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President James K. Polk - History

President James K. Polk - History

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James K. Polk

Polk was elected to office based on a platform of expansion. His Presidency is best known for his succesful prosecution of the war with Mexico and the settling of the dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory. Elected 1844

The Early Years

James Polk was born on the family farm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. At the age of ten, he moved with his family to Tennessee. Although Polk helped his father clear new land , he was a sickly youngster. At the age of 17, he underwent experimental surgery to remove gallstones. In 1816, at the age of 21, he entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore. He went on to study law under Felix Grundy. In 1820 Polk was admitted to the bar. In 1821, he was commissioned a captain of a militia cavalry regiment. From 1823-1825 he was a Member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

From 1825-1839 Polk served as a member of the US House of Representatives. He was a strong supporter of President Jackson. In 1835 Polk was elected the Speaker of the House. From 1839-1841 he served as governor of Tennessee.

Accomplishments in Office

Polk entered office with four stated objectives. They were a reduction in the tariff, an independent treasury, settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute and acquisition of California. Polk was successful in achieving all his goals.

Attaining the first two was relatively simple. In 1846, the Walker Tariff Act and the Treasury Act passed Congress and became law.

The other two goals were more difficult. In order to achieve them, he had to go to war with Mexico and threaten to do the same with Great Britain. Of course, knowing who to fight and when is one of the most important lessons for world leaders. Even though Mexico fired the first shot, Polk provoked it. He was, however, willing to compromise with Great Britain.

The First Family

Father: Samuel Polk
Mother: Jane Knox Polk
Wife: Sarah Childress

Major Events

Oregon Treaty
Independent Treasury
Mexican War
Mormons Settle Great Salt Lake
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Gold Discovered in California

The Cabinet

Secretaries of State: Martin Van Buren, Edward Livingston, Loiuse McCane, John Forsyth
Secretaries of the Treasury: Samuel Ingham, Loius McCane, William Duane, Levi Woodbury
Secretaries of War: John Eaton, Lewis Cass, Benjamin Butler
Secretaries of the Navy : John Brunch, Levi Woodbury, Maholon Dickerson
Postmaster Generals: William Barry, Amos Kendall


Mexican-American War

Did You Know?

First President born in North Carolina.
First President to be survived by his mother.

James Polk is born

On November 2, 1795, James Knox Polk is born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

Polk grew up on his father’s plantation in Tennessee and attended the University of North Carolina, from which he graduated with honors in 1818. Like many presidents before and after him, he worked as a lawyer before entering politics.

Polk’s father, a confirmed Democrat, was a friend of war hero and future President Andrew Jackson, and Polk soon became one of Jackson’s political disciples. He served first in the Tennessee legislature and then in the U.S. House of Representatives (1825 – 1839), where he supported then-President Jackson’s efforts to close the Bank of the United States, and speaker of the House between 1835 and 1839. He then served as governor of Tennessee from 1839 to 1841. Although many considered him a �rk horse,” he won the presidency in 1844 with the backing of the aging, but still popular, Jackson.

As president, Polk earned a reputation for being a workaholic and is remembered for his conviction that it was America’s “manifest destiny” to expand freely across the continent and spread democracy. In 1846, spurred by a desire to gain Mexican territory for the United States, Polk led the country into a controversial war with its southern neighbor. Polk insisted that Mexico had “invaded” the U.S. during an earlier skirmish between American and Mexican troops that had spilled over the ill-defined territorial boundary along the Rio Grande River. His most vocal opponent in Congress was a representative from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln protested not so much expansionism itself, but Polk’s justification of the war, which he described as unconstitutional, unnecessary and expensive, calling Polk 𠇊 bewildered, confounded and miserably perplexed man.” Although the Mexican-American War was ultimately successful in territorial terms, Polk lost public support after two bloody years of conflict in which the U.S. lost 13,780 men and spent a whopping $100 million. Toward the end of 1848, Lincoln, who was beginning to make a name for himself as a persuasive orator, began coaching a Republican presidential candidate who would become Polk’s successor: Zachary Taylor. Ironically, Taylor had first won public recognition while serving as commanding general of the Army during the Mexican-American War. 

Polk’s acquisition of 525,000 square miles of new territory caused heated debate in Congress over the question of whether the new states carved out of the territory would allow slavery. This issue would become the most divisive debate to face Congress and the nation since the American Revolution.

Polk died three months after leaving office from an intestinal disorder that his doctors claimed was aggravated by overwork.

The Annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, 1845–1848

During his tenure, U.S. President James K. Polk oversaw the greatest territorial expansion of the United States to date. Polk accomplished this through the annexation of Texas in 1845, the negotiation of the Oregon Treaty with Great Britain in 1846, and the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, which ended with the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848.

These events brought within the control of the United States the future states of Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Washington, and Oregon, as well as portions of what would later become Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana.

Following Texas’ successful war of independence against Mexico in 1836, President Martin van Buren refrained from annexing Texas after the Mexicans threatened war. Accordingly, while the United States extended diplomatic recognition to Texas, it took no further action concerning annexation until 1844, when President John Tyler restarted negotiations with the Republic of Texas. His efforts culminated on April 12 in a Treaty of Annexation, an event that caused Mexico to sever diplomatic relations with United States. Tyler, however, lacked the votes in the Senate to ratify the treaty, and it was defeated by a wide margin in June. Shortly before he left office, Tyler tried again, this time through a joint resolution of both houses of Congress. With the support of President-elect Polk, Tyler managed to get the joint resolution passed on March 1, 1845, and Texas was admitted into the United States on December 29.

While Mexico did not follow through with its threat to declare war if the United States annexed Texas, relations between the two nations remained tense due to Mexico’s disputed border with Texas. According to the Texans, their state included significant portions of what is today New Mexico and Colorado, and the western and southern portions of Texas itself, which they claimed extended to the Rio Grande River. The Mexicans, however, argued that the border only extended to the Nueces River, north of the Rio Grande.

In July, 1845, Polk, who had been elected on a platform of expansionism, ordered the commander of the U.S. Army in Texas, Zachary Taylor, to move his forces into the disputed lands that lay between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers. In November, Polk dispatched Congressman John Slidell to Mexico with instructions to negotiate the purchase of the disputed areas along the Texas-Mexican border, and the territory comprising the present-day states of New Mexico and California.

Following the failure of Slidell’s mission in May 1846, Polk used news of skirmishes inside disputed territory between Mexican troops and Taylor’s army to gain Congressional support for a declaration of war against Mexico. On May 13, 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico.

Following the capture of Mexico City in September 1847, Nicholas Trist, chief clerk of the Department of State and Polk’s peace emissary, began negotiations for a peace treaty with the Mexican Government under terms similar to those pursued by Slidell the previous year. Polk soon grew concerned by Trist’s conduct, however, believing that he would not press for strong enough terms from the Mexicans, and because Trist became a close friend of General Winfield Scott, a Whig who was thought to be a strong contender for his party’s presidential nomination for the 1848 election. Furthermore, the war had encouraged expansionist Democrats to call for a complete annexation of Mexico. Polk recalled Trist in October.

Believing that he was on the cusp of an agreement with the Mexicans, Trist ignored the recall order and presented Polk with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which was signed in Mexico City on February 2, 1848. Under the terms of the treaty, Mexico ceded to the United States approximately 525,000 square miles (55% of its prewar territory) in exchange for a $15 million lump sum payment, and the assumption by the U.S. Government of up to $3.25 million worth of debts owed by Mexico to U.S. citizens.

While Polk would have preferred a more extensive annexation of Mexican territory, he realized that prolonging the war would have disastrous political consequences and decided to submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification. Although there was substantial opposition to the treaty within the Senate, on March 10, 1848, it passed by a razor-thin margin of 38 to 14.

The war had another significant outcome. On August 8, 1846, Congressman David Wilmot introduced a rider to an appropriations bill that stipulated that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist” in any territory acquired by the United States in the war against Mexico. While Southern senators managed to block adoption of the so-called “Wilmot Proviso,” it nonetheless provoked a political firestorm. The question of whether slavery could expand throughout the United States continue to fester until the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865.


This site is located on land once owned by the parents of James K. Polk, the 11th U.S. president. The state historic site commemorates significant events in the Polk administration: the Mexican-American War, settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute, and the annexation of California. Reconstructions of typical homestead buildings—a log house, separate kitchen, and barn—are authentically furnished. The visitor center features a film on Polk's life and exhibits on his family and tumultuous presidency.

". . . it was here . . . that I spent near three years of my life. It was here that I received lessons of instructions to which I mainly attribute whatever of success or advancement has attended me in subsequent life."--
James K. Polk
upon his return to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1847

Born November 2, 1795 on a 150-acre farm worked by his parents, Jane and Samuel, James Knox Polk spent most of his childhood among the gently rolling hills of Mecklenburg County. A memorial to our nation's 11th president is located on part of these lands. The early 1800s-vintage log buildings and their furnishings are not original to the Polk homestead but are very similar to the structures the president's family lived in when he was a boy.

The oldest of ten, Polk was raised on tales of the American Revolution by his father, a prosperous farmer. A pious Presbyterian, Polk's mother was said to be descended from the fiery Scottish religious reformer John Knox. Both parents instilled in their son a fierce patriotism, a keen interest in politics, and a deep religious faith.

When James was 11, the family sold the homestead (by then it encompassed over 450 acres) and moved west to join his grandfather in Tennessee. The future president attended academies there, then returned to North Carolina, becoming an honor student at the University of North Carolina. After graduating in 1818, he went back to Tennessee, studied law, and established a practice.

In 1824 Polk married Sarah Childress, whose gracious manner, intellect, and devoted companionship helped further his political career.

A successful lawyer, Polk entered politics as a representative in the Tennessee legislature. Then, for 14 years he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, including four years as speaker (1835-1839). He was a powerful debater and master of parliamentary procedure. His eloquent speeches, unfailing support of President Andrew Jackson, and firm belief in Jeffersonian principles--equal rights for all, special privileges for none, and friendship with the common people--won him the nickname "Napoleon of the Stump." In 1839 Polk refused renomination for Congress to become a successful Democratic candidate for governor of Tennessee. However, public sentiment shifted toward the Whig party, and he was twice defeated for a second term in both 1841 and 1843. It seemed that his political career had stalled.

Fortunately, Polk's enthusiasm for westward expansion saved his career, gaining him the Democratic presidential nomination over Martin Van Buren in 1844. Polk became the first dark horse in American politics when he was chosen as the Democratic nominee for president against Henry Clay of the Whig party. The chief issues of the campaign were the annexation of Texas and the occupation of Oregon. Polk took a strong stand in favor of both. With a campaign slogan of "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight," referring to the northern boundary of the Oregon territory, Polk rode into the White House.

A highly determined man, Polk entered the presidency after his inauguration with a clear-cut program. He set forth five goals, all of which he carried out successfully during his single term in office. He reduced the tariff, established an independent treasury, settled the Oregon boundary, annexed Texas, and acquired the California Territory, the latter resulting in an unpopular war with Mexico. During Polk's administration the United States acquired more than 50,000 square miles of western land, making it necessary to create a federal Department of the Interior.

In his campaign, Polk had called for annexing Oregon and Texas, though either measure might well mean war, and once elected (he only received a minority of the total vote) the new president implemented his plans for expansion. Through a combination of military threats and diplomacy, Polk managed to arrive at a compromise with England that set the 49th parallel as the Oregon Territory's northern boundary.

Acquiring the rest of the West turned out to be a more bloody affair, the newly admitted state of Texas being at the heart of the matter.

Though thousands of Spanish and Mexican documents showed that Texas' western boundary had traditionally been the Nueces River, Polk backed Texans' claims that their western border was the Rio Grande. Since Texas claimed the river all the way to its source, their stand implied that half of present-day New Mexico and Colorado was rightfully theirs. The Mexican government found this unacceptable and refused the United States' offer of about $40,000,000 for New Mexico and California.

When U.S. General Zachary Taylor led an army across the disputed area to the banks of the Rio Grande in 1846, Mexican troops attacked and killed 16 of his men. Polk seized upon this incident as proof of treachery and quickly got Congress to declare war on Mexico. This conflict came to be known as the Mexican-American War.

Though the United States ultimately defeated Mexico's poorly-armed troops in some of the most destructive warfare ever witnessed to that time, ironically the acquisition of the West was little help to Polk. The inescapable issue of slavery soon crippled the nation's expansion, as Congress took up legislation that would prohibit slavery in all newly-acquired territories. Though now larger and richer with the discovery of gold in California, the U.S. found itself on the road to civil war.

