina farmer and surveyor and his wife Jane Knox Polk. He was the oldest of ten children. In 1806, James was 10 years old when his family traveled across the Appalachian Mountains to live on the Tennessee frontier.
Growing up on the Tennessee frontier gave him democratic ideals, resourcefulness, and work ethic. He could handle the tough life of the frontier but his body lacked physical stamina. Just before his 17th birthday, he had kidney stones. A noted Kentucky surgeon Ephraim McDowell performed a successful operation that allowed James to pursue an education.
James Knox Polk had two and a half years of formal schooling in Tennessee before he applied to the University of North Carolina. To his surprise, he was admitted as a sophomore. Already interested in law and government, his studies and membership in the debating society fueled his desire. Upon graduation, he had top honors in mathematics and the classics.
After his college career was over he returned to Tennessee. His interest in law made him determined to be a lawyer. He began his legal training working in the office of renowned Nashville trial attorney, Felix Grundy, and served as clerk of the Tennessee Senate. James was diligent and ambitious and soon opened a law practice in Columbia, Tennessee.
By having a successful practice, he was encouraged to turn his attention to politics. At age 27, he ran for a seat in the Tennessee Legislature and defeated an incumbent. While serving as a State Representative, Sarah Childress caught his eye. She was the daughter of a prominent Murfreesboro merchant and planter Joel Childress and wife Elizabeth Whitsitt Childress. Sarah was educated, intelligent, and had social grace. She was a very impressive and energetic lady with an interest for politics and soon became James's personal and political confidante.
After they got married, Sarah was actively involved in her husband's campaigns and this helped to ensure his victories. James K Polk supported the policies of his fellow Democrat Andrew Jackson and at age 29 was elected to the US Congress. He was in Congress for fourteen years, two terms as Speaker of the House. While in Washington, he still had an eye on state politics. He noticed the Whig party was becoming popular, so he ran for governor and won. After serving a two year term, he attempted to get re-elected twice but failed.
In Tennessee, his career had peaked, but on the national level, nationally prominent Democrats had some designs on him. The 1844 Democratic Convention viewed him as a possible Vice-President. When the party's leading Presidential contenders Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass failed to get enough support to win the nomination, the Convention looked toward Polk. He would be the dark horse nominee, and would challenge the well known Wig candidate Henry Clay in the 1844 Presidential election.
James K Polk had a vision of a continental nation. He wanted Texas statehood and to acquire the Oregon Territory. He also promised to only serve one term in office. The majority of Americans liked his vision, and voted him into office.
The new President negotiated with Great Britain and annexed the Oregon Territory south of the 49th Parallel. After a two year war with Mexico, New Mexico and California became part of the United States. Over 800,000 square miles of western territory extended the western border to the Pacific Ocean. He also lowered tariffs and established an independent Federal Treasury.
James K Polk was true to his word and served only one term as
President. He left office and returned to Tennessee in March of 1849. He
died of cholera three months later.