James K. Polk
From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties,
By: Chapman Publishing Company
JAMES K. POLK,
the eleventh President of the 'United States, was born in Mecklenburgh County, N. C., November 2, 1795. His parents
were Samuel and Jane (Knox) Polk, the former a son of Col. Thomas Polk, who located at the above place, as one
of the first pioneers, in 1735. In 1806, with his wife and children, and soon after followed by most of the members
of the Polk family, Samuel Polk emigrated some two or three hundred miles farther west, to the rich valley of the
Duck River. Here, in the midst of the wilderness, in a region which was subsequently called Maury County, they
erected their log huts and established their honies. In the hard toil of a new farm in the wilderness, James K.
Polk spent the early years of his childhood and youth. His father, adding the pursuit of a surveyor to that of
a farmer, gradually increased in wealth, until he became one of the leading men of the region. His mother was a
superior woman, of strong common sense and earnest piety.
Very early in life James developed a taste for reading, and expressed the strongest desire to obtain a liberal
education. His mother's training had made him methodical in his habits, had taught him punctuality and industry,
and had inspired him with lofty principles of morality. His health was frail, and his father, fearing that he might
not be able to endure a sedentary life, got a situation for him behind the counter, hoping to fit him for commercial
This was to James a bitter disappointment. He had no taste for these duties, and his daily tasks were irksome in
the extreme. He remained in this uncongenial occupation but a few weeks, when, at his earnest solicitation, his
father removed him and niade arrangements for him to prosecute his studies. Soon after he sent him to Murfreesboro
Academy. With ardor which could scarcely be surpassed, he pressed forward in his studies, and in less than two
and a-half years, in the autumn of 1815, entered the sophomore class in the University of North Carolina, at Chapel
Hill. Here he was one of the most exemplary of scholars, punctual in every exercise, never allowing himself to
be absent from a recitation or a religious service.
Mr. Polk graduated in 1818, with the highest honors, being deemed the best scholar of his class, both in mathematics
and the classics. He was tEen twenty-three years of age. His health was at this time much impaired by the assiduity
with which he had prosecuted his studies. After a short season of relaxation, be went to Nashville, and entered
the office of Felix Grundy, to study law. Here Mr. Polk renewed his acquaintance with Andrew Jackson, who resided
on his plantation, the "Hermitage," but a few miles from Nashville. They had probably been slightly acquainted
Mr. Polk's father was a Jeffersonian Republican and James K. adhered to the same political faith. He was a popular
public speaker, and was constantly called upon to address the meetings of his party friends. His skill as a speaker
was such that he was popularly called the Napoleon of the stump. He was a man of unblemished morals, genial and
courteous in his bearing, and with that sympathetic nature in the joys and griefs of others which gave him hosts
of friends. In 1823, he was elected to the Legislature of Tennessee, and gave his strong influence toward the election
of his friend, Mr. Jackson, to the Presidency of the United States.
In January, 1824, Mr. Polk married MissSarah Childress, of Rutherford County, Tenn. His bride was altogether worthy
of him-a lady of beauty and culture. In the fall of 1825 Mr. Polk was chosen a member of Congress, and the satisfaction
he gave his constituents may be inferred from the fact, that for fourteen successive years, or until 1839, he was
continued in that office. He then voluntarily withdrew, only that he might accept the Gubernatorial chair of Tennessee.
In Congress he was a laborious member, a frequent and a popular speaker. He was always in his seat, always courteous,
and whenever he spoke it was always to the point, without any ambitious rhetorical display.
During five sessions of Congress Mr. Polk was Speaker of the House. Strong passions were roused and stormy scenes
were witnessed, but he performed his arduous duties to a very general satisfaction, and a unanimous vote of thanks
to him was passed by the House as he withdrew on the 4th of March, 1839.
In accordance with Southern usage, Mr. Polk, as a candidate for Governor, canvassed the State. He was elected by
a large majority, and on October 14, 1839, took the oath of office at Nashville. In 1841 his term of office expired,
and he was again the candidate of the Democratic party, but was defeated.
On the 4th of March, 1845, Mr. Polk was inaugurated President of the United States. The verdict of the country
in favor of the annexation of Texas exerted its influence upon Congress, and the last act of the administration
of President Tyler was to affix his signature to a joint resolution of Congress, passed on the 3d of March, approving
of the annexation of Texas to the Union. As Mexico still claimed Texas as one of her provinces, the Mexican Minister,
Almonte, immediately demanded his passports and left the country, declaring the act of the annexation to be an
act hostile to Mexico.
In his first message, President Polk urged that Texas should immediately, by act of Congress, be received into
the Union on the same footing with the other States. In the mean time, Gen. Taylor was sent with an army into Texas
to hold the country. He was first sent to Nueces, which the Mexicans said was the western boundary of Texas. Then
he was sent nearly two hundred miles further west, to the Rio Grande, where he erected batteries which commanded
the Mexican city of Matamoras, which was situated on the western banks. The anticipated collision soon took place,
and war was declared against Mexico by President Polk, The war was pushed forward by his administration with great
vigor. Gen. Taylor, whose army was first called one of "observation," then of "occupation,"
then of ''invasion,'' was sent forward to Monterey. The feeble Mexicans in every encounter were hopelessly slaughtered.
The day of judgment alone can reveal the misery which this war caused. It was by the ingenuity of Mr. Polk's administration
that the war was brought on.
"To the victors belong the spoils." Mexico was prostrate before us. Her capital was in our hands. We
now consented to peace upon the condition that Mexico should surrender to us, in addition to Texas, all of New
Mexico, and all of Upper and Lower California. This new demand embraced, exclusive of Texas, eight hundred thousand
square miles. This was an extent of territory equal to nine States of the size of New York. Thus slavery was securing
eighteen majestic States to be added to the Union. There were some Americans who thought it all right; there were
others who thought it all wrong. In the prosecution of this war we expended twenty thousand lives and more than
$100,000,000. Of this money $15,000,000 were paid to Mexico.
On the 3d of March, 1849, Mr. Polk retired from office, having served one term. The next day was Sunday. On the
5th, Gen. Taylor was inaugurated as his successor. Mr. Polk rode to the Capitol in the same carriage with Gen.
Taylor, and the same evening, with Mrs. Polk, he commenced his return to Tennessee. He was then but fifty-four
years of age. He had always been strictly temperate in all his habits, and his health was good. With an ample fortune,
a choice library, a cultivated mind, and domestic ties of the dearest nature, it seemed as though long years of
tranquillity and happiness were before him. But the cholera-that fearful scourge was then sweeping up the Valley
of the Mississippi, and he contracted the disease, dying on the 15th of June, 1849, in the fifty-fourth year of
his age, greatly mourned by his countrymen.