Polk's remarkable achievements can be credited to his personal dedication and sincerity, as well as the way he conducted his office the presidency was run like an efficient business:

"I would relieve the burdens of the whole community as far as possible, by reducing the taxes. I would keep as much money in the treasury as the safety of the Government required, and no more. I would keep no surplus revenue there to scramble for, either for internal improvements, or for any thing else. I would bring the Government back to what it was intended to be--a plain economical Government." - James K. Polk, U.S. Congressman

Though highly respected by those who worked for him, Polk impressed most Americans as distant and uncompromising. He stated he would not run for a second presidential term and did just that. Having long suffered from exhaustion, overwork and general frail health, James K. Polk died June 15, 1849 at his home in Nashville, Tenn.only three months after leaving office.

As the expansionist 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk was perhaps more responsible than any other single person for setting the boundaries of what came to be the American West.

Smithsonian Institution created

After a decade of debate about how best to spend a bequest left to America from an obscure English scientist, President James K. Polk signs the Smithsonian Institution Act into law on this day in 1846.

In 1829, James Smithson died in Italy, leaving behind a will with a peculiar footnote. In the event that his only nephew died without any heirs, Smithson decreed that the whole of his estate would go to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Smithson’s curious bequest to a country that he had never visited aroused significant attention on both sides of the Atlantic.

Smithson had been a fellow of the venerable Royal Society of London from the age of 22, publishing numerous scientific papers on mineral composition, geology, and chemistry. In 1802, he overturned popular scientific opinion by proving that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, and one type of zinc carbonate was later named smithsonite in his honor.


James Knox Polk was born on November 2, 1795, in a log cabin in Pineville, North Carolina. [1] He was the first of 10 children born into a family of farmers. [2] His mother Jane named him after her father, James Knox. [1] His father Samuel Polk was a farmer, slaveholder, and surveyor of Scots-Irish descent. The Polks had immigrated to America in the late 1600s, settling initially on the Eastern Shore of Maryland but later moving to south-central Pennsylvania and then to the Carolina hill country. [1]

The Knox and Polk families were Presbyterian. While Polk's mother remained a devout Presbyterian, his father, whose own father Ezekiel Polk was a deist, rejected dogmatic Presbyterianism. He refused to declare his belief in Christianity at his son's baptism, and the minister refused to baptize young James. [1] [3] Nevertheless, James' mother "stamped her rigid orthodoxy on James, instilling lifelong Calvinistic traits of self-discipline, hard work, piety, individualism, and a belief in the imperfection of human nature", according to James A. Rawley's American National Biography article. [2]

In 1803, Ezekiel Polk led four of his adult children and their families to the Duck River area in what is now Maury County, Tennessee Samuel Polk and his family followed in 1806. The Polk clan dominated politics in Maury County and in the new town of Columbia. Samuel became a county judge, and the guests at his home included Andrew Jackson, who had already served as a judge and in Congress. [4] [a] James learned from the political talk around the dinner table both Samuel and Ezekiel were strong supporters of President Thomas Jefferson and opponents of the Federalist Party. [5]

Polk suffered from frail health as a child, a particular disadvantage in a frontier society. His father took him to see prominent Philadelphia physician Dr. Philip Syng Physick for urinary stones. The journey was broken off by James's severe pain, and Dr. Ephraim McDowell of Danville, Kentucky, operated to remove them. No anesthetic was available except brandy. The operation was successful, but it might have left James impotent or sterile, as he had no children. He recovered quickly and became more robust. His father offered to bring him into one of his businesses, but he wanted an education and enrolled at a Presbyterian academy in 1813. [6] He became a member of the Zion Church near his home in 1813 and enrolled in the Zion Church Academy. He then entered Bradley Academy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he proved a promising student. [7] [8] [9]

In January 1816, Polk was admitted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a second-semester sophomore. The Polk family had connections with the university, then a small school of about 80 students Samuel was its land agent in Tennessee and his cousin William Polk was a trustee. [10] Polk's roommate was William Dunn Moseley, who became the first Governor of Florida. Polk joined the Dialectic Society where he took part in debates, became its president, and learned the art of oratory. [11] In one address, he warned that some American leaders were flirting with monarchical ideals, singling out Alexander Hamilton, a foe of Jefferson. [12] Polk graduated with honors in May 1818. [11]

After graduation, Polk returned to Nashville, Tennessee to study law under renowned trial attorney Felix Grundy, [13] who became his first mentor. On September 20, 1819, he was elected clerk of the Tennessee State Senate, which then sat in Murfreesboro and to which Grundy had been elected. [14] He was re-elected clerk in 1821 without opposition, and continued to serve until 1822. In June 1820, he was admitted to the Tennessee bar, and his first case was to defend his father against a public fighting charge he secured his release for a one-dollar fine. [14] He opened an office in Maury County [2] and was successful as a lawyer, due largely to the many cases arising from the Panic of 1819, a severe depression. [15] His law practice subsidized his political career. [16]

Tennessee state legislator Edit

By the time the legislature adjourned its session in September 1822, Polk was determined to be a candidate for the Tennessee House of Representatives. The election was in August 1823, almost a year away, allowing him ample time for campaigning. [17] Already involved locally as a member of the Masons, he was commissioned in the Tennessee militia as a captain in the cavalry regiment of the 5th Brigade. He was later appointed a colonel on the staff of Governor William Carroll, and was afterwards often referred to as "Colonel". [18] [19] Although many of the voters were members of the Polk clan, the young politician campaigned energetically. People liked Polk's oratory, which earned him the nickname "Napoleon of the Stump." At the polls, where Polk provided alcoholic refreshments for his voters, he defeated incumbent William Yancey. [17] [18]

Beginning in early 1822, Polk courted Sarah Childress—they were engaged the following year [21] and married on January 1, 1824, in Murfreesboro. [17] Educated far better than most women of her time, especially in frontier Tennessee, Sarah Polk was from one of the state's most prominent families. [17] During James's political career Sarah assisted her husband with his speeches, gave him advice on policy matters, and played an active role in his campaigns. [22] Rawley noted that Sarah Polk's grace, intelligence and charming conversation helped compensate for her husband's often austere manner. [2]

Polk's first mentor was Grundy, but in the legislature, Polk came increasingly to oppose him on such matters as land reform, and came to support the policies of Andrew Jackson, by then a military hero for his victory at the Battle of New Orleans (1815). [23] Jackson was a family friend to both the Polks and the Childresses—there is evidence Sarah Polk and her siblings called him "Uncle Andrew"—and James Polk quickly came to support his presidential ambitions for 1824. When the Tennessee Legislature deadlocked on whom to elect as U.S. senator in 1823 (until 1913, legislators, not the people, elected senators), Jackson's name was placed in nomination. Polk broke from his usual allies, casting his vote as a member of the state House of Representatives for the general in Jackson's victory. This boosted Jackson's presidential chances by giving him recent political experience [b] to match his military accomplishments. This began an alliance [24] that would continue until Jackson's death early in Polk's presidency. [2] Polk, through much of his political career, was known as "Young Hickory", based on the nickname for Jackson, "Old Hickory". Polk's political career was as dependent on Jackson as his nickname implied. [25]

In the 1824 United States presidential election, Jackson got the most electoral votes (he also led in the popular vote) but as he did not receive a majority in the Electoral College, the election was thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives, which chose Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, who had received the second-most of each. Polk, like other Jackson supporters, believed that Speaker of the House Henry Clay had traded his support as fourth-place finisher (the House may only choose from among the top three) to Adams in a Corrupt Bargain in exchange for being the new Secretary of State. Polk had in August 1824 declared his candidacy for the following year's election to the House of Representatives from Tennessee's 6th congressional district. [26] The district stretched from Maury County south to the Alabama line, and extensive electioneering was expected of the five candidates. Polk campaigned so vigorously that Sarah began to worry about his health. During the campaign, Polk's opponents said that at the age of 29 Polk was too young for the responsibility of a seat in the House, but he won the election with 3,669 votes out of 10,440 and took his seat in Congress later that year. [27]

Jackson disciple Edit

When Polk arrived in Washington, D.C. for Congress's regular session in December 1825, he roomed in Benjamin Burch's boarding house with other Tennessee representatives, including Sam Houston. Polk made his first major speech on March 13, 1826, in which he said that the Electoral College should be abolished and that the president should be elected by popular vote. [28] Remaining bitter at the alleged Corrupt Bargain between Adams and Clay, Polk became a vocal critic of the administration, frequently voting against its policies. [29] Sarah Polk remained at home in Columbia during her husband's first year in Congress, but accompanied him to Washington beginning in December 1826 she assisted him with his correspondence and came to hear James's speeches. [30]

Polk won re-election in 1827 and continued to oppose the Adams administration. [30] He remained in close touch with Jackson, and when Jackson ran for president in 1828, Polk was a corresponding advisor on his campaign. Following Jackson's victory over Adams, Polk became one of the new President's most prominent and loyal supporters in the House. [31] Working on Jackson's behalf, Polk successfully opposed federally-funded "internal improvements" such as a proposed Buffalo-to-New Orleans road, and he was pleased by Jackson's Maysville Road veto in May 1830, when Jackson blocked a bill to finance a road extension entirely within one state, Kentucky, deeming it unconstitutional. [32] Jackson opponents alleged that the veto message, which strongly complained about Congress' penchant for passing pork barrel projects, was written by Polk, but he denied this, stating that the message was entirely the President's. [33]

Polk served as Jackson's most prominent House ally in the "Bank War" that developed over Jackson's opposition to the re-authorization of the Second Bank of the United States. [34] The Second Bank, headed by Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia, not only held federal dollars but controlled much of the credit in the United States, as it could present currency issued by local banks for redemption in gold or silver. Some Westerners, including Jackson, opposed the Second Bank, deeming it a monopoly acting in the interest of Easterners. [35] Polk, as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, conducted investigations of the Second Bank, and though the committee voted for a bill to renew the bank's charter (scheduled to expire in 1836), Polk issued a strong minority report condemning the bank. The bill passed Congress in 1832, but Jackson vetoed it and Congress failed to override the veto. Jackson's action was highly controversial in Washington but had considerable public support, and he won easy re-election in 1832. [36]

Like many Southerners, Polk favored low tariffs on imported goods, and initially sympathized with John C. Calhoun's opposition to the Tariff of Abominations during the Nullification Crisis of 1832–1833, but came over to Jackson's side as Calhoun moved towards advocating secession. Thereafter, Polk remained loyal to Jackson as the President sought to assert federal authority. Polk condemned secession and supported the Force Bill against South Carolina, which had claimed the authority to nullify federal tariffs. The matter was settled by Congress passing a compromise tariff. [37]

Ways and Means Chair and Speaker of the House Edit

In December 1833, after being elected to a fifth consecutive term, Polk, with Jackson's backing, became the chairman of Ways and Means, a powerful position in the House. [38] In that position, Polk supported Jackson's withdrawal of federal funds from the Second Bank. Polk's committee issued a report questioning the Second Bank's finances and another supporting Jackson's actions against it. In April 1834, the Ways and Means Committee reported a bill to regulate state deposit banks, which, when passed, enabled Jackson to deposit funds in pet banks, and Polk got legislation passed to allow the sale of the government's stock in the Second Bank. [2] [39]

In June 1834, Speaker of the House Andrew Stevenson resigned from Congress to become Minister to the United Kingdom. [40] With Jackson's support, Polk ran for speaker against fellow Tennessean John Bell, Calhoun disciple Richard Henry Wilde, and Joel Barlow Sutherland of Pennsylvania. After ten ballots, Bell, who had the support of many opponents of the administration, defeated Polk. [41] Jackson called in political debts to try to get Polk elected Speaker of the House at the start of the next Congress in December 1835, assuring Polk in a letter he meant him to burn that New England would support him for speaker. They were successful Polk defeated Bell to take the speakership. [42]

According to Thomas M. Leonard in his book on Polk, "by 1836, while serving as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Polk approached the zenith of his congressional career. He was at the center of Jacksonian Democracy on the House floor, and, with the help of his wife, he ingratiated himself into Washington's social circles." [43] The prestige of the speakership caused them to abandon life in a Washington boarding house for their own residence on Pennsylvania Avenue. [43] In the 1836 presidential election, Vice President Martin Van Buren, Jackson's chosen successor, defeated multiple Whig candidates, including Tennessee Senator Hugh Lawson White. Greater Whig strength in Tennessee helped White carry his state, though Polk's home district went for Van Buren. [44] Ninety percent of Tennessee voters had supported Jackson in 1832, but many in the state disliked the destruction of the Second Bank, or were unwilling to support Van Buren. [45]

