Polk campaigned on an expansionist platform, favoring annexation of Texas, which occurred before the election, but setting up war with Mexico. He also favored the "occupation" of Oregon, and bringing California into the Union. The slogan, "54-40 or fight" became the cry, indicating the latitudinal border with Russian Alaska. Once in office, Polk setting on the 49th parallel, setting the northern border of the United States from the Great Lakes to the Pacific, avoiding war with Canada (and the UK). To try and soothe Mexico, Polk offered $20 million. As tensions rose, Polk sent General Zachary Taylor (remember that name) to Texas, where his forces were soon attacked by Mexico. The Mexican War, ended in 1848, with the United States getting what they wanted anyway, California and New Mexico.
Polk left the presidency a broken man and in ill health. He did not seek reelection. He died just over three months after the inauguration of his successor, Zachary Taylor (told you to remember his name).
I would be remiss if I didn't point out the Mr. Polk is one of the few Presidents to have a song written exclusively about him. I have put the YouTube video at the bottom of this post. The song is by "They Might Be Giants." Here's a link to the lyrics so you can sing along. And if you need it, rumor has it that ADR has the song on his iPod.
- Born November 2, 1795 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
- Died June 15, 1849 in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 53
- Party: Democrat
- James K. Polk - Popular votes, 1,338,464 / Electoral votes, 170
- Henry Clay - Popular votes, 1,300,097 / Electoral votes, 105
- Polk oversaw the establishment of the United States Naval Academy and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as the groundbreaking for the Washington Monument. The California Gold Rush takes place during his presidency.
- Polk became the youngest to assume the presidency, when he was inaugurated at 49.
- He is considered the "Manifest Destiny" President, adding the most territory to the United States since the Louisiana Purchase.
- The Liberty Bell's crack proves to be too large for the bell to be rung any longer (remember, it's not a crack, it's a repair).
- His alleged last words illustrated his devotion to his wife, with whom he had no children: "I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you." Sarah Childress Polk lived for forty years after her husband's death. Polk is also only one of three presidents to predecease their mothers. A week before his death, Polk was baptized a Methodist.
- The White House Biography
- The Miller Center Biography
- Biography from the Polk Ancestral Home website (includes a quiz!)
- C-SPAN Biography
- Internet Public Library Biography
- Encyclopedia entry from the State Library of North Carolina
- Biographical entry from the PBS series, The West
- Polk gets his due in the "Hall of Forgotten Presidents"
- The Polk Ancestral Home in Columbia, Tennessee (no, not yet)
- Polk Birthplace National Historic Site in Pineville, North Carolina (administered by the North Carolina Division of Archives and History)
- Burial Site on the grounds of the State Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee