James K. Polk
by R.D. Monroe, Ph.D.


 James K. Polk (1795-1849) was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He moved with his family to Tennessee at a young age and later graduated from the University of North Carolina at the top of his class. He became a lawyer and soon embarked on a political career as a committed Jacksonian Democrat. Polk served in the Tennessee legislature before winning a seat in the U.S. House in 1825. He eventually rose to Speaker, earning a reputation for intelligence, hard work, and devotion to the political agenda of Andrew Jackson. He served for two terms as governor of Tennessee and was defeated for reelection twice before unexpectedly winning the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1844. Polk went on to defeat Henry Clay in the general election. His presidency was remarkably eventful and largely successful. He signed a moderate tariff bill, reestablished an independent treasury, and concluded a treaty with Britain that ended a simmering dispute over the Oregon territory. War with Mexico culminated in victory and the cessation of millions of acres in the Southwest and California. Polk worked incessantly, served a single term, and died in Tennessee soon after the close of his tenure.