|Carroll County IAGenWeb|
Transcribed by Sharon Elijah January 8, 2021
JAMES KNOX POLK, the eleventh President of the United States, 1845-’49, was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, November 2, 1795. He was the eldest son of a family of six sons and four daughters, and was a grand-nephew of Colonel Thomas Polk, celebrated in connection with the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
In 1806 his father, Samuel Polk, emigrated with his family two or three hundred miles west to the valley of the Duck River. He was a surveyor as well as farmer, and gradually increased in wealth until he became one of the leading men of the region.
In the common schools James rapidly became proficient in all the common branches of an English education. In 1813 he was sent to Murfreesboro Academy, and in the autumn of 1815 entered the sophomore class in the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, graduating in 1818. After a short season of recreation he went to Nashville and entered the law office of Felix Grundy. As soon as he had his finished legal studies and been admitted to the bar, he returned to Columbia, the shire town of Maury County, and opened an office.
James K. Polk ever adhered to the political faith of his father, which was that of a Jeffersonian Republican. In 1823 he was elected to the Legislature of Tennessee. As a “strict constructionist,” he did not think that the Constitution empowered the General Government to carry on a system of internal improvements in the States, but deemed it important that it should have that power, and wished the Constitution amended that it might be conferred. Subsequently, however, he became alarmed lest the General Government become so strong as to undertake to interfere with slavery. He therefore gave all his influence to strengthen the State governments, and to check the growth of the central power.
In January, 1824, Mr. Polk married Miss Mary Childress, of Rutherford County, Tennessee. Had some one then whispered to him that he was destined to become President of the United States, and that he must select for his companion one who would adorn that distinguished station, he could not have made a more fitting choice. She was truly a lady of rare beauty and culture.
In the fall of 1825 Mr. Polk was chosen a member of Congress, and was continuously re-elected until 1839. He then withdrew, only that he might accept the gubernatorial chair of his native State. He was a warm friend of General Jackson, who had been defeated in the electoral contest by John Quincy Adams. This latter gentleman had just taken his seat in the Presidential chair when Mr. Polk took his seat in the House of Representatives. He immediately united himself with the opponents of Mr. Adams, and was soon regarded as the leader of the Jackson party in the House.
The four years of Mr. Adams’ administration passed away, and General Jackson took the Presidential chair. Mr. Polk had now become a man of great influence in Congress, and was chairman of its most important committee — that of Ways and Means. Eloquently he sustained General Jackson in all his measures — in his hostility to internal improvements, to the banks, and to the tariff. Eight years of General Jackson’s administration passed away, and the powers he had wielded passed into the hands of Martin Van Buren; and still Mr. Polk remained in the House; the advocate of that type of Democracy which those distinguished men upheld.
During five sessions of Congress Mr. Polk was speaker of the House. He performed his arduous duties to general satisfaction, and a unanimous vote of thanks to him was passed by the House as he withdrew, March 4, 1839. He was elected Governor by a large majority, and took the oath of office at Nashville, October 14, 1839. He was a candidate for re-election in 1841, but was defeated. In the meantime a wonderful revolution had swept over the country. W. H. Harrison, the Whig candidate, had been called to the Presidential chair, and in Tennessee the Whig ticket had been carried by over 12,000 majority. Under these circumstances Mr. Polk’s success was hopeless. Still he canvassed the State with his Whig competitor, Mr. Jones, traveling in the most friendly manner together, often in the same carriage, and at one time sleeping in the same bed. Mr. Jones was elected by 3,000 majority.
And now the question of the annexation of Texas to our country agitated the whole land. When this question became national Mr. Polk, as the avowed champion of annexation, became the Presidential candidate of the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic party, and George M. Dallas their candidate for the Vice-Presidency. They were elected by a large majority, and were inaugurated March 4, 1845.
President Polk formed an able cabinet, consisting of James Buchanan, Robert J. Walker, William L. Marcy, George Bancroft, Cave Johnson and John Y. Mason. The Oregon boundary question was settled, the Department of the Interior was created, the low tariff of 1846 was carried, the financial system of the Government was reorganized, the Mexican war was conducted, which resulted in the acquisition of California and New Mexico, and had far-reaching consequences upon the later fortunes of the republic. Peace was made. We had wrested from Mexico territory equal to four times the empire of France, and five times that of Spain. In the prosecution of this war we expended 20,000 lives and more than $100,000,000. Of this money $15,000,000 were paid to Mexico.
Declining to seek a re-nomination, Mr. Polk retired from the Presidency March 4, 1849, when he was succeeded by General Zachary Taylor. He retired to Nashville, and died there June 19, 1849, in the fifty-fourth year of his age. His funeral was attended the following day, in Nashville, with every demonstration of respect. He left no children. Without being possessed of extraordinary talent, Mr. Polk was a capable administration of public affairs, and irreproachable in private life.
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