James K. Polk: Highlights of a Presidency
Following the unpopular presidency of John Tyler, James Knox Polk became known in history as one of the greatest presidents. Polk was a Democratic president, and the 11th president of the United States.
He is known for his successes over foreign policy and for securing southwestern and northwestern land from Mexico and Great Britain, respectively.
In addition, Polk passed the Walker tariff, which secured low rates; he was responsible for establishing a treasury system that wasn’t replaced until 1913; and the first postage stamps were issued during his term. He did not run for re-election, and he died from cholera shortly after his term ended.
Polk was home-schooled for most of his life because of health problems. In 1812, he had an operation for urinary stones during which he was awake without anesthesia.
After his surgery, Polk enrolled in school and continued his education, eventually graduating from University of North Carolina with honors in 1818. He then moved to Nashville to study law with Felix Grundy, who became his mentor. He was admitted to the bar in 1820, but before then he was elected as clerk of the Tennessee State Senate, where he served up until 1822, after which point he joined local militia and was appointed as colonel.
In 1824, Polk married Sarah Childress, who he had met while in school. They had no children, and instead Sarah became active in Polk’s political career by giving him advice and helping him with speeches.
James K. Polk’s Pets
- It is said that President Polk learned to ride before he could walk and had a great love of horses, but no White House pets were noted during his administration.
MORE PETS! Check out our photo gallery of selected White House pets
During Polk’s early political career, he was elected to the Tennessee state legislature, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.
In 1835, Polk was elected as speaker of the House under Andrew Jackson and remained under Martin Van Buren. In fact, Polk is the only president to date who has also served as speaker of the House. However, in 1839, Polk left Congress and returned to Tennessee to run for governor, an election that he won.
Polk won the presidential election of 1844 and pledged to serve one term only. During his tenure, he passed laws approving an independent treasury, but his biggest accomplishment was his support for expansion — including his declaration of the Mexican-American War.
Did You Know…?
- Under Polk’s presidency, the U.S. Naval Academy and Smithsonian Institution were completed and opened. Additionally, Polk oversaw the Washington Monument’s groundbreaking.
- Although Polk won the 1844 presidential election, he was initially hoping to win the nomination for vice presidency. Instead, he was nominated for the presidency and went on to win the election.
- Polk’s mentor throughout his early political career was Andrew Jackson, and his nickname during his own presidential election was “Young Hickory,” in reference to Jackson’s own nickname “Old Hickory.”