As Speaker of the House, Polk worked for the policies of Jackson and later Van Buren. Polk appointed committees with Democratic chairs and majorities, including the New York radical C. C. Cambreleng as the new Ways and Means chair, although he tried to maintain the speaker's traditional nonpartisan appearance. The two major issues during Polk's speakership were slavery and, after the Panic of 1837, the economy. Polk firmly enforced the "gag rule", by which the House of Representatives would not accept or debate citizen petitions regarding slavery. [46] This ignited fierce protests from John Quincy Adams, who was by then a congressman from Massachusetts and an abolitionist. Instead of finding a way to silence Adams, Polk frequently engaged in useless shouting matches, leading Jackson to conclude that Polk should have shown better leadership. [47] Van Buren and Polk faced pressure to rescind the Specie Circular, Jackson's 1836 order that payment for government lands be in gold and silver. Some believed this had led to the crash by causing a lack of confidence in paper currency issued by banks. Despite such arguments, with support from Polk and his cabinet, Van Buren chose to back the Specie Circular. Polk and Van Buren attempted to establish an Independent Treasury system that would allow the government to oversee its own deposits (rather than using pet banks), but the bill was defeated in the House. [46] It eventually passed in 1840. [48]

Using his thorough grasp of the House's rules, [49] Polk attempted to bring greater order to its proceedings. Unlike many of his peers, he never challenged anyone to a duel no matter how much they insulted his honor. [50] The economic downturn cost the Democrats seats, so that when he faced re-election as Speaker of the House in December 1837, he won by only 13 votes, and he foresaw defeat in 1839. Polk by then had presidential ambitions but was well aware that no Speaker of the House had ever become president (Polk is still the only one to have held both offices). [51] After seven terms in the House, two as speaker, he announced that he would not seek re-election, choosing instead to run for Governor of Tennessee in the 1839 election. [52]

Governor of Tennessee Edit

In 1835, the Democrats had lost the governorship of Tennessee for the first time in their history, and Polk decided to return home to help the party. [53] Polk returned to a Tennessee afire for White and Whiggism the state had changed greatly in its political loyalties since the days of Jacksonian domination. Polk undertook his first statewide campaign, against the Whig incumbent, Newton Cannon, who sought a third two-year term as governor. [54] The fact that Polk was the one called upon to "redeem" Tennessee from the Whigs tacitly acknowledged him as head of the state Democratic Party. [2]

Polk campaigned on national issues, whereas Cannon stressed matters local to Tennessee. After being bested by Polk in the early debates, the governor retreated to Nashville, by then the state capital, alleging important official business. Polk made speeches across the state, seeking to become known more widely than in his native Middle Tennessee. When Cannon came back on the campaign trail in the final days, Polk pursued him, hastening the length of the state to be able to debate the governor again. On Election Day, August 1, 1839, Polk defeated Cannon, 54,102 to 51,396, as the Democrats recaptured the state legislature and won back three congressional seats in Tennessee. [55]

Tennessee's governor had limited power—there was no gubernatorial veto, and the small size of the state government limited any political patronage. But Polk saw the office as a springboard for his national ambitions, seeking to be nominated as Van Buren's vice presidential running mate at the 1840 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore in May. [56] Polk hoped to be the replacement if Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson was dumped from the ticket Johnson was disliked by many Southern whites for fathering two daughters by a biracial mistress and attempting to introduce them into white society. Johnson was from Kentucky, so Polk's Tennessee residence would keep the New Yorker Van Buren's ticket balanced. The convention chose to endorse no one for vice president, stating that a choice would be made once the popular vote was cast. Three weeks after the convention, recognizing that Johnson was too popular in the party to be ousted, Polk withdrew his name. The Whig presidential candidate, General William Henry Harrison, conducted a rollicking campaign with the motto "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", easily winning both the national vote and that in Tennessee. Polk campaigned in vain for Van Buren [57] and was embarrassed by the outcome Jackson, who had returned to his home, the Hermitage, near Nashville, was horrified at the prospect of a Whig administration. [58] In the 1840 election, Polk received one vote from a faithless elector in the electoral college's vote for U.S. Vice President. [59] [60] [61] Harrison's death after a month in office in 1841 left the presidency to Vice President John Tyler, who soon broke with the Whigs. [58]

Polk's three major programs during his governorship regulating state banks, implementing state internal improvements, and improving education all failed to win the approval of the legislature. [62] His only major success as governor was his politicking to secure the replacement of Tennessee's two Whig U.S. senators with Democrats. [62] Polk's tenure was hindered by the continuing nationwide economic crisis that had followed the Panic of 1837 and which had caused Van Buren to lose the 1840 election. [63]

Encouraged by the success of Harrison's campaign, the Whigs ran a freshman legislator from frontier Wilson County, James C. Jones against Polk in 1841. "Lean Jimmy" had proven one of their most effective gadflies against Polk, and his lighthearted tone at campaign debates was very effective against the serious Polk. The two debated the length of Tennessee, [64] and Jones's support of distribution to the states of surplus federal revenues, and of a national bank, struck a chord with Tennessee voters. On election day in August 1841, Polk was defeated by 3,000 votes, the first time he had been beaten at the polls. [57] Polk returned to Columbia and the practice of law and prepared for a rematch against Jones in 1843, but though the new governor took less of a joking tone, it made little difference to the outcome, as Polk was beaten again, [65] this time by 3,833 votes. [66] [67] In the wake of his second statewide defeat in three years, Polk faced an uncertain political future. [68]

Democratic nomination Edit

Despite his loss, Polk was determined to become the next vice president of the United States, seeing it as a path to the presidency. [69] Van Buren was the frontrunner for the 1844 Democratic nomination, and Polk engaged in a careful campaign to become his running mate. [70] The former president faced opposition from Southerners who feared his views on slavery, while his handling of the Panic of 1837—he had refused to rescind the Specie Circular—aroused opposition from some in the West (today's Midwest) who believed his hard money policies had hurt their section of the country. [70] Many Southerners backed Calhoun's candidacy, Westerners rallied around Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, and former Vice President Johnson also maintained a strong following among Democrats. [70] Jackson assured Van Buren by letter that Polk in his campaigns for governor had "fought the battle well and fought it alone". [71] Polk hoped to gain Van Buren's support, hinting in a letter that a Van Buren/Polk ticket could carry Tennessee, but found him unconvinced. [72]

