Happy Birthday President Polk

Fay Mitchell

James K. Polk was born November 2, 1795 in the rolling hills of Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. His family moved to Tennessee when he was 11 years old, but he returned to the state to attend the University of North Carolina in 1847. The President James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville, near Charlotte, will have a President Polk Birthday Celebration and also observe the fiftieth anniversary of the historic site Saturday, November 10.

While in Tennessee Polk entered politics, serving 14 years in the House of Representatives. He became the nation’s eleventh president, taking office in March 1845. He was the nation’s first dark horse to win nomination to become president. His name was not even in nomination until the third round of balloting at the Democratic convention, and he was selected on the ninth ballot. Polk went on to defeat Henry Clay of the Whig Party in the election of 1844.

Before being elected Polk had the good luck or good sense to marry Sarah Childress, in 1824. Her gracious manner, intellect and devoted companionship were great assets to his career. She was well-educated, having attended the Moravians Salem Academy (now Salem College) in Winston-Salem, one of few schools of higher education then available to women. Legend says Andrew Jackson called her “wealthy, pretty, ambitious and intelligent.” She was an advisor and advocate for her husband throughout his career.

Polk was a proponent for westward expansion, seeking to extend the western border and make America grow again. His desire to acquire Texas and occupy Oregon were keys to his winning the Democratic nomination over Martin Van Buren. In his administration he successfully annexed Texas, settled the disputed border of Oregon with England and acquired California. Texas claimed land all the way to the Rio Grande River, far beyond the Nueces River which had long been considered the border with Mexico. Ultimately, this led to the Mexican War in 1846.

The U.S. won the war, got the Texas territory (which includes part of present day New Mexico and Colorado) and California. The addition of more than 50,000 miles of land in the west led to the formation of the U.S. Department of the Interior. By reducing the tariff and establishing and independent treasury, when combined with the three land acquisitions, Polk had accomplished all five of the goals he had set for his administration.

Polk ran the presidency like an efficient business, which when combined with his personal dedication and sincerity, led to his extraordinary accomplishments. Although he was respected by those who worked for him, most Americans considered him uncompromising and aloof. He stated he would not seek a second presidential term and did not.

The President Polk Birthday Celebration at President James K. Polk State Historic Site will include live musical performances, militia drills, open hearth cooking and more. Visitors may spot President Polk himself at the site’s fiftieth anniversary celebration.