James Knox Polk 1795-1849
"There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress... than I had any conception of, before I became President of the U.S." Young Hickory, as President Polk was often called, spoke these words during the hardest years of his life. Born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on November 2, 1795, Polk was the 11th president of our nation from 1845-1949. He was the oldest of 10 children raised by Samual and Jane Knox Polk.
James Polk grew to be a studious and industrious worker. At age 17, he survived a gallstone operation without anethesia or antiseptics, which were not used at the time. He went on to graduate with honors in 1818 from the University of North Carolina and became friends with Andrew Jackson while serving in the Tennessee legislature. He was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1823-1825, a member of the House of Representatives from 1825-1839, speaker of the House of Representatives from 1835-1839, and Governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841.
On a more personal note, Polk married Sarah Childress on New Years Day in 1824. They had no children. The first Annual White House Dinner was hosted by Sarah Polk, and gas lights were installed in the White House while Polk and his wife were residents. Polk was part of the Democratic Political Party and made a salary of $25,000 a year once he was president. He was said to be the last strong President until the Civil War, as he worked extremely hard during his term.
Polk was committed to the nations Manifest Destiny. In fact, the United States grew by more than a million square miles under James Knox Polk. He publicly announced his support of the re-annexation of Texas and re-occupation of Oregon even before reaching office. Although they risked war with Mexico and Great Britain, the 1844 Democratic Platform claimed the entire Oregon area, from the California boundary northward to the southern boundary of Russia Alaska. In his quest for California, Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande. Congress soon declared war due to fighting. America won repeated victories and soon thereafter occupied Mexico City. In 1848, Mexico ceded New Mexico and California in return for $15 million and American assumption of the damage claims. The Treaty of 1848 gave the United States control over California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
When Polk left office, there was no doubt he left a country that was larger. He also left it weaker and fatally torn over the issue of slavery and whether it would be permissible in the newly acquired western territories. Polk himself owned slaves, but in his will he instructed his wife to free them when she died. As Polk settled into a quiet retirement in Nashville at Polk Place, he fell ill just three months after leaving office. Although he was Presbyterian, a week before he died he was baptized a Methodist. He died in Nashville, Tennessee on June 15, 1849. His time in office sapping up the rest of his strength, James K. Polk will be remembered for his dedication and strong will.
Source: The White House Online, The Internet Public Library, Grolier