The biggest political issue in the United States at that time was territorial expansion. [2] The Republic of Texas had successfully revolted against Mexico in 1836. With the republic largely populated by American emigres, those on both sides of the Sabine River border between the U.S. and Texas deemed it inevitable that Texas would join the United States, but this would anger Mexico, which considered Texas a breakaway province, and threatened war if the United States annexed it. Jackson, as president, had recognized Texas independence, but the initial momentum toward annexation had stalled. [73] Britain was seeking to expand her influence in Texas: Britain had abolished slavery, and if Texas did the same, it would provide a western haven for runaways to match one in the North. [74] A Texas not in the United States would also stand in the way of what was deemed America's Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent. [75]

Clay was nominated for president by acclamation at the April 1844 Whig National Convention, with New Jersey's Theodore Frelinghuysen his running mate. [76] A Kentucky slaveholder at a time when opponents of Texas annexation argued that it would give slavery more room to spread, Clay sought a nuanced position on the issue. Jackson, who strongly supported a Van Buren/Polk ticket, was delighted when Clay issued a letter for publication in the newspapers opposing Texas annexation, only to be devastated when he learned Van Buren had done the same thing. [77] Van Buren did this because he feared losing his base of support in the Northeast, [78] but his supporters in the old Southwest were stunned at his action. Polk, on the other hand, had written a pro-annexation letter that had been published four days before Van Buren's. [2] Jackson wrote sadly to Van Buren that no candidate who opposed annexation could be elected, and decided Polk was the best person to head the ticket. [79] Jackson met with Polk at the Hermitage on May 13, 1844, and explained to his visitor that only an expansionist from the South or Southwest could be elected—and, in his view, Polk had the best chance. [80] Polk was at first startled, calling the plan "utterly abortive", but he agreed to accept it. [81] Polk immediately wrote to instruct his lieutenants at the convention to work for his nomination as president. [80]

Despite Jackson's quiet efforts on his behalf, Polk was skeptical that he could win. [82] Nevertheless, because of the opposition to Van Buren by expansionists in the West and South, Polk's key lieutenant at the 1844 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, Gideon Johnson Pillow, believed Polk could emerge as a compromise candidate. [83] Publicly, Polk, who remained in Columbia during the convention, professed full support for Van Buren's candidacy and was believed to be seeking the vice presidency. Polk was one of the few major Democrats to have declared for the annexation of Texas. [84]

The convention opened on May 27, 1844. A crucial question was whether the nominee needed two-thirds of the delegate vote, as had been the case at previous Democratic conventions, or merely a majority. A vote for two-thirds would doom Van Buren's candidacy due to the opposition to him. [85] With the support of the Southern states, the two-thirds rule was passed. [86] Van Buren won a majority on the first presidential ballot but failed to win the necessary two-thirds, and his support slowly faded on subsequent ballots. [86] Cass, Johnson, Calhoun and James Buchanan had also received votes on the first ballot, and Cass took the lead on the fifth ballot. [87] After seven ballots, the convention remained deadlocked: Cass could not attract the support necessary to reach two-thirds, and Van Buren's supporters were more and more discouraged about the former president's chances. Delegates were ready to consider a new candidate who might break the stalemate. [88]

When the convention adjourned after the seventh ballot, Pillow, who had been waiting for an opportunity to press Polk's name, conferred with George Bancroft of Massachusetts, a politician and historian who was a longtime Polk correspondent, and who had planned to nominate Polk for vice president. Bancroft had supported Van Buren's candidacy and was willing to see New York Senator Silas Wright head the ticket, but Wright would not consider taking a nomination that Van Buren wanted. Pillow and Bancroft decided if Polk were nominated for president, Wright might accept the second spot. Before the eighth ballot, former Attorney General Benjamin F. Butler, head of the New York delegation, read a pre-written letter from Van Buren to be used if he could not be nominated, withdrawing in Wright's favor. But Wright (who was in Washington) had also entrusted a pre-written letter to a supporter, in which he refused to be considered as a presidential candidate, and stated in the letter that he agreed with Van Buren's position on Texas. Had Wright's letter not been read he most likely would have been nominated, but without him, Butler began to rally Van Buren supporters for Polk as the best possible candidate, and Bancroft placed Polk's name before the convention. On the eighth ballot, Polk received only 44 votes to Cass's 114 and Van Buren's 104, but the deadlock showed signs of breaking. Butler formally withdrew Van Buren's name, many delegations declared for the Tennessean, and on the ninth ballot, Polk received 233 ballots to Cass's 29, making him the Democratic nominee for president. The nomination was then made unanimous. [2] [89]

This left the question of the vice-presidential candidate. Butler urged Wright's nomination, and the convention agreed to this, with only eight Georgia delegates dissenting. As the convention waited, word of Wright's nomination was sent to him in Washington via telegraph. Having by proxy declined an almost certain presidential nomination, Wright would not accept the second place. Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, a close Polk ally, suggested former senator George M. Dallas of Pennsylvania. Dallas was acceptable enough to all factions and gained the vice-presidential nomination on the second ballot. The delegates passed a platform and adjourned on May 30. [90] [91]

Although many contemporary politicians, including Pillow and Bancroft, claimed the credit in the years to come for getting Polk the nomination, Walter R. Borneman felt that most of the credit was due to Jackson and Polk, "the two who had done the most were back in Tennessee, one an aging icon ensconced at the Hermitage and the other a shrewd lifelong politician waiting expectantly in Columbia". [92] Whigs mocked Polk with the chant "Who is James K. Polk?", affecting never to have heard of him. [93] Though he had experience as Speaker of the House and Governor of Tennessee, all previous presidents had served as vice president, Secretary of State, or as a high-ranking general. Polk has been described as the first "dark horse" presidential nominee, although his nomination was less of a surprise than that of future nominees such as Franklin Pierce or Warren G. Harding. [94] Despite his party's gibes, Clay recognized that Polk could unite the Democrats. [93]

