Polk, James Knox

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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"THE PEOPLE OF THIS CONTINENT ALONE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DECIDE THEIR OWN DESTINY."

?JAMES K. POLK

James Knox Polk, eleventh president of the United States, served just one term in office, but in that time he was extremely influential in shaping the country's evolution into a large and politically formidable nation. Polk's primary achievements came in the area of foreign affairs, where he completed the annexation of Texas;

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James K. Polk.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

directed the Mexican War (1846?48); and negotiated with Great Britain for the acquisition of the Oregon territory. In domestic policy, Polk was a strong advocate for lowering tariffs and establishing an independent treasury for the United States. Historians and presidential scholars consistently rate Polk among the most effective and important presidents of the United States.

James Polk was born on November 2, 1795, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and went on to study law, establishing a successful practice in Columbia, Tennessee.

Polk soon embarked on a political career, being elected to the Tennessee legislature in 1823 and the U.S. House of Representatives in 1825. In Congress, Polk fought to defend individual freedoms, the rights of the states against the centralizing tendencies of the national government, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. In 1839 Polk was elected governor of Tennessee. However, his two-year term in office was undistinguished, and he was defeated in the 1841 and 1843 gubernatorial races.

After his second defeat, Polk's political career appeared to be over, but events took a surprising turn. MARTIN VAN BUREN, who had served as Andrew Jackson's vice president from 1833 to 1837 and as president from 1837 to 1841, was expected to be the DEMOCRATIC PARTY's presidential nominee for the 1844 election, but Van Buren's candidacy was derailed when he announced in April 1844 that he was opposed to the annexation of Texas on the grounds that it would constitute aggression against Mexico. Van Buren's support immediately eroded, because the annexation of Texas was a controversial political item widely supported by ANDREW JACKSON and his followers. By the time the Democrats held their nominating convention in late May, the party was in turmoil. Van Buren's supporters failed to generate the support needed for their candidate and Polk was nominated to be the presidential candidate instead.

The Whig presidential candidate in 1844 was...

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