James Polk
(11th President)

Often called the first "dark horse" (because no one counted on him to become president in the 1944 election) President James K. Polk was the last of the Jacksonians to sit in the White House, and the last strong President until the Civil war.

He was born in Mecklenburg County, N. Carolina, in 1795. Hard working and industrious, Polk graduated with honors in 1818 from the University of North Carolina. As a young lawyer he entered politics, served in the Tennessee legislature, and became a friend of Andrew Jackson.

Until circumstances raised Polk's ambitions, he was a leading contender for the Democratic nomination for Vice President in 1844. Both Martin Van Buren, who had been expected to win the Democratic nomination for President, and Henry Clay, who was to be the Whig nominee, tried to take the expansionist issue out of the campaign be declaring themselves opposed to the annexation of Texas. Polk, however, publicly asserted that Texas should be "re-annexed" and all of Oregon "re-occupied."

The aged Jackson, correctly sensing that the people favored expansion, urged the choices of a candidate committed to the Nations "Manifest Destiny." This view prevailed at the Democratic Convention, where Polk was nominated on the ninth ballot.

Even before he could take office, Congress passed a joint resolution offering annexation to Texas. In so doing they took away the possibility of Polk having a war with Mexico, which soon served diplomatic relations.

After trying to negotiate boundaries with Mexico and Canada wanting to extend the country from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans proved useless, congress declared war and, despite much northern opposition, supported the military operations. American forces won repeated victories and occupied Mexico City. Finally, in 1848, Mexico ceded New Mexico and California in return for $15,000,000 and American assumption of the damage claims.

Polk left his office with his health undermined form hard work and later would die in 1849.