General election Edit

Rumors of Polk's nomination reached Nashville on June 4, much to Jackson's delight they were substantiated later that day. The dispatches were sent on to Columbia, arriving the same day, and letters and newspapers describing what had happened at Baltimore were in Polk's hands by June 6. He accepted his nomination by letter dated June 12, alleging that he had never sought the office, and stating his intent to serve only one term. [95] Wright was embittered by what he called the "foul plot" against Van Buren, and demanded assurances that Polk had played no part it was only after Polk professed that he had remained loyal to Van Buren that Wright supported his campaign. [96] Following the custom of the time that presidential candidates avoid electioneering or appearing to seek the office, Polk remained in Columbia and made no speeches. He engaged in extensive correspondence with Democratic Party officials as he managed his campaign. Polk made his views known in his acceptance letter and through responses to questions sent by citizens that were printed in newspapers, often by arrangement. [97] [98]

A potential pitfall for Polk's campaign was the issue of whether the tariff should be for revenue only, or with the intent to protect American industry. Polk finessed the tariff issue in a published letter. Recalling that he had long stated that tariffs should only be sufficient to finance government operations, he maintained that stance but wrote that within that limitation, government could and should offer "fair and just protection" to American interests, including manufacturers. [99] He refused to expand on this stance, acceptable to most Democrats, despite the Whigs pointing out that he had committed himself to nothing. In September, a delegation of Whigs from nearby Giles County came to Columbia, armed with specific questions on Polk's views regarding the current tariff, the Whig-passed Tariff of 1842, and with the stated intent of remaining in Columbia until they got answers. Polk took several days to respond and chose to stand by his earlier statement, provoking an outcry in the Whig papers. [100]

Another concern was the third-party candidacy of President Tyler, which might split the Democratic vote. Tyler had been nominated by a group of loyal officeholders. Under no illusions he could win, he believed he could rally states' rights supporters and populists to hold the balance of power in the election. Only Jackson had the stature to resolve the situation, which he did with two letters to friends in the Cabinet, that he knew would be shown to Tyler, stating that the President's supporters would be welcomed back into the Democratic fold. Jackson wrote that once Tyler withdrew, many Democrats would embrace him for his pro-annexation stance. The former president also used his influence to stop Francis Preston Blair and his Globe newspaper, the semi-official organ of the Democratic Party, from attacking Tyler. These proved enough Tyler withdrew from the race in August. [101] [102]

Party troubles were a third concern. Polk and Calhoun made peace when a former South Carolina congressman, Francis Pickens visited Tennessee and came to Columbia for two days and to the Hermitage for sessions with the increasingly ill Jackson. Calhoun wanted the Globe dissolved, and that Polk would act against the 1842 tariff and promote Texas annexation. Reassured on these points, Calhoun became a strong supporter. [103]

Polk was aided regarding Texas when Clay, realizing his anti-annexation letter had cost him support, attempted in two subsequent letters to clarify his position. These angered both sides, which attacked Clay as insincere. [104] Texas also threatened to divide the Democrats sectionally, but Polk managed to appease most Southern party leaders without antagonizing Northern ones. [105] As the election drew closer, it became clear that most of the country favored the annexation of Texas, and some Southern Whig leaders supported Polk's campaign due to Clay's anti-annexation stance. [105]

The campaign was vitriolic both major party candidates were accused of various acts of malfeasance Polk was accused of being both a duelist and a coward. The most damaging smear was the Roorback forgery in late August an item appeared in an abolitionist newspaper, part of a book detailing fictional travels through the South of a Baron von Roorback, an imaginary German nobleman. The Ithaca Chronicle printed it without labeling it as fiction, and inserted a sentence alleging that the traveler had seen forty slaves who had been sold by Polk after being branded with his initials. The item was withdrawn by the Chronicle when challenged by the Democrats, but it was widely reprinted. Borneman suggested that the forgery backfired on Polk's opponents as it served to remind voters that Clay too was a slaveholder, [106] John Eisenhower, in his journal article on the election, stated that the smear came too late to be effectively rebutted, and likely cost Polk Ohio. Southern newspapers, on the other hand, went far in defending Polk, one Nashville newspaper alleging that his slaves preferred their bondage to freedom. [107] Polk himself implied to newspaper correspondents that the only slaves he owned had either been inherited or had been purchased from relatives in financial distress this paternalistic image was also painted by surrogates like Gideon Pillow. This was not true, though not known at the time by then he had bought over thirty slaves, both from relatives and others, mainly for the purpose of procuring labor for his Mississippi cotton plantation. [108]

There was no uniform election day in 1844 states voted between November 1 and 12. [109] Polk won the election with 49.5% of the popular vote and 170 of the 275 electoral votes. [110] Becoming the first president elected despite losing his state of residence (Tennessee), [109] Polk also lost his birth state, North Carolina. However, he won Pennsylvania and New York, where Clay lost votes to the antislavery Liberty Party candidate James G. Birney, who got more votes in New York than Polk's margin of victory. Had Clay won New York, he would have been elected president. [110]

The Death of James K. Polk

After leaving Washington at the end of his term. James and Sarah traveled south to New Orleans and traveled up the Mississippi River into Tennessee. After paying a visit to the president’s mother in Columbia, they ventured to their newly renovated home in downtown Nashville. James’ diary makes frequent mention of cholera during their travels. Outbreaks occurred throughout the country that summer including in New Orleans and Nashville.

In one of the President’s final diary entries he wrote:

Friday, 1st June, 1849. - Mr. V. K. Stevenson & Gen’l Harding, who were taken ill of cholera on yesterday, are both better this morning. I was occupied during most of the day among my papers & books at my own house. During the prevalence of cholera I deem it prudent to remain as much as possible at my own house.

James K. Polk Tweet

The President would succumb to the disease two weeks later, just three months after leaving office. His is the shortest retirement of any Commander in Chief.

Death from cholera was a terrible ordeal. Bouts of uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea deprived the body of fluids leading to death from dehydration. President Polk’s death in 1849 should have been preventable, but the accepted medical treatments for cholera did more harm than good. Doctor’s prescribed laxatives, bled patients with leeches, and applied other methods that further dehydrated patients.

The disease spread through contaminated drinking water caused by unsanitary practices in cities and towns. Though the cause of the disease was not understood in 1849, precautions were taken by towns and cities at the onset of an outbreak. Streets were cleaned, houses scrubbed with lime, and schools and businesses shuttered. Victims were buried hastily, sometimes in mass graves in an effort to reduce the spread. President Polk was initially buried in the Nashville City Cemetery within 24 hours of his death in an area specified for victims of Cholera. He would later be reinterred at his home after the outbreak had subsided.

