James Polk (1795-1849) was the 11th president of the United States. He promised to only serve one term, but he got a lot done during his time in the White House.
James Knox Polk was born on November 2, 1795 in a log cabin in Mecklenburg, North Carolina. As a young boy, he moved with his family to Columbia, Tennessee. In 1818, Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina. He was admitted to the bar in 1820 and opened his own law practice. In 1823, he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives.
In 1825, Polk was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served as speaker of the House from 1835 to 1839. His politics followed closely to that of former president Andrew Jackson, a fellow Democrat from Tennessee. Polk believed in state’s rights and dismantling the Bank of the United States and replacing it with a decentralized government banking system.
At the age of 49, Polk was the youngest to be elected president. The U.S. fought a war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848, after which Mexico gave up land that today are Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 with Britain gained the U.S. the present-day states of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. By the end of Polk’s term, the nation extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
During his presidency, Polk lowered tariffs and created an independent U.S. Treasury. Before then, federal funds had been deposited in private or state banks. The U.S. Naval Academy, Smithsonian Institution, and the Department of Interior were established. Iowa and Wisconsin joined the Union.
In 1849, Polk left the White House, but the stress of running the nation had taken its toll. He died that same year on June 15 at the age of 53.