“The Presidency is no bed of roses.”
—James Knox Polk
James Knox Polk was born on this day in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, USA in 1795. Today is the 217th anniversary of his birth.
Polk was the eldest of 10 children of Samuel and Jane Polk. His father was a farmer and slave holder. The family moved to Maury County, Tennessee when Polk was 11. And Samuel became a land speculator, owned a mercantile and a county judge. Polk was home schooled and a good student. At 17 he suffered from urinary stones that had to be removed surgically (with only brandy for anesthetic.)
He went to the University of North Carolina where he joined the Dialectic Society and learned to debate. After graduating with honors in 1818 he studied law in Nashville and clerked for the Tennessee State Senate. He passed the bar in 1820.
He ran for state legislature in 1823 and became a Andrew Jackson supporter when the latter ran for US Senator from Tennessee. Two years later Polk ran for US House of representatives. He became chair of the House Ways and Means committee in 1833 and Speaker of the House in 1835.
In the House of Representatives, Polk was a chief lieutenant of Jackson in his Bank war. He served as Speaker between 1835 and 1839, leaving to become Governor of Tennessee. [Whitehouse.gov]
As Speaker he worked tirelessly to advance the agendas of both Presidents Jackson and Van Buren through the House. Polk issued the gag rule — a resolution that automatically tabled any petition having to do with Slavery without review — opposed by Northerners like John Quincy Adams* in the House. He left Congress in 1839 and ran for (and won) the office of Governor of Tennessee.
Polk ran for President of the United States in 1844. On March 4th, 1845 he was sworn in as the US’s 11th President. (He is the only former Speaker of the House to become President.)
One of the highlights of his single term in office was the acquisition of the Oregon Country (Oregon, Washington, Idaho and part of Montana), California, and New Mexico.
President Polk added a vast area to the United States, but its acquisition precipitated a bitter quarrel between the North and the South over expansion of slavery. [Whitehouse.gov]
He also reduced tariffs from 32% to 25% with a set of tariff rates known as the Walker Tariff in 1846. and established a treasury system that lasted into the next century. During his tenure The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland was opened, as was The Smithsonian Institution on the Mall in DC. Also in DC ground was broken for 555 foot tall, marble and granite obelisk, The Washington Monument.
The Mexican American War was fought under his administration. Although the US handily defeated the Mexican army the declaration of the war was much opposed in the North.
He was a President who “Said what he intended to do and did it” according to Harry S. Truman. That included increasing the US’s land mass by 1/3rd.
By the end of his term in 1949 Polk was in ill-health — he’d contracted cholera on a trip to New Orleans. He died on June 15, three months after leaving office. His will stated that his slaves were to be set freed upon the death of his wife, Sarah Childress Polk, but since she lived past the Civil War they were set free with the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.
[CLICK HERE to see The Thought of the Day on John Quincy Adams and get a different perspective of this period in American History.]
At this point in the ritaLOVEStoWRITE blog history I’m finding a lot of references to previous Thought of the Day bios. I’d like to link back to them (to refresh the memory for those of you who have been around for a while and to introduce them to those of you who are newish to the blog.) But I don’t want to be intrusive. So yesterday I imbedded the links to Gwyneth Paltrow in the Toni Collette bioBlog, today I moved the JQ Adams link to the bottom. I could also do something like [ see TotD LINK] with a link imbedded. Would that be too intrusive? I feel there is value in knowing that the link is back to a previous blog from this serious and not to an external web site. What do you think? What’s the best way to handle this? I really want to hear from you… Cheers, Rita