President Polk’s death is a grim reminder of our own realities during the current COVID-19 pandemic. We are encouraged to take precautions and “remain as much as possible” in our own homes. Even as the country looks at “reopening,” the numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations, and deaths climb across the United States.

James K. Polk

On November 2, 1795, James K. Polk was born in Pineville, North Carolina to Samuel and Jane Polk. The promise of greater economic opportunities and prosperity drew Samuel Polk and his family westward, and they soon settled just south of Nashville, Tennessee. He became a respected community leader, county judge, businessman, and prominent slave owner. Upon his death in 1827, Samuel Polk left behind 8,000 acres of land and fifty-three enslaved people to his wife and ten children.

Although frail as a child, Polk was also intelligent and studious. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1818 and returned to Nashville to study law. He soon entered politics and was elected clerk of the Tennessee State Senate, serving until 1822. On January 1, 1824, Polk married Sarah Childress, a woman from one of Tennessee’s most well-regarded families. Sarah was very well educated she often assisted her husband with speech writing and provided policy advice throughout his political career. The couple did not have any children, but they did raise a nephew, Marshall Tate Polk.

James Polk was shaped by his upbringing on the western frontier and his constant interactions with enslaved people. These experiences framed his attitudes toward slavery and westward expansion, as well as his evolution as a slave owner. Click here to learn more about the enslaved households of President James K. Polk.

In 1823, he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, where he was known for consistently backing the political aspirations of “Old Hickory,” otherwise known as General Andrew Jackson. For this support, Polk gained the nickname “Young Hickory.” In 1825, Polk was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and in 1835, he became Speaker of the House where he used his authority to strictly enforce a “Gag Rule” barring the discussion of slavery. He served in Congress until 1839 when he was elected governor of Tennessee. As governor, Polk worked to regulate state banks and improve education, before losing his reelection campaign in 1841.

While Polk had a successful career in politics, he also continued to expand his property holdings. To shore up his financial security, he established a plantation called Somerville in southern Tennessee in 1831, becoming an “absentee planter.” Although the plantation enjoyed moderate success, Polk sought additional profits. After Congress passed and President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the military forced the Choctaw Nation off their lands in northern Mississippi—one in a series of forced relocations known as the Trail of Tears. Polk joined the rush of speculators to purchase the vacant land. He sold his Tennessee plantation and purchased a new one in Yalobusha County, Mississippi, where Polk’s enslaved workers harvested cotton.

In 1844, Polk set his sights on becoming vice president, expecting former President Martin Van Buren to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination. In a surprising twist, Polk was chosen as the presidential nominee at the convention, largely because of his support for “Manifest Destiny” and expanding the United States’ territorial holdings. The “dark horse candidate” faced off against Whig candidate Henry Clay and won, becoming the eleventh president of the United States in 1845.

After successfully renegotiating the Canadian boundary to the 49th parallel with Great Britain, Polk instigated the Mexican-American War, a two-year conflict stemming from the 1845 annexation of Texas. In 1846, Polk sent American diplomat John Slidell to secretly negotiate a dispute over Texas’ boundary claims and purchase the territories of New Mexico and California for up to $30 million. When the Mexican government turned Slidell away, President Polk ordered American troops under General Zachary Taylor to move into and occupy disputed territory, inciting the conflict with Mexico.

At the conclusion of the conflict, the United States successfully acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexico’s land holdings including present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. President Polk publicly supported the expansion of slavery into these territories, while employing enslaved individuals at the White House, including Henry Carter, Jr. and Elias Polk. Polk also made secret purchases of thirteen enslaved children through an agent during his presidency. These individuals were sent to work on his Mississippi plantation.

Polk retired after one term, but he did not enjoy the comfortable existence he had arranged at his Nashville home, Polk Place. On June 15, 1849, less than four months after leaving office, the former president succumbed to a cholera outbreak in Nashville.

Polk played the role of a ‘Benevolent’ Slaveowner in public.

It is surprising to note that despite slavery being a cruel act that many at the time had started to condemn, Polk did not consider the act as morally and ethically unjust. Hence, the clandestineness shown by Polk was not due to his embarrassment of being involved with such a barbaric act. Instead, Polk’s indulgence in slavery was a renowned fact even during his Presidential Campaign from the Democratic Party. When Polk won the elections and took charge of the office, he brought the enslaved people to the White House with him. A more astonishing fact is that Polk is one of the twelve US presidents known to have engaged in slavery.

So, what was it then that caused Polk to adopt such a secretive attitude? The explanation for this anonymity undoubtedly had to with the changing attitudes of the white northerners regarding the morality of splitting up enslaved families. Not only this, but Polk had made many arguments during his campaign, which would be undermined had his indulgence in slave practice not been so concealed. A letter written by Polk in 1846 stated that:

“It would unnecessarily subject me to assaults from the abolition newspapers if the public found out about his purchases of children and young adults.”

Furthermore, Amy S. Greenberg, who is the author of Lady First: The World of First Lady Sarah Polk, and a professor at Pennsylvania State University stated that:

“By the time you get to James K. Polk, slaveowners are saying slavery’s actually this really great system because slaveowners really care about their slaves,”

“It becomes a common thing for national politicians, if they own slaves, to say, ‘Well, I own slaves, but it’s only because I inherited them’ or ‘I own slaves because they’re part of my wife’s dowry, but I’d never buy or sell slaves unless it’s what the slaves want,’”. “And when Polk runs for president, this is what his surrogates on the campaign trail all do. They say, ‘Oh, James K. Polk has never bought or sold a slave except to keep families together.’”

From these comments made by the people, it becomes quite evident how the rich used to justify slavery and portray it as a symbol of mercy rather than injustice. All of this ties in with the fact that Polk, or much of the other US presidents for that matter, were not ashamed of their indulgence in slavery due to their success at deceiving the public on the matter.

Mr. Polk's War

In April 1846, Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande and killed 11 U.S. soldiers. This came as part of a revolt against the Mexican president, who was considering America's bid to buy California. The soldiers were angered about the lands that they felt were taken through the annexation of Texas, and the Rio Grande was an area of border dispute. By May 13, the U.S. had officially declared war on Mexico. Critics of the war called it "Mr. Polk's War." The war was over by the end of 1847, with Mexico suing for peace.

Watch the video: Восстановлено поместье Джеймса Мэдисона (August 2022).